haiku

HAIKAST XV – Moon Phases

I wonder if our cultural understanding of heaven is associated with an ascension from the earth because humans for millennia were excited to join the nightly parade of sublime light?

With the glow of city lights, the night sky does not speak as it did to our ancestors whose lives were accustomed to the astronomical events that defined so much of their seasons, calendars, and religious life. As an electrified civilization, we are so far removed from the moon and stars being a reliable navigation system and source of nightly beauty, that what are sometimes called “heavenly bodies” are, in some ways, forgettable. We don’t really pay attention to them, partly because we don’t need to, and, as is often the case, because we just can’t see them anymore.

The moon is an exception, practically, because it is just so large. It demands attention. Especially when its preparing to eclipse the sun.

In summer of 2023. I was working with a team of volunteers at the Touch The Earth nature preserve just outside the city. The conversation turned to the expectation of uncontrollable crowds of people flocking to Columbus for an eclipse. I thought they were joking. Six years earlier, a partial eclipse was destined for Columbus and I didn’t even think to put it on my calendar. In this case – with a full eclipse coming our way – I was told this would be different. A big deal.

Websites began popping up. Greatamericaneclipse.com clearly delineated the “zone of totality.” The black line spanning a few miles wide and arcing across the United States from southern Texas to Maine would pass directly through Columbus, IN. My work colleague near Carbondale, in southern Illinois, who is an avid photographer, touted the town’s merchandizing slogan, “Eclipse Crossroads of America” for having the unique distinction for being in the zone of totality for both the 2017 and 2024 celestial events. Everywhere I read, for communities in this special zone, tourism directors claimed tens of thousands of people may be coming to their city. 

So what is the zone of totality? It means approximately 4 minutes of the moon totally covering the sun, casting a shadow over the land. In the case of Columbus, the eclipse would reach its peak just after 3 PM.

Five months before the big day, Monday, April 8, my friend announced he was organizing a Renaissance Festival at the Columbus Airport. He was planning for thousands.

April 2024 was all about the moon. 

When the day finally arrived, I worked until noon, put on my Welsh dragon t-shirt, and jumped on my bike. My good friend joined me on our voyage to the Airport property. It was a beautiful day. Fears of a cloudy day that had circulated for the past week were dispelled. There were thousands of people. We bumped into many friends, none of us knowing quite what to expect. What we did know was that there were jousting competitions, falconers, knights beating each other relentlessly with swords and maces, troubadours doing improv comedy, and much more. The human spectacle was preparing for an astronomical spectacle. The minutes ticked by. I found my godsons and their family and we ventured to the one hill on the property. My friend set up a camera to virtually share the event with his family in Germany.    

Wind whipped flags, then stopped
I stand on my moon shadow
360 sunset

Later in the afternoon, my friend and I hopped on our bikes, joyously journeying across town to another friend’s house to recount the wonders of the day. I was elated. It was better than I had expected- sharing a surreal experience with a silent multitude.

While we saw the moon during the day, it was a new moon that evening – invisible. 

The following night, Tuesday, April 9, at the first sign of the waxing crescent moon, Ramadan ended. A Muslim colleague explained to me that one of the 5 main pillars of faith of Islam is fasting, most notably during Ramadan, when Muslims across the world commit to abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours for one month. The month is considered the time when the angel Gabriel appeared to Prophet Muhammad and revealed to him the Quran, the Islamic holy book. Because the Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the moon, the fasting ends after the moon is once again visible in the night sky – signifying the beginning of a new month – a time of celebration. The moon ushers in Eid al-Fitr, a holiday nicknamed Sweet Eid, for its association with the many desserts customarily created to end the time of fasting.

Later in April, I attended the interfaith Bridge Builders Conference in Columbus. As a grant writer for Faith in Place, a multifaith environmental and racial justice nonprofit organization, I work towards ecological restoration as an outcome of harmonious relationships between people of different faiths and spiritualities. I seek wisdom from those that find solace in spiritual traditions different from my own. We watched an extraordinary documentary called “Strangers at the Gate” about how the radical hospitality of the Islamic Center of Muncie turned a would-be bomber of the building into a devout member of the congregation. During the second day of the conference, I learned that the moon is considered a Navagraha, one of the nine heavenly bodies and deities that influence human life on Earth according to Hindu astrology

Converted Muslim
Speaking above Hindu chants
Two floors, one building

Following the conference, I was invited to celebrate the Passover by a friend from the local Jewish congregation. On Monday, April 22, I participated in my first Seder, the dinner that celebrates the Passover – the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt. I was curious why the Jewish Seder and the Last Supper of Jesus were celebrated on different days – even though both religious events are associated with the Old Testament Exodus story. They never occur on the same day. Why? Because of different relationships to the lunar calendar.

I was honored to join in the Jewish rituals expressed in the Haggadah with all the food and drink corresponding to elements of the Exodus story. The Seder’s resonance echoes with themes of liberation, perseverance, and social justice as a response to their historical experience of slavery. The Seder meal is an invitation to a solemn solidarity with those who suffer from inhumane conditions.

As I left the Seder, I contemplated the ancient roots of these themes and their significance in our contemporary society. The sun was setting behind me. The month was almost over. I looked toward the heavens – a familiar reflection illuminated a deepening blue horizon – the beginning of a bright night sky that has led many to freedom.

