Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mary's Song, Continued

In honor of Mary's passing, I am posting an email I sent in May of 2010.  I learned this week that Mary has indeed passed.  For the past several months she had been bedridden, and I would visit her in her room.  Last month I was told she was in the hospital, so I really did not expect to see her again.  However, when I entered the convalescent hospital a few days ago and asked about her, the very shy activities assistant replied, "I think she is in another hospital," and looked away.  I was puzzled.  How many hospitals does a 99 year old body need?  After worship I gently pressed for more information.  He replied, "Well, we are really not supposed to talk about it except to a family member, but I know you were a friend of hers.  She passed away."  I felt very sad.  Not for Mary, for I could feel her dancing in the heavens.  I feel sorry for a society that so fears the full cycle of life that includes questions, grief, passings, and sorrows.  Recognizing that the assistant was trying his best to do the job as presented to him, I touched his arm and said, "Thank you for telling me.  We grow close to those we serve, don't we?"  He nodded his head and we hugged.  
Dear Mary,
Your presence was, and always will be, a gift to me.  You once said you would put in a good word for me with Jesus.  Would you kindly ask him to continue to walk with me as I discern how to best to serve this home?  Thank you.  And, oh, yes, please keep singing.   Sometimes I need the company.       
Sue Ann 
Mary's Song
Mary tells me that she is close to 100 years old.  She now lives in a convalescent hospital where she sits with her large print Bible.  She does not sing out loud much anymore, but she expresses much gratitude that we gather for worship.  She is still able to take communion.  I think Mary has been coming to the table for a very long time.   
Every month, she takes my hand and tells me that if she is not at the hospital the next month, I should not be sad because I will know that she has gone home to her Lord.  She is one who seems to have achieved a wonderful balance between accepting her life today, and having confidence in the life of tomorrow.  In her I sense no fear.  
This week she told me that she will always sing with me.  I am grateful.   There are probably many Mary's with us.  We may not consciously hear their songs and prayers, but that may be because we have not yet learned to listen. There is indeed music in the air.   Let us lean our ear and rejoice that we do not sing alone.     
Their voice goes out into all the earth, 
their words to the ends of the world.   
                                                           - Psalm 19:4  
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul,
How can I keep from singing?
                                                - Robert Lowry, 1869

Friday, August 26, 2011


Whenever I am in San Carlos, I usually stop by their library.  They have a nice section of used books which they sell at a very low cost.  I do not always find something of interest, but I often do.  When I was there last week, I picked up a copy of the novel, Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jaber.  It looked to be an engaging tale, and I could not even argue with the price: $3.  I thought to myself that I might never get around to reading this novel, but I went ahead and bought it.  
This week, however, I found myself with a sore knee, and the routine of elevation and icing has taken up almost two full days.  While a bit frustrating for the dogs, this time has given me a chance to immerse myself in this novel, a story that weaves together love, ancient Middle Eastern recipes, poetry, an odd photographer, poignant tales of exile, strange stories told by a loving uncle, and more.  It has been so long since I have read a work of fiction that I am even hesitate to say, "This is a very good book."  I think it is, but sometimes after fasting, even the simplest piece of bread can seem particularly delicious.  I am reminded of a long afternoon into evening decades ago when I rented four movies, and watched them back to back.  Three of them I do remember at all, but the fourth, Babette's Feast, has long stayed with me. As night descended and the story continued, I did not even get up to turn on the light.  When the movie was over, I was amazed to find myself, not at Babette's table in Denmark, but rather sitting in a very dark apartment in Oakland.   
We humans are story tellers and story listeners, and I think it is important that we remember that - it is often stories that knit us into the fabric of culture, family, and tradition.  As a child, I was convinced that if we could imagine something, it must be happening somewhere, and that was of great comfort to me.  It meant anything was possible - maybe not right at that moment, but if one could just have patience...  
There is a recipe from the medieval book that she wants to try - an omelet fried in oil and garlic, a stuffing of crushed walnuts, hot green chili peppers, and pomegranate seeds.   She goes to the cabinets and the refrigerator and begins to work while her uncle sits at the table and opens his history of Constantinople.  She stands at the table, peeling and mincing onions, then fries the omelet lightly, turning it once, and its aroma is rich and complicated.  Then Sirine and her uncle sit together in the library and eat. 
The dish is sweet, tender, and so delicious that it's virtually ephemeral, the eggs dissolving in their mouths.  Sirine is hungry; she eats more than the she has in a single meal in over a year.  It's good - she can taste that.  For the first time in over year,she can taste her influence on the food.  She licks her fingers when she's done. Her uncle puts down his napkin, says, "Alhamdulillah, thanks be to God." Then he nods, points to the empty plate, and says, "The eggs have forgiven you."  (389).  
Thanks be to God.    

