Thursday Re-View — Rebirth

“I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.”
~ Michelangelo ~
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unfinished

Unfinished Sculpture
by Michelangelo

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I cry out to the Sculptor but he does not hear me from within the stone.
This tomb is cold and dark and heavy.
My words echo endlessly, repeating, repeating, growing quieter with each pass.
My feet cannot move, my hands are paralyzed, my lungs crushed against the weight.
My eyes are permanently open, yet see nothing but darkness.

I wait. Within the stone. Alone.

I was born once, and lived.
I was born once, and loved.
I was born once, and lost.

Now I wait to be found.
Again.
Now I wait to be birthed.
Again.
Now I wait to be heard.
Again.
Now I wait to be free.
Again.

He chips away steadily, with purpose,
until my feet are created upon a well-muscled pair of legs.

With each chip, something drops from me.
Grief litters the base mixing with the liquid of old tears.
Loss piles up as my legs break free.
Identity. Health. Title. Marriage. Jobs. Pets. Dreams.

The Sculptor gently blows away the dust of the ages,
and the motes sparkle in the sunlight as they lift from the heavy stone.

I wriggle my toes, happy for the sturdy foundation upon which I stand.
My feet remember sand squishing between my toes as I ran along a beach,
blades of grass tickling my soles while running through a field.
They itch at the thought of such freedom.

My arms and hands are next.
The muscles and tendons within my fingers protest as I stretch them for the first time.
No longer imprisoned in the stone, they let go of what they have grasped for far too long.
Blame, intolerance, despair, hopelessness break free and drift into nothingness
as my hands lift in supplication and thanks for another chance, another life.

Regrets disappear as The Sculptor blows away more dust,
His fingers running over the curves in a knowing caress.

He carves both ears, and as the waxy stone is removed,
a symphony of Divine beauty courses through the tunnels as my fingers shake in awe.
The notes echo through to my toes.

My eyes – yes, please – my eyes.

He chips away what seems like forever, then chips away some more.
What is wrong? Why can’t I see? There is only darkness where there should be light.

The Sculptor replaces his chisel with a sharper one,
and delicately crafts the blood vessels and membranes of sight.
Suddenly, like a dawn of ages past,
the light rises in colors more brilliant than I remember,
dazzling in its rainbow display.
Tears drip onto my frozen cheeks as I remember
the breathtaking beauty of things forgotten.

Focused, the work continues as He chisels and shapes and carves,
every detail from the flowing hair to the perfect, gleaming teeth a work of art.

Finished. At last, but for one last thing.
He walks to the Tabernacle and carefully opens its door, reaching in for His Precious Gift.
A heart, shimmering, pulsating, rests in His hands.
He walks toward me, and with eyes filled with love
and a voice barely more than a whisper,
gently pushes it into my chest.

“I give you My heart.”

A flood of compassion swirls through my body,
and I take a deep breath with my new lungs.
I breathe out warmth and love and contentment.
How can I feel weightless when carved from marble?
How can eyes see when chiseled from stone?

But I do. And I can.

All that weighed me down is no more.
I am no longer a prisoner of my own making;
I am blessedly, wonderfully free.

Free to take part in a further journey.

But this time, I will love more and take less.

This time, I will see with the Eyes of His Heart.

This time, I choose to remain free.

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Angel by Michelangelo

Angel by Michelangelo

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Monday Meeting — Fr. Greg Boyle

Let me introduce you to one of my favorite Jesuits – Rev. Gregory Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries ( http://homeboyindustries.org ) and author of Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (Free Press, 2010). 

Fr. BoyleFor 25 years, Fr. G (as he is respectfully called by the homies) has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood, otherwise known as the gang capital of the world. “Hope has an address.” Its mission is “to provide hope, training and support to formerly gang-involved and recently incarcerated men and women, allowing them to re-direct their lives and become contributing members of their community.”

To find joy in serving others. To love unconditionally. To acknowledge everyone as a human being with value. To learn the patience needed to walk in the darkness with someone sorely in need of being lifted out of despair, out of the darkness, into the light.

                          A Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light, and
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive –
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

It sounds like St. Francis of Assisi would feel at home working in LA, right next to Fr. G of Boyle Heights. Encouraging us to seek something much bigger than ourselves as individuals.

“Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” ~ Fr. G

My son – the one who was born on St. Francis’ birthday and has Francis as his Confirmation name – called me up one night quite awhile after I gave him his own copy of Fr. G’s book. The above quote was the one that stood out for him, the same one that stood out for me. Interconnected. Reaching out. That same son (actually, my one and only) who helped his Dad and I for more than 8 years in our church’s soup kitchen, told me that he found the book to be exceptional, but (there’s always a but) he couldn’t keep wiping away tears one minute, then laughing out loud, while reading it during his daily subway commute.

Laughter and tears. I agree. But by no means is it only about darkness.

Meet:

David: “Yeah, I know I can fly. I just need to catch a gust o’ wind.”

Sharkey: “Damn, G. I’m gonna tattoo that on my heart.”

Willy: “God thinks I’m ‘firme’ (could not be one bit better).”

Rascal: “You know, I’m gonna take that advice, and I’m gonna let it marinate (pointing at his heart) right here.”

A homie who has given up: “That’s it. I’m moving to Mars. This planet is tired of my ass already.”

Scrappy: “I have spent the last 20 years building a reputation for myself…and now…I regret…that I even have one.”

homeboy industries

Betito: “Hey, G, you know what you are? You da real deal.”

Terry (a 16-year-old pregnant girl in a short, bright red dress): “I just want to have a kid before I die. Promise me you’ll bury me in this dress.”

Leo: “I was watching Jerry Springer…and they had a commercial ’bout that ITT Institute – where ya learn shit, and I think, maybe I’ll call G, you know, and get me one a’  them careers.”

A homie calling off work: “I have anal blindness. I just can’t see my ass coming to work today.”

Moreno: “Damn, G – Biooooology. That’s the boooooomb right there! On Monday, we’re gonna DIGEST a frog!”

Soledad at the death of 2 of her children: “The hurt wins…the hurt wins.”

Chico at his new job: “Dear G: I am learning how to use a fax machine. A am learning a gang a’ shit here. Thanks for getting (this job) for me.”

A place of truth. Community. Dismantled boundaries that were erected to keep others out. Boundless compassion. Acceptance. Love. Kinship. Loveliness. Sacredness.

A gathering of souls. Where our souls quicken in awe at the rightness of it. Where the human spirit triumphs.

As Fr. G says: “And so the voices at the margins get heard, and the circle of compassion widens. Souls feeling their worth, refusing to forget that we belong to each other. No bullet can pierce this.”

One last thing: Fr. G has been diagnosed with leukemia. A cancer of the blood that cannot touch his heart. His soul shines and marinates in love, compassion and understanding.

Enlightened witness. Priest. Jesuit. Man.

“Go forth and set the world on fire.”
~ St. Ignatius of Loyola

That is what I wish for the world. For the new Pope. For the homies.

And for Fr. Greg, whose grace and spirit are tattooed on my heart – my love, prayers, gratitude and blessings.

Pax vobiscum. May peace be with you.

You are my light.

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Thursday Re-View — Cefalu, Sicily

In an instant, what started as a simple walking tour of Cefalu, Sicily on my recent vacation turned into a profoundly moving experience.

Let me explain.

Cefalu is a city in the province of Palermo on the northern coast of Sicily. Its narrow streets house numerous churches, a fisherman’s quarter, small shops and a long beach covered with fine sand. The town’s medieval appearance is especially noticeable in its Norman cathedral, built by Roger II in the 12th century.

