She wakes to gray. No words to guide the way toward son. His unfamiliar face seems kind enough. She nods hello. Just yesterday she knew his eyes, but now?
This morning’s mind welcomes the past but not the day. She was someone: woman who woke at 3:00 to sing her restless son to sleep, his calm her cause for celebration. Today the dawn brings
no clarity, yet still the stranger comes and draws her curtains wide. She thinks outside is where she left her life: daughters, a son who meet sunrise without her. Look, the light
is brighter now. The kind man helps her stand. To see the morning sun, she takes his hand. ~Marjorie Maddox “Alzheimer Aubade”
Lying still, your mouth gapes open as I wonder if you breathe your last. Your hair a white cloud Your skin baby soft No washing, digging, planting gardens Or raising children Anymore.
Where do your dreams take you? At times you wake in your childhood home of Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom. Other naps take you to your student and teaching days Grammar and drama, speech and essays. Yesterday you were a young mother again Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.
Today you looked about your empty nest Disguised as hospital bed, Wondering aloud about Children grown, flown. You still control through worry and tell me: Travel safely Get a good night’s sleep Take time to eat Call me when you get there
I dress you as you dressed me I clean you as you cleaned me I love you as you loved me You try my patience as I tried yours. I wonder if I have the strength to Mother my mother For as long as she needs.
When I tell you the truth Your brow furrows as it used to do When I disappointed you~ This cannot be A bed in a room in a sterile place Waiting for death Waiting for heaven Waiting
And I tell you: Travel safely Eat, please eat Sleep well Call me when you get there.
Let us step outside for a moment As the sun breaks through clouds And shines on wet new fallen snow, And breathe the new air. So much has died that had to die this year. We are dying away from things. It is a necessity—we have to do it Or we shall be buried under the magazines, The too many clothes, the too much food.
Let us step outside for a moment Among ocean, clouds, a white field, Islands floating in the distance. They have always been there. But we have not been there.
Already there are signs. Young people plant gardens. Fathers change their babies’ diapers And are learning to cook.
Let us step outside for a moment. It is all there Only we have been slow to arrive At a way of seeing it. Unless the gentle inherit the earth There will be no earth. ~May Sarton from “New Year Poem”
Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next. ~Frederick Buechnerfrom Beyond Words
This year I have been paying close attention to what makes me weep. During 2020, I have had more than ample opportunity to find out — from my tears — the secret of who I am, where I have come from, and for the salvation of my soul, where I am to be next.
My pockets contain hand sanitizer and kleenex, stowed right next to my mask.
In previous years, my tears flowed while spending time with far-flung children and grandchildren for the holidays — reading books and doing puzzles together and reminiscing about what has been and what could be. It was about singing grace together before a meal and my voice breaking with precious words of gratitude. My tears certainly had to do with bidding farewell until we meet again — gathering them in for that final hug and then that difficult letting-go and waving goodbye as they round the corner and disappear.
This year, that had to happen on a screen or from behind masks. No hugs hello or goodbye. None of the usual ways we celebrate together. I feel bereft as have countless other families around the globe. Some never had opportunity to say their final goodbye – too much has died this year.
As our children grew up, we encouraged them to go where their hearts told them they were needed and called to go, even if thousands of miles away from their one-time home on this farm. And so they went.
I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I learned to set my face toward the future, seeking how the sun might break through the clouds in my life. It led me to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, this church, to more tears and heartbreak, to more letting go. And it will continue if I’m granted more years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.
This year my tears flow for what could not be. For too many families, their tears flow for who now is missing and will never return. My tears flow for the pain and sadness of disagreement and angry words.
Spreading faster than COVID is the viral expansion of toxic misinformation and conspiracy theories sowing doubt and distrust. Masks are useless to protect people exposed to a deficiency of simple common sense.
So this is where I must go next: to love so much and so deeply that my tears might make a small difference to those around me, like the sun breaking through the clouds.
Dearly. How was it used? Dearly beloved. Dearly beloved, we are gathered. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in this forgotten photo album I came upon recently.
Dearly beloved, gathered here together in this closed drawer, fading now, I miss you. I miss the missing, those who left earlier. I miss even those who are still here. I miss you all dearly. Dearly do I sorrow for you.
Sorrow: that’s another word you don’t hear much anymore. I sorrow dearly. ~Margaret Atwood from “Dearly”
A holiday without family is a day of longing and memories.
