Prodigal

My very dear friend’s mother passed away. Her funeral is today. Rest in Peace, Elsie. 

Prodigal

“Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons”
My mother gave birth to five children, of those two girls lived and stayed with her into our adulthood. My mother passed on two years ago.

“The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of the property that will belong to me.”
I was always aware that my younger sister asked for and received money from my mother even after she was grown and had a job. I resented her for it and complained about it to my mother.

“Not long after, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant land and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”
My sister got married, moved away and lead an extravagant, upper middle class lifestyle she couldn’t afford so she still needed money from the family. My mother and I discussed, more than once, the character flaws that led my sister to be in constant financial trouble.

“After he had spent everything there was a severe famine…. and he began to be in need…He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”
My sister’s husband died and then she had a stroke. That chain of events led to her final and total financial ruin. She couldn’t keep her corporate executive job. Her home went into foreclosure and she had to apply for food stamps. She was embarrassed in more than one way. To make matters worse, she didn’t have any friends in her adopted city to help her.

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
By that time my mother had suffered a heart attack so she was in a weakened state herself. Still, my sister came back to our home state and told my mother that she had bad luck but she had also made bad choices.

“And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.”
My sister moved into my mother’s apartment. My sister wasn’t working because of her disability. She did my mother’s grocery shopping and they cooked together. They enjoyed meals together most evenings.

I asked my mother how she could be with my sister so easily after all that was said and done. She said she was glad my sister had survived the stroke; glad she had known enough to come back home. She said she was glad she could “lay eyes” my sister every day.

When my mother died my younger sister got a lot of her furniture, including her beloved Grandfather clock and many of her books. I didn’t care about any of it except for the books. My mother had a lot of theology books. It was a subject she and I shared a love of. Many times I drove her to her bible study class and listened to her discuss the lesson on the car ride back to her home. I was angry and wondered why she didn’t leave the books to me.

 I remembered something my mother said to me a few days before she died. First she said, “I really love you, you know. Then she said, “Take care of your sister because everything took a lot out of her and she needs you.” To this day I am left wondering, was my mother leaving me a lesson about forgiveness? Or was it a lesson about acceptance? Or did she just want my sister to have the books?

(I wrote this piece as an experimental exercise for my writers group. It’s a work of fiction. The news of Elsie’s death is what prompted me to post it.)

Time That Neither Marches Nor Flies

Welcome little one.
Welcome little one.

Ok, Let me get this out of the way at the onset. Here is the main reason I’ve been away from my blog for a while. We met on March 16th in a NY hospital. But I don’t want to talk about her. (Even though she’s adorable.)

I wrote about my view of western medical facilities a year ago in a post called “I Steal From Hospitals”. (https://stopalongtheway.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/i-steal-from-hospitals) My experience on March 16th with the place that’s’ name sounds like a Caribbean island did nothing to change my opinion. The only difference was at this hospital there was nothing to steal. But I don’t want to talk about hospitals either. I want to talk about time.

Today i took hold of time and hung on tight. I had to. I had to in order to get this post written. There has been so much packed in what seems to be each moment that I decided to just stop and create a few more minutes devoted to WordPress. I’ve been  disoriented in time recently. Back before I was a mother of adult children, a widow and a grandmother, I used to use the Gregorian calendar to keep track of the passage of time like a lot of western folks. I put particular emphasis on the seasons and my clan’s traditional holidays as transition markers. And of course I used clocks. I watched the clock like it was my job and patted myself on the back for being an up to the minute type of person. Years, months, days, hours, those distinctions we call units of time made sense to me.

We miss you Dad.
We miss you Dad.

Now it seems I blink my eyes and the seasons have changed, yet at other times I blink again and again and it’s the same moment. Sometimes it feels like something happened a very long time ago and something else will feel as though it happened in the last five minutes.Then I realize they both happened yesterday.  How to explain the change? What has happened to make my sense of time so different? I think part of it has to do with getter older.The other day an actor who I thought was attractive when I was in my twenties died. He was 95. According to my sense of time he should have been 65. I had to update how I see aging. And life events like the deaths and births that have occurred in quick succession in my family have also caused me to develop a more fluid delineation of the flow,the pace, the time of life.

Nature Walk Through Heritage Park

Green
Cascading down to
Still water 
Red
Reaching up to 
Moving Sky 
Stream
Trees
Cemetery
Coming into
Moving out

I guess I’m learning that it’s all one big minute. One long second. The one big, long nanosecond that’s really the nature of existence. As Boethius called it “the abiding instant”. Or as George Clinton says “Everything is on the one…”

The Power of Love

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In my post “The Love in Loss” I talked about the power of Love. Because of the time of year, because of the death of my stepdad and because of the shooting in Connecticut last week I’m going to continue to speak to that power.

I actually used the term power of Love because of a great song that’s been one of my favorites for a long time. “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love” was a modest hit by Stephanie Mills back in the 1980s.  I think it’s about romantic love but to me, it’s about all Love. From the first time I heard it my heart was touched in a “feeling the Holy Ghost” kind of way. I missed my highway exit once while I was sing along to it.  Every time I listen to it I want to testify.  These are the lyrics to the first part of the song:

I was a victim of my foolish thinking
Carelessly I’ve risked my love and my life
There’s no self-pity I admit I obliged
Overpowered by love I pretended to be blind

Faith has survived all the doubts I’ve summoned
My heart has stood all the failure and loss
Helpless I cannot further be driven

I’ve learned to respect
The power love…….