Friday, August 12, 2011


Often, when I am facing a moment, or days, of thinking, "I cannot write anymore.  I have absolutely nothing to say," I invariably will find a poem that lets me breathe a little easier.   David Whyte is one of those poets whose work always helps me to feel a little saner.  I probably have shared this poem before, but that happens from time to time.  When I was reintroduced to this poem a couple of days ago, I found myself thinking that much of the wisdom and beauty of growing older comes from acceptance.  Acceptance of who we are.  Accepting who God is (thereby accepting who God might not be).  Accepting it all.  Poetry helps those times when we fear we just can't measure up.   Poetry helps us to measure down.  Down to who are really are: beings living on the solid ground of love.           
That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.      
It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.
It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.  
                                    - David Whyte    

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Singing, Ms. Edna Leading

Yesterday, the pianist called in sick at the last minute.  However, the folks in the convalescent hospital are always good sports about singing a capella, and I keep some song sheets with well known hymns that I can boldly lead in my three note range.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be doing such a thing, but I think this leap of faith has indeed done me some good.  
I do not think Ms. Edna has ever missed a service.  She is quite reserved, and sits very still and upright.  She seldom speaks, and I do not think I have ever seen her singing.  She will not even take a song sheet, but I can always tell when she loves a hymn.  She will rock side to side ever so slightly, and sometimes will even quietly clap her hands.  Yesterday, as we finished up with Amazing Grace, she raised her right hand and kept time - pretty rowdy behavior for Ms. Edna.   I knew she was happy. 
I am pretty certain she used to sing.  Her husband was a pastor, and she has told me more than once that they would sometimes need to lead singing without a pianist.  Yesterday, she told me, "That last verse sums it up.  When I was a child I was baptized in a pond, and I have tried to walk with the Lord every day since then.  I know one thing:  no matter what our denomination, we go together.  Our bodies will always go where they need to go, but this helps our spiritual life to keep going in the right direction- together."  
I was formally baptized in a church, but I think my real baptism happens in this hospital.  Here, where Ms. Edna keeps time.  Here where Gary grows more ill, but always says, "I love you."  I think those will surely be his last words.  Here where the soft spoken Mrs. Chin worries about her husband. "He is almost 96 now..."  Here, where Darlene has scowled at me for close to four years, but yesterday, she smiled.  Here, where I muster my courage and sing.      
Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares, 
I have already come. 
"Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.    

Friday, August 5, 2011

Just a Day

The first time I met Elizabeth, the person doing the introductions said, "Elizabeth, I would like you to meet someone." 
Elizabeth, not looking up from her newspaper, replied, "Thank you, but I have no interest in meeting ANYONE."  I liked her immediately.  
Elizabeth lives in private room in a fairly large skilled nursing community where privacy is not the norm.  Here, I do quite a few hall and room visits, and over the course of a few months, Elizabeth and I have moved from nodding to one another, to jauntily waving, to actually spending a bit of time in conversation.  She is articulate, and loves reading newspapers.  I have never seen her without one.  Yesterday she asked, "Did you lead worship downstairs?  Did you have a nice turnout?"  I replied, "Yes.  I think it was one of the largest we ever had.  I would love to see you join us sometime."   She smiled and pointed to the front page.  "Did you see that at one time we may have had two moons?"
I was delighted to see Anne downstairs.  So often when I visit she is in bed, and I must gently wake her.  I still know very little about her as she has an interesting way of conversing without sharing much information.  She often tells me that she wants so much to see her brother again, but has no idea where he is.  We always tell one another that we love each other.  Yesterday I told her how happy I was to see her in worship.  She replied, "I am happy as well, but I tell you, I am always surprised to wake up and find myself here."     
We really did have a large turnout downstairs, and by the time I had led worship, served communion, and talked to various folks, two hours passed.  The conversations included those with Elizabeth and Anne, with David, who tells me he is writing a book about Jesus and the space aliens because Jesus' flock is that large.  I also talked with the soft-spoken Roger who is so distressed with our government that I think our nation's leaders just might be embarrassed to cause such a gentle soul so much concern, with Ed who has a firm handshake but still mourns the loss of his wife five years ago, the activities assistant who is excitedly waiting for the birth of her first child in November, and Charlie who continues to struggle with his medication.  He doesn't want to take it, often does not remember the difficulties he runs into when he does not, but promises to keep trying.        
A large flock.  Maybe not quite as large as Jesus' but large enough that I see glimpses of moons, stars, and a surprising galaxy or two as I move through.   
When I consider your heavens, 
the works of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, 
which you have set in place...
                             - Psalm 8: 3