Gratitude (poem)

A segment of this poem appeared in the books Chicken Soup to Inspire the Body and Soul, and Chicken Soup for the Soul – Older and Wiser. I hope you enjoy it!

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Poets, it seems, are often too dismal
as if life and all in it were truly abysmal.
I too often strive to soothe worries with rhyme,
dwelling on sorrows and the passage of time.
When there’s so much to celebrate, to chance and explore!
Seems very ungrateful to wish there was more.

Say I wrote all my troubles, one by one, in a row.
How much further the list of my blessings would go!
Just look at this glorious Eden we live in.
Can you think of one thing we haven’t been given?
Miraculous! Perfect! Not one thing is wrong.
Still, men find every reason to not get along.
We have moonlight and sunsets and rainbows and flowers.
Deep, starry nights and bright, happy sun showers.
Wondrous creatures, every kind, shape and size.
Birds singing to greet us each day when we rise.
Such wonder and mystery without and within.
Well, I’m too full of love to hold it all in.
My heart feels as though it may split at the seams.
It can barely contain all my plans, hopes and dreams.
I’m completely astonished, awakened and free.
I’m everything that life should be!

I climb up a mountain to breathe in the air
and leave behind with each step one more useless care.
The sun ripples like laughter across the wide sea.
I smile at a flower and it smiles back at me.
The wind lifts a scent from the meadow below
and reminds me of the first girl I kissed, long ago.
I kneel in the clover, feel my spirit expand.
A bright butterfly stops to rest on my hand.
The clouds, ever present, yet no two the same
give lively imaginations a game.
“Look! A sailboat! A rabbit! An angel! A swan!.”
And it’s the best kind of game because no one’s ever wrong.

Everyone should have a special place like my hill
just to rest and let the mind roam free where it will.
Far away from the traffic, the noise and the dust
in the crystal clear sunshine of a world they can trust.
Life’s easy to master when we strive not to worry
and snatch up the whip from the cruel hand of hurry.
When we stop struggling to accumulate more than we need
for the god with the insatiable appetite – greed.
You can’t take it with you. That old line is true.
And you know, when it’s all said and done, we won’t want to.
For when our old, mortal husks fall away and are buried,
all we’ll need is the goodness and love that they carried.
So relax into life, breathe deep and let go.
Attain what you need but don’t sell your soul.
For it’s a treasure far beyond the mere baubles of men
and once lost, much harder to earn back again.

Just a few thoughts from my heart to yours
hoping that one or maybe two will endure
to make some dreary day a little bit brighter
and the load that you carry, perhaps, a bit lighter.
Though the author claims no special wisdom or power
to lecture from atop some ivory tower.
I’m just one more soul, no different from you,
whose made all the mistakes and a few new ones, too.
But somehow survived all those nights without end,
my tired, tattered spirit refusing to mend,
wondering what so much pain could be for,
the spiritual carnage of a personal war.
For it’s in punishing ourselves that we can be most unkind
and the most torn, fearful battles take place in the mind.
But the hardest climb leads to the best, brightest view
so this is my humble message to you
like a bottle set adrift on some far, lonesome shore
from my small, solitary island to yours . . .

Though we may never meet, we are friends through this poem.
In this way, we can never be truly alone.
For though we’re apart in time, place and name,
we are joined in the same, sanctified mortal game.
We may differ in doctrine, language and race
but in the most sacred ways, we have perfect grace.
We both dream and love. We both bleed and cry.
And as sure as we’re living, we someday must die.
So now, while the grapes are plump on the vine,
take time to laugh and savor the wine.
Turn your heart to the beauty that’s in and around you.
Walk gently, with love, and the same will surround you.
You’ll surely see further the farther you go.
And remember – it’s pain which helps us to grow.
For with all of its sadness, its heartache and strife,
with all of its sorrow, it’s a wonderful life.
Yes, with all of its sorrow, it’s a wonderful life.