Holding matzah bread
I am welcomed by full moon
Free to return home

HAIKAST XIV – Origin Story

I recently went on a search for my earliest recorded haiku from what I shall call the “Opening Era”.  That era began with the death of my last grandparent, Amos Harlan Rippy. After his funeral on the hillside cemetery in Tell City, Indiana in 2013, I felt a commitment with an origin outside of myself to dive into my feelings and express them poetically.  

Rippy and Rip were the common nicknames for my grandfather, who was called “Pop” by my siblings and me. The last name of Rippy is Irish in origin. We have records dating back to the late 1700s when the Rippy family immigrated from Ireland to Orange County, North Carolina. 

Upon his death, having had 2 daughters, his surname was now locked in time as my middle name, Eric Rippy Riddle, and further honored as my son’s middle name.

While it is impossible to say the nature of the poetic calling upon my life, I do think the passing of his generation summoned in me a need to bring definition into my own emerging adulthood. Perhaps the subtle influence of the Irish ancestry beckoned an articulation of the poetic impulse. I began to call the art flowing out of me, “Openings.”

I had dabbled in poetry for years, always seeking to capture the emotions of important moments or diving into the depths of predicaments that I found myself bound. First, in the form of rhyming couplets and then in free flowing gifts to my first wife, inspired by the style of Beat generation author, Jack Kerouac.  

It never really occurred to me that I was in the minority of people who choose to use language in this way.  As one compelled to write on occasions of heightened awareness, desire, or emotional resonance, it seemed only natural that much of humanity would be ushered into the same necessity of poetic expression. That is not the case.

The longer form poetry that I was accustomed to writing became more difficult to conjure as I grew older. With adult responsibilities, even when I did feel the inspiration, I rarely had the time to capture the moment. I needed to lower my expectations to reignite my creative output. I chose haiku.

I began writing a daily haiku with a commitment to maintain the practice for a year. I started a Google Drive document that I could easily type on my phone. My formal haiku writing journey began on September 9, 2016.

However, in my recent research mission into writing “openings” following the death of my grandfather, I found scattered haiku that started in May 2014. 

The occasion of the first haiku was a trip that I took with my then 7-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter to Red River Gorge in Kentucky. It was our first big trip together, just the 3 of us. I had started camping with friends in this part of Kentucky a few years prior and instantly found it to be one of my “happy places”.  

The Red River on the day of our kayak trip was shallow. On many occasions, my kayak would bottom out. Under the much lighter weight of the kids, they even had to get out at times and drag their kayaks on the meandering stream. It wasn’t until we got to the jumping rock that we hit deep water.  

That day, at that rock, became one of those moments that I knew would last forever in my memory. It holds the joy of a hot day in the growing late spring where droves of rock jumpers and observers on the beaches huddled around a deep watering hole. Jumpers waited as kayakers like the kids and me passed through. We decided to stay. My daughter found a nice spot on the beach in view of the jumping rock. 

My son wanted to jump.  He and I climbed to the top, feeling the communal anxiety of the 40 ft drop. Many grown adults waited as others stepped to the edge, stalled with apprehension. After watching many take the leap, my son and I made our way to the spot. We joined hands, but then he wanted me to go first. I had to wrestle my own fears to take the leap, trusting he would come after me.  

And then there I was, submerged, the water deep enough to not even tickle my toes. I came to the surface and stretched out my arms. With no hesitation, Isaac jumped. My son’s youth, alive with the thrill of gravity plunging him under water for a moment. People cheered us on for his courage.

Later in the day, we camped for the first time together as a family. My daughter led the effort to build a roaring campfire on the edge of a large field, where we watched that same river winding its way past our tent. I taught the kids all the basics of camp life, profoundly grateful that I could spend this time with them, aware that I may be initiating a new tradition in our family.  

That evening, as the stars basked in a clear sky, the hot embers were ready for smores. We gathered all the needed supplies and reveled in that glorious delight best reserved for moments such as this.

Haiku moments may serve as emotional images, memorable markers along life’s journey. I am thankful that my 2 original haiku capture the essence of that lovely day back in 2014. It was good to enjoy such a sweet opening and experience of fatherhood with my two beautiful children.

Water kayak you
Rock jump into waiting arms
Eight mile memory

She ate half the smore
Dark Chocolate and cracker
Marshmallow for dad

HAIKAST XIII – Life Verse

I have a “life verse.”  Before adopting this so-called life verse, I always thought of people who said they had one as being a little woo-woo.  I didn’t understand how to claim something from the Bible as my own.  I’m sure I was a little cynical about life verses before finding mine, because I assumed that people would find something they liked without a deep personal story and just roll with it. I was dismissive of the randomness of picking a verse.  

I want to apologize to anyone that I didn’t pay attention to because of that attitude.   

A life verse can be consequential and anyone who claims one may have a story that is worth considering. Really, anything that is a lifelong commitment is worthy of our attention because of the great care it takes to select and cultivate.  

I tend to not want to make life defining pronouncements. This is probably because they may be more of a fleeting fancy than something with the substance of a true resolution. 

As I write this, it is Lent in the Christian calendar. I normally honor the season by stopping or starting a habit as a way of focusing on the coming of Easter. This year, I decided to start reading the four Biblical gospels and stop eating food after dinner. Little more spiritual nourishment and a  little less dessert nourishment. I picked them as short-term commitments.  

It seems logical that a long term commitment like a life verse would require even more consideration than what to do for Lent. However, what I’m about to tell you isn’t so much about me picking a verse, it’s a story of a verse picking me.

