Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Eight


Some years ago, a young man stopped me after church.  His little daughter played happily in an empty pew behind us.  “How will I know," he asked, “when the time comes – how will I know the difference between typical adolescent angst and something more sinister, something life-threatening?”  His sister, a young adult, had died of suicide; his father, grief-stricken, had followed her five years later.

I have some answers, now, for his question. I know what to look for, what to ask, how to find help – both emergency and long term.  What I do not know is how I have survived long enough to have learned those things.  How have I lived eight years without you?

I do not pretend to be in possession of answers for anyone else. I know so many mothers now . . .  so many women who live, sometimes in the shadow, sometimes in the light, of life’s most crushing blow.  Some have found answers in deeply-held faith; others shrug their shoulders when asked whether God lives, or cares.  Some have become activists and pour themselves into causes in the hope that their loss will mean something, will be transformed into other lives saved;  others run as fast as they can in other directions; and a few isolate themselves.  Perhaps most of us sense an impetus to respond in all ways simultaneously – I have had dinner conversations with friends after long days in Congress in which we have seriously discussed the possibility of simply walking away from our lives.
Where are you?  I wonder . . .  How might you have influenced your world, you with your multitude of gifts, your expansive education, your wit and geniality?  Who might you be – business executive, architect, photographer? Husband, father?   Where will you be as your father and I age, and we and your brother and sister need you to help us?  Need you to be present in our lives?  The door has been slammed shut on the answers to all of those questions.
Work . . .  that helps.  The women I know who have survived have all embraced creative, other-centered lives.  Brilliant artists, every one of them – painters, restauranteurs, nonprofit volunteers, writers, therapist, spiritual directors, businesswomen, activists, contemplatives.  Finding one another . . .  that helps.  We need others who understand when we exclaim, “And you won’t believe what that person said to me . . . ” .  We need others who understand about the birthdays, the holidays, the vacations, the . . .  the everything, actually.  Re-forging relationships from the past that is no more . . .  that helps.  Few people really know us anymore, but they do care about us.  And we, about them. 
Eight years.  The weight that threatened to suffocate me has lifted.  I sleep, frequently through the night.  I can concentrate for hours at a time and often on several things at once.  (My short-term memory does seem to have been a permanent casualty.)  My family remains intact.  My own work is challenging and joyful.  My life is no longer defined by loss, by horror, by grief.
But: eight years.  Not a day, seldom an hour, passes in which you, and the you-now-gone, are not foremost in my mind and heart.   I love you.  My darling boy.


Eight


Some years ago, a young man stopped me after church.  His little daughter played happily in an empty pew behind us.  “How will I know," he asked, “when the time comes – how will I know the difference between typical adolescent angst and something more sinister, something life-threatening?”  His sister, a young adult, had died of suicide; his father, grief-stricken, had followed her five years later.

I have some answers, now, for his question. I know what to look for, what to ask, how to find help – both emergency and long term.  What I do not know is how I have survived long enough to have learned those things.  How have I lived eight years without you?

I do not pretend to be in possession of answers for anyone else. I know so many mothers now . . .  so many women who live, sometimes in the shadow, sometimes in the light, of life’s most crushing blow.  Some have found answers in deeply-held faith; others shrug their shoulders when asked whether God lives, or cares.  Some have become activists and pour themselves into causes in the hope that their loss will mean something, will be transformed into other lives saved;  others run as fast as they can in other directions; and a few isolate themselves.  Perhaps most of us sense an impetus to respond in all ways simultaneously – I have had dinner conversations with friends after long days in Congress in which we have seriously discussed the possibility of simply walking away from our lives.
Where are you?  I wonder . . .  How might you have influenced your world, you with your multitude of gifts, your expansive education, your wit and geniality?  Who might you be – business executive, architect, photographer? Husband, father?   Where will you be as your father and I age, and we and your brother and sister need you to help us?  Need you to be present in our lives?  The door has been slammed shut on the answers to all of those questions.
Work . . .  that helps.  The women I know who have survived have all embraced creative, other-centered lives.  Brilliant artists, every one of them – painters, restauranteurs, nonprofit volunteers, writers, therapist, spiritual directors, businesswomen.  Finding one another . . .  that helps.  We need others who understand when we exclaim, “And you won’t believe what that person said to me . . . ” .  We need others who understand about the birthdays, the holidays, the vacations, the . . .  the everything, actually.  Re-forging relationships from the past that is no more . . .  that helps.  Few people really know us anymore, but they do care about us.  And we, about them. 
Eight years.  The weight that threatened to suffocate me has lifted.  I sleep, frequently through the night.  I can concentrate for hours at a time and often on several things at once.  (My short-term memory does seem to have been a permanent casualty.)  My family remains intact.  My own work is challenging and joyful.  My life is no longer defined by loss, by horror, by grief.
But: eight years.  Not a day, seldom an hour, passes in which you, and the you-now-gone, are not foremost in my mind and heart.   I love you.  My darling boy.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Washer and Dryer


