Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why Can't We Admit it? All Life is Sacred

“...I've redeemed you, I've called your name.
Isaiah 43:1b

I'm sure that there are those who read my blog who are convinced that I am consumed with constant thoughts of death. I want to assure you that isn't exactly true. The reason that I often speak of death is that there are many in our world who face it on a daily basis, like I do. While I am not a funeral director, I am a florist and I speak to people nearly every day who are facing death at some level. They come to a florist to help them soften the blow for others or they come to a florist to establish a tribute that will speak of the person that they have been so close to who is now gone from their presence.

Let's face it, we are surrounded by death, if not by the death of people, then the death of animals and nature. If I may be so graphic, many are more devastated by road kill they they are the passing of Aunt Gertie, (I don't understand that, but then I'm going to trudge on, maybe some day I will and yet at some levels I do.) We are surrounded by nature where death is as much a part of every day life as it is for the deaths of people. I remember a teacher friend of mine had a book that she treasured and spoke of often. I don't know the author's name, but the title of the book was, “The Geranium on the Windowsill Died, but You Kept on Talking.” Think of student and teacher relationships and I think you can probably come up with the gist of this children's book.

We turn on the television each day, or maybe we hear it on our commute when we are listening to NPR, we hear about the genocide in Africa, we hear of fires, natural disasters, disease in pandemic forms, we hear the stories of those lost in the woods trying to make their way out who don't. We hear of murders in our own city which is nothing more than genocide, but we call it violence because it's close to home. We are all surrounded by the events of death, be it in the media or be it in our personal lives, be those deaths of those near to us or distanced by some way.

In a cemetery in Indianapolis this summer there was an unveiling of a monument in the children's garden. The event was covered by the Indianapolis Star and when I saw the monument and it's wording I was nearly sick to my stomach, at times it still causes me to wish that Tums would settle the gut feeling that I have, but take note, it doesn't. The words, now carved in stone read, “All life is sacred, especially the life of a child.” Now, to be frank, I know that I am going to catch it from a few people who want me to stop here, but I feel the need to journey on and complete my thinking. I cannot and will not devalue the death of a child. Without a doubt it has to be one of the most tragic events that a family must ever face. I know that it is a grief that is nearly impossible for a mother and father to ever find much healing for. In no way whatsoever do I want anyone to think that I discount this kind of death. I do want to say that I think that the wording on this monument is a travesty and is a pollutant to our very thinking. The monument should have been placed at the gate to the cemetery and should have simply read, “All Life is Sacred.” That would have been more than enough.

As a florist the obituary page of the local paper is what we call the Florist's Sports Page. I don't make it a habit of reading it first, I work my way back through the pages of the paper and read it when I get there. In the January 26th edition of the Indianapolis Star there was an obituary for a five year old child who died, I happen to know that the child had several birth defects and that his family was blessed to have him in their home and their life for as long as they did. I know that they were valiant and dutiful and loving in the care of this child, I admire them in their stalwart care of this little one, no doubt they did so with a tremendous amount of fear in their hearts that each day could be their last with him in their arms.. The child died while taking a nap. (Frankly, that's how I want to go after having a nice macaroni and cheese and meatloaf dinner. Vegetable of the day is fine in this case.)

An eleven year old was shown the obituary, he lost a little sister at her birth and he understands the value and fragility of life, even at his young age. He commented that it was especially sad that the five year old died. I could feel my blood pressure rise, I wanted to jump on my soapbox and start preaching. ALL LIFE IS SACRED! Now, if we want to speak of sadness in attachment to these deaths listed in the paper, let's look at all of them. It's sad when a 71 year old dies, a 30 year old, a 5 year old, a 106 year old, each of these people who were listed in the paper had people listed as survivors who will mourn them who will grieve them and who knows for how long. It wouldn't be unheard of for the 71 year old to be survived by their mother, in fact, I knew one of those cases that was written up in the paper this week. I know both the deceased and the survivor, I know that Mother is lamenting the death of her child as if the child was the five year old. We feel that we are not supposed to outlive our children.
I did not say it out loud, but I wanted to so very badly, at the end of the obituaries there were a pair of notices that there are currently two bodies that we know of now that have not been collected by their family, if they have family to do so, and there is a very good chance that they don't have anyone left in their kit and kin to claim their bodies and give them proper burial. I wanted to scream until my very throat pained me that these are the sad deaths! There is an excellent chance that these people died alone and for me and my thinking this is the saddest death of all.