When I entered the huge wooden doors of the Cathedral, I was met with dim gray flooring and dark, misshapen wooden pews. As my eyes adjusted to the interior, I noticed white flower arrangements on the end of each pew and thin white ribbon tied across the end of the aisle, preventing anyone from walking directly up the center.

It looked like there would be a wedding sometime today.

But for now, there were perhaps a hundred tourists milling around inside, snapping pictures. When I looked toward the far end of the cathedral, suddenly each section was lit up one by one, until I could see nothing but beautiful golds and blues and greens and reds along the walls and upon the ceiling. Tens of thousands of tesserae illuminated the church like priceless jewels with a breathtaking result.

It was magical.

Mosaics dripped from the walls: saints and prophets reposed on the choir walls, Seraphim and Cherubs decorated the vault, while the majestic figure of Christ Pantocrator loomed high in the apse, along with the Virgin Mary, Archangels and apostles.

Suddenly I heard voices start to sing a few stanzas, which then stopped. Near the altar stood 4 members of what must be the choir, readying themselves for the wedding that would soon take place. With some rustling of sheet music and cleared throats, they began to sing again.

I stopped walking, the opening chords of one of my favorite hymns – Ave Maria – resonated in my heart. Their voices echoed off the cathedral walls, then soared to the ceiling and back around, enveloping me. Their voices lifted me until I felt goosebumps (“God-bumps”).

The sound – the feeling – the place – were all so profoundly sacred that the tears flowed as I leaned against the marble wall.

At that moment, in a small town of winding cobblestone streets and a Norman cathedral built with love and care by craftsmen long since departed, there was nothing else but angels singing Ave Maria.

Just then, something caught my attention and I looked toward the massive door that was open to the square outside. The sky darkened and the trees stirred in what had been still, humid air. Tourists scurried inside to escape the abrupt change in weather, their scarves whipped around their faces from the sudden gusts. As the wind pressed through the church, I knew the Holy Spirit had just sanctified all those present.

discerninghearts.com

Mysterious, unseen, refreshing. Gale force outside, a gentle whisper upon my cheek inside.

A blessing received upon on all those who gathered here on this day.

The tourists in their shorts and baseball caps, seated in the far rear of the church. The choir members in their black robes, arranged to one side of the altar. The wedding guests in all of their finery, anxiously awaiting the start of the ceremony. The priest at the altar, the groom at the head of the aisle, and the bride standing quietly next to her father, waiting for her new life to begin.

All were blessed.

The bride’s veil stirred in the now-gentle breeze as she worked to tear the ribbon blocking the aisle, a tradition unknown to some of us, but obviously important to her. I stood in the shadows, on holy ground, watching as the bride, with a triumphant smile, tore apart the ribbon to a crescendo of clapping and shouts of joy from the self-appointed tourist guests.

At last, she made her way up the aisle. Toward the Christ Pantocrator, her friends and family, and her love. Toward her future.

May the bride and groom who were joined together on that day know only a life together filled with happiness. And love.

For the greatest of these is love.

My thanks for allowing me the privilege of baring witness to Your Spirit.

And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 ~

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Thursday re-View — Voyage on a Deep Blue Sea

boat MM

Once upon a time, I was beautiful.

I was shaped by the rough-hewn hands of a carpenter, molded, planed, loved.
My grains ran through the wood, like blood vessels under skin,
and I smelled of trees deep in the forest, reaching up to the sunshine.

I was braced with metal fittings, bolted and stretched taut,
then had crevasses sealed with thick pitch.
Weather-proofed, water-proofed against the elements of a sea-faring life.

I was painted at last a soft green to match a sea of tranquility,
and I braved the ocean day to day, clear and stormy alike,
to feed the hungry my fresh catch.

I grew older and stronger through the years in my daily routine
until my owner sold me to another sailor,
who painted me a new color to match my mood and the deep blue sea.

My skin was gashed and pushed to its limits by this energetic man,
but I carried my catch none-the-less,
until I slowed down in my waning years and needed more attention.

boat I

Sold again to another poor fisherman who painted me the red of poppies,
who saw in me a new-found resilience and strength
that could only be had by years bargaining with the sea.

Until finally he moved onto a boat with lines smooth and true
that smelled like a fresh forest in the morn,
and I was left behind on a deserted stretch of beach, to question my purpose.

I was weathered and worn down by my life on the sea,
my paint faded and chipped and peeling,
my metal fittings rusted, my boards bleached, my skin scarred.

Now I brave the storms from my land-locked port
and am covered with seaweed and lichen,
kissed by the sea when the tides come in, the taste of salty tears.

I sit waiting and hoping for a visit from someone who loves the sea as much as I,
until one day I hear the shouts of children
and feel their feet bouncing upon my creaking boards.

In my mind I take them out upon the ocean,
a swash-buckling pirate roaming free upon the deep blue sea,
while in their imagination I am at once young and proof against nature.

Once again, I am beautiful.

boat II
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Photo Credit: John Grant at Meticulous Mick

With my gratitude and blessings… ~ Theresa

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Thursday Re-View — Of Hospitals, Loss & Love

When I worked in the Pastoral Care Department of a hospital that was designated a Level I Trauma Center (See: “We Are Not a Number“), my duties were varied – praying with a patient right before their surgery, comforting a family waiting in the ER for their family member, rushing to any room that was involved in a Code, contacting family members for any patient who was brought in by Medevac Helicopter, or even sitting with anyone alone in the ER, looking scared and in pain. That last description was just about everyone.

In the rare event that I had a chance to try for some rest in the on-call room, I would prop my feet up and close my eyes until the beeping of my pager broke into my reverie. Either that, or the whirring sound of the helicopter blades as the Medevac neared its landing pad on the roof. Then it would be off the bed, out the door, racing to the trauma bays. “ETA – 10 minutes.” Just enough time to arrive at the ER, get suited up, ready for whomever was brought in.

Sometimes it was a motor vehicle accident or an ATV rider without a helmet vs. a tree, a drunk driver crashing into a building, a lineman electrocuted by live wires, a lonely person who jumped from a bridge or took too many pills, someone rescued from a burning house or a factory explosion. All sorts of traumas passed through the doors.

Staff included ER doctors, nurses, chaplains, phlebotomists, x-ray techs, security guards, physician’s assistants – all standing in their appointed spot in the small area that included two fully equipped trauma bays, waiting for the flight nurses or EMTs to arrive with their patient. I never saw anyone or anything that was unprofessional; the focus was always on each arriving patient and doing whatever possible to save their lives. The staff moved as a team with quiet precision.

desertspringshospital

desertspringshospital

On a particularly busy night, our latest arrivals were a young mother and her child from a motor vehicle accident; her husband and their second child were taken to another hospital near-by. Thankfully, the child escaped with minor abrasions and a concussion, and was already in a bed in pediatrics. The mother took more time to stabilize with some broken ribs, a fractured wrist, abrasions and contusions. Following our treatment, she was whisked off for a C-T scan.

Business as usual followed each patient – housekeeping cleaned the area, doctors signed off on computers, security locked up valuables and technicians moved aside their portable x-ray machines.

Suddenly the double doors from inside the ER swung open and the young mother was brought back in. Puzzled, we looked to the tech who wheeled her past us into the surgical suite adjacent to the bays. This operating room was normally used for those patients with injuries severe enough that there wasn’t enough time to make it to a regular OR.

Knowing she didn’t need surgery, someone asked what was wrong.