I have taken to noticing, of late, many of the things I take for granted in our home.  We are getting ready to do a major overhaul of the third floor (the kitchen will require a winning lottery ticket), but the rest of the house is ok. 

I have been noticing, in particular, that lights work at the touch of a switch, and water at the turn of a faucet handle.  I don't know why, but it seems important these days to acknowledge the easy privilege with which we live.

Not that we are talking perfection here.  The washing machine abandoned the delicate cycle years ago, and gave up on consistent spinning sometime last winter.  So . . .  I released the concept of a delicate wash to the universe, and spent many late nights and early mornings heaving heavy, water-laden loads of clean wash into the dryer for two or three cycles.  Whatever.

The final straw came last week, when the dryer ceased to spin.  We could spread wet laundry across the deck and patio furniture as an emergency measure, but that was not a long-term solution.

The new appliances came today, and the delivery guys magically maneuvered them down the narrow and twisting 100-year old basement staircase.  And a   little while ago, I folded the first pile of clean towels in a week.

I'm sure that they smell delicious, but having no sense of smell (another story), I wouldn't know anything about that. What I do know is that they felt wonderfully clean and soft and warm.

And much as I would like to live on the banks of any sort of body of water, I am extremely grateful that I am not required to do laundry therein!


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Inward Journey (Sermon)


Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)



I had another sermon planned and prepared.

I switched the readings and prayers between this week and next, because I wanted to preach a two-part sermon on the inward journey and the outward journey of faith.  The journey we make through prayer and contemplation, and the journey we make through action and mission. It made more sense to me to start with the inward journey, exemplified by Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, and then to move on to the outward journey, with the Good Samaritan modeling attentiveness to the stranger.  Plus next week is our afternoon service of prayer and music on the eve of the convention, a service that constitutes a statement by us of our willingness as a congregation to participate in the outward journey, to offer our prayers in service of our city and nation.

I had a plan.

And then Alton Sterling was shot and killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge.  And then Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.    And then five law enforcement officers were shot and killed by a sniper in Dallas as they were engaged in the sacred work of protecting Americans who were themselves exercising their sacred right to protest the loss of black lives. 

And then I read an essay by a friend who is the white mother to a black son, a son who is a charming three-year old, and who says that when she and her husband adopted him, people asked her how she was going to prepare to mother her black son.  Twelve years ago, no one asked how she was going to prepare to mother her white daughter.

And then I read an essay by a friend whose white stepson is a law enforcement officer in Florida, and about how she recognizes the risks of his life, and the lives of his wife and children,

And so my plans changed.  And so for the third time in six weeks I am wearing the stole Rev.Rosalind Hughes made for me, the orange stole to protest gun violence.  And once again I find myself compelled to preach about events which affect all of us.

How so? You might be asking?  What do any of these events -- shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas have to do with us, here in Bay?  And what does the turmoil in our black communities have to do with us, in this beautiful lakeside city in which we strive to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all?  And what does any of it have to do with Jesus and Mary and Martha.?

Now I know how many Marthas are here in this congregation. And Marthas are out in full force right now -

bringing casseroles
organizing protests
working to change the underlying attitudes and structures which give rise to this persistent violence in our nation

But today we also see Martha’s sister Mary
refusing to be distracted
focusing on Jesus
on Jesus who is headed toward Jerusalem
headed toward that place and time in his life where he will confront injustice and violence head on, and will himself be subjected to both

Mark no mistake about it
Jesus is not only the Son of God who reminds us over and over again to love one another
Jesus is not only the Son of God wililng to make the ultimate sacrifice
Jesus is also the Son of God born into an oppressed people –

Jesus is the Son of God who fully aligns himself with

those who are poor,
those who are disenfranchised,
those who are subjected to oppression and violence and
those who face daily the destruction of their lives and communities.

That's the Jesus to whom Mary is listening.
That's the Jesus to whom we are called to listen.