One of my dear friends who passed away about 8 years ago held this as his greatest fear and he said so. I sat with his mother while he fought for breath and we were all together when he finally quit breathing. Another of my close friends spoke many times to me that his greatest fear was not to die, he said, “I've had a good run, what's killing me is my own fault and frankly, I understand that completely, still my greatest fear is to die alone.” I was at the transitional care hospital where he was a patient a mere half an hour before he passed. The irony of it all is that he gripped my hand and whispered between his gasps, “get outta here kid.” (He always called me kid.) It hurts me to think of him doing this because when I got home, a twenty five minute drive his niece called me to say that he had died about twenty five minutes earlier. That would be five minutes after I left.

In Isaiah 43: 1 we learn that God made it clear that he had already paid the price for his people and that no matter how hard they might try to escape it, he called them by their very name and they belonged to him. I know this to be true, after all, he made each one of us and he should have the right to claim us. But what's more the passage reminds us that we are not our own and that he calls us by name. If we look at this from the side of death and the end we can see that he made us, he claims us, he calls us by name and therefore he acknowledges that every life is sacred because it belongs to him, we are his extension on earth.
So, for me, every life is sacred, but it's okay to feel the sadness that comes our way when a life is ended. No matter how it is ended, and what's more, maybe we should adopt the notion that we are all someone's child, and we are especially important because we are God's Children. Okay, so the stone at the cemetery is almost okay. It should maybe read, “All life is sacred, especially the lives of us who are all someone's child.” I wouldn't need the Tums for that.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Nothing, I just want to be sure of you

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
"Pooh!" he whispered.
"Yes Piglet?"
"Nothing" said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. I just wanted to be sure of you."
A. A. Milne

There is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from children's books. This snippet from this Winnie the Pooh story is among my favorites. While I was not introduced to Winnie the Pooh as a child, I think that it was because I have appreciated Pooh's simplemindedness, humor and wisdom more as an adult.

Another of my favorite stories is Oscar Wilde's, "The Selfish Giant". I had not heard that story until I was an adult attending a Palm Sunday vesper service. The minister didn't read from the scriptures, in fact she pulled up a short stool, as though she were planning to read to a group of young children sitting on the floor at her feet (remember the librarian doing that when you were a kid?). There were no children in this case. She read the story directly from an aged copy of the book and when finished she simply closed the book and without ceremony she looked across the small group and said to us, "now you go and figure it out." A benediction like I've never heard before.

Milne's wisdom and that of Mr. Wilde remind us of simple virtues that should be instilled in children. What's more, these virtues should be instilled in adults. We have missed or forgotten so many of these lessons along the path.

Thinking of the scene between Piglet and Pooh, I believe that we have all experienced it, we have been in a position along the path, just like Pooh and Piglet where we were walking and had the very thought that Piglet had, I just need for someone to know that I'm here. I need to remind them in some quite way that I am here! We don't want fanfare, we don't need fireworks, we just need someone to say to us, I'm right here for you Piglet. Words don't always have to be involved, sometimes just taking a hand is plenty. Fears can be allayed this way, but what's more we can simply feel a presence that is warmth. "Nothing, I just wanted to be sure of you." That statement by Piglet was also a silent statement by Pooh, he needed to know that Piglet was there as much as Piglet needed to know that Pooh was there.

I've done this very thing all through my life. When I was a little kid and my family would trek to St. Mary's, Ohio to see my Aunt Lucretta and Uncle Vernon, I could not sit close enough to her. Be it on the sofa burrowed in next to her or at her hip in the kitchen. My sister Georgia was doing the same thing on the other side. Georgia would do the same with Uncle Vernon, I wasn't as close to him. I did the same thing with my parents. Sometimes I would come to them while they watched television and I would simply sit between their legs on the floor or I would put my head on their knee. Usually there was a pat on the head, but what I really was saying by my actions were the very words that Piglet used, "Nothing, I just wanted to be sure of you." Words were rarely shared in these situations, it was the touch or the closeness that was the important part.
When I was older, I couldn't do these things any longer. I was too big and it just wasn't as acceptable for a teenager to do such things. But I do remember a trip to Missouri where my Aunt and Uncle moved after their retirement. Aunt Lucretta and I walked through a flea market and held hands. "Nothing, I just wanted to be sure of you." I would gladly do these very things today, too old or not to sit too close, or put my head on their knee or hold hands in a flea market or anywhere else for that matter.