 

The Antidotes for Sorrow

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I got together with a friend and his wife on Saturday night that I haven’t seen for over twenty years. He and I met on a train in Paris when we were in our twenties and ended up traveling around Europe a bit. He was from Texas and a long-haired hipster. I was from California and looked very clean-cut but was really a hedonist. We traveled together for a month or so before he went home and I continued on around Europe and the Greek islands for several more months. 

Though it was difficult to pull off, I’m glad I took that six-month backpacking trip, for many reasons. I wanted to do it while I was still in my twenties. I saw all the things I had read about in history books. I made friends around the world I’m still friends with today. It expanded me as a person in many ways. It made me braver because I learned that the world is as open or closed as we are. i.e., we create our own reality, get what we give, etc.

Another reason I’m glad I took that trip is that it was the last gasp of innocence in my life. My family was healthy. Everything still lay before me. In the years since, there have been quite a few bad experiences. I know we all have our lists of horrors, and I hate to present mine, but there’s a higher purpose for it. I promise. Here are the lowlights of my last twenty years –

Shortly after I returned home, I was at a park showing a friend photos from the trip when a man was robbed and murdered not twenty feet from us and he died in my arms. The bad guys got away. That messed me up good.

A good friend died of leukemia, unrecognizable from bloating and jaundice.

My brother and only sibling died of a drug overdose.

My mother barely survived breast cancer twice.

My wife lost her mother to a massive stroke only three years after we were married.

My father, always the life of the party and an amazing singer and storyteller, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia, was whittled down to nothing physically and mentally over five years, broke his hip, and spent an agonizing last month in a torture chamber called Kaiser Permanente Hospital (Panorama City, California) being abused by callus and grossly incompetent nurses and doctors, and couldn’t even say goodbye because his throat was so ravaged by botched tube placements. He died on 12/21/14.

Without warning, his perfectly healthy dog and now my mother’s only companion, died on Christmas Day four days later, as if wanting to be reunited with my father. (I wrote about it in a story called The Rainbow Bridge in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book My Very Good, Very Bad Dog.) 

My father had a sister in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who was a recluse. She had always made my father feel guilty for leaving her and coming to America to seek better opportunities and start a family. “I’m your family, not them,” she would say. “You should be here taking care of me.” She told him her life wouldn’t have been so hard if he would have stayed. Like most people with tragic lives, she blamed everyone but herself for the way her life turned out. She never dated or married, never drove a car, never had a job, and never left the city of Belfast. My father sent her money to alleviate his guilt but when he developed Parkinson’s, he started to forget. Of course, that’s when we heard from her. When she found out he was sick, she never called again. So I felt no compulsion to let her know he was dying, or even tell her he had died. But I knew he would want me to so I wrote her a letter asking her to come out to California all expenses paid, to start over, let bygones be bygones, etc. Months passed and I didn’t hear back from her so I figured it was just her being her.

Then, in April, four months after my father died, I got a call from a Belfast policeman. He said, “I hate to tell you this, son, but your aunt is dead on the floor here, and judging by your letter, which was in a pile of mail inside her door, and the expiration dates on her food in the refrigerator, she died in late December or early January.”

She was such a recluse, nobody knew she was dead for four months. A neighbor finally realized he hadn’t seen her bringing groceries in and knocked the back door. It was unlocked so he opened it and yelled her name, then the smell hit him.

By pure coincidence, she died within two weeks of my father, as if her house – the house they shared as children – was my father’s first stop after being freed from his broken body. As if he said to her, “Come on, sis. This is no life. Come with me.”

It was a tragic end to a tragic life. I arranged her funeral to restore some of the dignity she had lost lying dead on the floor of her bedroom for four months. Fortunately, I had the help of two absolute Godsends – my maternal uncle and aunt, Billy and Jennifer, who live in Northern Ireland.

The day after she was buried, my mother’s house in California was burglarized. Along with the usual items, they stole an old make-up case my mother kept every letter my father ever wrote to her when they were young and still unmarried. He had moved to Canada before America and begged her to meet him there. He even proposed in one of those letters. I had never read them because I thought my mom wanted to keep them private, but after my father died, I was interested in seeing who he was before I or my brother were born. The burglars were too dumb to figure out how to open the simple latches on the case so they just took the whole thing, hoping there was jewelry in it.