I did sorrow for those who were missing as they left us long ago and missed those who are still here but far away.
It is a bittersweet sorrow to be all together in a photo album, our color and youth fading along with our smiles.
Children who now have children of their own. Newlyweds who have become grandparents, trying to fit the shoes of those who came before.
And so, in our own leave-taking, we miss the missing. We miss who was, who would have been here if they could, and who will come to be the next in line that we may never meet.
Even without family gathered around us this day, we do have each other and that is a blessing in and of itself. May we revel in our thanksgiving feast for two because, through thick and thin and COVID, we are still together.
My father climbs into the silo. He has come, rung by rung, up the wooden trail that scales that tall belly of cement.
It’s winter, twenty below zero, He can hear the wind overhead. The silage beneath his boots is so frozen it has no smell.
My father takes up a pick-ax and chops away a layer of silage. He works neatly, counter-clockwise under a yellow light,
then lifts the chunks with a pitchfork and throws them down the chute. They break as they fall and rattle far below.
His breath comes out in clouds, his fingers begin to ache, but he skims off another layer where the frost is forming
and begins to sing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” ~Joyce Sutphen, “Silo Solo” from First Words
Farmers gotta be tough. There is no taking a day off from chores. The critters need to eat and their beds cleaned even during the coldest and hottest days. Farmers rise before the sun and go to bed long after the sun sets.
I come from a long line of farmers on both sides – my mother was the daughter of wheat farmers and my father was the son of subsistence stump farmers who had to supplement their income with outside jobs as a cook and in lumber mills. Both my parents went to college; their parents wanted something better for them than they had. Both my parents had professions but still chose to live on a farm – daily milkings, crops in the garden and fields, raising animals for meat.
My husband’s story is similar, though his parents didn’t graduate from college. Dan milked cows with his dad and as a before-school job in the mornings.
We still chose to live on a farm to raise our children and commit to the daily work, no matter the weather, on sunlit days and blowing snow days and gray muddy days. And now, when our grandchildren visit, we introduce them to the routine and rhythms of farm life, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, and through it all, we are grateful for the values that follow through the generations of farming people.
And our favorite song to sing to our grandchildren is “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine” as it is the sun that sustains our days and its promise of return that sustains our nights.
You’ll never know, dears, how much we love you. Please don’t take our sunshine away.
Sometimes our life reminds me of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing and in that opening a house, an orchard and garden, comfortable shades, and flowers red and yellow in the sun, a pattern made in the light for the light to return to. The forest is mostly dark, its ways to be made anew day after day, the dark richer than the light and more blessed, provided we stay brave enough to keep on going in. ~Wendell Berry from “The Country of Marriage”
I want to remember us this way— late September sun streaming through the window, bread loaves and golden bunches of grapes on the table, spoonfuls of hot soup rising to our lips, filling us with what endures. ~Peter Pereira from “A Pot of Red Lentils”
Lovers must not live for themselves alone. They must finally turn their gaze at one another back toward the community. If they had only themselves to consider, lovers would not need to marry, but they must think of others and of other things. They say their vows to the community as much as to one another, and the community gathers around them to hear and to wish them well, on their behalf and on its own.
It gathers around them because it understands how necessary, how joyful, and how fearful this joining is. These lovers, pledging themselves to one another “until death,” are giving themselves away… Lovers, then, “die” into their union with one another as a soul “dies” into its union with God.
And so, here, at the very heart of community life, we find … this momentous giving. If the community cannot protect this giving, it can protect nothing—and our time is proving that this is so. ~Wendell Berry fromSex, Economy, Freedom & Community
Before God and this gathering, I vow from my heart and spirit that I will be your wife/husband for as long as we both shall live.
I will love you with faithfulness, knowing its importance in sustaining us through good times and bad.
I will love you with respect, serving your greatest good and supporting your continued growth.
I will love you with compassion, knowing the strength and power of forgiveness.
I will love you with hope, remembering our shared belief in the grace of God and His guidance of our marriage.
“And at home, by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be–and whenever I look up, there will be you.”
(wedding vows written during a lunch break on the roof of Group Health on Capitol Hill, Seattle Washington in July 1981 before our September 19, 1981 wedding at First Seattle Christian Reformed Church)
*the last line is adapted from Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd”
The lawyer told him to write a letter to accompany the will, to prevent potential discord over artifacts valued only for their sentiment.
