Tag Archives: love


I sat in the woods with my aging dog,
Just watching Nature abiding,
When I came to know a little thing,
Without us even trying,
The dancing trees in graceful wind,
Light, colored, satisfying,
We sat immersed in something real,
Beyond our space and timing,
“Delight,” came the answer.
Without me even asking,
Ah, but I had held the question,
How will I ever,
Love enough?

Delight, a noun, 1: a high degree of gratification: joy.
Delight, a verb: to give joy or satisfaction to (Merriam-Webster)

I find it difficult to be happy, grateful, and delighted as I watch my friend and companion of thirteen years cripple away. Serenity is a beautiful Yellow Labrador Retriever, the smartest and kindest animal I have ever known, and that is saying quite a lot, and I suffer her pain. I grieve her dignity lost with incontinence, her independence gone with legs no longer capable of steps or ramp, and her tremors and confusion at sundown.

But I delight in our memories.

She taught me delight. She showed me joy in her leaps into the lake after a stick, her digging in the earth behind my shovel, her dragging the little trees I cleared, and the way she greeted people with the solid expectation of adoration.

Serenity shared her delight in the world. She began whining a few miles away from our Nort’ Woods home, getting frantic before our camp came into sight, so I had to let her jump out of the truck and run around. She always came back wet from her own little swimming hole at the stream. But those were younger times.

There was the time I laughed aloud hunting grouse with friends because after I shot at the bird zipping by, overhead, all I saw falling were leaves. Serenity came bounding, without training or being called, to see what I had. She came back with the grouse, delight dripping from her face.

Her hearing is gone and her eyesight dim. Even her nose is not what it was, and her old legs cannot get her over the logs. So, we don’t hunt, anymore.

And soon, way too soon, I will have to end her life. In that I cannot delight. But I can cherish her memories and her lessons.

If more combat Veterans had Labrador Retrievers, I believe there would be a lot less PTSD in this world. Maybe life is not meant to be so complicated. Maybe the whole point is delight. That’s what she taught me. Because I love her, I delight in her delight. And because she loves me, she hangs on, trying to give me another delightful memory.

And tonight, when her delight turns to fright and I cannot soothe her, I will know we are right, the time is near. But tomorrow morning, for a few more tomorrows, we will delight in one more walk in the woods. And I will be grateful.

Gratitude is a form of delight, and delight is the sincerest form of prayer.

Natural Love

“A brother is a friend given by Nature.” (Jean Baptiste Legouve)

There once lived three brothers working on a farm, aged 5, 10, and 15. That was long, long, ago.

The eldest left the farm to drive truck and the others stayed.

When the middle son had a medical condition briefly preventing him from working on the farm, he drove truck with his older brother, but he stayed on the farm.

When the youngest brother graduated from high school, he drove truck with his oldest brother for a summer before he left the farm for college, and the middle brother stayed.

When one brother needed help, the others showed up. It’s what they knew, lessons from their parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Money changed hands, time was shared in passing, deer were hunted together, parents and other family members buried, joys and sadness lived.

Years turned to decades and the middle brother went to trucking, but he stayed on the farm. The eldest continued trucking through his heart attack, through two open heart surgeries, and well past an age of retirement.

The youngest son retired from teaching, once, and went back for more. The oldest brother finally gave up trucking of medical necessity but returned to the farm to summer in an RV, work the garden, and help with farm chores. The middle brother lived in the same farmhouse he entered at age 4, continued trucking, and worked the farm in between. The youngest brother returned in summer to occasionally dabble in farm work.

Summers became a time of reunion as the eldest brother returned to the Wisconsin farm from Florida and the youngest visited from Arizona. The brothers laughed, played Sheepshead, and sweated together, again—home…home on the farm.

Always, the farm remained open to family. And, so, another summer brought the eldest home. Eighteen years past his second open heart surgery and thirty three past the heart attack that brought the first one—and the arrest on the table—find him rototilling the garden, mowing lawn, feeding and watering horses, pulling wagon loads of hay, and generally contributing what he can.

The youngest comes to visit for a week, invited into the house with his sick and dying dog, sleeping on a screen porch much like he did as a teenager, throwing a few bales of hay just to say thank you, or, mostly to feel the joy of honest work on the old farm.

After a hot day of hard work, the eldest reflected on the condition, the contribution to the farm, the opportunity to return: “I just love this…for the end of my life, really.”