My mother called to tell me about the burglary. The police were there when I arrived. She and I discovered the missing case together. She looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, “They took all my treasures.” I hugged her, then went into the other room and beat the living hell out of a bed. The next day, I searched every trash can in town hoping the burglars opened the box and threw it away when they saw there was nothing but old letters and photographs in it – worthless to them but priceless to my mother. I also made fliers and posted them all over town offering a $5000.00 reward for the return of the case and letters, or information leading to the arrest of the slugs who stole it.

I wrote a letter to the local paper and it got picked up by every news channel in town. My mom was interviewed repeatedly about it because of its Nicholas Sparks-esque plot. She used to read those letters to my father when his mind was buried under those diabolical brain diseases to remind him of who he was, and who they were together.

So . . . back to my friend’s visit. He was a wild man always joking around when we met twenty years ago in Europe, and he still is. It is impossible not to laugh with him. His wife is kind and gracious, with an infectious laugh. We all laughed until our faces hurt. And then it hit me, I hadn’t laughed that hard that long since my father died. Not often enough, anyway.

After they returned home, Mark sent me an email saying, “I know you’ve been through some horrible stuff lately, and we can always talk about that, but my job is to make you laugh and help you forget.” 

Another good friend from high school named Bob also told me that the best antidote for all the pain life sends our way is pure, unadulterated, full-tilt, edge-of-our-seats, mind-clearing FUN.

It’s true. Laughter washes sadness from the heart like water washes away dirt from the body. The problem is laughing is the last thing one wants to do when depressed. Depression takes work. We must keep our head down, fight the urge to smile, round our shoulders, and sigh a lot. If we would just do a hundred jumping jacks or run around the block, we would have no choice but to feel better, at least a little bit, because the mind follows the body’s posture, but we won’t. Depression feeds on itself. It even feeds on the desire to be free of it. 

It took me a while to learn this one. I was a serious SOB when I was younger. My friends then would often say to me, “You think too much.” I would usually have some obnoxious, depression-defending response like, “It’s the human being’s frontal lobe and our willingness to use it that separates us from the animals.” But I understand now what they were trying to say – that I was ruining my enjoyment of life by overthinking everything. There’s a lot to be said for pure experience. Pure fun.

I also understand now what a line from an old song called My Back Pages (written by Bob Dylan, sung by The Byrds) meant – “I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.” Youth really is wasted on the young sometimes. It takes so much for most of us to rediscover the joy we had naturally as children, before all the excrement came down.

I have finally not only learned but APPLIED what I learned – that depression and sadness are as strong as any prison wall and must be broken out of the same way, by finding friends who make us laugh, and who get our humor. By seeking Fun with a capital F.

Laughter is the wrecking ball. Real happiness sends the demons scattering, knowing they’ve failed. Not just opening the curtains that keep the light out but tearing them off the wall is an act of victory as surely as those soldiers planting the flag on Iwo Jima. And joy should be the reward for surviving pain. As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”

The mythologist Joseph Campbell said people don’t really care about “the meaning of life” as much as they want to “feel the rapture of being alive” – to know that they’re spending their lives in the best way possible, the same way we want to spend our money wisely. Time spent depressed is the worst use of our time. Grief has its place and time, but it must be emerged from at some point completely. Walking around with a giant hole right through the middle of us is an insult to life, ourselves, and everyone trying to love us.

Below are a few photos that demonstrate the kind of joy I’m talking about. The kind of joy good friends, God bless them all, remind me of. The kind of joy we should seek every day to chase away the depression that threatens to consume us after the most horrible losses. Life is to be lived, my friends. Completely and passionately.

I suspect at that final moment when death comes for us, we will realize how precious every moment was, and regret every moment we spent wallowing in painful memories and grief. We’ll wonder why we didn’t do all the things we wanted to do, why we let ourselves live a half-life, why we didn’t trust our talents and the path they take us on completely, why we didn’t tell our friends and family we loved them more often, why we “tip-toed through life just to arrive at death comfortably.” Why, why, why, why, why. Those are why’s we don’t want to have.