We struggle so  to listen intently.
We struggle mightily to grow in our inner lives of the spirit

we are quite naturally do-ers like Martha - in church, at home, at work
we live in a culture in which busyness and achievement are valued and rewarded
we don't really learn to listen
in ordinary conversation - we are waiting for our turn!
to God - we focus on our liturgy and on intercessory prayer
such important aspects of our faith lives -

but seldom on LISTENING
which is where deep prayer begins

You know this, many of you, already, in your personal lives
You pray and pray and pray for someone or something, and the situation does not change,
and eventually you begin to pray for patience
and for courage and for resilience,
and perhaps eventually you begin
to watch and listen for what GOD is saying and doing


This is the prayer to which Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, calls us
We pray -- as we are also called to do - for those killed and injure
We pray -- as we are called to do -- for those who protect and lead us
But we also pray by listening and watching
What is Jesus saying to each of us?

We pray by putting aside our eagerness to defend ourselves,
to maintain the status quo, to stay in our protected world

And we listen to the one who does none of those things --
Who is not defensive,
not bent on maintaining things as they are,
Not seeking to protect himself --

Jesus, visiting Mary and Martha, is on his way to Jerusalem
their home is safe and comfortable, but he is not going to stay there
Jerusalem is the place to which he has to go to confront
and overcome violence and injustice
the cross is the destination which he has to face in order to triumph
over all that seeks to destroy us - over death itself

So this week, like Mary: we re called to listen to him
We are told to put aside our own priorities and preoccupations
We are directed to let go of our own biases and preconceptions

What is Jesus saying to you,
how is he speaking to you,
through the lives and voices of those who have been killed,
and through the lives and voices of the communities who mourn them?

If we are truly sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Jesus’ voice,
Then we know that he speaks for those whose voices are so often silenced
and we know that his call is always to that which gives life. 

How is he calling each of us this morning?



*******
The above is more or less what I preached this morning.  I have been preaching more and more from outlines ~ the briefer, the better ~ but I had some things I wanted to be sure not to forget or garble today, and so I wrote much more than usual, three versions worth.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Falling Out of Time ~ A Stunning Chronicle of Parental Grief (Book Review)



From the first page, I knew that this is a book in a category of its own. No . . . from the title, which I saw when I stumbled across it in a bookstore last week: I immediately guessed the topic, as we who have lost our children are the ones who speak of having fallen out of time.

As a mother and a pastor, I have purchased a boatload of books on loss and grief, and especially on parental loss. Many are straightforward, not a few are little more than drivel, and two (the other being Nicholas Wolterstorff's
Lament for a Son) capture the language and experience of those who have "learned to live the inverse of life."

At first, the narative/poem/song/lament reminded me of Thornton Wilder's
Our Town, with the Town Chronicler serving in a role similar to the Narrator's. Then it began to morph into an epic journey, like that of Odysseus, or Dante, except that the pilgrims are a small, heartbroken community of mourners who seek that which is completely unattainable: a path to their beloved children.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Perhaps not for parents in the first couple of years, but for those who have made it through a few, long enough for the reality to sink in, and who wonder where we might find companionship in the silent solitude in which we now live

*****

The above was my Amazon review, written a few months ago.  I revisited it this morning, after having been shocked into a brief depression by a blog post claiming that restlessness at night is a sinful rejection of the assurance of God's presence.  I could probably count on my fingers the nights I have slept soundly and for more than a few hours at a time since my son died ~ and I wondered, reading the blog post: Do I now have to add the sleepless hours of the past eight years to my litany of sins?

And then I remembered this book, with its small band of pilgrim parents, wandering the nights in circles, seeking their lost children, and seeking one another, those others who know those walks of the wee hours.    I think I have written before of how I used to slip out of my seminary residence late at night, or early in the morning (by which I mean 1:00 am) to walk in circles around the silent campus, peering into the darkness and knowing that I would find only more silence.

The parents - Man who becomes Walking Man, Woman who becomes Woman Who Stayed at Home, Cobbler, Midwife, Mute Woman in Net, Centaur, Elderly Math Teacher, and those who observe them, night after night, are woven into community, a community of those who live in a dark solitude, uncomprehending but insistent upon giving words to their uncomprehension:  It's like a murmur.  ...  A murmur, or a sort of dry rustle inside your head, and it never stops.  So the Centaur tries to explain to the Town Chronicler. 