As I was going through graduate school, I also worked full time at our local hospital.  To manage my stress level, I gravitated towards a hybrid role that was a mix of a floor secretary (processing medical orders from doctors and nurses), a Care Partner (having direct patient care responsibilities in partnership with the nurses), and, for difficult patients, a Sitter (literally sitting with them and carefully watching so they wouldn’t fall, pull out their IVs, or commit self-harm). I sat with lots of people who were in critical condition. While I never saw someone pass away, there were a number of patients who I spent the last days or hours with – being on high alert monitoring the patients’ vital signs and taking care of the family’s needs.

On my last day at the hospital – a day that I had no idea would actually be my last – I brought my Bible. It wasn’t ever my expectation to read to the patient, but some days when I was responsible for sitting, I needed a good long read. I would only read the Bible to the patient if they directly asked me to share with them. It happened to be on this day, the patient was curious about what I was reading.  So I read to them this passage:

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

My Bible does have lots of notes scribbled on the margins of the pages. However, it rarely lists the time and place when a verse carried indelible personal significance. I did make a note of this verse that day. March 2010. Soon after reading to the patient, I was asked to go to HR. I had been in two patient fall cases in recent weeks when I misjudged when I should give them privacy while they were using the bathroom. It was time for me to resign. 

Four years later, after a long bout of depression, I found myself on the edge of another resignation. I didn’t know when it was going to happen, but it definitely felt like there was a strong possibility that I would need to step down. Many of my coworkers knew that I had been hospitalized the previous year and I had felt alienated from them for months. It was eerily similar timing to me resigning from the hospital nine months after a hospitalization for severe depression. I was hanging on to a job that I think both my contractor and I knew could not last.

I was reading a daily devotional that year. On the day that I was asked to resign, I went home for lunch and read the devotional. The same verses from Ephesians popped up again – this time beginning at verse 14,  “Instead, speaking the truth in love…..”

When I went back to work, I met with my supervisor and we had the difficult conversation of me needing to resign. I was numb, feeling like I had already been grieving an inevitable end to another promising career path. I wept in the car in the parking lot, unable to collect myself to drive home. I wondered how I was going to recover from my ongoing mental illness and my second job loss in 4 years. That day, I felt like I had lost nearly everything, but I had gained a verse.  It was the day my life verse was born.   

I slowly rebuilt my life, with my wife, friends, and extended family offering unconditional love through the process. I took solace in contemplating what it means to speak the truth in love. I discovered that the Ephesians passage is the only verse in the Bible that is directly translated as speaking the truth in love. I knew that my recovery needed to include the way that I spoke to myself. 

In depression, it is easy to embrace certain “truths” about who I am that do not take in the full picture of my humanity. My negative self-talk that fueled so much of my depressive episodes was full of self doubt and fear of failure. I can get tied up in negative emotional attachments to experiences of when I felt like I could have made better decisions, been more sensitive to others, or put forth more effort. I don’t give myself grace for my natural limitations or lack of knowledge. In short, it is truth without love.  

The Ephesians passage allowed me to pause and rethink how I talk to myself. It gave me the insight that I’m only one part of an entire Christian community and that it’s ok if I only play a small part, as long as it is in earnest and pursued in a spirit of unconditional love. The truth, when considered in love, is full of grace – it does not condemn or isolate, but points to each of us being connected to a sacred community. With this affirming perspective, I began to love myself and accept my diagnosis.   

I started a practice of studying the Bible using the lectio divina. It is a practice of reading small sections of the Bible multiple times and paying attention to words or phrases that resonate with the reader. I would then write reflections on what I read. I began practicing lectio divina with verses that included the word “humility.” I recovered by understanding and practicing humility. 

It took almost a year to feel ready to reenter the workforce, and when I did, it was with a renewed sense of self-respect and trust in my wherewithal. I am grateful that I have not slipped back into depression since reentering the workforce.

After 7 successful years working in product development and marketing at Cosco, I was incredibly thankful for the stability, job advancement, and relationships I had built. However, in 2022, I sensed that I was being called to a new career path. I decided to go on a retreat to St. Meinrad in southern Indiana to spend time in solitude and prayer. While there, I often go to the Arch Abbey Sanctuary where the monks gather to pray multiple times per day.

As my 2 day retreat came to a close, I went for a final prayer hour. Nearing the end of the hour, the Bible was opened and a monk began reading.

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work….”

There it was again. I found peace and resolution in that moment as my life verse was spoken in the sanctuary. This time, I was ready for new work. 

Ephesians 4 read
The verse about Truth in Love
Monks gave me a gift

HAIKAST XII – Sweet Seventeen

The 5-7-5 syllable format is not respected by all haiku enthusiasts. It took me 5 years of laboring away in private before I seriously began studying the centuries long history and learned how much of a rookie I really was in this poetic form. 

Now, for example, I tune in to a podcast about haiku called “Poetry Pea” (that is pea as in p-e-a, please don’t ask me where the name originated). The British moderator, recording from her home in Switzerland, conducts lively conversations with guests from around the world. It’s not as pretentious as it sounds. I appreciate the haiku that are submitted for analysis and judged for publication in the Poetry Pea journal. I encourage you to check it out if you have an interest in learning more about haiku. 

I was listening to the highlighted haiku on a recent Poetry Pea episode and counted out the syllables on my fingertips. 11 syllables, 10, 12, 12, oh…. there’s a 14 syllable one. Nothing came close to 17. It is clear that professionals in the artform of haiku are not incredibly fond of the 5-7-5 arrangement.  