To anyone who made it through this long blog post, you’re a rare breed in this fast food world. I wish you peace, happiness, and that thing that makes them both possible – Fun.

 

 

 

Integrity or Despair?

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Everyone is a teacher. I met one today. He was reading a Louis L’amour novel called The Strong Shall Live, sitting on a city bench in the outdoor seating area of Porto’s, my favorite bakery in Burbank, California. He appeared to be over eighty years old and wore a neatly-pressed suit and dress shoes despite the warm July weather. Because of his age, I imagined him to be a throwback to a time when men dressed well when they planned to be among others.

I had seen him reading in that spot before but never spoke to him. Today I decided to change that. I asked him how the book was. He smiled and said, “Excellent! I’ve read it a few times but it never gets old.” He said he has plenty of time to read now that he’s retired but likes to be around people. “Some men don’t like to drink alone,” he said with a smile. “I don’t like to read alone.”

I asked him what he did when he was younger. He replied, “What didn’t I do would be a shorter answer, or maybe what I wish I would have done.”

That seemed like a more interesting question anyway so I asked, “Okay, what do you wish you would have done?”

He said, “I always wanted to be a screenwriter. I even wrote a movie, but I never had the guts to share it with anyone.”

I told him that was a shame and suggested that he dust it off and share it now. He said, “Ah, no. I’m afraid the subject matter is as dated as I am. Nobody would be interested.”

I told him I happened to be a writer, offered to take a look at it, and suggested that maybe it was providence that brought us together, but he refused to share his screenplay. “To be honest,” he said, “I don’t even know where I put it.”

My fellow writers will understand how sad that made me feel. At the bottom of some box lay 120 pages he poured his heart and soul into at one time, yet never shared with anyone. He just held the dice, he never threw them. All the work for nothing.

An old line came to mind – “Much talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage.” One could say the joy and reward was in the writing, but what is writing without an audience? Without new eyes? Third-party perspective?

He went on to say that he had done some stunt riding for westerns back in the 40’s and 50’s when he was very young. He had learned to ride growing up in Texas so it was easy work for him. He dreamt of being an actor but – and this is the part that really made me sad – he said, “I was never successful at that because I was a combination of shy and ignorant. I wasn’t assertive enough, and even if I had been, I was stupid.”

I felt he was being unfairly hard on himself and tried to make him feel better. I said, “Everybody is shy and uneducated to some degree when they’re young. There’s a reason people say ‘youth is wasted on the young.'” But he kept insisting that he was incurably stupid as a young man, and blamed that for his never being the screenwriter or actor he wanted to be. I tried again to comfort him by saying those businesses are hard for even the most assertive and educated. He conceded that was true.

It’s difficult to see anyone of an advanced age kicking themselves around. They’re the embodiment of what psychologist Erik Erickson described as the final stage of life – “integrity versus despair” – people either feel they’ve accomplished something with their lives or they’ve wasted it, that they were good or bad, wise or foolish. Grumpy old people are usually in despair. Nice, kind, friendly old people feel integrity – satisfaction with a life well-lived. I wondered if my new friend even saw the irony of telling me he never tried hard enough while reading a book called The Strong Shall Live.

This man puzzled me because he was very kind to me but not kind at all to himself. I suppose that’s true of most of us. Most of us occasionally say or think things about ourselves that we would never say about someone else. We really are our own worst enemy. As Mark Twain wrote, “I never met a man who gave me as much trouble as I have.”

So what lessons did this teacher teach me? I’ve been both shy and ignorant. Fortunately, it was many years ago when I was very young. But I’ve worked hard to educate myself in my chosen field, and I’m actually a bit of an extrovert now, so I’ve turned that around, thank God. It seems, therefore, that the only way to prevent that kind of despair in old age is to DO THE WORK, and what the work consists of is a uniquely individual thing. It can only be determined by us individually, privately. What is it that stands between you and your dream right now? How are you going to dissolve it, destroy it, get it out of the way?

Part of the work for me was writing my way out of my shyness, doubt, sadness, regret, guilt or any other emotion I didn’t want. These exercises often took the form of poems – big ideas in little packages. Powerful ideas change people, not lectures. What Joseph Campbell called “ouches and aah’s” – trials and revelations.

