Sundays too my father got up early And put his clothes on in the blueback cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? – Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays
As a child growing up, I was oblivious to the sacrifices my parents made to keep the house warm, place food on the table, to teach us the importance of faith and belief, to crack the door of opportunity open, so we could walk through to a better life.
It was no small offering to keep dry seasoned fire and stove wood always at the doorstep, to milk the cows twice a day, to grow and preserve fruits and vegetables months in advance, to raise and butcher meat animals, to read books together every night, to sit with us over homework and drive us to 4H, Cub Scouts and Camp Fire, to music lessons and sports, to sit together, never missing a Sunday morning, to worship God.
This was their love, so often invisible, too often imperfect, even when they were angry with one another– yet its encompassing warmth splintered and broke the grip of cold and loneliness that too often overwhelms and freezes a child’s heart and soul.
What did I know? Too little then, maybe a little more now.
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.
If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain. ~Emily Dickinson
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. …. in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ~Philippians 2: 1-4
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4: 1-3
By wearing a mask…
If I can stop one person from infection, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease another’s worry, Though masking goes against the grain, Or help a divided country be Restored to health again, I shall not live in vain.
I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one … I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~Maya Angelouon her 70th birthday, citing a quote from Carl Buehner
I learned from my mother how to love the living, to have plenty of vases on hand in case you have to rush to the hospital with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole grieving household, to cube home-canned pears and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point. I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know the deceased, to press the moist hands of the living, to look in their eyes and offer sympathy, as though I understood loss even then. I learned that whatever we say means nothing, what anyone will remember is that we came. I learned to believe I had the power to ease awful pains materially like an angel. Like a doctor, I learned to create from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once you know how to do this, you can never refuse. To every house you enter, you must offer healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself, the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch. ~Julie Kasdorf– “What I Learned from my Mother”
Usually a mom knows best about these things — how to love others when and how they need it and how to ease pain, not become one. We don’t always get it right though, and dads can do it better.
Showing up with food is always a good thing but it is the showing up part that is the real food; bringing along a cake is simply the icing.
This is a good reminder that as a doctor, my usefulness has tended to depend on another’s suffering. No illness, no misery, no symptoms and I’m out of a job. I can only hope that someday that might be the case. What a world it would be, especially as now suffering is universal.
And then I can still be a mom and grandmom even if there is no more doctor work to be done: ….if I’d known it could help, I’d have baked a cake and shown up with it…
One can no more approach people without love than one can approach bees without care. Such is the quality of bees… ~Leo Tolstoy
In the street outside a school what the children learn possesses them. Little boys yell as they stone a flock of bees trying to swarm between the lunchroom window and an iron grate. The boys sling furious rocks smashing the windows. The bees, buzzing their anger, are slow to attack. Then one boy is stung into quicker destruction and the school guards come long wooden sticks held out before them they advance upon the hive beating the almost finished rooms of wax apart mashing the new tunnels in while fresh honey drips down their broomsticks and the little boy feet becoming expert in destruction trample the remaining and bewildered bees into the earth.
Curious and apart four little girls look on in fascination learning a secret lesson and trying to understand their own destruction. One girl cries out “Hey, the bees weren’t making any trouble!” and she steps across the feebly buzzing ruins to peer up at the empty, grated nook “We could have studied honey-making!” ~Audre Lorde “The Bees”
…The world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don’t swat. Don’t even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee’s temper. Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved. ~Sue Monk Kiddfrom The Secret Life of Bees
Our beekeeper niece Andrea gently vacuuming a swarm of honeybees on our farm into a new hive box to take home to join the rest of her several dozen hives.
When the bee comes to your house, let her have beer; you may want to visit the bee’s house some day. ~Congo Proverb
An old Celtic tradition necessitates sharing any news from the household with the farm’s bee hives, whether cheery like a new birth or a wedding celebration or sad like a family death. This ensures the hives’ well-being and continued connection to home and community – the bees are kept in the loop, so to speak, so they stay at home, not swarm and move on, possibly to even a less hospitable place where they may be trampled or destroyed.
Each little life should feel safe at home, each little life worthy — so much important honey-making to be done.
Good news seems always easy to share; we tend to keep bad news to ourselves so this tradition helps remind us that what affects one of us, affects us all.
These days, with instant news at our fingertips at any moment, bad news about the state of the world constantly bombards us, whether or not it is accurate. We feel compelled to respond without thinking, leading to even more swatting and trampling and destruction.
Like the bees who simply want to set up a safe place to make and store up honey, we want to flee and find a more hospitable home.
The Beekeeper, our Creator, comes personally to our rescue, reaching out to each of us to say: “Here is the sadness that is happening. All will be well, dear ones. We will navigate your lives together. You are loved and valued. Come back home to stay.”
It’s a motley lot. A few still stand at attention like sentries at the ends of their driveways, but more lean askance as if they’d just received a blow to the head, and in fact they’ve received many, all winter, from jets of wet snow shooting off the curved, tapered blade of the plow. Some look wobbly, cocked at oddball angles or slumping forlornly on precariously listing posts. One box bows steeply forward, as if in disgrace, its door lolling sideways, unhinged. Others are dented, battered, streaked with rust, bandaged in duct tape, crisscrossed with clothesline or bungee cords. A few lie abashed in remnants of the very snow that knocked them from their perches. Another is wedged in the crook of a tree like a birdhouse, its post shattered nearby. I almost feel sorry for them, worn out by the long winter, off-kilter, not knowing what hit them, trying to hold themselves together, as they wait for news from spring. ~Jeffrey Harrison “Mailboxes in Late Winter”
This time of year I too often feel like an off-kilter mailbox – rusty, dented, leaning rather than upright, covered with mildew and lichens — it will take some effort to look presentable after a long winter.