In Japan where haiku originated hundreds of years ago, they traditionally stay consistent with 17 onji. While they contain similarities, the Japanese onji and English syllable do have significant differences. Onji normally represent a much shorter sound compared to an English syllable. By an academic analysis that I read, 17 onji actually average closer to 12 English syllables. I discovered this comparison of the two languages in a book published in 1985 called the Haiku Handbook by William Higginson and Penny Harter. Obviously, this notion of the differences in syllables has been well documented for a long time. This is the primary rationale why most professionals limit their syllable count.

However, in popular culture, everyone will gladly agree with you when you confidently remember the 5-7-5 standard format. Haiku are the de facto elementary school introductory poetic form – inspiring the kind of school work that sentimental parents often keep to embarrass their kids at high school graduations. For young writers who are introduced to the notion of syllables at a young age, haiku could nearly be considered a bridge between math and phonetics. Since it doesn’t take much time to finish your assignment, no wonder it is so appreciated and remembered by students! Who wants to remember the more complicated standards of limericks, acrostics, and kennings?

I think many adults have come to consider haiku child’s play – while they may remember with fondness the introduction of haiku as a young student and the fun notion that they had a quick portal into Japanese culture for a moment, it is largely dismissed. Often in an elementary English unit, haiku will be introduced along with other forms of poetry and then steamrolled by the Shakespearian sonnet – which is often considered “real poetry” because of its English heritage, complexity, length, and rhyming schemes.  

But I challenge that assumption. The brevity of the haiku is its beauty. A great haiku can stand alone, with few words doing the work, giving the reader a space to contemplate, compare to their own experiences, and appreciate the beauty and delicacy of the subject matter.  

In communication, we are often told that less is more.  Haiku has helped me to quiet my thoughts, concentrate on the small things, write shorter emails, become a better conversationalist, and look for natural moments of beauty all around me. It has taught me how to look and listen with more acuity for beauty. 

Back to the 5-7-5.  I was well into utilizing my rudimentary understanding of haiku before Higginson and Harter enlightened me on the onji and how it throws a wrench into the assumptions of our school teacher’s common practice. I defer to the authors of “The Haiku Handbook” and the many other scholars who long ago made clear that us English speakers are not actually adhering to traditional Japanese haiku by using the same sound count.

Poetry Pea is doing an excellent job of showcasing the talent of modern masters of the form. I have the utmost respect for fellow haiku writers who may think going over 12 English syllables is testing the limits. Perhaps I’m the iconoclast. I’ll stick with the 5-7-5. There is a certain amount of joy in staying with what I learned at Sutton Elementary School. I do like throwing my fingers in the air and pumping my fist when my first impulse yields the correct amount of syllables. 

There is much more to know about the nuances of haiku and I look forward to sharing them with you. In a later podcast episode, we’ll get into the Japanese term of kigo – the use of seasonal words. Kigo is another recent introduction into my literary lexicon that has since been shaping my style by incorporating more traditional elements of haiku writing. 

The haiku that I chose for the end of this brief lesson on haiku is, yes, adhering to my 5-7-5 style. I need these 17 syllables to give myself enough room to capture the moment in a way that 12 would just not allow. 

This might be my favorite haiku that I have written. Why? Because when I read it, I remember exactly where I was and the beauty of the moment. Some writers describe a “haiku moment” like a photo, except in words. For the writer, and potentially for the reader, the brief writing carries the resonance and the feeling of a particular memory, in a way that perhaps a picture could not even convey. 

A well written haiku challenges the assumption that a picture is worth a thousand words – reducing that cliche into an advertisement for the photography industry. While a picture anchors the mind to a particular place, the use of language gives the reader flexibility to color in the details from their own experiences of similar moments that may have been long forgotten. While I yearn to give you details for the time, setting, and occasion for this haiku, I withhold the additional context to give your imagination more liberty to make it your own. 

As full moon rises
Silver Lake water ripples
Pale glow floats towards me

HAIKAST XI – On The Verge

One of my favorite words is verge. It is one of those fun words that can be either a noun or verb. I first gained a deeper appreciation for its meaning when reading a book about landscapes.  In that book, verge was described as a place that delineated the border of human made space and natural space. The leading example was of beachfront properties, describing how humans often desire to build sophisticated infrastructure as close to wild places as possible. So a coastline could be a verge – a transition space between the inevitable wild and the human built. 

Another use of the word verge is the green space between a street and sidewalk. In this case, it is a highly controlled natural zone in the streetscape. Other terms used for that zone are berm, curb strip, swale, grass strip, terrace, green belt, tree bank, street lawn, sidewalk plot, etc. When I visited Portland, a town that does an incredible job of landscaping with diverse plantings in that zone, they refer to them as “hell strips.” 

In this zone, the verge is technically, and very importantly, the right-of-way.  Say “right-of-way” 5 times fast and you’ll begin to wonder how it ever got that civic definition. Whose right? What way?  It would probably be more accurate to call it a no-mans-land. Often, the sidewalk verge is an example of what is essentially the public commons gone wrong – either bare minimum treatment of weeds OR an immaculate fertilized and herbicide-fed turf grass that noone ever uses except to spend a few minutes burning fossil fuels to mow. A chemical dump.  

How many verge acres are there when adding up thousands of small square foot patches in this country? 

In my personal experience with a sidewalk verge, I was a volunteer leader for the landscape at my church (a former warehouse packed into a dense downtown neighborhood) that was surrounded by asphalt. Before I took on the role, there was no one doing it. I daresay that no one even thought it was a needed role because it was a weed covered hell strip next to a building that we did not own. This verge was practically invisible.