One of these poems was the one below about the bullies that hide in the heart. As much as I liked the man I met today, I don’t want to become him. I don’t want to read novels about courage under fire but have none myself. I don’t want to reach old age and wish I would have tried harder. I will not “tip-toe through life to arrive at death comfortably.” No. Lack of effort is failure by default. And the less we try to become who we are supposed to be, the less comfortable old age becomes. 

There’s No Way Around But Through

When I was thirteen years old or so,
walking through the hallway to class,
the school bully stood in front of me
And absolutely refused to let me pass.

I moved to the left, and then to the right.
He just laughed and moved that way, too.
It was that moment when it dawned on me –
There was no way around but through.

So I kicked the bully right where it hurts.
He let out a yell and I watched him fall.
After that, he gave me plenty of room
When he saw me coming down the hall.

I really should try to remember his name,
Maybe send a flowery thank you card.
Without the lesson he taught that day,
My life might have been very hard.

You see, a bully doesn’t have to be human.
It’s what keeps you and your dream apart.
So much talent is forever lost to the world
Because of the bullies that hide in the heart.

So whatever it is that stands in your way
And keeps you from living a life that’s true,
Remember the lesson I learned from the bully.
My friend, there’s no way around but through.

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That We Were Kind (poem)

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Does anyone know where the little boy went?
The little boy who used to be me?
He’s still alive somewhere inside this shell
Though the shell is all you can see.

Can you still see him reaching out for love
From behind these time-worn eyes?
The child with a heart as bright as the stars
Hiding beneath this thin disguise?

What a cruel trickster Father Time can be
Changing our costumes as we age.
From infant to child, and from young to old,
A new character with every stage.

We might as well be four different people.
The adult barely resembles the child.
The external transformation is so complete,
Young and old are rarely reconciled.

But there are some whose eyes still twinkle,
For whom the child within never dies.
The outside world can see only the surface.
Only they know how their surface lies.

What can we learn from all this changing?
From the fact that nothing is real?
How can we judge by a deceptive facade
That hides the way we truly feel?

The way to get the whole picture, it seems,
Is to think of everyone that we see
As the child they were, who they are today,
And the old person they soon will be.

We should also see them as dead and gone,
Their short life on earth finally done,
With all their trials rendered null and void,
All their battles either lost or won. 

Whitman wrote, “The powerful play goes on
And you may contribute a verse.”
The same is true for every person we meet.
We make their lives better or worse.

Thus, we should measure disheartening words
And make sure they need to be spoken
So we won’t be among those who caused dismay
If they reach the end of life heartbroken.

And when those we’ve known are old and gray,
Remembering years they left behind,
Comforting words we said might return again
With the memory that we were kind.

~Mark Rickerby

Mental Magnetism

Unknown

Every great thinker has said it, with only slight variations –

As you think, so shall you be. – Proverb

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Jesus Christ

“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” – Buddha

“We receive exactly what we expect to receive.” – John Holland

“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“To bring anything into your life, imagine that it’s already there.” – Richard Bach

“Take the first step in faith. You con’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” – Reverend Martin Luther King

“You possess the power of thought and the power of will. Utilize to the uttermost these divine gifts!” – Paramahansa Yogananda

Oh, and that quote by Albert Einstein up there.

We’ve all heard it before – we become what we think about all day long. Thought expands. We create our own reality. But how many of us live without doubt?

Tony Robbins called it “the law of mental magnetism.” Thought is everything. It’s what makes a little guy like Woody Allen a successful genius millionaire and a big, handsome guy broke – how they used or misused their minds.

I’m still getting a handle on it. I do well most of the time but there are times, usually in the middle of the night, when my mind becomes a bad neighborhood.

Keep moving forward. You’ll get there.

A song for you – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl6YdzuVb9I

 

Just Live (poem)

Young hand holding old hand

I wrote this about twenty-five years ago. It’s about four stages in a man’s life. When I wrote it, I was in the second stage. I’ve completed the third now and hope to complete the fourth gracefully. 

