Backlit

Having a loved one receiving “comfort care” is like being stoned—minus the munchies. Sometimes I forget and become absorbed or distracted or caught up in mindless routine but, mostly, my life glows, now, as if backlit. Ever aware that someone I love approaches death has imbued everything around me with such wonder, such preciousness, such gratitude!

Which, not for the first time, brings me to that wonderful moment at the end of “Our Town”:

“EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”
Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Saints and poets, maybe—and those whose loved ones approach death.

“Unidentified Artist”

Detail from “Pieta” by an unknown artist, circa 1470, School of Avignon, France.

My mother isn’t doing well. Despite pain meds and massages and ice packs and the tender, loving care she receives from her long-term-care facility’s excellent staff, she suffers. She weeps. She’s horribly confused. Sometimes she’ll tell me about her conversations with my father (he died in 2010); sometimes she perseverates, “Who’s taking care of him? He’s over a hundred, you know.”!

For most of my life I’ve had a complicated, fraught relationship with my beautiful and brilliant and, until late in her life, unrealized mother. “You know,” she told me years ago; she might have been drinking.”You should have been my mother.” Over time I came to understand why this crazy-weird impossibility was so tragically true. Therapy helped. Al-Anon helped. Having four daughters of my own helped. Getting older—both of us—helped. And for the past three years, being able to drive fifteen minutes to visit her in her private, sunny room surrounded by her own paintings and photographs and books helps. That she receives meds to ease her lifelong anxiety and depression helps. (She pays a pretty penny for this care; an obscenely huge amount. Which she can afford. Until she won’t.)

Yet even on the best of visits, when we’ve “walked” along wheelchair accessible pathways to see how the community gardens’ tomatoes fare, or strolled down to a lovely, little pond to watch turtles and fish and, sometimes, a blue heron; even then, I’d come home and take a nap!

So, last night, worried about her and wiped out by another too-hot, terrifyingly unseasonal day, I lay on my bed, AC valiantly chugging along, and, headphones on, listened to music. I didn’t curate my selections; I just listened to what I love. (Or so I thought.) Like Maria Callas’s “Casta Diva.” Or Faure’s “Requiem” which, the first time I heard it, on my car radio on the way to work, triggered a peak religious experience. Yes, triggered. For having just experienced The Whole, That Which Is Beyond Words, Spirit’s Transcendent Love, all I could think of was “Well, this is highly inconvenient! Right here on Mass Av in Porter Square? Couldn’t I have been in a forest?”

Oh, right, I realized, listening to Faure’s gorgeous mass. Requiem! Ummm, as in death? As in my mother’s tears of pain, certainly, but also her tears of shame and sadness that she’s so helpless and weak; as in her dim understanding of what, possibly, is happening to her? As in, perhaps, that the veil between the living and the dead begins to thin for her; she’s catching glimpses of what I cannot see? Like my father? As in that I am in mourning for my beautiful and brilliant and realized mother; I am in mourning for a Mother Earth who is much too hot, now. (Jeez.)

And that, again, mysteriously, an Unidentified Artist some call Spirit loved me, guided me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can We Talk?

 

Tree Removal Process Along The New Green Line, Somerville, MA, June, 2018

Last week, after visiting a prisoner I see once a month, I was being escorted by a Department of Correction guard back to the prison’s entrance when I found myself engaged in a remarkable conversation!

First, let me set the stage: Imagine a hot summer sun shining on the utter desolation, the eerie quiet of no trees, no flowers, no humans, no birdsong; imagine a football-field sized space with nothing but tall, grey walls and barbed wire and chainlink fences and a long row of exercise cages, each attached to a cell, presumably. Got it?

The guard, having volunteered that he was due to go on vacation soon, prompted me to ask what his plans were. His answer revealed where he lived and, knowing his hometown has a very lively Quaker meeting, I revealed that I was a Quaker in hopes that we might know the same people—something we could talk about.

“Oh!” he responded. And began the Matthew 25: 35 passage “. . . when I was ill you came to my help, when I was in prison you visited. . . ” which I ended with “. . . whatever you do for the least of these you do for me.”

“And how about Isaiah 53?” he asked.

“The planted in—” but he interrupted me. “No, no,” and quoted a bit from that amazing, Old Testament account of The Suffering Servant that most spoke to him. Which he may have garbled; I certainly didn’t recognize what he said. (It’s a long passage containing lots of verses Handel’s “Messiah” fans will recognize.)

Here’s the thing: Isaiah 53 does begin with “He [the suffering servant] grew up before the Lord like a young plant whose roots are in parched ground.” Which I, living in a city with plenty of rain this year but where multiple natural gas leaks are killing or weakening our community’s sidewalk trees, a community whose trees are being decimated to build a light rail extension, find so poignant! In other words, Isaiah is saying: this servant’s sufferings are not his fault. Blame the parched/toxic/inconveniently-located soil. What a metaphor!

Here’s the other thing: Isaiah 53 also contains an incredibly moving passage, the centerpiece for my prison ministry: “Without protection, without justice, he was taken away; and who gave a thought to his fate, how he was cut off from the world of living men . . . ?”

Here’s the last thing: Whatever verses most appeal to us, that guard and I have both been moved by the same biblical passage, the same prophetic voice—who later declares he’s been “sent to bring good news to the humble, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to those in prison.”

Hallelujah!

 

 

 

Being Grammy

Reading “The Granddaughter Necklace” at Grammy’s house, August, 2018

For the past week I’ve been “Grammy.” That this delightful grandma-derivation is both something my beloved granddaughter began calling me one day, but can also mean prize-winning musicality, makes me very happy. Being Grammy makes me very happy— in the same way I feel whenever I am doing what is truly asked of me. Why is that?

What is it about being a grandmother that feels so “in the place just right”? For starters, spending time with the children of my children is a non-stop intimation of mortality! As Grammy, I am ever-aware that, yup; I am going to die. I. Just. Always. Am.

This fundamental realization immediately prompts a couple of questions: Okay, then, Grammy. So how do you want to spend this time with this child? And what do you want this child to remember about you?

So, yes, I am probably My Best Self as Grammy but, honestly? The role—which, for me, blessedly, also means being retired—allows that. Having cleared my calendar of all but the most essential duties and responsibilities when my grandchildren come to visit, Grammy time is pretty leisurely. You want to dawdle over breakfast, spend all morning in your jammies? No worries. (I could go on and on about this! But won’t.)

And what do I want this child to remember about me? My stories. Stories about when this child’s mother was a little girl; yes. Of course. But stories, too, about when I was a child; how different the world was, then. For I learned from my own, gifted, story-teller Grandma what a blessing it is to look at one’s own life as the next installment of an ongoing, mysterious, amazing story. To understand how we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

And, yes, looking into the eyes of my beloved grandchildren, I know I am looking into The Future. And ask myself: what am I, Grammy, called to do?

 

 

 

 

Tempus Fugit

Trash Day, March 10, 2018, Dane Street, Somerville, MA

This will be brief and, I hope, to the point: Several people have recently posted on Facebook that the extraordinary heat we’re experiencing all over the globe is the result of the carbon we collectively put in the air years ago! (Thirty, maybe? I was too appalled to keep reading.)

Which, somehow, this hot, muggy afternoon, makes something very clear: It all matters. Right now! Over time, our undoubtedly small and puny, individual efforts to Do Right in our daily lives mean something. Collectively.

Cool!