I often think of a man who has met me on life's path several times. He is a man of power in the community, a leader of many people, respected by legions, recognized by a hierarchy that reaches all the way to the seat of Peter. This man is a man of few words at times. He says that he does better between himself and one person than he does a crowd. When we have met on the path he has always been quick to take my hand, place his other on the back of it and shake my hand, one of the most compelling handshakes I have ever known from another human being. There is an electricity in his handshake, there is a holiness about it. He remembers my name, though he doesn't see me often and in that very simple custom of the handshake I know that he is saying, "Nothing, I just wanted to be sure of you." I know that he has felt this very same way when he has kissed the fisherman's ring. I don't think that he finds himself in a position of adoration there, but I believe that maybe, just maybe, he is saying those very words of Piglet to someone who carries great authority and power in the world, because after all in the wisdom of Pooh we find these words:

"...Just because an animal is large, it doesn't mean he doesn't want kindness; however big Tigger seems to be, remember that he wants as much kindness as Roo."
Pooh's Little Instruction Book, inspired by A. A. Milne

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Long Sleeves

“Think of--
Stepping on shore, and finding it Heaven!
Of taking hold of a hand, and finding it God's hand,
Of breathing new air, and finding it celestial air,
Of feeling invigorated, and finding it immortality,
Of passing from storm and tempest to an unbroken calm,
Of waking up and finding it Home.”
--Author Unknown

These words have taken on special meaning to me as the years have passed. I first read them when one of my dearest friends was in the hospital fighting for his last breaths. I had purchased the book that this prayer was in at a bookstore known for used books. Sometimes you can pick up a new book there for a buck. I picked up the book because of the title, All Will Be Well-A Gathering of Healing Prayers edited by Lyn Klug. When I got home from the hospital the night that Doug died I leafed through the pages of this new book and found the prayer written above. The line that jumped out to me was the one speaking of breathing new air. Doug was breathing new air, and taking deep breaths and he was not able to do that before.

We look for comfort in our lives and it is waiting for us, right where God left it. But the words are not hiding, the guide is waiting for us to count on him to take us to the place that we need to be. It doesn't just apply to books and physical spaces on the earth, sometimes the Guide is waiting at the door of our hearts, ready to take us on the journey of ourselves. I think that all too often that tour we take with him is a visit to the vistas within us that look out over our ability to love.

Pretty analogy huh? I liked it, I just came up with it. I see the tour / tour guide analogy as being the case though. Sometimes those vista views are short distances where a little wading in the creek takes us to where we need to go, sometimes they are great chasms and require trips that we will be making by any means possible. They are not impossible trips, sometimes they are just rugged ones that are hard to pack for. These trips are sometimes trips up the side of a mountain where we see the panorama and we have the oft spoken of mountain top experiences. The thing about any of these trips is that we get to see the opposite directions as well.