Just Live

There once was a bright, young boy
who thought and thought all day
and rarely joined his little friends
when they went out to play.

Even when he would come out,
his mind would keep on turning
and while all the others laughed and played,
his questions kept on burning.

Like “Where did I come from?  Why am I here?”
and “Where will I go when I die?”
Very big questions for such a small boy.
Unanswered, his childhood flew by.

***

A young man sat on a sunswept beach,
away and apart from the crowd.
You see, he was thinking quite serious thoughts
and their laughter was far too loud.

His nose in a book, he just couldn’t hear
the young girls when they’d call out his name
and though the sun shone so very brightly above,
had no time for their foolish games.

No, there were too many doors to unlock
and so many knots to untie
like “Where did I come from?  Why am I here?”
and “Where will I go when I die?”

***

A middle aged man sat on the same beach,
a place he had come to know
as somewhere to ponder his life’s many why’s
though the answers he still didn’t know,

when a feeling of emptiness, never so deep,
filled his heart and made him afraid.
He thought of the voices of friends, long ago,
but could only hear silence today.

Then he thought, “Oh, my God.  Half my life has slipped by
and still, no solution is near.
I think I’ll stop trying to figure it out
and for once, just be glad that I’m here.”

That day, his eyes opened and though nothing had changed,
the world became bright, rich and new.
And as he lay back to blend with life’s colors and sounds,
the great sky never seemed quite so blue.

***

An old man lies on a bed, close to death,
but not worried, not sad or afraid.
He smiles at sweet faces, gathered around
saying, “Please Grandpa, don’t go away.”

He says, “Don’t be sad.  I had a life full and rich –
something not many can say.”
But their young eyes were still pleading, scared and confused
so he searched for the right words to say . . .

“When I was young, I had so many worries and fears
and questions I couldn’t get by.
Then one day I stopped fighting and searching in vain
and decided to live till I die.

I traveled the world, drank in its wonders,
found true love in a good woman’s eyes,
had beautiful children, life’s sweetest reward.
Each one, an incredible prize.

Now, one journey ends and another begins
and I was right to be patient and wait
for the mysteries that plagued my troubled, young mind
can’t be solved on this side of the gate.

So do one thing more for me.  Know your own beauty.
Always stand strong, proud and tall.
And think of my passing not as the end
but as the summer becoming the fall.”

~ Mark Rickerby

Dusting Off Dreams

This society (American and a few others) can make us feel like if we haven’t accomplished every one of our goals by 25, we’re losers and might as well give up. That’s BALONEY. It’s never too late to dust off an old dream and make it come true. 

http://www.jumblejoy.com/australias-oldest-painter

 

 

The Tips of the Tallest Trees – For Hikers, Forest Lovers, and Anyone Struggling

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After years of writing poetry
and struggling to break free,
I found the perfect metaphor
for everything I want to be.

It came to me by accident
as good things often do
and my task now, as a poet,
is to tell the tale to you.

I was feeling tired and beaten,
worn-out and weary to the bone.
I hadn’t left the house in days,
shut off from the world, alone.

When something deep inside me said,
“That’s enough!  Get out of bed!
Stop feeling sorry for yourself
or you’re as good as dead!”

After being buried in despair so long,
I wondered from where this voice had risen.
It was like a visit from a long-lost friend
after many hopeless years in prison.

So I opened up the dusty curtains
and let the bright sunlight flood in.
And as every poet will attest –
when one looks out, one looks within.

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The street outside was bustling.
Lovers laughed and children played.
And I couldn’t help but realize
how far from life I’d strayed.

My world seemed so dark and small
next to the one I saw outside.
In a moment, I felt all I’d lost.
The dam broke and I cried.

I knew I had to find a way
to purge this sadness from my soul,
dust myself off, rejoin the living,
and make my fractured spirit whole.

So I splashed my face and went outside.
It was a beautiful, windy day
but my heart ached with melancholy
that just would not go away.

Image was uploaded by dearlovequotes.com

I walked and walked for hours
like a tortured, restless ghost
for when we confront our demons,
that’s when they attack the most.