“This seems to be the only private area available. The other hospital notified us that the husband will be okay, but we need to tell her that her other child died.”

The double doors to the OR shut with a quiet whoosh. Through the window I could see the doctor take the mother’s hand as he leaned closer. Two nurses stood at the other side of the bed. With that terrible news delivered in the gentlest and kindest of ways – the kind of news from which you never recover – we heard a cry released from the depths of her being, the OR suite unable to contain the sounds of her grief.

It pierced our ears and our hearts. Then, total silence. Not one sound came from any of us – and there were at least 20 staff present – as we froze in place. For us, nothing else existed but the mother’s agonized cry. It tore into us, demanding our respect and mindful attention.

In that terrible moment, it seemed as if the cries of all parents who ever lost a child (the worst loss) echoed through time…through generations…and reverberated off the walls of this very place.

mourner

mourner

A doctor stood in his scrubs, head thrown back with eyes closed, fists at his sides. Two nurses held each other in a tight embrace; the woman from housekeeping held her mop in mid stride; a resident’s hand stood motionless above a keyboard, typing stopped in mid-sentence; a security guard turned toward the wall.

My eyes met the doctor’s, whose mirrored the pain. In a single movement, my back slid down the wall and I held my knees in my arms, the tableau frozen with her raw grief.

After what seemed like forever, but could only have been a minute, a voice overhead announcing the ETA of another trauma snapped us out of our absorption. The area became a buzz of activity as we picked up where we had left off, grateful for the respite offered by much-needed focus, occupied with our assigned tasks.

We could push all of this aside, but the mother could not. We could hug our own children that night, or call to remind them of our love, but the mother could only do that with one child, rather than two.

Once again, as medical professionals we were reminded that regardless of our technology or expertise or willingness to switch places in order to keep children from harm, all stories do not have happy endings. Once again, there was no good answer for the question on everyone’s lips – “Why?” It was beyond our human understanding. And it hurt. It hurt terribly.

But for a brief moment, in that hospital, there were no differences in skin color or language, in gender or faith tradition, in economic status or profession, in looks or bank account. We were joined through threads of pain and compassion, of despair and hope…and of love.

We were together. Interconnected.

Although no one moved, you could almost feel our arms reaching out to the young mother in her grief, comforting her, reassuring her. And if you looked closely enough, you could almost see the faint outline of a little girl kissing her mother’s cheek good-bye…

fanpop

fanpop

Be well, my child. Play and laugh and sing. Your family loves you and will always remember you. And even though we never met you, all of us with your mother that night love you and remember you as well. In the too-short time you lived, you mattered to so very many of us.

From deep in our hearts, we send you our eternal blessings.

Circles of Grace and Compassion. A Circle of Love.

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Thursday Re-View — The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life

When working with students, many times on their first visit to my office, they remark about how relaxing it seems. The colorful prints, inspirational wall words, plaques with favorite sayings, bubbling fountain and the hint of aromatherapy are a calculated effort on my part to not only relax the students, but myself. I also use some of these items as therapy aids when appropriate.

One of my favorite pieces is a unique wire sculpture that I found years ago at a flower show. It is a windblown tree made of twisted wire in a sienna brown finish. Its solid roots are thick and gnarled, leading into a sturdy trunk, filled with branches that are leaning in one direction, as if buffeted by a strong wind.

by Rob Hagarty

treescompany.org

 

To me, that sculpture is indeed the “tree of life” we hear so much about in philosophical readings. The image represents the triumph of the human spirit that I see so often when working with clients in the often difficult therapeutic process.

The roots are our foundation – our family background, our experiences, our heritage – the basis of who we are and where we come from.

The trunk is our self, determined, always reaching up toward the light as we continue to grow, to heal, to seek.

The branches are our life journey, each twist and turn a major decision, whether good or not-so-good, that takes us off in another direction. Some branches are shorter than others, some more twisted, some joining or grafting together to lend strength, others growing in a convoluted route that seems impossible to follow, without a clear beginning or defined end.

It sounds like life, doesn’t it?

Whenever I offer my interpretation of its symbolism, people usually groan when I mention the branches being a map of their decisions. They’re probably remembering the ones that still loom as regrets; the ones, in hindsight, they wish they’d never made at all. But without those questionable decisions, our tree wouldn’t be as full, as beautiful or as complete.

That fullness affords us with hard-earned wisdom that we can pass on to others in need. That fullness gives us the power and stamina needed to withstand what ever life hands us – the gale force winds, the torrential rains, the searing sunshine and drought, the changing of the seasons. Yet that same fullness is flexible enough to lean with the forces of nature, yet not be uprooted.

Each season brings its own joy. Spring, with its beautiful blossoms that burst forth from tiny buds. Summer, with its sunshine and warmth. Autumn, with its colorful palette of bronze and gold, orange and scarlet. Winter, with the gentle touch of drifting snowflakes and a veneer of ice that glimmers like diamonds when brushed by the sun, its starkness a beautiful simplicity.

At any one time, the same tree might provide beauty, shade, food, heat, light, exercise, furniture.

A nesting place, a perch, a house, a climb, a landmark, a place to lean on or hide.

A groundedness, a permanence, a sense of time passing and history.

A quiet purpose, a meaning, a truth.

We can count on the tree, just like we can count on ourselves.

We are the tree, still standing, still growing, still providing, still seeking.

We are beautiful, we are natural, we are a gift.

A Tree of Life.

Angel Oak John Island, SC

Angel Oak
John Island, SC

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Thursday Re-View — You Are My Sunshine

empty wheelchair

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I arrived at the nursing home too late.

My position with hospice was in Loss & Bereavement; that is, to help terminally ill patients prepare for their death and to be available to the families before, during and after the loss of their loved one.

When anyone would ask what type of work I did, and I would answer “hospice,” the reaction was almost always the same – “Oh – I don’t know how you do it – I would never be able to…” With that, they would look down, words trailing off, sometimes physically stepping away from me. I understood.

But for me, being with someone approaching death is sacred ground. No filter, no mask, no falseness. Just that person stripped of everything the world deems important, yet at that moment, more genuine. More authentic. Unpretentious. Beautiful.

When I met Walt, he was a resident in a nursing home. Patti, his aid, brought me to his private room to introduce me. He was in his mid-70s, thin gray hair in wisps around his almost bald head, eyes rimmed with dark circles, face sunken and pale. His wheelchair, placed close to a window, bathed him in sunshine. The photograph on his bureau showed a strikingly handsome man, tall and thin, with blonde hair, casually holding a golf club, looking off to the horizon, smiling.

Now, his body was bent and misshapen, knees drawn up, fingers curled into fists held tight against his chest. His head was angled toward his right shoulder, his whole body ravaged by rheumatoid arthritis. He showed no awareness when Patti introduced me and his eyes – a clear, bright blue that belied his age – never left a picture on the far wall.

“That’s his wife. She died a long time ago. They never had children.”

She was quite pretty, dressed in a uniform that a flight attendant might wear in the early years of commercial flying – perhaps Pan Am or TWA. The only other item on the wall was a handwritten 8×10 sheet with words to the song “You Are My Sunshine” written on it.

sunshine III

“That was their favorite song. They used to sing it to each other,” Patti explained. “He can’t speak because of his stroke, but if he gets agitated, we sing it to him; it seems to calm him down.”

So began my relationship with Walt. I would visit him twice a week – him in his red cardigan sweater, slumped in his wheelchair parked in the sunshine, me seated next to him. I would read to him, talk to him, sometimes just sit with him, while he would look at his wife’s picture. Once, when I hummed “You Are My Sunshine” and gently held his hand, I thought I saw the briefest of smiles, but then it vanished. It was probably just wishful thinking on my part. There never seemed to be any change in Walt’s disposition.

