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  Wednesday January 28th, 2015    

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Unfinished desires (09/28/2003)
By Janet Lewis Burns
I wasted most of my youth growing up. Child-rearing years were squandered on mindless busywork and attempted domestic perfection. Volunteering took its toll. As years unfold, in mid-life, toward old age, I do as I darn please.

"Will...it's almost as if the word has fallen out of our vocabulary...Will is the means by which we overcome the problems that life or genes have handed us. Without it, there is no true character. Ironically, will may be what's missing in many people's attempts to feel better about themselves." - Jacob Needleman, philosophy professor at San Francisco University.

I've indulged in dreams of the frustrated, middle-aged poet, picturing her in the early morning, when reality shines the brightest. She slips on her soothing Hanes slippers, a flimsy nightgown rudely exposing sagging flesh. Her arthritic bones creak at the front step as she bends for the daily newspaper.

The 6:00 a.m. slap in the face awakens her to a day void of activity or interruption. She longs for that deep, husky drag on a Winston, and her once-fetching image in the bedroom mirror. The red light on the coffee maker - the only voice spoken. She now has the time...but the words don't come.

Of the sands on a sprawling beach, this is the grain of my life...Poetry once meant heart and soul to me. Several years ago I had registered to attend one of Orv Lund's creative writing classes at Winona State. I had been excited at the prospect of a sharing experience with other aspiring lyricists. I never carried through, allowing the college scene to slip through an insecure will to step forward.

Sometimes we realize that it's wise to let go of a burned-out dream and to redirect our energy to the bare slate of future opportunity.

Today, as I pulled up to Lake Winona with a late lunch, I reflected on the morning newscast. It's September 11, two years following the annihilation of our U.S. security by terrorists. Eerily feeling like the changing of the seasons, a swooping wind stirred up the silvery water, its roiling whitecaps rocking the ducks and gulls to-and-fro.

Planning to edit this column, my wishy-washy prattle seemed so trite, so out of tune with the magnitude of this day's commemoration. I had heard the children on television this morning, as they took turns reading the 3,000 victims' names. It all sinks in anew...the grain of each life had prematurely slipped through the hourglass of their earthly sojourn. Plans, dreams, and relationships were rudely and sadly interrupted and ties severed.

"They lived and laughed and loved and left," James Joyce once wrote. How cut and dried death can seem to those not personally affected.

As there is bad death, "good death" is a necessity in the scheme of things - autumn's golden falling leaves, brown weeds and dried wildflowers, the survival of the fittest in the animal world, and natural forest fires to replenish decayed woodlands.

Unfinished desires of victims turn to hatred and vengeance. Relationships are shattered. Children learn of hardening grief far too young. Sadness becomes a daily companion. I opened a SUN Magazine, to the article I had saved and meant to return to. Jacob Needleman's definition of happiness had been a powerful message to ponder and to share...

"The great discovery of adulthood is that getting what you want doesn't by itself make you happy. What does make you happy is to establish contact with a principle within yourself that orders your life and opens you up to loving others, and to loving something higher than yourself. So happiness is discovering truth within yourself, and then trying to live according to that truth."

It is beyond human capability to eliminate catastrophe. To pray about winning the lottery, victory in the baseball game, an editor for your novel, or to get the diamond necklace for your birthday - doesn't it all seem so superficial?...

now that the world has forced its inhabitants to nurture a strong will, to sacrifice our unfinished desires for funeral prayers and truth. It's so disheartening to have to grow up. 


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