I don’t know how much time had passed
when I reached the base of a hill.
Determined to walk the pain away,
I pressed on further still.

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I have always loved to climb
because of how it clears the mind
but I had no peace within that day
so what peace could I hope to find?

I remembered an old line I heard once
and it rang in my ears from the start . . .
“You won’t find your heart in a temple
if there’s no temple in your heart.”

Faith has never been easy for me.
Nature has always been my church.
I didn’t know what I was looking for.
I only knew I had to search.

I climbed until my muscles ached,
not even sure what I was proving
or what I was running to or from.
I just had to keep on moving.

I was thoroughly exhausted
when I finally reached the top
but I saw a taller hill beyond
and my soul wouldn’t let me stop.

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I suppose I was tired of quitting,
of feeling beaten, small and weak.
I couldn’t let myself give up
until I reached the highest peak.

These were not just hills.
They were everything I’d ever tried.
They were every half-accomplished goal
begging fulfillment, deep inside.

Many of my tears, that day,
mingled with the dusty soil.
The hills had come to represent
a lifetime’s travail and toil.

I cried for all the love I’d lost
and for all the wasted years.
I cried for every broken dream
on this, my trail of tears.

I finally reached the second peak,
so high, I felt like I was flying
or I could reach up and touch heaven.
The howling wind was like God sighing.

8

I was now the highest living thing
but for the tips of the tallest trees,
pitching and swaying magnificently
in the gentle Autumn breeze.

The stars were beginning to twinkle
as the fiery sun set in the west.
I laid down in a bed of leaves
to grant myself some rest.

And when I looked up to the sky
framed by the towering trees,
a strange quiet filled my soul
and this thought came to me . . .

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The trees, though firmly rooted,
never stop reaching for the sky.
They don’t worry about what falls away
or how fast the years pass by.

They don’t complain about the weather
or struggle against ferocious winds
yet they’re still standing proudly
when the calm returns again.

This is a very, very old idea.
It surely did not begin with me.
A poet once said she’d never see
a poem as lovely as a tree.

And I hate to repeat an old cliche
but truth always stays the same
though it comes from many places
and travels under many names.

I’d heard this philosophy so often,
I considered it “nickel and dime”
but on this strange and soulful day,
it was like I’d heard it the first time.

A poet lives on metaphors.
They’re his lifeblood, you see.
So I was happy to truly discover
the ancient lesson of the tree.

To stop fighting and agree with life
and whatever it happens to bring
for a soul tormented by loss and pain
can never learn to dance or sing.

To have a strong foundation
while always reaching out.
To keep growing, no matter what.
That’s what life’s about.

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These strong and noble giants
whispered a message for me to keep
and under their sheltering canopy,
I slowly drifted off to sleep.

sokolova anna forest stars

I awoke to a bright, new morning
and made my way back down the hill
and everywhere a tear had fallen,
a flower stood, serene and still.

DESERT GOLD Wildflower

I looked back up to the hilltop once
to that place where every tree’s a poem,
said thank you, then turned and smiled
and, peacefully, headed home.

~ Mark Rickerby

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Painting credit – Forest Stars by Anna Sokolova

New Book Release: Chicken Soup for the Soul – The Spirit of America

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

My story “The Sixty-Year Old Little Girl” is in this new book – Chicken Soup for the Soul book – The Spirit of America, available now at Walmart, Barnes and Noble and online.

I have contributed to twenty Chicken Soup for the Soul titles now and am always proud to do so because of the positivity, inspiration and light they bring to a world that sometimes seems to grow more negative every day. This election is a perfect example. It’s not so much about the politicians. They’ve always been ruthless. What disturbs me more is the Americans becoming violent with each other for having differences of opinion rather than discussing it, even if that means yelling at each other. So at this time more than any other, I’m proud to be part of something that can help bring Americans together. Here is the official press release from Chicken Soup for the Soul headquarters:

This book focuses on what unites us, not what divides us. When Chicken Soup for the Soul’s author, editor-in-chief and publisher Amy Newmark decided to collect stories for a book about the spirit of America more than a year ago, she never anticipated how much we, as a nation, would need this book. “I knew that we would need an antidote to all the negativity that always arises during a presidential election year, but I had no idea it would get this bad,” she said. “We recognize there are significant problems that need to be addressed, but we do live in a wonderful country. We can forget that sometimes amid all the emotions of the election process. 