*****

As I was reading this book the first time, I wondered: How does he know? I have read syrupy, insipid books on parental loss, books in which everything is wrapped up neatly within a couple of hundred pages and a few months of plotline, or in a few paragraphs of well-intended advice.  This book, this poem, this little masterpiece, however, is filled with parents who live by day and walk by night.   And so I looked up the author's name and, of course: he lost his 20-year-old-son to Israel's war with Lebanon. And he concludes, through the final reflection of the Centaur:

Yet still it breaks my heart,
my son,
to think
that I have --
that one could --
that I have found
the words.



Friday, July 1, 2016

Celebrations ~ Friday Five

Celebrations are hard-won around here, but today's Friday Five asks about them and . . . why not?


It’s the time of year when celebrations abound: graduations (the end of that season), weddings, anniversaries, family reunions, and more. I’ve just officiated the blessing of my sister-in-law’s recent marriage, an event that incorporated a variety of celebrations within the celebration. Fun stuff, all around!

The season notwithstanding, causes to celebrate can be found in our daily/weekly/monthly lives, too. For today’s FF, share with us five things you are celebrating these days!

Here's a much younger version of my husband and me, concluding a backpacking trip on Isle Royale:


He turned 65 in mid-June, so we celebrated with kids then, and will be with friends Sunday night, and perhaps with his extended family in the fall when he  . . . retires!  Forty-plus corporate years are yielding to pottery making and senior track competitions.  Yippee for him!  And three celebrations.

I am quietly celebrating the end of a week of Vacation Bible School tonight, in which I was much more involved than I had anticipated being.  It went really well -- kudos to our Christian Ed Director and amazing volunteers --  but I am long past the time in which I would have bounced right back from mornings spent with many, many preschoolers.  (See photo above ~ maybe then?)  The rewards:  Big hugs from small people for Pastor Robin.

I am also celebrating the fact that it's now been about ten years since I finished my year with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  Last night I wrote a note to Spiritual Director Emeritus, now 86 years old and newly assigned to a new administrative position at Georgetown, to thank him (again). Without his patient guidance ~  no Exercises, no seminary, no survival of the loss of my son, no ministry.  Such a huge part he has played in each! At Georgetown a couple of years ago:


In spite of myself, there are things to celebrate!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Fantasy Life with a Mother



My personal experience, which I do not claim to be a universal one, was that after my mother died when she was 28 and I was seven, life went on, and I came to accept the new normal fairly quickly.

It had not occurred to me that my life might have been different until one evening when I was about thirteen or fourteen, and spending the week-end with my maternal grandparents.  By that time, my younger brother and I had acquired a troubled (you don't want to know) stepmother and four step-siblings, two of whom lived with us in Ohio and two with their father in Florida, and I had already been in boarding school for two or three years.  My grandmother broke down ~ the one and only time I was ever witness to such an extraordinary event ~ and sobbed that our lives "would have been so different if your mother had lived."

What an astonishing thought!  How had I missed that idea?

For some inexplicable reason, I've been thinking about that alternative reality recently.  My husband says, "You can't know," but I have a whole narrative worked out that differs considerably from the real one.

I would have grown up in Florida, to which my parents were trying to move from Ohio.  I would have grown up TWO BLOCKS FROM THE BEACH, where they had built a house.

I might have still gone to boarding school (always my dad's dream, since that had been his experience), but not until high school, and with a sense of enthusiasm and adventure, rather than dread and despair.  And I would have done well, because I would have been excited and full of energy, and would have been receiving encouraging letters from my mom every couple of days.

I would have gone to Vanderbilt or another southern school, because my roots would have been in the south.  (In reality, my 12th grade religion teacher tried to get me to consider colleges down south.  He was from North Carolina, and considered us all far too parochial in our New England snobbishness at the ripe old ages of 17 and 18. He had a point.)

I would have majored in biology in college, because I love science and because I would have been so well supported emotionally in high school that  I would not have given up when I first stumbled in math, and I would not have abandoned all of the preparation needed for college-level science courses.  My MOTHER would have made sure that I did no such thing.

And then I would have gone to med school and become a brain surgeon, just as I had planned back when I was eleven.

So . . . I guess if my mother had lived, I would be Meredith Grey.

Of course, Meredith has mother issues, too. 

But if MY mother had lived . . .  I would be a surgeon in Jacksonville FL and she would be around, all the time.

It's a great fantasy.



