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Archive for February, 2020

The Kindest Choice

The Kindest Choice

Last week my son Lane called with the saddest of news.  He’s going to West Virginia to bury a child.  His half-sister’s grand-daughter, Abby—just six.  She died of flu.  After that conversation, it’s been non-stop nightmares.  I feel drawn—compelled to go with him to that gathering.  I, after all, would be the one to say, “I know how you feel,” and mean it; others would be lying.  They don’t know, can’t know, and don’t want to know.

Would I ask, “Was it your fault?”  Never!  I would never give voice to that question.  But I would think it, as would the people now assembling, with their quickly averted, never-accusing eyes.  They are kind and good people, like those who gathered in 1963 West Virginia.  My own little daughter Melanie lay in her too large, adult sized pearly white coffin.  Since McCullough Funeral Home didn’t stock coffins to accommodate a three-year-old, it was too big, or she was too small.  That wasn’t her fault.  It was mine.  I called her to life in that ill-equipped haven in the least capable corner of an otherwise great nation.  She lay there in an oversized white dress, lovely but not made for the likes of her, for her three-and-a-half-year-old limbs, for her small torso shrouded in baptismal lace.  Baptism is supposed to be a pretend dying, a gentle splash into water that mocks the power of death and teases out the possibility of a life that lasts forever.  That was no baptism.

I reached into my pocket and extracted her tiny heart locket, suspended from its delicate chain.  I had brought it with me to fasten around her neck, so she could have something that was really hers, something that fit.  I opened the clasp and lowered the gold heart, centered on hers, reaching back to fasten it, as I had so many times dressing the family for Sunday school.  I lifted her head, just a bit, and pieces of her skull crumbled into my hands.  Nobody told me that would happen.  Mrs. McCullough appeared from what seemed like nowhere and guided my hands with hers, whispering the needed instruction.  “Just let the ends of the chain fall on either side.”  I acquiesced since this was a world where I knew absolutely nothing.  I did as she said and left—just walked out of the room.  Other mothers watched me leave.  Smug they were, smug and satisfied that they would have never allowed such a thing to happen to their child.  Each of them was happy that it wasn’t her own precious darling.

Processing that memory, it would not be a good thing for me to go back and be one of those who silently condemn.  Could I refrain from asking, “Did you or did you not opt for a flu shot?”  I wouldn’t be that wise.  Overcome with wretchedness, I might blurt out that question and hurl it like a cannon ball, out of my grief and into hers.  No.  I will stay home—the kinder choice.

Will I simmer in my own remembrance, or will I find a better way to live through this yet one more death?  Probably Abby had her flu shot right on time, just like I had mine, just like my kids did every season when the decision was mine to make.  And if she didn’t, it must surely have been out of a firm belief that vaccinations are dangerous, children safer with taking their chances.  Whatever happened, it was surely not the result of any parental negligence.  They did their best, as did I.  These things happen.  We must live on and love those left in the sturdy circle of our arms.

The last memory I have of Melanie speaking my name was as I pulled her and Dale in their Radio Flyer over the grass past the stretch of gravel where all too soon she would die.  As I turned the wagon around, Dale took off for more exciting pursuits.  Melanie hugged my legs and said “You’re a good Mommy,” as she looked up at me and laughed into all that April sunshine.  Then she and I hauled the wagon back to the house, and she headed out to see what Dale was up to.  I hurried back to my typewriter, hoping to make up for lost time, writing the term paper that just wouldn’t go away.

Maybe that wagon ride conspired with the neighbor’s offer of hand-cranked ice-cream to plant the idea that the road was a friendly place, not to be excessively feared.  Maybe it was my fault in yet another respect.  If I had remained in the hollow and not taken a job in town where I could finance a remove from an abusive husband and father, maybe Melanie would still be alive.  But then, maybe she would have fallen off the perilous swinging bridge some stormy day and drowned in Hughes River’s rising current.  Who knows?  What’s for sure is that a child dead is a parent’s worst nightmare.  Nobody can assess more blame than that parent’s own voice in the silent still of the night.

Staying home while Lane and his son make that rocket run to West Virginia is a good time for me to meditate on forgiveness for Abby’s folks and for my own self as well.  Fifty-seven years is long enough to mourn a child.  At some point, it just has to be over with and done—the kindest choice of all.

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Redeemer Roundelay

My most important function here at Redeemer is to get hold of myself.  I need to decide what I believe and why.  At Thursday Morning Bible Study, that just might happen.  We are learning to trust each other.  That means daring to ask hard questions and grow with the answers.  It means putting words to our pain and asking for prayer, and meeting the answers with gratitude.  It’s learning that these friends will call you out when you are being stupid, but will love you anyway, especially if you keep on trying.  We are getting to be cozy with the Good Book, and trying out a lively variety of its verities.

The most exciting thing I have been doing is inviting people to sample our special take on being Christian.  There is so much going on here that it’s natural to offer to share it with others, especially when some certain thing we are doing would so enrich their lives.  My grandson, Remington, finally came to check us out on Christmas Eve, and we enjoyed the warmth of a hygga fireplace and a cup of Christmas tea after the service.  He is a baritone, a guitarist, and a computer wizard, who after work likes to multiplex his soundtracks on his home computer to amazing effect.  A midnight tour of our premises ignited his imagination with respect to the Celtic service.  He promises to attend one of those soon.  Who knows where that may go?