The end of life may be sad, but it need not be tragic. I have seen too much of the tragic, people withering away far from home, if they ever had a real home. Not all families share this kind of brotherly love, this simple contribution of time and talent with each other.

Maybe that’s the point…of life, I mean, to have a home to enjoy at the end of life. What do you think?

Love Enough?

There is a story in my first novel, BEYOND THE BLOOD CHIT, that I now confess to be based upon personal experience. Okay, there may be a few. This one happened in my woods in the summer of 1999.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

Have you ever had a question lodged in your mind, swelling like a bean in water, pressing upon your conscience and consciousness for duration? One probably does better attending to such questions until a complete answer is articulated. Peace of mind demands it.

I went to the woods in search of answers and came back with a question.

A Vision Quest is a commitment of mind, body, and spirit to devotion of some purpose. I marked out a small circle, about twelve feet in diameter, on a hill above my stream valley. I laid out raingear, sleeping bag, and four days supply of water. I set up a cedar pole nearby but out of sight where I would tie a flag each morning to indicate my wellness to a friend acting as protector.

At dark dawn of Day One, I entered my circle from the East.

I frequently advise people in a hurry that if one day seems too short, try a Vision Quest.

I sat between the Sugar Maple and White Birch, leaning against a rotting stump. When I became bored, I watched something moving—anything—Quaking Aspen leaves, ants, inchworms, even clouds. Cloud watching usually becomes big by Day Three.

When emotions arose, I danced around the perimeter of my circle. Here I would stay, except for potty breaks and one daily trip to the cedar pole, for four days, or at least until I got answers. Come Hell or high water.

High water came with midnight of Day Two. It was called a “Storm of the Century” and really did bring a 100 year flood that seemed focused on top of my head. It filled my little stream valley with 6-8 feet of water, raised the lake 2.5 feet, and washed out several roads including mine.

I stayed.

I did not need to stay for my answer had already come to me out of the West in the form of the question soon after sundown of Day Two—and very soon before the thunderstorms began.

To protect the power of my Quest, I will not reveal specifics of the arrival of that question; however, I believe the question belongs to all of us.

Here it is: “Do you love enough?”

My answers have evolved since 1999. In fact, the answer seems to change day to day. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, usually somewhere in between with qualifications.

It has been my experience that my best days occur when the answer is a simple, “Yes.”

Love Is Green

“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!” (Sitting Bull)

“I am grateful for green plants.” It was an assignment for my Lutheran Catechism class to write a paragraph on something for which I was grateful. I was a biology nerd before I ever had a Biology class, and I still am grateful for green plants fifty-some years later.

Here in the North Woods, growth has an urgency sometimes not found elsewhere. Our growing season for most green plants is May to September at maximum. One of the things I love is that each week, and sometimes each day, another species begins blooming. This week the Strawberries and Star Flowers are in full force, the Bunchberries beginning, and the Trilliums fading to pink. Many spring flowers have already set seed, Marsh Marigolds among them.

We have thousands of Balsam Fir trees and they sprout a few new shoots on the ends of each live branch, bright light green contrasting with the aged dark green needles. The buds grow into new branches so fast it seems possible to watch the movement. I am puzzled how anyone can be bored in the woods.

Balsams have a tendency to die early, susceptible to a vascular fungus carried by a bark beetle. They have soft wood and shallow roots, conditions of rapid growth, and they often tip over or break in the wind. Carpenter ants munch on the wood unable to keep up with the fast life cycle of the ambitious firs. So, I clean up and burn branches.

I love a good campfire. I prefer Cedar or Sugar Maple for a long evening fire with meditative coals, but a quick fire of Quaking Aspen (another fast growing, soft tree that dies young) and Balsam Fir brightens a rainy day. Campfires are as close to magic as this old nerd needs to be.

The flames and glowing coals are sunshine. These humble green plants have managed a seemingly impossible task, that of grasping light. The energy from the sun, captured in tiny green bodies inside their cells, has been imprisoned in the leaves and wood and set free as fire. It is also released by the fungi, insect larvae, earthworms, or bacteria capable of reversing the process, of digesting the food stored.

Life works like that. Almost all life away from wet thermal vents relies upon sunlight captured by green plants and stored in plant or animal bodies. All the energy I eat every day comes from a nuclear fusion reaction 93 million miles away captured by chloroplasts too tiny for human eyes to perceive living only inside green plant cells.