My Fantasy Life with a Mother



My personal experience, which I do not claim to be a universal one, was that after my mother died when she was 28 and I was seven, life went on, and I came to accept the new normal fairly quickly.

It had not occurred to me that my life might have been different until one evening when I was about thirteen or fourteen, and spending the week-end with my maternal grandparents.  By that time, my younger brother and I had acquired a troubled (you don't want to know) stepmother and four step-siblings, two of whom lived with us in Ohio and two with their father in Florida, and I had already been in boarding school for two or three years.  My grandmother broke down ~ the one and only time I was ever witness to such an extraordinary event ~ and sobbed that our lives "would have been so different if your mother had lived."

What an astonishing thought!  How had I missed that idea?

For some inexplicable reason, I've been thinking about that alternative reality recently.  My husband says, "You can't know," but I have a whole reality worked out that differs considerably from the real one.

I would have grown up in Florida, to which my parents were trying to move from Ohio.  I would have grown up TWO BLOCKS FROM THE BEACH, where they had built a house.

I might have still gone to boarding school (always my dad's dream, since that had been his experience), but not until high school, and with a sense of enthusiasm and adventure, rather than dread and despair.  And I would have done well, because I would have been excited and full of energy, and would have been receiving encouraging letters from my mom every couple of days.

I would have gone to Vanderbilt or another southern school, because my roots would have been in the south.  (In reality, my 12th grade religion teacher tried to get me to consider colleges down south.  He was from North Carolina, and considered us all far too parochial in our New England snobbishness at the ripe old ages of 17 and 18. He had a point.)

I would have majored in biology in college, because I love science and because I would have been so well supported emotionally in high school that  I would not have given up when I first stumbled in math, and I would not have abandoned all of the preparation needed for college-level science courses.  My MOTHER would have made sure that I did no such thing.

And then I would have gone to med school and become a brain surgeon, just as I had planned back when I was eleven.

So . . . I guess if my mother had lived, I would be Meredith Grey.

Of course, Meredith has mother issues, too. 

But if MY mother had lived . . .  I would be a surgeon in Jacksonville FL and she would be around, all the time.

It's a great fantasy.



Hello, Blog, My Old Friend . . .



It's been six weeks!

I find, these days, that it seems as if it's all been said.   And much of that which hasn't been said by me said can't be said by me.

But my writing skills are rusting from disuse. 

So maybe for awhile I'll just look for some prompts and go for it.



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lady G 'n Me






My college students ~I teach as an adjunct in the Theology and Religious Studies Department of the local Jesuit university ~ were dumbfounded last week to learn that I am a Lady Gaga fan.

I mentioned it to them because Lady G had just posted an expression of gratitude to her Catholic priest on twitter and, consequently, I discovered that she had attended the Convent School of the Sacred Heart in New York City.  "So Lady Gaga and I were both convent schoolgirls," I told my class.  "We both spent part of our lives wandering around in Catholic school uniforms and hanging out with nuns."

Lady G first came to my attention about a year ago when a local radio station began playing her song Edge of Glory.  Could the lyrics be about what I thought they were? I wondered.  On the surface, they are about sex, and the video exudes a blatant and raw sexuality, but I thought there was more to it.  Indeed, it seems that she wrote the song as her beloved grandfather was dying, and that "glory" means exactly what I thought it did.

Glory is what comes next.  After the horror, after the sorrow . . .  glory.

If you know that I have lost a child to suicide, a child with whom I walk every day and whose death haunts my dreams, that perhaps you understand why I sometimes open the car's sunroof and crank my music up loud to listen:

It's time to feel the rush to push the dangerous
I'm gonna run right to, to the edge with you
Where we'll both fall far in love
I'm on the edge of glory and I'm hangin' on a moment of truth
Out on the edge of glory and I'm hangin' on a moment with you.

Lady Gaga's tweet about the meaning of the Eucharist created some controversy among those who understand faith to be more about law than about grace.  I'm guessing that they those folks don't much like the Edge of Glory video. 

But grace abounds in the most unusual places. 

Lady Gaga sings it.  I raise the bread and the wine and I think it.  I'm on the edge of glory, and I'm hangin'on a moment of truth. 

*********

PS: Now that I know about her convent school background, I also "get" Lady Gaga's inspired Sound of Music tribute to Julie Andrews at the 2015 Oscars.  Even though I can't carry a tune, I was actually in our school production of The Sound of Music (7th grade; Kurt) and have astonished my family by my encyclopedic knowledge of every line and lyric, but more than that: it was a convent school. I suspect that Lady Gaga's powerful performance honored Sacred Heart sisters as well as Julie Andrews.