There isn’t much that would recommend me as a potential destination; most of the mail that is delivered to me is junk mail or bills. It is a rare pleasure to find a hand-addressed card or note. I have myself to thank for that: I rarely send one to anyone else. I’m not even sure I could find a stamp at home if I wanted one.
It reminds me how infrequently I actually hand write any form of communication any more, how dependent I’ve become on the instantaneous nature of texting and email, and how much I used to enjoy writing letters back and forth to family and friends, in what feels like another life.
Letters can be forever–a tangible representation of the writer illustrated by their choice of envelope, stamp and paper, writing utensil, style of script, sometimes a scent. The neatness or hurried nature of the writing says something about the urgency with which it was written. Emails have none of those features, and can feel ephemeral, although we know they can always be found and retrieved, for good and for ill, by those who know how to look for them.
It has been too long. It’s time to commit to writing a letter a week to someone who needs to be able to tangibly feel my caring about them, right in their hands.
Then just maybe, I can share news of the spring to come.
It can happen like that: meeting at the market, buying tires amid the smell of rubber, the grating sound of jack hammers and drills, anywhere we share stories, and grace flows between us.
The tire center waiting room becomes a healing place as one speaks of her husband’s heart valve replacement, bedsores from complications. A man speaks of multiple surgeries, notes his false appearance as strong and healthy.
I share my sister’s death from breast cancer, her youngest only seven. A woman rises, gives her name, Mrs. Henry, then takes my hand. Suddenly an ordinary day becomes holy ground. ~ Stella Nesanovich, “Everyday Grace,” from Third Wednesday
The only use of a knowledge of the past is to equip us for the present. The present contains all that there is. It is holy ground; for it is the past, and it is the future. ~Alfred North Whitehead
It matters less what has happened or what will happen. What matters is happening right this very moment – in the tire center waiting room, the grocery store check out line, the exam room of the doctor’s office. Are we living fully in the present and paying attention?
We are sentient creatures with a proclivity to bypass the present to dwell on the past or fret about the future. This has been true of humans since our creation. Those observing Buddhist tradition and New Age believers of the “Eternal Now” call our attention to the present moment through the teaching of “mindfulness” to bring a sense of peacefulness and fulfillment.
Mindfulness is all well and good but I don’t believe the present is about our minds. It is not about us at all.
The present is an ordinary day transformed to holy ground where we are allowed to tread:
We are asked to remove our shoes in an attitude of respect to a loving God who gives us life. We are to approach each other and each sacred moment with humility. We turn aside from the dailiness of our lives to look at what He has promised. We are connected to one another through our Maker.
There can be no other moment just like this one, so this is no time to waste. There may be no other beyond this one. Right now, this moment sorely barefoot, I am simply grateful to be here and connected to each of you.
When a friend calls to me from the road And slows his horse to a meaning walk, I don’t stand still and look around On all the hills I haven’t hoed, And shout from where I am, What is it? No, not as there is a time to talk. I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground, Blade-end up and five feet tall, And plod: I go up to the stone wall For a friendly visit. ~Robert Frost, “A Time to Talk” from The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems
We don’t take the time to visit anymore. Human connection is too often via VPN and pixels, chat groups and texts, GIFs and tweets. We’ve lost the fine art of conversation and intently listening, and no one remembers how to write a letter long-hand, fold it into an envelope, put a stamp on it and drop it into a mailbox.
No wonder our grandchildren are unsure how to cultivate a relationship like they might a garden: working the soil of another’s life, turning it over and over, fluffing it up, pulling out the unwanted weeds that smother growth, nurturing it with the best fertilizer, planting the seeds most likely to germinate, drenching with the warmth of light and energy, keeping the roots from getting thirsty.
We need to listen; we need to talk; we need to take time; we need to lean on the walls between us and bridge our gaps as best we can.
Just call out to me. I’ll stop what I’m doing, drop my hoe and plod over for a good chin wag. It’s what every good gardener needs to do.
Wait, for now. Distrust everything, if you have to. But trust the hours. Haven’t they carried you everywhere, up to now? Personal events will become interesting again. Hair will become interesting. Pain will become interesting. Buds that open out of season will become lovely again. Second-hand gloves will become lovely again, their memories are what give them the need for other hands. And the desolation of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness carved out of such tiny beings as we are asks to be filled; the need for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Wait. Don’t go too early. You’re tired. But everyone’s tired. But no one is tired enough. Only wait a while and listen. Music of hair, Music of pain, music of looms weaving all our loves again. Be there to hear it, it will be the only time, most of all to hear, the flute of your whole existence, rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion. ~Galway Kinnell “Wait”from A New Selected Poems
If everyone abandons you and even drives you away by force, then when you are left alone fall on the earth and kiss it, water it with your tears, and it will bring forth fruit even though no one has seen or heard you in your solitude. Believe to the end, even if all people went astray and you were left the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in your loneliness. ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky from The Brothers Karamazov
Suicide rates of teenagers in the United States have increased well over 30% since 2009. It is a national epidemic and tragedy.
Based on the anguish of the patients I see every day, one after another and another, over and over again I hear a too-easy contemplation of suicide, from “It would be easier if I were dead” or “no one cares if I live or die”, or “the world would be better off without me”, or “I’m not worthy to be here” to “that is my plan, it is my right and no one can stop me”.
Without us all pledging an oath to live life no matter what, willing to lay ourselves down for one another, to bridge the sorrow and lead the troubled to the light, there will be no slowing of this trend.
…when there is no loyalty to life, as stressful and messy as it can be, …when there is no honoring of the holiness of each created being as weak and frail and prone to helpless hopelessness as we are, …when there is no resistance to the buffeting winds of life~
please just wait a little longer, only a little longer: don’t go too early