No green plants, no life. Know green plants, know life. Okay, I warned you I was a nerd.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.
There is an emotional connection between people and plants.

Think not? Buy your wife or mother some flowers. For years, my Mothers’ Day tradition was to buy my mother some Pansies and plant them for her. Gardening is an act of Hope, Faith, and Love.

I believe there is a spiritual connection between people and green plants. Oh, sure, we get pretty good at ignoring it lest some human think we might be nerdy, but it is there. Gardening is a wonderful activity for grief, and PTSD is a condition of grief for the loss of our comrades and for the loss of our pre-trauma selves.

Gardening is a challenge in these lattitudes, but the North Woods is a natural garden. I don’t have to do the gardening, just lend a hand from time to time. Harvest a tree, pick some berries, monitor diseases, prevent fires, and maybe thin some overgrown thickets.

Nature is God’s garden which man, in good sense, has preserved here and there for all of us to enjoy. So, enjoy the love, already.

Pre-Trauma Love

I am not a psychologist. It seems prudent to remind us of that fact because I hear myself talking as if I were. These are just my opinions.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

Dr. Hart coaches us to remember our pre-trauma selves, to get back to those things that amused us, entertained us, attracted us, and made our lives meaningful and enjoyable. In other words, things we loved.

Good advice, Dr. Hart, but very difficult to do. It seems much easier to remember the trauma than the days before.

Who was I before Vietnam? Even that question is difficult to ask—and even more difficult to answer.

Am I not the person I was? No, but that admission is a big step, perhaps the greatest leap of all. I do not remember, of conscious mind, being any different.

Subconsciously, I do. If I can put myself back into situations I enjoyed with people, places, and things I loved before, I may remember at a feeling level.

Hay barns help, the smell of dried alfalfa and grasses. It takes me back to my youth.

Wrestling helps, being on the mat, coaching. Just being around schools helps. For me, school was a safe and enjoyable place. So, I went back and stayed.

Nothing takes me back to the pre-trauma world like Nature, whether it be hunting, gardening, or just walking in the woods. I accept that this is a feeling memory from the happier me. I know that the smell of tilled earth, wet wood, fallen leaves, or apples from the tree evoke the subconscious memories. But, I believe there is more.

I love the woods. For a reason I do not understand, I feel right, there—at home. I love the sights, sounds, smells, movements, and wholeness of field and forest. I know I belong.

In the woods, I am small but significant. I am one part of a big thing, equal to the tree, deer, squirrel, inchworm, and mosquito. I belong because I am part of it, because I accept it as bigger than me, because…I have been invited. Yes, I feel invited.

I love the woods, but even more importantly, I believe the woods loves me. Without prejudice or judgment of any kind.

In the forest I feel small yet bigger than anywhere else. I hope that makes sense to you. It feels right to me.

Perhaps you see a pitfall, here. People with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms who do not have a pre-trauma place that invites them may have more difficulty finding equilibrium. Well, people without hay barns, gardens, or forests of youth may have trouble reaching their equilibrium even without trauma. I grieve for people who do not feel invited into the woods.

It is not too late. I believe that. I (the not psychologist guy) believe that Nature is here to love all of us whether we meet before or after trauma. Find a teacher, a guide, and go home to Nature. It is in your DNA.

Mother Earth loves every one of us. Isn’t it time you accepted and returned that love?

Love Antidote

For all of us who sometimes feel too much love, who find ourselves bursting with gratitude and compassion, who feel nurtured by our natural and social worlds, or who wonder what we ever did to deserve such blessings, calm down. There is an antidote to this thing called love.

Wonder why a blog that is supposed to be about recovery from combat PTSD devotes months to investigating various kinds of love?

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” (Anne Lamott)

In the personal experience and education of this old warrior, PTSD includes a tendency to fear and hate people and their institutions. Triggers of major PTSD symptoms seem to have one thing in common: They elicit overwhelming feelings of vulnerability.

And vulnerability initiates a cascade of feelings and physiological manifestations of emotions resulting in reflex fight or flight.

Hate is one way of fighting. We focus out attention on a person or group as the icon of threat, the cause of our anxiety, the reason for our unhappiness. We blame.

Combat Veterans with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress tend to isolate, to shun people as dangerous and threatening. But, humans are social animals compelled to seek reinforcement of our feelings and emotions. We search for justification of our hate. We find others who share or may be convinced to share our feelings.

We are at war, identifying and targeting our enemies, and are conscripting comrades.