Friday, May 13, 2016

School Daze ~ Friday Five

mictori says, "Let’s reflect upon our school days in today’s Friday Five" ~

1. Favorite class during your many years of school?

A graduate course in Ignatian Spirituality, back when I was working on a master's in Humanities, and before I knew that I was going to transfer a lot of those credits to a seminary!  That course was one of those which set me on a path toward an entirely unexpected future.

2. Toughest class you have taken?

Chem 101 ~ I tried three times, and never got beyond the drop/add date.  I didn't understand a word of it, and I was surrounded by young pre-med students who'd already taken AP Chem.

3. Class you would love to retake?

Hmmm . . . . in seminary, I really.did.not.like. my required Christology course, which I took during the winter quarter.  One evening that next spring, I was sitting outside the library when a friend stopped by to tell me he was taking Christology with the new professor just arrived on campus, and that I would love it. Ha!  I said.  Not for me!  I have earned my credits and collected my grade, and I am quite finished with Christology.  He practically dragged me with him that night, and I was entranced.  Finally ~ the sort of scholarship and discussion which I had imagined seminary would be all about.  I audited the course for the remainder of the term, did an independent study and then a seminar with the same professor, and ultimately invited him to preach at my ordination. I would love to re-take that course, now that I have a few years of ministry and weekly preaching under my belt.

4. Favorite seminary or theologically-themed class?

See above.

4. Dream class – if you could design the ultimate undergraduate/graduate course, what would it be?

I am thinking about doing some work on wisdom literature and trauma,  so maybe it would be something like that.  Second choice: I have just finished a second time teaching an undergrad course in law (my first field) and religion.  I was unhappy with the way that I re-designed the course this time around, but I think that now I finally know how to do it.  If I get another opportunity, that one has some real potential.



Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mother's Day, Ocean Day



If she were still alive, my mother would be 83 for tomorrow's Mothers' Day. 

I try not to harbor illusions about what her presence now would mean for me.  My father and my mother-in-law both face serious surgical procedures in the next month.  A friend and her husband moved his (decade older) parents into skilled nursing care yesterday. Similar versions of the same story are ubiquitous in my circle of 60-something year old friends who have parents still living. I know that my vision of an active, engaged, and healthy mother are mostly fantasy.

Pure fantasy, actually, since my mother died at 28.  I have no memory of her voice, her posture, her gestures.  I have a few recollections of various incidents, most of them concerning the utterly nonmomentous stuff of which daily life is made.

My daughter and I have had a couple of conversations recently about favorite childhood memories.  (Hers seem to center on cats.  So, to tell the truth, do many of mine.)

But in one of my very favorites, my mother and I are in the car, running errands in Vero Beach, Florida, where she and my father have just built the home to which they hope to move us, permanently rather than for just a few months at a time, from Ohio. I am six and it's May, just about this time of year, and I am beside myself with excitement.  I am about to acquire my very own bedroom ~ the boys will share another one ~  and I am consulting with my mother about my decorating plans.  My goal is one of those touristy beach shops, and my prospective treasure includes fishing nets and seashells and buoys and all sorts of ocean-related fabrics and colors. 

That room will never make it past my imagination, just as my mother and youngest brother will not make it past that year.

I will be fine without the room.  But what I will miss, which I do not realize until thirty years later, when I have a daughter of my own, will be the conversations.  The ones about me: school, friends, boys, sports, music, college, legal career, husband, house, children, loss, cancer, ministry.  The ones about her ~ and I don't even know what they would have been.  That move to the beach? More children?  Work?  A return to college?  Her friends?  Her extended family (all gone now)?   Travel?  Health?

I like to think that she and my dad would have driven up here yesterday to spend an extended week-end with us and the kids, because Mother's Day would be a happy kind of holiday.  (Something else I have missed: a mother who would have treasured my children as I do, and shown up frequently just to hang out with them.)  I imagine that she would be standing in the sunroom window, looking out at the back yard, and saying, "Robbie, I wish that you would learn to garden.  It would be so relaxing for you, and your yard would not look like an abandoned lot wishing for a lawnmower.  Would you like me to stay a few days and put some flowers in for you while you're at work next week?"

And I would say, "Momma, yes, that would be great, but could you make some kind of thing with the driftwood and shells out there, so it could look like we live on the ocean?"