Sunday morning I arose from my cozy bed and padded into the bathroom to brush my teeth and take my medications. Normal Sunday, knowing that I have a little more time than I do when I go to work, I don't have to move at quite the same pace. I wanted a little something for breakfast so I had a bowl of my mother's homemade applesauce. She doesn't just make this stuff, and it isn't just a labor of love, though all those things apply, she is an artisan when it comes to this tribute to God and anyone else who has ever tended an apple tree. I took some from the freezer when I saw her on Saturday, a two pound tub of love. I sat down to read my e mail and there was an e mail unexpected; from someone a long distance from Indianapolis. Her name isn't important in this case, though I won't forget it. She had read my blog, and I think that she may have read every word of it. Thank you dear friend for doing so, I am flattered and touched. She said something that hit me right between the eyes with a virtual two by four, in her missive she reminded me that I am a, “Child of God.” While there has never been a time in my life that I didn't know that, I haven't always lived like I knew it was for sure. She spoke of her life and the joys and sorrows in it, just as I speak of the joys and sorrows in my life. If she had been closer I would have hugged her just like I hug my friend Darlene. (I love to hug Darlene for two reasons, she gives a great hug back, like a firm handshake, you know that you have been hugged, but you feel the honor and the sincerity in it and she always beats me to the punch of telling me that she loves me. The other thing that I love about hugging Darlene is that she is so thin that I can feel my own ribs when I hug her. It's a little hard for me to feel my ribs) No, if my new found friend in the distance had been nearer, there would have been a hug. A Darlenesque hug and I would have worked quickly to tell her that I love her before she could say it to me.

Now I mention all of this because since the e mail came this person has been on my mind a great deal, all through church, all afternoon Sunday, and Monday she was there. We share a life experience, but at a limited level. We have experienced a loss, the loss of a dear love in our lives. The loss of a very special person, we have lost from our present life a person who had potential that we wanted to see blossom.. I think that is one of the hardest losses to face. To know that the person who is gone from us had potential and we aren't going to see the process of it's growth or the end result, or the effect that it has on others. To the point that we will miss the affect that it will have on our life. Or will we?

I mention the analogy of God being a tour guide in our lives, but what's more, I think that he uses some of the most amazing, well, tools if you will, to get us to where he wants us to go, to get us to ponder on the thoughts that he would have us linger on. He uses an atlas where there answers and maps for the trip. He equips us, but I've noticed that in the equipping he uses a very unique form of uniforming. I can speak for myself in this case, I think that I can speak for my long distance new friend. The tailoring department for these outfits has a thing for sleeves. I've come to the conclusion that this tailoring style must be based on the uniform of the commander in chief. In fact, I feel very confident that this jacket style is exactly the one that he uses for his own uniform. God's sleeves are long, because his arms fill it and he is able to reach across the expanse of heaven and earth to use the arms within to give those hugs that help us to know of his love. He gives us these exceedingly long sleeves so that we can do the same thing. I believe that I have stepped on the ends of mine and fallen more than anything, but I try to use the sleeves, I reach out to the ones that I can see and hug them, or the ones that I have faith and believe in because I've seen them. I know that there are others who need these hugs and I somehow miss giving them the squeeze that they need to remind them of my love for them. But what's more, I've realized, or been reminded by this person so many miles away that her uniform is made the very same way, her arms were long enough to hug me on Sunday, a hug that has carried me for three days now.

We talk a lot about being God's ambassadors on earth, but we can only do that if we are willing to wear the uniform. If we are willing to put on the long sleeves and do the reaching across the miles, or across the aisles in some cases. It isn't always easy to do this, sometimes we are called upon to love people that we don't really like. In fact, I said the other day to my sister that maybe that's why I'm still single. If I don't feel the love for myself that I should, how is someone else going to have a desire to be a part of my life and show me their love? Maybe that's why when I hug Darlene I can feel my ribs, but I can't feel my hand patting me on the back in an encouraging hug. And yet, there are those who hug me, who show their love, care and concern for me in this way.

One of the hardest parts of life is losing a love. An old high school bud said to me one time regarding this very thing, “how can you miss what you haven't had?” In this case we were talking about committed relationships. Even short term dating experiences. I didn't do that when I was in school, I did very little of it later and I do even less than little now, I think they call that none. I shared with him that it is very easy to miss what you haven't had, and that it may be more painful. But now, some 20 or so years later I see that both are painful. It hurts to miss what you had, the loving relationships that you did have as well as it hurts to not have the loving relationships that you long for.

