How You Made Them Feel

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 Angelou
on 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…

Things Unknown But Longed For

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,   
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

~Paul Dunbar from “Sympathy”

…the goldfinch comes, with a twitching chirrup
A suddenness, a startlement,at a branch end
Then sleek as a lizard, and alert and abrupt,
She enters the thickness,and a machine starts up
Of chitterings, and of tremor of wings, and trillings –
The whole tree trembles and thrills
It is the engine of her family.
She stokes it full, then flirts out to a branch-end
Showing her barred face identity mask

Then with eerie delicate whistle-chirrup whisperings
She launches away, towards the infinite

~Ted Hughes from “The Laburnum Top”

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

~Maya Angelou from “Caged bird”

The 4 AM moment of this waning night
before the first bird awakes to sing –
a solemn silence holds its breath
till broken by chitters and tweets.

Like a full breast tingles
with readiness to flow until emptied –
this wave of quiet builds before toppling forward
in barely contained abundance, saturating our ears.

The Conductor’s baton rises to ready
the multi-voiced chorus –
awaking voices, pleading, spill from
a thousand thousand perches.

My anticipation rises for
for such a prayer uncaged and free –
cascading from overnight stillness
into an explosive unmistakeable dawn.

photo by Harry Rodenberger

Peace Blooms

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When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly…

Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
~Maya Angelou from “When Great Trees Fall”

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When I need to be restored,
humbled and forgiven,
I walk back to the woods
to stand before the great beings
cut down in their prime
over one hundred years ago,
their scarred stumps still bearing the notches
from the lumbermen’s springboards.

Old growth firs and cedars
became mere headstones
in the graveyard left behind.

They existed, they existed,
their grandeur leaves no doubt.
I leave the woods and come back
to the world better
because they existed.

 

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Listening to Lent — Don’t You Hear?

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Calvary, Calvary,
Calvary, Calvary,
Calvary, Calvary,
surely he died on Calvary.

Every time I think about Jesus,
every time I think about Jesus,
every time I think about Jesus,
surely he died on Calvary.

Don’t you hear the hammering?
Don’t you hear the hammering?
Don’t you hear the hammering?
Surely he died on Calvary.

Don’t you hear him calling Father?
Don’t you hear him calling Father?
Don’t you hear him calling Father?
Surely he died on Calvary.

Don’t you hear him say “It is finished?”
Don’t you hear him say “It is finished?”
Don’t you hear him say “It is finished?”
Surely he died on Calvary.

Make me trouble thinking ’bout dying,
make me trouble thinking ’bout dying,
make me trouble thinking ’bout dying,
surely he died on Calvary.

Jesus furnished my salvation.
Jesus furnished my salvation.
Jesus furnished my salvation.
Surely he died on Calvary.

Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
Surely he died on Calvary.

African-American Spiritual

 

“It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth
And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms…”
~Maya Angelou

 

Christ released us
to unclench our fingers,
stop making fists,
to trust His way of making peace
through sacrifice.

Don’t I hear? Will I listen?

Be and Be Better

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woods29

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly…

Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
~Maya Angelou from “When Great Trees Fall”

When I need to be restored,
humbled and forgiven,
I walk back to the woods on our farm
to stand before the great beings
cut down in their prime
over one hundred years ago,
their scarred stumps still bearing the notches
from the lumbermen’s springboards.

Old growth firs and cedars
became mere headstones
in the graveyard left behind.

They existed, they existed,
their grandeur leaves no doubt.
I leave the woods and come back
to the world better
because they existed.

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Smiling the Clouds Away

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Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life.
The evening beam that smiles the clouds away,and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.
~Lord Byron

photo by Conor Larkin of Wiser Lake Chapel outdoor evening worship at the Rodenberger farm
photo by Conor Larkin of Wiser Lake Chapel outdoor evening worship at the Rodenberger farm

God put the rainbow in the clouds, not just in the sky… We can say “I can be a rainbow in the cloud for someone yet to be.”  That may be our calling.
~ Maya Angelou

 

To Be Carried Away — The One Thousandth

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photo by Hilary Mulhern

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
~ Frederick Buechner

It is fitting that my one thousandth blog post pictures the four people who exist at the center of all my reflections here.  I began writing regularly 12 years ago to consider more deeply my time left on this earth and what my family meant to me, here and now, and for eternity.

Family is carried inside the words I write without my often writing about them directly.  They inspire and challenge me, they love and stretch me, and as our children have now gone out into the world,  I am assured they are sustained by what they have carried away from this home.

Life is not just about living in the world but what world you carry deep inside.   We can never really be lonely;  our hearts will never be empty.  We have each other forever, even miles and miles and lifetimes apart.

I sustain myself with the love of family.
― Maya Angelou