His wife treasures a watercolor by her father; grandmama’s spoon stirs their oatmeal every morning. Some days, he wears his father’s favorite tie.
He tries to think of things that could be tokens of his days: binoculars that transport bluebirds through his cataracts
a frayed fishing vest with pockets full of feathers brightly tied, the little fly rod he can still manipulate in forest thickets,
a sharp-tined garden fork, heft and handle fit for him, a springy spruce kayak paddle, a retired leather satchel.
He writes his awkward note, trying to dispense with grace some well-worn clutter easily discarded in another generation.
But what he wishes to bequeath are items never owned: a Chopin etude wafting from his wife’s piano on the scent of morning coffee
seedling peas poking into April, monarch caterpillars infesting milkweed leaves, a light brown doe alert in purple asters
a full moon rising in October, hunting-hat orange in ebony sky, sunlit autumn afternoons that flutter through the heart like falling leaves. ~Raymond Byrnes “Personal Effects” from Waters Deep
We’ve seen families break apart over the distribution of the possessions of the deceased. There can be hurt feelings, resentment over perceived slights, arguments over who cared most and who cared least.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen with our parents’ belongings. There had been a slow giving away process as their health failed and they needed to move from larger spaces to smaller spaces. Even so, no one was eager to take care of the things that had no particular monetary or sentimental value. We still have boxes and boxes of household and personal items sitting unopened in storage on our farm for over a decade. Each summer I think I’ll start the sorting process but I don’t. My intentions are good but my follow-through is weak.
So my husband and I have said to each other and our children that we don’t want to leave behind stuff which ultimately has little meaning in a generation or two. We need now to do the work it takes to make sure we honor that promise.
There is so much we would rather bequeath than just stuff we own. It can’t be stored in boxes or outlined in our wills: these are precious possessions that don’t take up space. Instead, we bequeath our love of simple everyday blessings, while passing down our faith in God to future generations.
May our memories be kept alive through stories about the people we tried to be in this life, told to our grandchildren and their children, with much humor and a few tears – that would be the very best legacy of all.
My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation. I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing It sounds an echo in my soul How can I keep from singing?
While though the tempest round me roars, I know the truth, it liveth. And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
I Lift my eyes. The cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it. And day by day, this pathway smooths, since first I learned to love it. No storm can shake my inmost calm, I hear the music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing? ~Robert Lowry
We are spending a few precious days with our grandson in Colorado before his first birthday. He loves being sung to – he rocks and bops to the melodies and rhythms and then relaxes to sleep listening to us sing the quiet evening hymns we sang to his father at night.
He will see so much in his lifetime that we can’t even imagine. Already in his short time on earth there have been plenty of cataclysmic events, and without a doubt, more are in store.
No matter what comes, we pray he will always hear his parents’ and four grandparents’ voices resounding inside his head when things get rough. The hymns and the prayers said over him will give him calm and confidence in the face of trouble.
God’s reality and truth are shared with him in songs and words every day, and as he someday raises children of his own, how can he keep from singing that out when it is most needed?
Just past dawn, the sun stands with its heavy red head in a black stanchion of trees, waiting for someone to come with his bucket for the foamy white light, and then a long day in the pasture. I too spend my days grazing, feasting on every green moment till darkness calls, and with the others I walk away into the night, swinging the little tin bell of my name. ~Ted Kooser “A Birthday Poem”
This is not a usual summer, lacking boisterous gatherings of family and friends, missing our endless July outdoor meals~ instead staying in place, quietly feasting upon each gifted moment while close-crop grazing ’til I’m full up and spilling over, ready to someday again share all I have until empty.
And what is it like: to be alive in this one place of all places anywhere where life is? Live a day of it and see. Take any day and LIVE IT. Nobody claims that it will be entirely painless, but no matter.
It is your birthday and there are many presents to open.The world is to be opened.
“I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.” ~Margaret Atwood from “Variations on the Word Sleep”
For Dan’s birthday:
the boy you were became the man you are today: blessed by our God, so necessary to your family, church and community, loved by your children and grandchildren, and by me ~ever more every day~
In this journey together, we inhabit each other, however long may be the road we travel; you have become the air I breathe, refreshing, renewing, restoring~~ you are that necessary to me, and that beloved.