Other than praying about it and promoting it, what am I actually doing?  I’m busy with a lot of things, but the choir is my anchor as a church member.  It’s a place where I can show up and know there’s work to be done, work I can still do, even as an old person.  Sure it’s a major concern whether this is the day I won’t make it up the aisle when balance fails, and my old computer injury keeps gnawing at my shoulder bones as I heft that music folder through yet another service.  But I can still pick up an unfamiliar score and read the soprano line like a pro.  That feels good—good to hope I might still be viable.  I’ll never sing another solo, but I can be part of the perfect harmony. 

It feels calming to make sure the choir room chairs line up just right to greet our singers as they enter, and I arrive early at rehearsal to make that happen.  I like to record our Sunday anthems when they are memorable.  My IPhone pew-sits right in front of the Tenors.  It’s set at Voice Memos and its red button, pushed-to-start, makes a beautiful memory of a morning anthem.  I text it to my sister, who just this year lost her husband, and often to my musical grandchildren who are popping up like genetic mushrooms all over the country.  Sure it may be a bit Tenor heavy, but I love tenori.  If we wait for perfect, we’ll never get anything done.  I’m making noises about doing some proper recording of the choir so we can make a CD and raise some money for our 2021 Scotland pilgrimage.  There’s even politicking to be done, trying to get the choir listed in our bulletin as a proper participant in Sunday services. 

Whatever I do at Redeemer seems to circle back to Bible Study and the prayer that sets the tone for everything else.  That’s where we go each week to pick Philip DeVaul’s brain.  It’s not so much that he tells us what to think, but that he makes us want to.  The ideas he brings to our attention are so vibrant, we spend the whole week dissecting them.  Sometimes we even feel inspired to think thoughts of our very own.  I just finished such an exploration titled ‘House of God.’  It was based on a real dream, a place visited many times in rem sleep but never before recalled on awakening.  It reads as follows:

“She sees it.  It’s there, hanging in the mist, wanting to become a real thing.  She swims in her vision, aching to get to it, sensing that this is the final answer—if there is a final answer.  Only at times like these does wanting make it so.  The haze clears as she nears, to reveal a stone church, once a place where people came for refuge, to worship and to pray.  They sensed it to be a sacred altar where God, if there was one, might hear what they had to say, even to themselves.  Their prayer lay full-formed in their minds, wanting to be muscled into striving, into belief that such things are possible—into faith.

“In the clarity of pre-dawn, she approaches the structure and wonders why it is so small, why so spare and lacking in any claim to magnificence.  She is not impressed.  Perhaps, she thinks, this is but a fool’s errand and I need not enter in.  I could leave, go back, give up, just go away and pretend I never even determined to haunt this old relic—but no.  She keeps on.  If there were outbuildings they are long gone and cleared away.  All that’s left is this one edifice reaching from out of the mist and beckoning.  She moves her feet, a studied pattern of will.  She wants to go inside and meet what she finds there—waiting—just for her. 

“There must have been a steeple long ago, but all that’s left is a discontinuity of roofline where once rocks took on an upward urge and bravely pointed the way to spirit—or to God.  If there were a door she would open it, but it has long ago succumbed to the ravages of time and age.  Only the memory of a door remains as the evidence of its past attachment, the holes left by long lost bolts and rustic cinctures.  She reaches out to touch the tiny apertures.  They are really there.  Satisfied, she engages feet and steps inside.  The dawn has not yet found its way inside this shaded vestibule.  She stops to breathe and say a prayer of thanks for this quiet entrance into what was surely a place of prayer, where folk arrived to safety, from who knows what alarms.  A deep breath, and she draws herself in her entirety into the main vault of the surround.  Only then does she look down.

“There, under her feet, are a quadrillion tiny stones, gathered there to form the underlayment of what she might—perhaps—believe to be real.  They are formed as part of the natural order of things, shaped by grinding against all other stones in an ancient river of time.  Every stone is perfect in its own intrinsic way, formed as it was out of its own primordial way of being.  She bends down and scoops up a handful of the variegated gravel.  The colors brave the spectrum of universe and reflect every hue of light’s arc of possibility.  Sparkles emanate from inside the hearts of clear gemstones, as occasional rays of white light are simply reflected out, and find purchase in her human retinas.  They celebrate that first incarnation of God as physical matter, as solid mass and rock, as molten magma, cooled and coalesced into earth, bound by gravity’s longing, circling faithfully about what it forever loves.  “These are the jewels of God’s own treasure,” she breathes, as she rolls them between her palms.

“She takes a step and notices the cushion created by movement of slick shiny pebbles sliding over their very selves and providing a safe way for feet to transverse the vastness of this nave.  She smiles, thankful for the insight.  Like most physical representations, these rocks suggest a metaphor for all the many ways of interpreting humanity’s god—one  who was there, must be there, just had to be there.  But how was he to be described?  How understood?  How worshiped, if indeed that was what he required?  She doesn’t pray for an answer.  That would be too simplistic.  She closes her eyes and touches the gratitude of being a form of life on a complex and eloquent planetary expression of Ultimate Being.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I texted ‘House of God’ to my priest, he actually read it.  That’s major!  I seem to have become a writer in this my last hurrah, and believe me, the most important thing for a writer is to find people who will occasionally read your words.  As an introvert I must think to talk, not talk to think.  Talking and thinking at the same time confounds me.  That’s why I’m so driven to write.  It’s my best way to reach for friendship.

This adventure at Redeemer has assuredly been a roundelay, a song that moves in circles.  Beginning as songs do in the choir room, it is circling ‘out-and-about’ the community, ‘up’ to Rise and Shine, ‘over-under-around-and-through’ Knittin’ Kittens, ‘on’ Sacred Ground, ‘over-the-hill’ to Second Half, and always ‘into’ the prayerful heart of Bible Study.  I love you Redeemer.  You are my church home.

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