How beautiful is that? Say Amen?  I absolutely relate to the foolish thinking that leads to careless risk part. That could be the title of the first half of my life. But then I was thinking about the idea of being overpowered by Love. I feel like the Love we need to pay attention to and live by can be overwhelming. I’ve talked in this blog about how I can’t show as much compassion as I’d like. I think it’s because there’s too much negativity inside of me to get over in order to be that compassionate. I guess I feel like my love can’t outmatch my negativity. But I’ve come to realize that my love with a little “l” can’t. It’s only when I participate in the larger Love with the big “L” that it’ll work. And that participation takes getting over the petty sense of myself. That’s the part that’s overwhelming.

I thought about that this week in terms of the shooting of those babies at the elementary school. Like everyone else I was blindsided by how terrible an act it was. How do the parents, the community and the nation get over that much horror? Then I saw the footage of the prayer services held that night. The collective prayers sent up demonstrate the power of Love. They provide the pathway to the Love that can overpower that kind of hate.  Witnessing all those people earnestly praying for the comforting of others (for a lot of them, others they don’t know) was so encouraging to me.  Those people in that moment put themselves aside to give Love through prayer. I know the effect that kind of positive energy can have because I’ve felt it in my own life.

Just as the lyrics say, our hearts can stand all the failure and loss if we have faith in Love, even when we feel as helpless as we did this week. It can survive all the doubts we have about ourselves, about others and about the condition of the world we live in. It’s hard to hold on to though, when it feels like our daily lives are filled with nothing but failure and loss. But there have been so many good and spiritually blessed folks who have come along to remind us of the truth of the power of Love. Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama come to my mind immediately. Who just came to yours? And for those of us who celebrate Christmas, Jesus of Nazareth is supposed to be the number one bearer of that exact message.

So since it’s the season we’re supposed to be thinking about it and because we really need it at this challenging time, let’s sing along with Stephanie; “I’ve learned to respect the power of Love, (Yes I did!)”

You can read all the lyrics to the song at this web address. http://lyrics.wikia.com/Stephanie_Mills:I’ve_Learned_To_Respect_The_Power_Of_Love I couldn’t find a video of Stephanie Mills singing it but here’s a YouTube link of the recording. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDkCSf6cRRY.

I’m grateful there are words in the form of lyrics, poems, and psalms, et al that can express what I feel in my heart. Amen.

The Love In Loss

FlowersTHE FATHER WHO RAISED ME FROM THE AGE OF 12, MY STEPDAD, PASSED AWAY TODAY. I’ve experienced the loss of several loved ones in the last few years, my husband, my mother, my biological dad, a cousin, an aunt and now “Gramps”. I didn’t have this blog when the others transitioned. This post is for all of them.

Loss through death is the big one, isn’t it? It affects us more than any other type of loss. It’s accompanied with so many complicated feelings besides pain and sadness. I have also felt guilt, confusion and anger with each passing. When my husband died I was blessed to have the insight of two very wise people (a friend and a therapist) who taught me about the Love in loss.  They showed me that all those feelings were/are really products of the power of the most important feeling and of course, that’s Love. It’s the power of Love that keeps our loved ones with us in a very real way. The pain in our hearts when we think of those who have transitioned is where we are blessed to keep them through the power of Love.

My stepdad wasn’t a perfect man but he had a quiet strength of character (He had to be quiet and have strength to be married to my mother!) He was also a man of immense faith. He taught me to have faith in that power of Love. That’s why at this time of his passing I’m sitting in gratitude instead of grief.

In the Dead of Winter

I mentioned in my previous post that I have persistent thoughts of death in the winter. I don’t mind because I think it’s natural. Historically winter has universally been interpreted as the dead time of the year.

Every year I contemplate the lack of plant life and the hibernation of animals at this time, but more than that I think about human death. I tend to focus on loved ones who have passed on and re-mourn their loss. I would say that my definition of ghosts is the occurrence of re-experiencing someone or something that is gone so as to feel as though they are still present and further to feel the absence as a presence itself. To me ghosts are our own feelings. That’s why I think those ghost hunting shows are hilarious. Why hunt our own feelings? (Although a lot of us spend time doing it in therapy). And as an aside, how would the dead, who have moved on to a totally new reality, spend time here. Can you or I go back in time?

Anyway, I think about that every time I look at pictures or movies of people who are gone. I know they are gone yet it feels to me; it registers on my emotional scale as though they are still here. I couldn’t watch any of my favorite old movies if I viewed the actors as a bunch of corpses or ghosts. I was thinking about it today while I was listening to one of my favorite Curtis Mayfield songs. I could hear him inhale in the recording and yet he was not inhaling. The time of the recordings are “ghosts” themselves. That particular time of that song being sung that particular way is gone yet I am experiencing it now. Just as the plant life and animal life appear to be gone at this time of year yet we experience them anew but what feels like again in the spring, are we humans ever really gone as long as someone can re-experience us in some way? Ghosts, ghost images, ghost songs, ghost feelings. .. Ahh, but spring is less than a month away (March 20th).  The full snow moon is behind us and sunsets happen later now. As always, the added light prompts in me thoughts of new life. I hope it does in you as well.