Bowed

One of my neighbors teaches at Harvard Divinity School, a fifteen minute walk. So I often see him pass by on his sidewalk commute. Yesterday morning and, again, today, he walked past slowly, head bowed, his tall, gangly body folding into itself, into his grief. Yes. His grief. You know and I know what news he woke up to yesterday. You know and I know what is breaking his heart. We know what crushes him. It crushes us all. Again? Again? Dear God.

No, I am not comforted as I watch him walk past. (And, yes, I will continue to do what I can do change our unconscionable gun laws.) My neighbor’s grief speaks to me, though. It touches me. It is public—and, literally, moving.

Which is why, I guess, I feel compelled to write about it.

 

 

 

 

Foundational

Sounding Board, New Bedford Quaker Meeting, New Bedford, MA. September, 2017

Years ago, for about a year, I was my Quaker meeting’s First Day School Coordinator, i.e., the principal of a pre-K—12 school open one hour a week and taught by volunteers. Dimly, very dimly, I understood that, for example, when I met with newcomer parents, I spoke for not only my meeting but, in a sense, the entire Quaker world: its history, its faith, its practice. (Yikes.) So, silly as it sounds, now, when a peach-colored scarf mysteriously appeared on my coat rack one day, I decided that I’d use that scarf to, ahem, ordain myself. If called upon to, indeed, be A QUAKER, that castoff scarf became my stole or vestment. Praying for guidance, praying for the right words, praying to listen with love, praying to be open to Spirit, I ceremoniously draped that scarf—which, luckily, went with everything I wore—around my neck. (Writing this, I still feel its soft cotton warmth against my skin.)

More recently, when my Quaker meeting offered training to become a “pastoral caregiver” I was, at first, not interested. “Why do I need training to do what I am already doing?” I thought. (and, yes, frankly, am doing pretty well!) But, again, dimly, I intuited that this seventeen-hour training, created by The Community of Hope International, was exactly what I was supposed to do.

How right I was. For not only do I get to explore delicious—and challenging— subjects like pastoral care and Benedictine spirituality and humility and healing (and lots, lots more) with others from my faith community but when, girded and guided by this training, I do pastoral care, every month I will have the opportunity to talk with others about “God in the Hard Places.”

Yum.

 

“Listening In Tongues” (1)

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[Ghost Bike, Park Street, Somerville, MA, August, 2016]

Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes we’re asked to let ourselves move beyond words, to listen for the notes between the notes, to let the silence speak to us. Sometimes we’re invited to allow a sound or a smell or a color or a gesture or a wordless moment in a dream tell us everything we yearn to know or feel. Sometimes we’re not supposed to parse or define or explain. Sometimes we’re supposed to be dumb (as in speechless); to be a stranger in a strange land, illiterate, lost, using all our senses except hearing to make meaning of what surrounds us. Sometimes we’re asked to let our humility guide us and to breathlessly wait to see what ensues when we let Judgement go.

Connected Quiet

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[Sunset from Dane Street’s Commuter Rail Bridge, May, 2016]

Environmental noises of 42.39°N, 71.09°W : ebbing and flowing traffic, sidewalk conversations in multiple languages, birds in season and, when the wind’s from the South*, commuter trains’ horns—that haunting sound now more mournful since a Fitchburg-bound commuter train fatally hit a bicyclist. (Whose name, two days later, has still not been released.)

It happened Sunday afternoon. It happened at the Park Street crossing. It happened even though the train gates had been lowered and the warning lights flashed. It happened despite pedestrians shouting to that young man on his bike to stop. Stop! It happened in my neighborhood and about an hour before I arrived. (I pretty much walk over those train tracks twice a day.)

By the time I’d arrived Park Street had been cordoned off, emergency and Somerville police and MBTA officials’ vehicles lined the length of the quarter-mile street, and the train, a hundred yards or so down the track from the accident, silently waited for its passengers to be transported to a T bus (which arrived just as I walked by.) The silent train, the silent street, the hush of the groups of people gathered along Park Street’s sidewalk on either side of the crossing; such collective, respectful, deeply connected quiet!

Pedestrians had not been allowed to cross the tracks, either—for chilling reasons, I assume— so I’d walked about a mile out of my way to a grotty, ramped pedestrian underpass. Which I shared with a young woman and her bicycle.

“You be safe out there,” I said to her, misquoting a beloved “Hill Street Blues” line. Since that seminal show had gone off the air in 1987 I was pretty sure my reference would be lost on her. But at that moment  in that narrow, graffiti-darkened tunnel I’d needed to say something about my own tenderness towards her, her youth, her aliveness, her emergent possibility.

“I know!” she replied. “It really gives you perspective, huh.”

 

 

*When the wind’s right, too, you can hear Logan Airport jets throttling up just after they’ve landed.

First Responder

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[Subway Eldering on the Red Line; June, 2016]

This past weekend on retreat in New Hampshire I swam, I picked blueberries, I read—and kept my SmartPhone off. Guess what happened? Unplugged from the wider world was just fine. Delicious. But not being accessible should something happen to My Loved One—I am her health care proxy—was not.

No crisis. She’s fine; I was not needed. My anxiety was around both my failure to have arranged a back-up while out of town (Ooops) but, also, my realization of how central my sense of responsibility for my Loved One has become. (Oh!)

Ironically, this realization came on a weekend spent acknowledging my overweening* sense of responsibility. (I know !?)  A sweltering weekend back home, every time I cooled myself off in the velvet-feeling lake or felt refreshed by a gentle breeze a part of me scolded: I have no right to enjoy this! I should be organizing around climate action. As if I were solely responsible for fighting global warming! Overweening, much? Absolutely.

But as I have noted before, being with Loved One and accompanying her in any small way I can during her final journey is sacred work. Holy. So I want to Be There in the fullest sense of those simple words.

 

[I willI be away next week; please check out my next post on August 2nd]

  • Overweening: ” Arrogant. Overbearing. Immoderate.”

Sacred

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[Cave Hill Cemetery. Louisville, KY]

My Loved One, ninety-three and struggling with dementia, wanted to talk about her memorial service. Again. So I described a scenario she’d stipulated countless times before. Since what I described were her own wishes repeated back to her, she listened, she smiled; she approved. But then, suddenly, her face fell: “Where will I be?” she wondered.

As you may know, correcting someone with dementia is almost never the best approach. But what to say? Especially since My Loved One does not believe in the Hereafter? I prayed for Divine Assistance.

And something came to me, something based on the fact that she and I had also talked, many times, about how she can still feel her husband’s presence—although he died is 2010.

“Hovering,” I was led to say. “That’s where you’ll be. And you’ll be whispering in my ear.”

She smiled again.

I’ve been having sacred conversations with my Loved One.