Talking heads justify us and our hate, saying things that sound like and reinforce our emotions. We find others who listen and nod.

Those who disagree are enemies.

We are cured of this great threat, this feeling that overwhelms us, this humbling sense of gratitude called love.

Because love is vulnerability. So, we choose hate, and our lives descend into spiraling darkness and despair that feed our hate until we do something regrettable.

Or, not. There is a choice we may not manage to make alone. Care to help?

Love Rules

YOU CAN’T SAY, “YOU CAN’T PLAY.” (Vivian Gussin Paley, 1993)

It is true that I never had an opportunity to attend kindergarten. In fact, I never attended a school stratified by age until I was a teenager.

I grew up and learned within a family structure—at home and at school.

As the youngest of a farm family of six children, and the youngest by a few years, I was always included in the family activities. My brothers and sisters just took me along. It seemed natural to me.

Only once in my early life, as I recall, was I excluded from play. I believe I was told that there was one too many people in the sand box, and that that one was me. I did not understand.

This kind of thing did not happen in my home. It also did not happen at Sanborn Hill School. Everybody played—boys, girls, first graders and eighth graders, fast and slow.

Apparently this is not true in most kindergartens. As described by the author, children frequently told other children that they could not play. Some children were excluded from a lot of games and activities. It occurred to this veteran teacher that such exclusion seemed too harsh and not acceptable.

She made a rule that you can’t say, “You can’t play.”

Before installing the rule, the teacher discussed the rule with not only her class, but several other classes up to fifth grade. The children did not think it would work.

Here is the scary part: Older elementary students thought it might work for the little kids because they were nicer, but it wouldn’t work for the older kids.

My first conclusion is that children know that it is not nice to exclude people because you don’t like them or because they are not your friends.

My second conclusion is that children believe that they, themselves, are not nice—even though they were nice when they were small. There is a kind of fatalistic attitude of moral decline that the children see as outside of their control.

Parents, teachers, grandparents, this is our job. Children need the gift of rules. People need the gift of rules at any age. The big question becomes who shall make these rules?

Not children and not old people who act like children.

Vivian Gussin Paley’s experiment with this rule in her kindergarten class went well. Children loved it. Many continued the rule into adulthood.

There was a relief from the tyranny of exclusion, not only for those excluded, but for those who felt they had an obligation to exclude non-friends from activities with their friends—a palpable feeling of relief is how I heard the author describe the classroom after the rule came to be.

We can study and postulate social theory, but I think it is quite simple: Love feels good.

We all want to be good, kind, nice people. We just don’t know how. We don’t know the rules, or we are too weak to enforce them upon ourselves. True freedom in the form of individual agency depends upon a socially responsible ethic.

So, like me or not, “Do you want to play?”

Repelling Love

To this day, Nancy still claims 1999 as the year she received her best Christmas present, ever—so good, in fact, it is unimaginable to replace her. She is Goldberry’s Serenity Dreamer, a registered yellow Labrador Retriever. The only registered dog either of us ever had, she is the most wonderful pet and friend.

But, she is old and her health is failing. Her eyesight has dimmed, her hearing is almost gone, and many parts of her body are susceptible to infection and other inflammation. She can no longer keep up with this old man in field, forest, or desert, but we are committed to keeping her as comfortable as possible as long as she still finds enjoyment in life, which she does.

Replacing her is not really conceivable. It took us about ten years after Cheese, our English Setter mix, died before we bought Serenity. We cannot imagine going through this process, again.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.
You may be wondering what this has to do with Combat PTSD. The answer in “Funny” New Guys..

Audey Murphy became the most decorated American in WWII when he was still a teenager. He also had a baby face, so he could play his younger self in the movie of his life story, TO HELL AND BACK. In that story, two new replacements arrive while the platoon is engaged with the German enemy. They are immediately shunned.

The point is emphasized when one brings in a backpack stove he found. One of the veterans grabs it away, takes it outside the farm house, and buries it. It had belonged to his friend who had been killed that morning.

Audey shuns them, too, telling one who volunteers for a patrol, “We don’t need you.”

In Vietnam, we called them FNGs (“Funny” New Guys). Yes, they were shunned partly because unseasoned warriors do stupid things. But the emotional reason is simpler. Nobody wants new friends because nobody wants to see one more friend die.

It is a simple, subconscious decision about love that goes something like this: You get to love people. People die. It hurts more when the people who die are people you love. Solution? Don’t love anymore people.