I proposed a raised bed in the verge. With some TLC, it became a mini-rose garden at the side entrance of our nondescript rag tag church. A year later, Toni Costanzi, who helped us build the bed, passed away.  She was the first person from the relatively young church who had a funeral in the building, so we put a memorial sign at the corner of the bed. It was truly beautiful. A little bit of heaven on that strip.

In the following three years, with some serendipitous support from local Indiana University Professor Kevin Lair, 100 linear feet of native flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees were planted in front of the building. A section was designated as a neighborhood garden with a sign that encouraged walkers to take some food as they strolled down Sycamore St. The verge came to life. It was my introduction into native plants and forever changed my understanding of the value of ecological diversity. 

There are other verges – the verb variety. Instead of a gray line of delineation, a verge can be more about decision making, at the cusp of a transition in one’s life. It can be about connecting with a new opportunity. 

People say they are “on the verge,” like walking towards the precipice of a monumental life decision. To verge can be like walking from the known into the unknown – facing all the pressure that comes from making a leap towards a new life. 

Verges can be thwarted by outside forces – like being on the verge to victory, only to have the ball bounce the wrong way on the road to defeat. Or you can di-verge and decide to go a different way from where you had expected.

In 2023, I attempted to verge into City Council political life. I walked into the Election Day party ahead in the polls, only to see my lead dwindle and then slip away at the last moment. I was on the verge to a new path in life and then I lost. The verge line between the public life of an elected official and the wild life of the general public grew very thin in November. In my ongoing advocacy work, I will remain near that edge, that gray space where private citizens try to influence public officials. Hugging close to that line is what I think of as democracy, as we all play a part that can go well beyond our time in the voting booth.

The day after I lost the election, I drove to Chicago for work. The timing was very helpful as I decompressed from 4 months of feverish activity. The first morning in the city, I woke up early, grabbed a cup of coffee, and walked straight to the shores of Lake Michigan. There, at Promontory Point near Hyde Park, I walked out towards the large hewn stones that formed a bulwark against the crashing waves. I was mesmerized. The skyline unfolded north of me. That crisp morning, I climbed down the rock until I was dangerously close to the spray of the water mist. I started taking pictures. Why was I doing this? I was enthralled by the rock in foreground, the stop action of a crashing wave caught at its apex, and the skyline in the background. 

They weren’t great pictures. It’s impossible to catch the immanence of that place or the feeling that I had that morning – the proximity to unpredictable nature on the Chicago metropolis shore. 

I had found a verge. 

I danced on the stones as long as I could before I needed to leave to meet my colleagues.

Found verge at rock wall
Lake waves crash on hand hewn stone
Lawn then trail then road

Episode 62 – Tony’s Moving to New York!

On this special old school episode, Eric Riddle produced the show. The show begins reflections of friends and family members answering the question, “What Does Tony Mean to You?” The episode then transitions into Tony and Eric discussing his move to New York, details about his new book, “Hope for Troubles Minds: Tributes to Those with Brain Illnesses and Their Loved Ones,” their experience going to an Indiana Hoosiers basketball game, and the background to Eric’s Haikast episodes.
 
The Revealing Voice podcast will continue in 2024 with more interviews, more Haikasts, and more news about Delight in Disorder ministries. Thank you for another great year as we wrap up the 6th year of podcasting!

HAIKAST X – The Democracy Experience

I ran for City Council earlier this month. On the Sunday before the election, I decided to walk the outdoor labyrinth and then I went home to write, rather than continuing to seek, knock, and ask my way into office. This is an edited version of what I wrote while in that moment: 

Beautiful fall day in early November. After 3 months of knocking on over 1,000 doors, I find myself sitting on my front porch, compelled to capture this moment of tension, 48 hours before the final votes are cast.

I’ve never run for a political office. This year, I finally succumbed to the drumbeat of people telling me that I have the right personality and patience to do the job.

This is what I have come to understand – people care deeply for their neighbor, but aren’t sure what is best for others. In that quandary, some think that people should trust in self organization and caring for each other, free from the restrictions or requirements of a governmental authority. Others see the mounting needs of others in society and see great value in a public institution that cares for those who struggle. 

I believe that humans have the capability and responsibility to organize effective governance so that the plight of poverty is diminished in civilization. But we must be actively engaged in our democracy to make this aspiration possible. 

I am at peace with my participation in this democratic process. I entered this campaign focused on meeting my neighbors, sharing my story of developing my leadership sensibilities during the city’s flood recovery, and focusing on affordable housing, the mental health matters initiative, supporting Nexus Park and the associated economic development around the area, and meaningful participation in the local climate alliance. I’m committed to the work of Landmark Columbus for preserving our cultural heritage and advancing design principles in our civic life. 

Getting votes can have a corrupting influence on the imagination. It’s easy to weigh every decision as an opportunity to gain as many votes as possible. And if not careful, it’s easy to start objectifying and stereotyping people in the process. Asking yourself, who should I and who should I not care about in this time-constrained endeavor to win? 

At some point about a month ago, I let go of the pressure to win and focused on the process. It is more about paying attention to democracy and less about politics. To care about people voting and wanting to be educated about the issues. This does not need to be a popularity contest. 

When people talk about democracy dying, I think it’s because we have turned our minds towards the abstractions of national politics and not towards the relationships that can be formed between voters and their elected officials. It is easier to have that relationship building value in a city election. I’ve been able to meet a large percentage of the people who live in this neighborhood. I have the experience of listening to and caring for all of the perspectives that have been expressed to me along the way. People have respectfully disagreed with me. Some have not been able to engage in conversation at all due to my party affiliation. Others have been willing to listen to change their mind. I’ve had big smiles and high fives and invites into homes. 