One week, our hospice team was particularly busy with new patient admissions and I was unable to make my Tuesday visit with Walt. On Thursday afternoon, I stopped at the nurse’s station to sign in. As I rounded the corner and headed to Walt’s room, I saw Patti coming toward me, her face drawn and tired.

“Walt took a turn for the worse this morning,” she said softly. “He died, not more than five minutes ago.” She stepped aside so I could enter the room.

I stopped. Walt’s wheelchair was by the window, empty. I’d never seen him anywhere but in his wheelchair. I looked around, searching for something – anything – familiar. My eyes finally found Walt, lying on his twin bed, facing the wall.

I stood at the foot of his bed and said a prayer, but it didn’t feel like enough. I moved the foot of the bed away from the wall and knelt where I could see Walt’s face. His eyes were closed, his wrinkles smoothed out; he looked like he was peacefully at sleep. I reached out and clasped his hand, my fingers gently intertwined in his.

My eyes were drawn to the photo of Walt on the golf course and the one of his lovely wife when she was a flight attendant. I closed my eyes. As if watching a movie, I saw Walt – young, handsome, smiling – get up easily from the bed and walk towards a beautiful young woman dressed in blue. They stood facing each other, holding hands. Staring at each other. Smiling at each other. Loving each other.

With carefree laughter and beaming smiles, they turned and walked away, hand in hand, bathed in golden light. They were together again, as one.

As I looked down at our hands and smiled through my tears, I began to sing.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

Good-bye, Walt. Thank you for the privilege of spending time with you. Go, now – happy, whole, healthy – and rest in peace.

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Thursday Re-View — That Well of Depression

That well of depression…

That place of complete and utter darkness;
that place where no one hears your cries;

that cylinder in the earth that was your prison,
struggling to get out

until your fingernails were bleeding…

That core of the earth…that plug…

Exhausted, you slipped along its slimy walls to the bottom,
where you collapsed, covered in sweat and blood and grime,
unable to move,
blinded by tears of frustration and abandonment…

But what if…

That well of depression was actually a birth canal…a tunnel…
a waystation…an airlock from here to there…
a bridge…

What if…

That well of depression became a wellspring,
a place of healing waters,
a baptism of graces,
a flowing giver of life…

“There is a river.”

What if…

That well of depression that became a birth canal
that became a wellspring
brought forth a beacon of light –
a way through the fog,
a welcome for the lost,
a respite for the lonely,
a shelter for the homeless,
a place to break bread for the hungry?

What if…

That well of depression that became a birth canal
that became a wellspring
that brought forth a beacon of light
duplicated its length
from the ground below to that above
and became a lighthouse?

You are their Light.

As the water bubbles up from the wellspring –
the core – the Source –
it is transformed into light;
particles of gold that pierce the heavens
in a terrible beauty.

Bringing light to the furthest reaches of darkness;
a light so strong that you cannot look upon it,
yet so gentle as to diffuse itself
into soft folds of protection (wings?).

Light that heals as it bathes its molten fluid
of serenity and peace and love.

You are back to where you started…
at a beginning rather than an end.

You are running toward
rather than running from.

You are Home.

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Thursday Re-View — “Thoughts for My Son”

Call Mom.
Pick your battles.
Be kind.
Thoughts matter.
Breathe.
Count to five before you speak.
Look beyond what you see.
Don’t judge.
Rescue an animal.
Keep your word.
Give back.
Be present.
Apologize.
Give thanks.
Choose your words with care.
Dance to your own music.
Character matters.
Listen with your heart.
Honor your family.
Respect your elders.
Share.
Play fair.
Be honest.
Remember where you came from.
Root for the underdog.
Volunteer.
Be charitable.
Keep the faith.
Look people in the eye.
Mean what you say.
Follow through.
Be a good example.
Listen.
Color outside the lines.
Smile.
Purple glitter makes everything better.
Feed the birds.
Remember that squirrels like birdseed, too.
Be compassionate.
Enjoy thunderstorms.
Talk to animals.
Pray.
Be true to yourself.
Visit other countries.
Try your best.
Put in an honest day’s work.
Forgive.
Hold fast to your beliefs.
Patience really is a virtue.
Nothing is random.
Follow your moral compass.
Never give up.
Ask for advice.
Reach out to others.
We’re all in this together.
Admit when you’re wrong.
Offer a firm handshake.
Laugh with gusto.
All things in moderation.
Good will always triumph over evil.
Life isn’t fair, but that’s okay.
Give good hugs.
Don’t lose hope.
Be passionate.
Seek the truth.
Look within.
There is meaning in suffering.
Listen to the birds each morning.
Don’t forget the sunsets.
Go sailing.
Smile.
Surround yourself with color.
Hunt the Northern Lights.
Water your flowers.
Plant a tree.
It will be okay.
Every ending is another beginning.
Write real thank you notes.
Cuddle.
It’s okay to say no.
Sing to babies.
Remember those who have gone before you.
Take your hat off inside.
Offer your help.
Say thank you.
Don’t take it personally.
There are many levels of love.
Don’t hold grudges.
Be a gentleman and a gentle man.
Avoid toxic people.
Tip well.
Look to the stars.
Lose yourself in the clouds.
Stop for all rainbows.
Take the road less travelled.
Be well.
Remember that Mom loves you.

You are my greatest blessing.

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Thursday Re-View — Despair

               funkari

funkari

It is gradual, insidious, cunning.

I slip, slip, slip down into the darkness,
its waves covering me, masking me,
sucking me into its void.

A black hole of nothingness,
where cries of despair no longer echo
but end sharply, cuttingly, abruptly.

An unearthly stillness,
a catching of breath,
then a slow release that’s not a release,
but only more weight,
dragging me down, down, down into obscurity.

There is no light, no sound, no life, no hope.

A stillness, a waiting — not expectant,
but a relenting to the darkness,
its presence a living, breathing, creeping thing.

My soul is wounded, easy prey for the shadows
that wait patiently in the quiet.
All energy, breath, life is sucked dry
with nothing left to give, no desire to give,
no future.

Why struggle?

There is no life, no sound, no light.
There is no future, no hope, no dream.
It takes more than I have to dream.

The sobbing is more than crying —
it is an emptying, a stealing, a taking
with nothing left in its wake.

Cold, dark, damp.
Slimy, keening vacuum.
It waits.

It has all of eternity to feast on this soul.
It licks its lips in anticipation of the
tenderness to be destroyed.

The black hole is more alive than I am,
its eyes watching me, searing me
with a vacant blindness that still sees.
Sees too much.

A rustling – furtive –
a licking, smacking anxiousness
in the murky gloom.

It waits for me, as it has done before.

I have no strength to fight it.
My thoughts are muddied.
The weight of the darkness suffocates,
pushing the air out of my lungs.

My bones – no bones – no shape –
no light – no sound.

Nothing.
There is only this barren wasteland
and I no longer care.

About anything.

I’m exhausted.  I just want to rest.
To catapult into oblivion,
among the stars, weightless,
no control or direction.

I am abandoned.

Is this surrender?
To what end – nothing?  A future?

Must so much of me die in order to live?

And then – on a distant horizon –
the tiniest pinprick of light.
It blazes into my soul
and I breathe…

I am safe.

I can dream.

