Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 30, 2016

Parting words, growing orbits

As I read of “Right Stuff” astronaut John Glenn’s Dec. 8 death in Columbus, Ohio, a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke runs through my head. The first stanza goes:

I live my life in growing orbits,

which move out over the things of the world.

Perhaps I can never achieve the last,

but that will be my attempt.

That’s Robert Bly’s translation. Others have rendered the key phrase “widening circles.”  But growing orbits is more appealing: It looks better. Sounds better. Feels better. This poem, as a whole, became a mantra of sorts for me years ago.

Growing orbits

how life is supposed to feel

the paths we travel

the roads we find ourselves on

the trails we blaze

we want them to be ever-expanding

in positive, mind-boggling, creative ways

as they intersect the orbits

of those around us

What an ideal is expressed by Rilke’s second sentence. Oh, to be eternally engaged in endeavors to achieve the last ring of life! Retirement? Not for me.

This column comes shortly after my 65th birthday. Dec. 26. A day after Christmas. Six before New Year’s, 191 before the 4th of July. When this year is finally in the can, I’ll be in several new orbits: They don’t emerge singly, orbits. Plus, they tend to be neither linear nor symmetrical.

Jan. 1, 2017, starts my 21st year as a judge – 41 years, 4 months and 4 days from when I started law school. But who’s counting?

This career has been a series of orbits: a year in the law library; two with a city attorney’s office; 18 in private practice; 20 now on the bench; 14 teaching a course titled for two of my great loves: Law and Literature.

And then there’s marriage, parenthood, golf, music, and more.

As Gary Weir, aka Bozo the Clown in these parts years ago, might have said, “Are you kiddin’ me for sure?!”

It’s been a blessed and marvelous run. And the end is not in sight.

As for the I Swear column and crossword, it’s time for parting words.

That phrase, by the way, is not in the dictionary, though it gets 475,000 Google hits, including a few that are dictionaryesque.

From a site called Reverso Dictionary: “Your parting words … are the things that you say … as you are leaving.” Duh. Remarks made while changing orbits, I’d venture.

And then there’s Parting Words (2008), the film. Tagline: “A comedy about dying.”

A character called Father Vic is played by Michael Cullen. (Never heard of him? Join the club.) One reviewer writes: “This is a story without pretense: real friends among real people in a real Italian Hoboken neighborhood playing out … the reality of their relationships …The only pretense … is the studied lack of all pretense.”

I think they want us to think they’re not pretending? Deep. I hate that I won’t have watched it before turning this column in.

So, Rilke’s poem’s parting words blow me away. And melt me to tears. I’ll use them to close out the I Swear Era:

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,

and I have been circling for a thousand years,

and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,

or a great song.