I grew up in this district on Woodfield Place, went to school, bought my first home, attended church, and settled into this home with Jen for the past 11 years in this district. I raised my children here. It’s been an honor to meet so many people who create the fabric of my existence. Who help keep me safe, who provide joy with their house decorations, who work to make this community better.

I’m unconventional – more of an artist than an economist. I would like to think that I have the best designed signs among all the candidates. I’m not the best public speaker and I still get butterflies every time I think about knocking on doors. 

Today is the first day that I did not feel those butterflies. It’s the first day that I felt like I can rest and reflect without agonizing about what I could have done. And maybe I will lose this election by a handful of votes that perhaps I would have gained had I walked around this neighborhood today. It’s impossible to know.  

I’ve approached each day as an underdog. Wondering if I could push past the 50% mark by Election Day. I kind of imagined this Sunday as a mad dash to win – skipping church, maybe skipping lunch and galvanizing an army of people to knock on doors with me. But I did not do that. I have watched the shadows on this day. I’ve reacquainted myself with the flowers that have browned and grayed since their full blooms were on display when I first started this campaign. They have lost their energy and are giving back to their roots, preparing for the inevitable winter and dormancy. They will emerge in the spring. I will too. 

I’m not sure what will happen and I’m at peace with the public making that choice for me. I would like to think that my life won’t be dramatically different whether I win or lose. With a win, I have a council vote. If I lose, I will continue to be an advocate. Either way, at the top of my mind is serving the public in a way that is genuine, full of care, and curious about how to shape a community to be better connected. We all sit somewhere in this vast web of Columbus and we are inextricably linked. I have learned that more than ever over the course of this year. There is no way to separate each other from the reality of a shared destiny. 

I chose a campaign slogan of “Listen. Learn. Lead.” to calm my nerves and to be a reflection of who I am. It’s easy to get caught in the desire to be an aspiring omni-everything leader. Great in front of the audience, great in front of the computer, great in the subject matter of public opinion, and connected to the important people – able to get things done. But the reality is that most of us only have the capacity to excel in a few of those skills. I am at peace with listening to the themes of this community and being humble enough to not have immediate answers. I hope that I encourage new people to come to public meetings to help serve the greater good. 

I will be walking away from this season having learned that I’m a listener – or at least aspire to be. To accept a leadership style that is perhaps a little less driven by ego and more by a desire to empower others – not for me to be at the center, but for the connections that emerge to be the motivation for positive change. 

I’ve not talked directly about the environment perhaps as much as I would have liked. I will close by saying that I want to think about all of life as my constituency. Everything that pulses and contributes to the ecosystem has a voice and purpose that is worthy to be listened to and upheld. To be a part of the conversation of creation. We are stewards of something that we did not create. How do you create a sense of stewardship over all that we are connected to, human and non-human? It’s about seeking relationships with those who struggle, who have a voice, but are not heard, and are asking for our help.   

Between knocks on porch
Calm before conversation 
The person cares here

I lost the election by a 48% to 52% margin. I was glad to see the newspaper print an editorial a few days later with that begin with this sentence:

“Eric Riddle was not victorious in his bid for a seat on the Columbus City Council, but on election night Nov. 7, his prevailing opponent, Kent Anderson, said Riddle was a winner.”

This quote captured my intentions in campaigning – to build a positive relationship with my neighbors and with Kent Anderson – who despite being my opponent, I referred to as my running mate. 

I look forward to supporting Kent and the community in whatever capacity best suits my abilities. I’m proud to have accepted an invitation to be a Mental Health Matters Ambassador in Columbus. Perhaps that will be more impactful for me to be doing over the next 4 years!

HAIKAST IX – Labyrinth Love

I dedicate this Haikast to my wife, Jennifer Anne Riddle, for our 11 year wedding anniversary!

I asked Jen to marry me in the center of a labyrinth on a cold February afternoon. The previous week was Valentine’s Day and she was clearly upset that I did not pop the question during dinner in downtown Indianapolis. She didn’t know that I was waiting for Ash Wednesday the following week.

I first met Jen in Boston in 2009. She was one of my sister’s roommates. When I went to cheer on my sister in the Boston Marathon, the all women’s Christian household where Suzanne lived allowed an exception to have a guy stay overnight since I was a family member.  

I was dating at the time, so I didn’t think beyond the budding of a platonic relationship. Besides, I have never had much of a radar for flirtation. We did share great conversations about Jack Kerouac, the band U2, the NFL, and my endeavor to write a book about the Columbus flood recovery. We even shared an ice cream cone. Platonically.

It was about a year later when she called me randomly after the Indianapolis Colts lost the Super Bowl to the New Orleans Saints. She called again a month later when the Duke Blue Devils beat the Butler Bulldogs in the NCAA basketball championship. At that point, I was single and surprised by what became clear, after the second call, that these were not random conversations. 

We quickly jumped to topics with a little more spiritual depth.

Independently, in that spring of 2010, we both decided to give up all liquids except water for Lent. She was doing it for a ministry called Blood:Water mission. I was doing it because I realized that I had become entirely too dependent on daily coffee. This opened up our conversations of shared journeys. 

You may say that we entered the labyrinth together that spring.