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I’m Wearing Down to the Real

[Quotes from “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams]

_________________________________________________________

Some days, getting older is a real drag (literally and figuratively)…the graying hair, the middle-aged spread, the skin spots, the forgetfulness, the sense of being either in the way or invisible to the younger generations…

…and on other days, getting older is tempered by the Velveteen Rabbit.

velveteen rabbit I

Let’s face it — I’m wearing down to the Real.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.
“It’s a thing that happens to you..
When a child loves you for a long, long time,
not just to play with, but REALLY loves you,
then you become Real…It doesn’t happen all at once.
You become. It takes a long time.”

It has taken a long time, but sometimes it feels like overnight. Wasn’t it just a short time ago that I graduated from college, then optometry school? Set up my practice, got married, became a mother? In fact, when did I become my mother when I look in a mirror? (See: When Did I Start to Look Like My Mother?)

I’m wearing down to the Real.

“Generally, by the time you are Real,
most of you hair has been loved off,
and your eyes drop out
and you get loose in the joints
and very shabby.
But these things don’t matter at all,
because once you are Real,
you can’t be ugly except to people
who don’t understand.”

My hair is getting gray at the roots, my eyes haven’t dropped out but night-time driving in the rain is risky, and there’s a certain delayed reaction with certain joints — I get up but my body lags behind my head. If my joints aren’t cracking, they’re stiff.

But I’m wearing down to the Real.

Only authentic goods here.

My heart is bigger, my insight deeper, my tolerance wider, my amusement heartier, as I get worn down to a well-loved vehicle. And I hate to admit it, but I even have some shabby – or is it flabby – matronly moments, too.

“When you are Real, shabbiness doesn’t matter.”

But it’s taken me a long time to get to the Real Theresa…the reason-for-being, meaning and purpose in life, I can die and will have made a small positive difference Theresa who is comfortable in her own wearing out skin.

And that’s a good thing, because in wearing down to the Real,

“Once you are Real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

I’m wearing down to the Real.

I’m steeped in readiness.

And I am blessed, indeed.

velveteen rabbit

___________________________________________________

That Empty Nest…

For those of you who haven’t already,
please read the following posts first to fully appreciate today’s post:

In Love Again at My Age?
What I’ve Learned From My New Love
_____________________________________________

Well, it’s finally happened. One of the 3 Pittsburgh Hays eaglets flew for the first time last week on National Bald Eagle Day. And what a glorious sight it was…

pittsburgh eaglets VII

The eaglets, who are now almost the size of their parents, have been identified as 2 females and 1 male. There’s been a whole lot of wing flapping going on, and sometimes they actually flap enough to be lifted an inch or two above their nest. They have also been branching, or going further and further out on the limbs of their roosting tree.

And then, one of the eaglets flew. When I watched the video of its first flight, I just kept shouting, “It flew! It flew!” There was enough joy in my voice to almost match when my son took his first steps without falling.

Am I crazy? Maybe. Am I invested in the well-being of these eaglets that I’ve watched through incubation, hatching, feeding, branching and now fledging these past 3-plus months? Absolutely! My maternal instinct is at full throttle, and I’m their cheering section, worried mother, avian advocate and ardent supporter all rolled into one proud middle-aged package. This must be what being a grandparent is like, but without being able to hold the baby in your arms. So instead, I smother them with kisses (read: encouraging shouts) from afar.

Soon, the brother and sister will take test their wings and fly for the first time. That will leave an empty nest. And for the second time in my life, I’ll get to experience just what the Empty Nest Syndrome is all about.

The first was with my son. Who knew the mother of an only child would experience a second one, this one filled with feathers and dead fish, bird poop and rodent remnants?

And you know what? This Empty Nest is just beautiful!

pitt

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Thursday Re-View — Tanzania

Africa 2011 064

I have been fortunate enough in my life to travel to many different places; you have my parents to blame when they took me on my first plane ride (to Florida) when I was 16 years old. I was bitten by the travel bug, and I’ve been taking trips ever since.

Even the planning of them is fun – I research the destination, its history, the people and go from there. I’ve always believed that crossing borders helps to break down borders, and that visiting other countries helps us to learn tolerance and respect of other cultures, as well as offering discoveries not only of other places but also ourselves.

The essence of living is discovering.”
~ Vijay Krishna, Indian Scholar

When I return from a trip, I am usually glad to be home, even though it isn’t long before I am envisioning my next adventure far, far away. But Tanzania was different.

I didn’t want to come home. Really – I didn’t want to come home.

In all of my travels, in all of my adult life, I never felt more at home than when I was in Tanzania. I belonged.

The peace I felt in Tanzania, the quiet, the rightness of it is hard to describe. It was nature as it should be, without the technology or infrastructure or constant noise or smog or fast food or overcrowding. Just the animals ruling their kingdom, and a small number of humans trying to honor them in their habitat, without leaving too many footprints. We were the guests.

When we visited a residential school for Tanzanian children, they greeted us with bare feet and smiles. When I climbed out of our Land Rover, at least (no exaggeration) 100 children surrounded me, smiling shyly. I said hello to each one of them, and some of them shook my hand. But most of them just wanted to touch my arm; they seemed fascinated by my pale skin, and they explored with the gentlest of fingers. Their classrooms were wooden benches in old, plastered buildings, their dorms more of the same. The ingredients for their meals of beans and rice were stacked in burlap sacks in a storeroom.

But each child was so proud of their school, and the opportunity it gave their future. They actually had an old model copy machine under lock and key, but the school didn’t have enough money to buy paper for their final exams. Paper that cost all of around $10 was a luxury they could not afford.

Dung hut

All of the moments were special, but one rises above the rest in my memory, filled with laughter. We arranged a night drive in order to try to track a leopard that had been seen in the area. On this game drive, there were 6 of us in a tiered seat Jeep: the four of us from the USA, our Tanzanian guide/driver and a tracker who sat on the left front part of the vehicle, on a seat attached to the hood. In order to not disturb the nocturnal animals, we traveled without headlights. The tracker had a red light with him, so that if we saw an animal, we could actually “see” it without bothering the wildlife with the harsh glare of a spotlight.

At night. No paved roads. Barely a trail. No head lights. Driving a few feet from the edge of a 12-foot drop to a dried out river bed (Tanzania was suffering another drought). At a high rate of speed. Hitting bumps and tree limbs and rocks and mud wallows. The driver using one hand to steer and the other to hold a walkie-talkie, conferring with another guide driving on the opposite side of the river bed. Eyes glued to the darkness, hoping to see any sign of the leopard’s spots.

Did I mention the high rate of speed in the bush without headlights? Our bodies were literally lifting off of the (hard) wooden bench seats – there are no seat belts in the Serengeti Plain – as we tore off-road. (Note: it takes an awful lot of momentum to get my body to lift off a seat on its own!!!). I’m smiling, my son is whooping with excitement, his fiancé is quietly hanging on, and my husband – always practical – is yelling, “This violates every safety regulation I ever learned…”

All this time, the six of us, with two in broken English, were belting out “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with blistering enthusiasm. Everyone knew the words; this was something that transcended cultures and perfectly fit the moment.

“A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, aweema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, aweema-weh, a-weema-weh… In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight; in the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh… Near the village, the peaceful village, the lion sleeps tonight; Near the village, the quiet village, the lion sleeps tonight…”

In that moment, there was nothing but sheer joy in the experience. No worries…be happy. That kind of joy. Why worry about safety or being eaten by predators in the wilds of the Tanzanian bush? This was heaven, and the only race here was human.