Loving anyone or anything makes one vulnerable, and to feel vulnerable is dangerous to anyone with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms. Our brains don’t like vulnerability. If we fight it, some kind of rage ensues. If we succumb to it, we sink into depression. So, we avoid love and other vulnerable activities.

It takes a lot of resilience to love a dog.

It takes more to love a person because people are more likely to bite.

We are unnaturally loyal to our friends, but we shun most new people. It’s an old habit. For self protection, we repel love—in part because we know it hurts to lose it.

Recovery requires a partner. Care to dance?

Teaching Love

My students have always been my greatest teachers. Here is how I learned something about love from a student teacher.

It was a familiar discussion among student teachers and supervisors, that of classroom discipline. When this young lady read my letter of recommendation, she said that she hoped they wouldn’t think she was too nice. It is common to see a conflict between being nice and being strict. (My former students may understand.)

That conflict is a mirage, an illusion of landscape created by the beliefs of the mind.

“For those whom the Lord loves he disciplines….” (Hebrews 12:6)

Here I learned the conflict—within our definitions of discipline. Originally it meant, “to teach.” That has been corrupted to mean to punish.

That is a naughty definition, but it does serve to help us learn about teaching and love, for too many of us see teaching as telling which is analogous to discipline as punishment. I find the resolution in leadership.

This soon-to-be teacher is clearly a nice person. That is readily apparent to those around her as she treats others with quiet respect. The concern she expressed is that being nice and discipline are somehow mutually exclusive.

She is a lovely person, caring deeply for and respecting her students. Her concern is that school administrators may see this as weakness which may lead to lack of discipline in her classroom. I see her respect as a strength, as a model of her self-discipline, as love in practice.

How do we get a marshmallow into a piggy bank? In a way, it is like asking how many counselors does it take to change a person. Only one, of course, but the person has to want to change.

A marshmallow is similar to a balloon, and I used to demonstrate how to get a small water balloon into a gallon jug. I simply encouraged the gallon jug to want the balloon inside. I did that by dropping a burning match inside, heating the air, and then placing the balloon on top. As the air cooled (I might help it with a cold water bath), the balloon would be sucked inside. For fun, you might try to figure out how I got the balloon back out.

We cannot teach by shoving facts inside. We must educate (meaning to draw out). We do this by lighting the fire inside. Not the fire of ire, but the fire of inquiry. Actually, the fire is already there, as natural as breathing for young people. We only need to fan it from time to time. We do that by showing our fire, our sense of wonder for our subject (aka, our discipline).

For a person dedicated to being nice, teaching others to be nice is a challenge. It means constantly questioning personal and professional decisions. It means holding a tongue that feels like lashing out. It means expecting respect from others by showing them respect, first.

That is discipline. That is teaching by example. It is leadership. Yes, it will mean being strict on some classroom rules. It will sometimes mean punishment. But it is not inconsistent with being nice. It is love, and it is a wonderful thing to teach our young people, our future parents, leaders, and teachers. It is what this young student teacher taught this old teacher, and she did it by living the discipline of her personal conviction.

Wouldn’t you like her teaching your children and grandchildren?

Undying Love

She was in her ninety-seventh year and fading like her eyesight and her insight, but she still recognized me, my brothers and sisters, and many of her grandchildren, although she got some names confused. She mixed up faces, calling a great granddaughter by her mother’s name. Only some of that was age.

Sixty years ago, I sometimes thought my name was Rodney Butch Erv. It is a product of large family size.

Her family was huge, and she could still report on the pride and problems of many of them, keeping track of about a hundred of us. But this year, that faded, too.

She still remembered my wife, Nancy, but not always her name. She would ask if she were with me.

“No, Mom, she’s in Arizona, working.”

“That’s far away.”

And she would look far away, out the big window of her assisted living facility, and watch. She would describe what she saw, and I would think it was real—at least in her mind. But, sometimes it was only an artifact of an aging brain.

She lifted her hands and studied them in something like mild horror.

“Something is wrong,” she told me. “They don’t work right, anymore. I’m falling apart.”

“I know, Mom.”

She held my hand. Arizona is so far from Wisconsin, and I said goodbye every time I left, for about four years I think. Then, one day, I would drop in and she would recognize me, ask about her (Nancy), and report on the family.

Sometimes she held my hand. One day she studied me, tearing up a bit.

“I just love you so much,” she told me.

“I love you, too, Mom”