Two years later, when we were walking a real labyrinth together – on the threshold of the marriage proposal – we had been through a lot. She moved to Columbus and transferred to Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis to complete her Masters of Divinity degree. We broke up twice as I navigated the nagging suffering of post-divorce life and introducing my children to her. We lived through me having a major depressive episode. It wasn’t a straight shot to the altar. I don’t think life ever is as linear as we want it to be.

Labyrinths have been around a long time.  If you dive into the history, you’ll discover that many ancient cultures spread across the globe have iconography related to labyrinths. Coins from Greece in the 5th century BC included labyrinth images. It is thought that the labyrinth has been part of human civilization for over 4,000 years. 

If you are not familiar with labyrinths – or perhaps only associate the term with David Bowie’s film from the 1980s – there is a very strong distinction from a maze. People get lost in mazes in a series of dead ends with only one way through. If doing a maze on paper, you may need to erase your path a few times before successfully finding your way out.

You will not get lost in a labyrinth or need to retrace your steps. While the traditional labyrinth, codified in the 13th century floor of a French cathedral, may seem intimidating with 11 concentric rings leading to a circle in the middle – it is not a place of dead ends. You will find your way to the center – to what some labyrinth aficionados describe as the womb. A safe place to reflect before reentering the world. 

Labyrinths are the home of spiritual ritual. On that Ash Wednesday with Jen, I chose the labyrinth walk as a sign that we would never face a dead end. We might not be able to anticipate the twists and turns, but we would do it together, we will find the center.  

As we walked out, we headed inside the church on the property. We walked out with ash on our foreheads, a sign that sacrifice and mourning is part of this life. While probably not the first choice of most people who are minutes into engagement, it was fitting for us. Even in the moment of showing shared aspirations of a lifetime of love, we acknowledged that our time together would come to an end – that one of us would have to step out of the labyrinth first. 

We have walked many labyrinths over the last 12 years. For years, I had been trying to build a labyrinth in Columbus. Finally, starting just before the pandemic, First United Methodist Church – where Jen was working – agreed to pursue putting a labyrinth in the lawn just north of the church. The labyrinth was installed in 2022, 10 years after our wedding. Benches and native plants adorned the corners. New trees were added to make the space feel more intimate. 

In early summer of 2023, Jen made the decision to leave her job to take on a new ministry position at First Presbyterian Church, just a couple blocks away. It was an emotionally difficult time for both of us as she decided to leave her first job in full time ministry. 

Before making her announcement, I joined Jen in late May as she led others from the church in a labyrinth walk, one of the first facilitated educational walks she had led with members of the congregation. 

As is my practice, when I reached the center of the labyrinth, I paused in prayer. When I opened my eyes, I saw her – with both churches, like bookends, in my field of vision. We would be walking on soon, together, in her ministry journey, taking an unexpected twist on a path whose only promise is to never lead to a dead end.

Centered, still, movement
From labyrinth, two steeples
She is walking out

HAIKAST VIII – Gardening 201

It’s hard to accurately describe how big my parents’ garden was when I was a child.  I remember many summer days working with them to dig rows, plant seeds, weed and harvest.  It was home to many vegetables, most notably the corn that my dad loved to grow and the green beans that I wasn’t as fond of. But just as the corn towered over my single digit self, the garden also spread wide to be as big as any that I knew.  To my eye, perhaps only my dad’s parents’ garden in rural Green County, Indiana was larger.

Whatever the dimensions, it was large enough to plant in me a seed of understanding and a desire to want to have my own garden.   

I am excited that this year I only spent $10 on my entire vegetable garden thanks to a combination of saving seed packets from last year, harvesting my own seeds, trading plants with friends, getting seeds from the public library seed share program, and allowing volunteer plants to find their way. A package of brussel sprout plant plugs and a seed pack of green beans was my only expense for a massive harvest this year. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more involved with plants I have become, the less I have had to spend on their cultivation. 

For people who did not grow up around the cycle of planting and harvesting, I can imagine that gardening may seem like a risky gamble into struggling with unkempt weeds and frustrating neighbors.  Depending on your property, a garden can be a public hobby and, if you aren’t sure of your motivations or confident in what you are doing, may invite embarrassment at the site of perceived failure when the harvest doesn’t seem worth the effort.

What I can tell you is this – the more that I have gardened, the more I realize that I don’t do the gardening for my diet, property value, public relations with my neighbors, or to fill my time.

I garden for the plants and for the non-human life that benefits from the presence of diversity on my property. 

Yes, all of the former that I mentioned are definitely benefits for me as well.. I will be the first to raise my hand to say that a late spring harvest of salad greens or a  long awaited late summer watermelon are among the most savory and sweet moments of my year.   

In the garden, beyond the abundance of harvest, there is also death.  The use of herbicides, forgetting to water during dry spells, the mildew that may get hold of my squash before maturity, and all kinds of other unforeseen events may create less than ideal conditions of growth. The natural lifecycle of plants and insects, and, of course, rabbits’ appetites, will inevitably dash one’s ideal harvest dreams.  I have more than once accidentally pulled a maturing desirable plant in my hasteful weeding endeavor on a hot summer evening. It doesn’t take too long to cope with death in the garden – both intentional and unintentional.

This seasonal lifecycle welcomes my presence in this entire drama, especially with native plants.  The ultimate goal of a balanced, thriving environment around my home is my care and attention.  That is why I do my best to restrain myself from pulling plants that migrate to parts of my yard where they were not originally planted. Rather than dumping fertilizer at a fixed location, I let them show me where they want to grow. I figure that they know better than I do what conditions work best for them – small changes in sunlight, moisture, soil type and neighboring plants play a big role in what will thrive and what will falter. Knowing this, I do my best to work with the plants to let them exert their preferences, rather than me enforcing mine. 