And I swear that I heard a clan of hyenas laughing along with us…

Oh – I almost forgot – were we successful in our hunt? Yes, we spotted the leopard and tracked him for a few miles, until he disappeared into thick brush.

Leopard at night

On the day of our departure, each time we made a stop in our small plane, heading closer and closer to “civilization,” something in me would protest. My heart left a piece of itself imprinted on the land.

Why return to my fast-paced life when I could retain this simplicity – this authenticity – and be part of this more genuine-feeling “Circle of Life?”

Back at my American home, I wouldn’t think of sleeping with the doors unlocked or only a wall of screens between me and my neighbors. In Tanzania, out in the bush, on safari, surrounded by thousands of predators, I felt safe and at peace. I belonged there.

Come to think of it, I probably do.

A few years ago, my husband and I decided to take part in the National Geographic Genographic Project, which, with the DNA of participants all over the world, historical patterns in the collected DNA would be analyzed to learn about each person’s “deep ancestry,” or the migration paths of our ancient ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago.

What were the results of my ancestral make-up, my “ground zero?” East Africa. Which includes Tanzania, the place that felt like home. Where I belonged.

My ancestors then migrated to West Africa, to Northern Africa (Egypt), then the Sinai Peninsula, Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, to the Western Mediterranean. This route, from Eastern Africa to the Western Mediterranean, coincides with my paternal and maternal grandparents all emigrating to the USA (through Ellis Island) from Italy and Hungary in the early 1900s.

In Tanzania, my soul recognized that I was home. My cellular makeup affirmed where it all began. It was as if the land and the animals sang a song to my soul, and I answered its familiar refrain from so very long ago.

I walked in the desert but had no thirst. I sat with the animals but had no fear. I watched the Maasai dance, and the rhythm of their drums was already a part of me. Its melody sang and my soul rejoiced.

I will return to you, Tanzania. To your land, your people, your essence. I promised my soul it would once again dance in your sunset and be at peace.

Asante!

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Midwife of Meaning

O Midwife of Meaning,
tend me with Your loving presence,
Your gentle heart, Your capable hands.

I am pregnant with possibilities as I enter the autumn of my life
with the hope that I might experience the crisp leaves of scarlet and bronze,
of orange and gold, at least once more before the seasons change.

I am pregnant with the faith that I shall be given warmth and shelter in the coming winter,
along with a peaceful understanding of what this time of life brings.

I am pregnant with a seed, a thought, a whisper, a promise,
that I shall become more real as I become more worn;
that I shall become more true as I become more real.

The contractions of my womb produce an authentic me,
my soul shining bright amid the ravages of age.

O Midwife of Meaning, I am pregnant with Divinity.
Allow me to birth Love,
allow me to birth Hope,
allow me to birth Self.
Imago Dei.

O Midwife of Meaning,
tend me with Your loving presence,
Your gentle heart, Your capable hands.

_____________________________________

Thursday Re-View — This is How I Will Remember Dad

Dad as a little boy

Dad as a little boy

He was baptized by monks.

When you spoke with my Dad, that was one of the things he was most proud of in his life. Oh, he was proud of his wife and 2 daughters (his “girls”), his three grandsons, his four great-grandchildren, too. But he always returned to the monks…

Both his Hungarian parents entered the United Sates (separately – they had not yet met) through Ellis Island in the first decade of the 20th century. His Mother came here all by herself when she was 16 years old, with $28 in her possession. His father had even less. His parents – my grandparents – eventually met, married, and had 4 children. My Dad was the youngest, born almost 10 years after his oldest sibling. And yes, where he grew up in Union, New Jersey, he was baptized by monks.

He grew up on a farm of almost 90 acres, where my grandmother had a beautiful garden, a spring where we used a pail to fetch clean water, cows that Dad used to milk and manage to have fun at the same time by squirting near-by cats, and an outhouse that had rhubarb growing at the back. Things were a lot simpler then.

Dad played high school football when they wore leather helmets and decided differing opinions mid-field. In his senior year, World War II raging, he joined the Navy on September 16, 1943, a day before his 18th birthday. His school gave him his diploma even though he only finished 2 weeks of his senior year. He was an A student, anyway.

Basic training was in Great Lakes, Michigan, which must have been interesting for a farm boy who had always walked to school and had never been away from home. In addition, he joined the Navy not knowing how to swim. But there was a war on, and that was unimportant in the bigger scheme of things. After Basic, Dad was one of three sailors out of 500 chosen to go on to Texas A & M for training in what would become the nuclear submarine program, but he refused. Why refuse what was such a golden opportunity? Because this 18 year old man has recently met the 15 year old girl who was to become his wife.

Before leaving for the war, this sailor in his dress blues went to a small park in Pennsylvania with a friend, where he saw a pretty young girl with black hair and dark eyes across the gazebo. When he asked his friend who the girl was and said he was going to marry her, his friend laughed and told him he’d never get past her mother – the protective, unsmiling woman beside her.

We know how that turned out. Dad did get introduced, the now 16 year old girl wrote to him during the war, and they got married (Mom was 18, Dad was 21) when he returned home after the war was over. They were married in a beautiful church ceremony with money Dad had saved by selling his cigarette consignments while in the Navy, at a reception with beer, root beer, and sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. Dad promised Mom he would buy her a new dress every week. Romantic – yes. Did he manage to keep his promise? No – which Mom never let him forget, but he did give her so much more.

Mom & Dad

Mom & Dad

Dad apprenticed as a furrier, then worked at a company that manufactured tools such as scissors, tweezers and nail cutters. Then, this young couple decided to venture out on their own by opening their own business. First, they bought an old house in a small town that didn’t like outsiders. In fact, they had to retain an outside attorney (this was almost 60 years ago) to close the sale because my parents’ ethnic background and religion weren’t easily accepted (sound familiar?). After the purchase, they found white sheets and hoods in the attic, which they hurriedly threw out. You get the picture…

They knocked on doors in the garment district in New York City until, after mocking laughter and countless doors slammed in their faces, one Jewish jobber (Bless him…) took a chance on them and offered to send them work. Their business – manufacturing women’s’ and children’s’ blouses, had begun. With a stranger and a handshake. No contract, just their word. In a business relationship that lasted for more than 2 decades.

We lived in a small apartment over the blouse mill. My parents employed almost 30 women and one man for 23 years. Many were single mothers who needed to put food on the table; others were disabled in some way (epileptic, partially sighted, learning disabled). The hardest workers made enough money that some of the men in their lives came to “have a talk with” my father, angrily asking why Dad allowed them to make more money than the man of the house. Dad simply explained that their women earned it. Enough said!

Earlier than most men, Dad treated women as his equal and respected anyone’s hard work and desire to get ahead. By the time my older sister and I were born, Dad was surrounded by women at work and home, so it’s a good thing he could survive in the midst of those hormone shifts!

Memories of Mom and Dad getting up by 6 am and Dad still being downstairs at midnight, doing book work… He made smart investments and saved money, but we still managed to drive almost an hour away once or twice a month to try out the hamburgers at some new type of restaurant known as McDonald’s. When he’d fill up the station wagon’s tank with gas, sometimes we’d get a few ice cream squares, cut them in half, then share them between the four of us. Plus, Dad found that he could save a lot of money by repairing all of the machines in our factory by himself, so the smell of soldering and polishing wafting upstairs was common.

As things settled down and he knew the factory was going to “make it,” Dad started to take us on actual family vacations to Atlantic City, New Jersey and Williamsburg, Virginia. Wow – that was the height of luxury to stay at a motel near-by. And to actually eat out every day??? Heaven. By the time my parents retired from their business, their travel had evolved into Spain, Italy and Greece. They always taught us that we needed to broaden our horizons and meet other people to better understand the world.