Unless, of course, things had worked out as planned, in which case we really would live on the ocean.

Lose a mother, and you lose a whole entire way of life.  Ocean, and almost everything else.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Loss, 7.66



Target. I am leaving for a weeklong training tomorrow.  I need cat litter, some snacks, some Advil.

I see a flowing summer dress and jacket that would look great on my girl ~ if she likes it ~  so I toss them into the cart.  One of maybe my top ten things, picking up gifts for her.  She doesn't always appreciate my taste, but I do it anyway.  Sometimes it works out.

I walk past the displays of summer stuff.  Brightly-colored noodles and beach towels, picnic chairs and coolers. 

We used to have the best times in the summer.  I loved summer SO much.  My daughter said the other day that among her best childhood memories are the days that a group of us, moms and kids, lazed away at a lake south of here.  Moms hauling out food and talking for hours on end, kids splashing off floating whales and turtles and racing to the playground during swim breaks, everyone trudging up to the parking lot as darkness finally fell. 

I look at the noodles and beach towels. 

I want my boy back.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Fifteen Years

I am pondering, these days, the next fifteen years of my life.

Surrounded as I am by friends whose parents are requiring a great deal of attention and care, with a mother-in-law and father each having surgery in the next few weeks, and with not a few health problems of my own, I am well aware that, by the time I am 80 (in only seventeen short years!) I will likely be much more limited in my capabilities and choices than I am now. 

My friend Rosa described yesterday the realities of her father's move, first into her home and, imminently, into one of his own, and the sad and stark realization that many of the things she and her husband have planned for these years may not come to pass.

My husband is trying to retire. He is down to 3.5 days a week (which, of course, really means five) and had hoped to sever the ties that bind him to his professional life at the end of June, but has been convinced to stay through the summer.  He wants to focus on his competitive running, his pottery, and his soccer coaching ~ all well-earned after forty years of grueling work weeks, many of them for many years away from home.

Two of our children seem to be settling nearby.  I had once thought that they would live all over the world and that we would have the pleasure of visiting them in . . . . France? London? locales more distant and exotic to us? But their brother's death has caused us all to converge upon our home like pigeons and, while we are travelling again, we seem unable to imagine a permanent departure.

I know that the next few years will be full . . .  work, home repairs, perhaps a wedding, and of course, the needs of our parents . . . . but if I could choose, with what would I fill them? And those, more open to possibilities, which follow? 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Houses (Friday Five)



Today's RevGals Friday Five from Monica is about houses, spurred by her first home purchase:

1. What is the most important room in your home? What requirements do you have of this room? (Sure, you can answer “bathroom,” but we can stipulate that as a reasonable assumption and you can pick the second most important room).

The living room, I suppose.  It's definitely where we spend the most time, since (a) the tv is in here (yes, at the moment we have only one tv) and (b) I do most of my work on the living room couch.  I love the natural light in the living room, and I like the feeling of being in the center of everything.

2. What is the least important room in your home? The one you use the least, or are not very picky about?

The kitchen is the most un-satisfying room, but I guess it's rather important.  It needs a complete overhaul, but the next owners will be in charge of that event.

3. Do you have preferences for your neighborhood? What are they?

I love love love my neighborhood.  Let me count the ways:

  • Wonderful neighbors.
  • My friends of 30 years are here.
  • One of the most diverse suburbs in the United States.
  • Walking distance to stores, restaurants, library, parks, and hiking trails.
  • Lots of variety in the apartments and homes, many of which are in the 90-100 year age range.
  • A short drive downtown.
I don't think I would be happy living in a non-walking neighborhood, be it city, suburb, or small town.

4. If your elementary aged offspring were to choose colors for their rooms, would any color be off limits?

No.  When they were in elementary school, their room were a rather astonishing array of colors.

5. What is your best piece of packing or moving advice?

I haven't moved since 1984.  I think it would be: Get someone else to do it.


Image: Not my house, though mine often feels like this, in Cedar Key FL.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Lakefront Hike



Lake Erie Bluffs is a relatively new metropark in Lake County, about a 45-minute drive from our house.  Lovely Daughter and I headed there for the first time today, wanting to explore a bit and try out its three miles of hiking trails on this most spectacular of spring days.