I have a perhaps too cautious concern for the use of fertilizers and anything that ends with the suffix “-ide”, so I rely on my time to be the best determiner of what grows and what dies.  So I watch, learn, and plan for the introduction of new plants and successional plantings to keep the bees busy. I want to attract other flying friends – whether it be birds or other insects, butterflies – by the diversity of plants in my yard, so they remain curious to come back year after year to see what I am up to on my little corner of the planet. 

My relationship with those creatures is what inspires me much more than trying to impress my neighbors. I do keep a reasonable order about my designs, but the primary rationale of my gardening and the outcomes that I care most deeply about are focused on if the birds and bees feel invited. My pro tip to those who want to get a little more adventurous with gardening is to keep the mowed areas edged very well so people can tell that you take great care of the lawn portions of the yard.  

People often ask me how I spend so much time outside and not worry about getting stung. The funny thing is, the only sting I have received over the past decade was from a wasp that wasn’t happy with me entering my back door. 

Best fertilizer
Shadow of the gardener
Care of dirty hands

HAIKAST VII – Opening

My basement stairs now have the “Rips Room” letters that I, Eric Rippy Riddle, inherited from my grandfather, Amos Harlen Rippy. The letters hung in the same formation from his home in Tell City, IN throughout my young life.  It is an honor to walk down my stairs and remember the familiar walk down my grandparents basement steps. 

My grandfather was a quiet man.  Growing up, the things that I most identified with my grandfather were:

  • His stable presence in all of my big life’s moments

  • He worked most of his life at the Tell City Chair Company

  • He owned a golf cart at his local course and played all the time

  • He absolutely loved St. Louis Cardinals baseball

  • He was responsible for hanging the witty sayings and announcements with the black plastic letters on the church sign

  • He stopped smoking in the early 1980s when I asked him why he smoked (I have little recollection of this, but it was often stated at family gatherings)

  • He was in the Air Force in World War 2

The family called him “Pop”.  His friend’s called him “Rip.”

In 2013, Pop was my last grandparent to die.  I was close to all 4 of my grandparents, but Pop’s quiet nature was overshadowed by my grandmother who showered love, attention, and lots of cookies on me. His quiet presence was one of solidarity, but not as much what I would call intimacy. It felt like there was something that I didn’t know about him and wasn’ sure how to find out.

The funny thing is that I did not cry at the funerals of my other grandparents. I also did not speak at those funerals. I did both the day Pop was buried.

His funeral is easily the most memorable for me.  I remember standing on the cemetery hillside, listening to the playing of Taps and getting an overwhelming feeling of what I can only describe as being opened.  I was compelled to begin writing poetry that I described as “openings”.  I wrote this after Pop’s funeral: 

Today, Pop was buried
Next to my mother’s mother
Sunny, windy on top of Tell City
My son watched the old man fold the flag
Red, White, Blue described
I stood in the tent, feeling an opening
A generation is gone
My mom, dad, aunt, and uncle said their goodbye
At the church, I took the Kleenex
And mumbled through 8 tissues
I said death is a myth
and my grandfather is alive

Pop lived 68 years after he flew over Tokyo in 1945.  It took me until 2022 to realize that my grandfather was part of Operation Meetinghouse. The air raids over Tokyo on March 9th and 10th in 1945 are considered the deadliest air raid in human history.  With a firestorm that killed nearly 100,000 people, the napalm burned a quarter of Tokyo to the ground.  While the atomic bombs get the attention, it was the Operation Meetinghouse air raid that my grandfather participated in that took the most human life.

His generation fought the most lethal war in human history. Pop embodied the conflict that horrifies and amazes all who study that time in human history.  I can not imagine the psychological anguish – whether felt or stuffed into his unconscious that he must have experienced. I wish I could have known more and spoken to him about that time in his life.  

I wept the day I pieced together the dates of Operation Meetinghouse with what my brother had discovered in Pop’s journals. While it did not feel like a family secret, this realization was an unearthing of family history that has been life altering to me. It feels like a lost treasure with a key that could only truly be opened by talking to Pop. I think part of my emotional reaction is not being able to talk to him about the experience. I am not sure how this has shaped me or how this knowledge will play a role in my life.  It is real and painful and unforgettable.  When he died, and I felt opened, maybe it was a way of passing on a desire for my generation to be reconcilers in a world prone to war.

This deeper understanding of Pop’s Air Force service has drawn me closer to him since his passing. When I think of Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation,” I remember my grandfather. I’m thankful that I have lived in relative peace, compared to the world he inherited when he was in his early 20’s and Pearl Harbor put his generation instantly on the path to the deadliest war in human history. Whether soldiers died, like some of his friends, or soldiers survived by dropping bombs on the enemy, I count both as sacrifices. I understand his quiet demeanor more.  

Following the war, he thankfully was able to serve the rest of his life in the peaceful town of Tell City, IN. The stability he provided to our family after his service in World War 2 laid a foundation of success for my mother that has since passed down to my generation and my children.     

Before Pop passed, his first grandson was born – Isaac Rippy Riddle.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to honor my grandfather by passing on his family name. May Isaac, like his great grandfather, grow to humbly serve, seeking reconciliation in a complicated world.

Grandfather’s silence
Grieving great fire of World War
Nineteen forty five