They weren’t perfect parents – I’ve never met a perfect human being – but they were very good parents. Mom taught us that “ladies don’t drink, smoke or swear,” (those childhood messages stick with you, don’t they?) and to always wear clean underwear in case we were in a car accident. My sister and I couldn’t date until the magic age of 17, and I worried that no one would ask me out. (A few brave souls did). We were taught that if God gave us more (of anything – intelligence, money, opportunity, etc.), then we were obligated to give more back (to society) in return. Dad had a temper (yelling, never physical) and could be stubborn, while Mom had a tough time forgetting if someone did her or anyone in her family wrong. But they were smart, hard-working, compassionate, generous people who believed in God and their country.

The blouse factory was a family business, one that saw my sister and me working every summer, as well as in the evenings after we did our homework. We were a family unit, and my parents always gave good advice, with no agenda other than our best interests. I asked my parents’ advice until the day each of them died. They never led me astray.

Family

Family

They would also throw high school graduation parties for nieces or nephews if relatives didn’t have the money, buy someone a washer and dryer to make that person’s life easier, or loan money to those in need. Education was very important to both of them; they always said that education was something that no one could take away from you.

My sister went to beauty school and obtained her real estate license; I went to undergrad, optometry school, then grad school (wow – that’s almost 12 years of higher education; one could question my sanity!). All 3 of their grandsons graduated from college. Their 4 great-grandchildren (another one is almost here) already have college funds started.

The American Dream.

From grandparents who came through Ellis Island (Moms’ parents also came through Ellis Island, from Italy) to a man who quit his senior year in high school to fight in WW II and a woman who had to drop out of high school after her sophomore year in order to earn money for her parents and siblings during the war…

What a wonderful legacy Mom and Dad left behind… And I miss them terribly. Next week, another family will take possession of Mom and Dad’s house, another chapter closed.

But I was able to give one last gift to Dad, after I held his hand in the driveway where he fell (see “Remembrance II”).

One of the priests at the college where I worked – a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross – traveled almost 2 hours to say his funeral Mass. He never met Dad, but he knew him from almost 4 years of working with me, and he had the entire church crying about how important Dad’s wife, “girls,” grandsons and great-children were to him. And he allowed my sister and me to dress Dad’s casket with the pall and bless it with holy water as well. Three times – Dad’s favorite number, representing the Trinity.

So for this man of faith who was so honored to have been baptized by monks – add to that a funeral mass celebrated by an ordered priest. A fitting validation of a good and decent man…

By the time the veterans played Taps at the cemetery and we were given the flag, our time together was done. He was finally with Mom…their bodies together in the mausoleum, their spirits together in another plane, at long last.

Rest well. You did good. The world is a better place for having had you in it. And at the end of life, that’s all we can hope for.

Thank you for all of the sacrifices, the guidance and the love. I hope to make you and Mom proud.

____________________________________________________________________

TAPS
Daniel Butterfield – music
Horace Lorenzo Trim – lyrics

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.

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Thursday Re-View — Echoes of Loneliness

She was 16 years old and living in a nursing home.

You know the type place – where the smell of stale bodies and crumbling memories meets you when you walk through the door, where the cries of lost hope and discarded dreams echo through the hallways.

That type nursing home. Smelling of mustiness and mothballs, of dried food and forgotten flowers.

A 16 year old innocent with the most severe form of muscular dystrophy. Lisa couldn’t talk (but she could grunt), couldn’t walk (but her limbs jerked with uncontrolled movement when she was excited or agitated), couldn’t see (blind since birth), but had about 60% hearing in one ear. Her days were spent in bed, alone, waiting…

Waiting for a family who never came, who was too poor to properly take care of her and who couldn’t deal with the heartache when visiting their daughter. So they stayed away…

Who am I to judge? I had no idea what I would be able to do for her by visiting her once a week, but I do know that after each visit, I needed to shake off the sadness that I wore like a heavy cloak when I walked outside the door. But at least I could leave…

Her caregivers in the nursing home took care of Lisa like she was their daughter. Her bed linens were fresh, her clothes clean, her hair smelling of roses…and there was always music playing, since that seemed to keep her calm. And she loved to hear prayers recited at any hour of the day or night, especially ones that spoke of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

When I first met Lisa, she was half sitting up in her bed, enjoying some crackers as a snack. Even though more crumbs were on her lap and the bed, she seemed determined to get her spasmodic hand movements under control enough to aim for her mouth. She made it more times than not; she kept trying until she succeeded.bedThe nurse’s aide explained my presence in a soothing voice, and cleaned off Lisa’s hands and face so we could visit. I sat still while her hands shook their way across my face, studying my features intently the only way she knew how. Satisfied, she sat back and I told her a bit about myself.

In later visits, through trial and error, I found that singing the “Hail Mary” prayer to Lisa in a soft voice, sitting on the side of her bed where she had her good ear, quieted her agitation. She would lay down and close her eyes, grunting occasionally while I sang off-key.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

By sheer luck, I found that Lisa also loved “Hail Holy Queen.” I had my Trappist monk friends to thank for knowing how to sing that prayer, since it was part of their Compline Office each evening when I was on retreat with them at Holy Cross Abbey (Berryville, VA).

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve:
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious Advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Amen.

One spring day, I arrived at the nursing home in a thunderstorm, the torrential downpour and gray skies matching my mood. I ran inside, repeating Chaplain Susan’s reminder to me (“She Who Hears the Cries of the World“): “Theresa, you are their light; Theresa, you are their light.”

The staff told me that Lisa had a rough night, her restlessness almost unmanageable, and that she was finally asleep. I thought I would look in on her anyway, since the loud thunder might have awakened her since the last bed check. But when I stood at the side of Lisa’s bed, she was fast asleep, her thumb in her mouth, hugging her favorite blanket.

As I sang the Hail Mary prayer and carefully pushed back the hair on her damp forehead, suddenly a beam of sunlight pierced the near-by window and settled on Lisa’s face.

Sunlight – not lightning – where you could even see dust motes in its beam as it traveled across the room to illuminate her peaceful face.

She smiled, as if aware of what was taking place while she slept. Her skin literally glowed.

In the middle of a thunderstorm, the rain pounding on the windows, a shaft of sunlight piercing the gloom just long enough to recognize Lisa’s soul – beautiful, healthy, vibrant, singing.

Just like that, the light disappeared.

I looked around her room for the source – nothing. No flashlight, no lamp, no one popping their head into the room wielding a camera. We were alone.

Then again, maybe we weren’t…

Circles of Grace.

A communion of light filling a lost soul who was not lost, but rather, found.

Never doubt that you are blessed, dear Lisa. You were anointed in the midst of a raging storm. Be at peace.

You are beautiful. And you are loved…

sunbeam

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Collage of the Heart

[ 9/11 Memorial Museum – In Memoriam Exhibit ]

The 2,983 photos cover the four walls, this microcosm of humanity. Gone too soon, and far too young, no matter the age.

The Wall of Faces.

Young and old; black, white, red, brown and yellow; smiling and carefree; serious and professional.

Mothers and fathers; brothers and sisters; husbands and wives; sons and daughters; bosses and co-workers; captains and lieutenants; lovers and friends.

People from over 90 countries, but Americans all.

The impact of the sheer number of people lost punches you in the chest, the intake of breath keening out in an anguished, “Oh, my God…,” over and over in a litany of disbelief.