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America is our chicken soup for our fellow Americans—a reminder of why we are all so passionate about what we believe is best for our country. I hope this collection of 101 stories about everything American will help to unite us, not divide us.”

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America takes us on a journey across our beautiful nation, meeting our veterans, active service members and their families; revisiting the patriotism and unity of 9/11; showing us the ingenuity and positive attitude that we’re known for; displaying the diversity of our geography and our people; relating stories about our favorite American traditions; and introducing us to proud new citizens who remind us how lucky we are to live here—with our freedom to advance, to move, and to express ourselves. There’s even a whole chapter on the American flag, with inspiring stories about how much the red, white and blue means to us, right in time for Flag Day on June 14th.

“As we do often, we are using this book to raise money for a worthy cause – and one that is very relevant to its subject matter – the Bob Woodruff Foundation and its Stand Up for Heroes fundraising program,” said William J. Rouhana, Jr., chief executive officer of Chicken Soup for the Soul. “This is the second time that we have earmarked royalties from one of our books to raise funds for the Bob Woodruff Foundation to support their work with post–9/11 injured service members, veterans and their families.”

The book’s foreword writer Lee Woodruff, who is married to broadcaster Bob Woodruff, says, “The people you meet in these pages, and the tales they tell, will remind you why we are the most fortunate people in the world—Americans.” She talks about her particular passion—the military—in the foreword. After her husband was wounded while embedded as a reporter with the Army in Iraq, Lee saw our military at its best, saving her husband’s life. And she and Bob have given back in a major way, founding the Bob Woodruff Foundation to support programs that provide health and social services for veterans.

ABOUT CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL
Chicken Soup for the Soul, the world’s favorite and most recognized storyteller, publishes the famous Chicken Soup for the Soulbook series. With well over 100 million books sold to date in the U.S. and Canada alone, more than 250 titles, and translations into more than 40 languages, “chicken soup for the soul” is one of the world’s best-known phrases and is regularly referenced in pop culture. Today, 23 years after it first began sharing happiness, inspiration and hope through its books, this socially conscious company continues to publish a new title a month, but has also evolved beyond the bookstore with super premium pet food, television shows and movies, and a variety of other digital content and licensed products, all inspired by stories, as it continues “changing the world one story at a time®.”

To receive a review copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America or to request an interview, please contact Tanya Taylor Miciak at 615.254.9389 or tanya@triple7pr.com

CONTACT: Tanya Taylor Miciak 615.254.9389

New Chicken Soup for the Soul Podcast!

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Amy Newmark, the publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, has started a series of inspirational podcasts. Each one will highlight a different Chicken Soup for the Soul book and story. A new podcast will be available each weekday starting February 22nd and they can be downloaded for free the same way that you get other podcasts.

If you are new to podcasts, you may be surprised to learn you already have a podcast button on your smartphone. You can listen to podcasts on your phone, your computer, or your iPad or other tablet. To find the Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast, just search within iTunes or your particular podcast app.

The podcasts are about six or seven minutes long, Monday–Thursday, and they provide entertaining stories as well as great advice and easy-to-implement tips to improve your life. On Fridays, publisher Amy Newmark will ask one of our co-authors or contributors to join her for a longer podcast — about fifteen minutes.

Here’s the rundown of the first week of the podcast:

MOTIVATIONAL MONDAY

Be Kind of Yourself

[story by Sara Matson]
TIP TUESDAY A Smile Is a Boomerang [story by Cristy Trandahl]
WOW WEDNESDAY

Impossible Love

[story by Sharon Graham]
THOUGHTFUL THURSDAY From Dumpster Dog to Service Dog [story by Kathryn Bales]
FRIEND FRIDAY

Supermodel EMME Joins Amy to Talk Self-Esteem, Body Image, and Curvy Women

 

Happy Listening!