We were well rewarded with an easy, paved trail north through fields and woods, clear views of the lake from the bluffs, the discovery of two well equipped and spectacularly located campsites ~ imagine watching the Pleiades meteorshowers over the lake in mid-August! ~ and a challenging hike back on the beach, where the water was high, the waves wind-blown, and the sand covered by driftwood.

Spring migrants included towhees, ruby-crowned kinglets, chipping and song sparrows, and red-breasted and common mergansers in front of of the lakeshore restaurant where we stopped for a late lunch.

We are planning a late summerbackpacking trip in North Carolina, so today's hike was a good baby practice.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Advocacy 101

With Ohio State Representative Anthony DiVitas

My son's death by suicide 7.5 years ago has made a mental health and suicide prevention advocate of me.  I've been to the Ohio Capitol in Columbus to testify in favor of legislation to require continuing education in suicide prevention for our public schools staff, and to Washington, D.C. twice to meet with federal legislators to discuss upcoming bills and prevention in general.  This week I was privileged to do the same thing in Ohio.

The first week in D.C, three years ago, I learned that this is a thing that people do:  They join groups and head to legislative offices to advocate for laws and funding.  Last year in Washington, we meet people from a pancreatic cancer group -- there were 900 of them! swarming all over the Hill -- and a car emissions group.  This week in Columbus, the anti-death penalty and the humane treatment for animals people were there.  And while I was in Columbus, my daughter was in Washington, doing the same thing on behalf of non-profit organizations!

Our task is fairly simple: meet for 15-20 minutes with a legislator and/or aide, tell a bit of our own story, and convey what we hope they will vote for on our behalf.  This year?  At least three legislators told me how much it means that we take the time to do this.  One shared related bills that he has introduced, pertaining to making assistance available to families in which school truancy is a problem.  My own state representative became genuinely excited about helping us with first responder training and about coming to speak at our local Out of the Darkness Walk in the fall. My state senator noted that we in our county have the highest number of people with mental health needs in Ohio, and the lowest per capita funding for same.

Seven years ago, I could never have imagined that I would find energy around the word suicide.  But's it's tremendously invigorating, to see and become part of government in action.   My inner lawyer emerged, I had a great time, and I hope we made a bit of a difference as well.



Unfinished Things

Julie's Friday Five for this week cuts close to home!

She says:

"This week I’ve been thinking about unfinished things. I have so many things started and not quite done just now. . . . 

What about you? Do you finish every task, on time, before it’s due? Do you start and put aside, or keep going? Do you need deadlines or do they freak you out?"

There are, indeed, certain things I finish before my self-imposed (early) deadlines, because they have public consequences, unless of course I completely forget or confuse the deadlines, which I did at least once this week:

1. Sermons and other presentations.

2. Tests and assignments for the class I teach (although just barely, as a rule).

3. Event planning tasks, which are things for which I try never ever ever to take responsibility, but sometimes they plop right into my lap.

4. I can't think of anything else, actually that I finish . . . .  Finish might be akin to a four-letter word for me.  There are not five such things.

There are things I work on but accept that they will be finished when they are finished.  Or not. Those mostly have to do with writing projects, and various church enterprises that will take however long they take.

And there are the big huge categories for which I have grand plans which are never realized.  Those mostly have to do with household organization:

1. The papers going back  . . .  well, literally a century or more, if you count my grandmother's. 

Letters, records, journals, essays.  BLANK journals, papers, notecards, notebooks. 

2. The photographs.  Approximately ten zillion, and that does not count the ones in the attic, which I pretend are not there.

3. The clothing.  Different sizes. Different degrees of sentimentality.  Different degrees of potential usefulness. 

4.  The books. Ohhhhh, the books. Do you need a Laura Ingalls Wilder book?  A deep theological tome or Biblical commentary?  A legal handbook complete with a full set of domestic relations forms, c. 1993?  Chaucer (in Middle English)?  Guidebooks to New Zealand (didn't make it), Italy (got there!), Norway (maybe next year).  Utterly frivolous and stupid novels?  Crime and Punishment?  Come and see me. 

5.  The yard and gardens.  Very small.  A capable person would have those whipped into shape in no time.  I am not such a person.

There are many more categories than five. 

Do not talk to me about Marie Kondo.  She has no idea. For one thing, she lives in Japan, where it is not physically possible to amass the stuff we do.  For another, she thinks that books have no sentimental value.  Also, she has finished her writing projects.  So she has no idea.

Now I will probably spend the rest of the day wondering whether "finish" is a concept I can get on board with. 

Much over-rated, I suspect.