Oh – my – God.

Frozen tears pour out in a scalding torrent.

Here, then, a Captain in the Fire Department of New York, dress uniform shining and starched, dedication in his gaze.

Next to him, a middle-aged woman, motherly, soft around the edges, her eyes rimmed with lines from years of laughter.

Down some rows to the handsome young man in a tuxedo – model handsome – with a smile that can light up a room, along with his wife’s heart.

My eyes move up to the older man, graying at the temples, dignified in his Wall Street clothing, his face a mask of professionalism.

The young woman, so vibrant and full of life, the girl-next-door, prom queen and cheer-leading captain all rolled into one.

The man of indeterminate age, his ebony skin matching his eyes which radiate compassion and a quiet reserve.

The young EMT, eager to help, focused, smiling, full of hope.

I remove my glasses as if to rub the images from my vision and instead visualize a sea of colors, a tapestry, that together unite into one huge photograph of humanity.

Out of many – One.

Oh. My. God.

9 11 wall of faces

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Thursday Re-View — Echoes of Darkness Sheathed in the Light

In Memoriam – Mom
April 25, 1928 – February 29, 1988

[written March 1, 2009]

I thought it had passed.

Just yesterday, I remarked to my sister – “This is the first February in 21 years that hasn’t been brutal.”

Then this morning, just the mention of the phone call in the early morning darkness, when Dad told me you had died and I said, “Good” – (Good for who – me? You? The echo of guilt lingers still…) – brings back the grief like a wave crashing into rock, and I am pulled under in an instant, drowning.

The well of grief swallows me, the darkness returns, and I ache with loss – the emptiness – the missing of you – the longing for your closeness – (Me? The one who hated hugs? The one who now hugs all those in need, desperate for their/my/your touch?).

My right hand trembles, my teeth chatter, and I rock…I ache…I mourn.

My tears flood the emptiness with despair, until the well is filled to overflowing, and just when there can be no more left, the flood gates open with a rush of white-hot tears – searing, scalding, scarring – as they traverse the channels carved in my soul.

I escape then, but to where? A place of quiet, of gray, of nothing, where no one or no thing exists…where no one or no thing can hurt.

I am numb.

I cease to feel, to breathe, to mourn…quiet, waiting, collecting, remembering, forgetting. I want to stay in this nothing, where the past and present blend, simply waiting. I could spend eternity here, neither warm nor cold, neither black nor white – nothing.

But then a soft white light burns through the fog – slowly, steadily, purposefully – coming toward me. And when I turn from it, it envelops me with warmth, an embrace, a distant memory, a familiar voice, a whisper. It seeks, it flows, it permeates, it dissolves, it heals – slowly, completely. It restores breath into my lungs, it touches my hand and the trembling ceases.

The crying stops and I return. Depleted, yet complete, filled with the sense that love hurts and heals, devours and regenerates, erases then re-creates, takes away only to be made whole.

If I love, I risk.

cala liliesl

My losses seem legion, but my blessings lift me to a place I would not have seen had I not been buried. The tears that drowned me in their ending are transformed into the healing waters of a baptism, a beginning, a grace.

I hesitate – these wings have weight – do I want what they hold? A familiar stirring inside me – a blossoming – a peace – a knowing that this is right and good. The weight will be lifted when I surrender.

And I hear the whispered promise – “I will be with you, always.” – and I feel Your embrace lift me up, then release me. I soar back into life, toward the light and Your promise, and I know I am who I am because of You, because of Your love.

Of whom do I speak? Of my Mother? Of God? Of His Mother? It matters not; only that I return. Only that I remember Your voice as I reach out to those in need. That I am present in their pain – that I quiet their tears – that I wait in their darkness – that I am their light and their hope as You were/are/will always be to me.

Lift me up, so that I might lift them.
Love me, so that I might love them.
Give me hope, so that I might bring hope to them.
Guide me, so that I might guide them.
Give me Your words, so that I might speak them.
Give me Your hearing, so that I might listen to them.
Heal me, so that I might heal them.

Remember me, as I remember You.

I am who I am, because of You.

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Related Post: Remembrance

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Monday Meeting — Mychal’s Prayer

Mychal’s Prayer:

“Lord, take me where You want me to go.

Let me meet who You want me to meet.

Tell me what You want me to say,

and keep me out of Your way.”

Rev. Mychal J. Judge, O.F.M.

In Fr. Gregory Boyle (My Journey with St. Francis, the Jesuits & Pope Francis, Part II), I introduced you to a very special Jesuit. In Fr. Mychal Judge, I’d like to introduce you to a very special Franciscan.

Fr. Mychal Judge – Chaplain of the New York Fire Department. A gay, Irish, recovering alcoholic Franciscan priest, friend to the homeless, policemen, firemen, addicts, politicians, AIDS patients and so many others.

He was not a “conventional” priest, but rather a human being with flaws, like the rest of us. But a human being much beloved by thousands of people to whom he ministered, much admonished by those whom he antagonized. He was sensitive, humble, compassionate, extraverted, vain about his hair, a committed multi-tasker always on the go who kept a journal, still wrote letters and had a “wild” laugh. Hugging people, blessing strangers, ministering to the firemen and their families, advocating, listening, loving, serving and never judging.

He resided in the friary of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan, the same saint who served as a role model for Fr. Mychal’s life.

Fr. Mychal responded to any fire of three alarms or more, so it made sense that on September 11th, he was at the WTC in record time.  One of the firemen who saw him in the lobby of Tower One noticed concern on Fr. Mychal’s face, his lips moving, “like he was praying.”  Minutes later, after giving Last Rites to a firefighter from Company 216, Fr. Mychal was caught in the debris from the collapse of the South Tower.

Rescuers carried him out of the rubble, captured in an iconic photograph by Shannon Stapleton, which one of Fr. Mychal’s friends calls “a modern Pietà.”

Mychal Judge III

Fr. Mychal was given Death Certificate Number 00001, a posthumous honor as the first body released from Ground Zero. Although already gone, the priest was given Last Rites by a Lieutenant on the Manhattan Traffic Task Force and a fellow New York City police officer, since no priests were available. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Sacred Ground. Light in the darkness.

Fr. Mychal’s funeral, a two-day event, brought thousands of people – blue collar workers, policemen in dress uniforms , firemen in work clothes straight from Ground Zero, a former President, Senators, mayors, governors, archbishops, cardinals, priests, the homeless, AIDS activists – so many people from all walks of life. Fr. Mychal was buried on the 23rd anniversary of his sobriety. His body may have been buried, but not his spirit. Not his memory.

As Fr. Michael Duffy, homilist at at Fr. Mychal’s Mass of Christian Burial, said:

“I think that, if he were given his choice, Mychal would prefer to have happen what actually happened. He passed through the other side of life, and now he can continue doing what he wanted to do with all his heart. …Mychal Judge is going to be on the other side of death…to greet them (deceased firefighters) instead of sending them there.”

In the 2006 documentary “Saint of 9/11,” a younger Fr. Mychal, when interviewed, had this to say about his life:

“Life and death – so valuable.
I wonder when or what my last half hour will be…

will it be doing something for someone, trying to save a life?”

Yes, Fr. Mychal. Your wish was granted. Your last half hour was ministering to those in need. In the midst of the chaos, you presence offered comfort and peace. You did your job – you affirmed your calling – and you did it well.

So I recite Fr. Mychal’s prayer which so resonates within me.

And I hope – indeed, I pray – that my last 30 minutes of life will be even half as good as this very human, yet very holy, Franciscan.

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