So imagine when I was invited to look at a website that is a tribute to my long distance friend's memorial page for her son. Another of her son's prepared and delivered a memorial service for his brother and in it nearly every aspect of it, (written three years ago,) matched the things that I said for my father. The prayers, very similar, the scriptures, the same, I had one different one, he had one other. But there in both services were the words...”Think of--” I have wanted to think of it as a comforting prayer for a time of loss, but the more that I read it, the more that I look at what it is really saying, it's a prayer for our daily lives, a prayer for healing. I love to hold hands, so holding God's hand will be heaven. I love a deep breath of country air, imagine it being from the stars, I think of passing from storm (read a lack of a loving relationship,) to an unbroken calm. And let's face it, is there anywhere more comfortable than home? I think not.
I've thought a lot about all of this since Sunday, all because God sent someone into my life with very long sleeves, and arms to fill them. She has offered her love, care and encouragement. I hope that she reads this and knows that I offer to her those very same things, and long sleeves full of embracing arms so that she might experience the love that we so long for.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Thanks Eleanor

Eleanor Roosevelt said that, “no one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” With this in mind, I've written more permission slips than the average mother of any grade school student that ever took a field trip. I'll have to be very quick to admit that feeling inferior is one of the demons that I wrestle with on a regular basis.

I've been given talents as gifts of a loving heavenly father. Some of those gifts are used in my work, some in my community, some for my own edification and some for others. (On Christmas Day while having dinner, my sisters, mother, brother in law and a niece, nephew or two, told me that my beef and noodles would make an Amish grandmother weep for the beauty of them. I will say, they were one of my better efforts.

My introduction to this demon came at the hand of my paternal grandfather and I understand that he learned the art of the put down at the feet of the master, I mean mistress rather. I have learned that the knack for taking the wind out of your sails was one of his mother's greatest attributes. I'm told that she didn't mind telling her children and grandchildren exactly how low they were, steerage would have been a class above them by her description.

When it came to my grandpa it was easy to take his painful words to heart because of his size alone. To a six year old he was mammoth. As far as I was concerned people didn't come any larger. He was nearly six foot tall and was easily 300 pounds. He introduced me to feeling, “less than,” while he was standing on a ladder, which made him even larger. He pointed to me, a scrawny six year old pulling a wagon and bellowed, “and that one will never amount to a hill of beans.” What is the current value of a hill of beans anyway?

It really doesn't take a great deal to seal that feeling into the life of a child. Have a third grade teacher tell you a time or two that you won't ever learn your multiplication tables and chances are you will have a fourth grade teacher who ends up telling you the same thing. When I was coming up in school it was rare to receive encouragement, but put downs and discouragement ran like rain through Ranchipur. The put downs ran freely on the playground too. It is hard to learn self confidence and self worth when facing put downs nine months of every year for twelve years.

Throw into the stew the fact that I felt, “different” and figured out it was because I am homosexual. You don't have to hear too many times that your creation as a sexual minority is grievous and you have even more fuel for the fire. I work in an arty, creative field, that puts you in line to be the object of someones criticism most of the time, it's like sitting on the tracks intentionally and knowing that the train is regular.

Well Elly, I mean Mrs. Roosevelt, it's easy to give that permission after a while. It takes a while to establish a new rule in ones life. George Carlin once said, “it's hard to establish a new path, you have to hold the grass down by yourself at first.” ( I think his statement is every bit as profound as Mrs. Roosevelt's.)

I remind myself every day that I've overcome some of the put downs from my past. My sexuality is no longer an issue, those who criticize my artistic work are welcome to their opinion. I own a calculator now, so I really don't care what those elementary school teachers had to say. The other feelings that I face get a good talking to quite often now, those inferiorities that I haven't mentioned because I don't like to share them, it's easier if you are around me, you'll know them without me saying what they are. . I can see some growth, but growing never ends.

I got a card from a dear, loved and highly respected person in my life this past week. His words of encouragement are absolute treasure to me and quite often solace too. He put himself down by saying that he wished that he had the gift of expressing his feelings in words, he wanted those words to come as freely as he believes they do for me. I didn't understand how he could put himself down the way that he did. His writing expressed beautifully how he felt, his emotions and the power behind them. The letter was written with great honesty, even though he felt he didn't know if he was using the right words. (As far as I could see, each choice of word he made was perfect.) He was influenced by the giant on the ladder too. I've been wondering how I could tell him how he did a tremendous job in that letter, every word the right one. I want him to know that he has no need whatsoever to feel inferior in his gift for writing or saying the right thing. But how can I do such a thing?

Maybe I just did.