Monday, February 28, 2011

The Painting

Dad brought a painting with him when he came over Saturday to help Warren with the garage heater. It is a copy of a watercolor he did several years ago that hangs over the phone at my parents' house. The watercolor is of a house against a dramatic evening sky.

He handed it to me, saying "your mom said you always liked the one at the house, so I painted you one of your own." He studied it critically, then added "this isn't identical; the sky on this one is darker…"

His voice trailed off.

My dad has never been good at giving gifts to anyone, least of all to someone he cares about. He gets a little sheepish and clears his throat a lot. He tends to hand his gifts off carelessly, almost with a shrug, just in case the recipient doesn't like it. Dad is better at helping you with a project - fixing a car, installing a heater - than saying, "here, I painted this for you."

I loved the painting and said so immediately. In fact, I like this version better than the original, and told him that too.

Dad had always been a doodler and a sketcher. After he retired as a machinist, he took some drawing and painting classes and began turning out watercolors. Being handy with his hands, he also made his own frames, so whenever he gave one of his paintings, it was already matted and framed so you could hang it immediately.

Some of dad's paintings are his interpretations of magazine pictures - mostly landscapes - that appeal to him. Sometimes he paints the landscapes of his boyhood.

Dad was born in Greenup, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River, during the depths of the Depression. Although his parents left and settled up here in central Ohio when he was three, there was always a lot of "going back home." When I was a child, there were frequent trips, usually on a Sunday, to Greenup to visit family.

Coming from central Ohio, which is relatively flat, we kids always got excited as we drove south into the low foothills of the Appalachians.

Those foothills were the mountains of my childhood. My dad's family lived in the "hollers" of Greenup County, meaning the lived on the roads tucked into the valleys (the hollows) of those hills.

As a child learning bits and pieces of Psalms in Sunday School, I always loved the opening of Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills… I always associated that verse with southern Ohio as I had to lift up my eyes to what seemed incredible heights to view the tops of the passing landscape.

Dad's painting sat on the study couch all day Saturday, while everyone worked at other tasks. Then Warren  moved it to the living room, up against the china cabinet, so it didn't get knocked and the glass broken. This morning, I hung it right over my desk.

I find myself lifting up my eyes to it frequently.

My new painting does not have hills, although there is a little  rise to the house. It is more likely an Ohio landscape than a Kentucky one. No matter. I have another of dad's paintings, this one with a hill in it, right above my files.

I lift up my eyes to that one as I work too.  

I have written about my dad before. He is a plainspoken man who openly acknowledges that his time left on earth grows shorter each day. He never graduated from high school, but has worked hard his whole life not only to feed his family but also to feed his mind. He has been married for 58 years today to the love of his life, who he met by driving around and around the downtown block she was walking home from school on until she caved in and finally said "hello."

And sometimes, a little sheepish, a little red faced, he'll hand you a piece of his heart.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Journey, Part 3: Cream Puff Lessons

"There are things we know so well that we are able to do them despite ourselves."

That statement, or some version of it, floated through my dreams all last night. Sometimes someone said it to me. Once or twice, it was just announced as a pronouncement from on high.

It is Saturday morning and I am waiting for the first stage of pastry dough to cool enough (but not too much!) that I can beat in four eggs and then bake cream puffs shells. I tried it twice yesterday, curdling the eggs each time because I pushed the timing on the hot dough.

It's not like I have never made cream puff pastry before. But yesterday was an unmitigated disaster in the kitchen. My mind was everywhere but on the task before me - the simple task of adding eggs to the dough.

The shells are now in the oven baking. I think I got it right this time. I hope I got it right.

These cream puffs are for a small celebration tonight of Elizabeth's birthday. She turned 17 just two days ago and, as she is with us this weekend, I decided to make creampuffs as a surprise.

It'll be some surprise, all right, if this batch is curdled also.

I have a lot on my mind right now on several fronts. My bundle of concerns is intruding into every corner of my day. Walking to a meeting yesterday, I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I missed the small moments that bring great rewards to my life.

We had had a big snow Thursday night when a front blew through. By the time I walked yesterday, the skies were clear blue, the sun was bright, and the lawns were fresh under the solid layer of white.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn't really notice.

There was that woman, smiling and calling to the man who was just loading up a snow blower three houses down. She was bringing him a plate of cookies as a thank you for his blowing out several sidewalks, including hers, on the block.

My mind was on the meeting, and on the cream puffs that I had just botched, so her delight in his surprise was lost on me.

The meeting was one of those "good but…" types. We worked through some topics that needed some input, but ran out of time before addressing the entire list, some of which are part of my bundle of concerns.

As I walked back home, my spirits sagged, but whether as a result of the meeting or the failed cream puffs, I could not tell. A bit of both, I suspect. I shared my thoughts with Warren when he got home, tears spilling over despite my best attempts not to go there.

We spent part of the evening with dear friends, keeping them company in the shop that Linda, the wife, operates. She is closing it next week after some 14 years in business and her mood as we talked quietly ranged from calm to sad to humorous. As Elizabeth was spending the night with a girlfriend,  I decided it best to put off cream puff attempt #3 until this morning, to get a fresh start.

My thoughts were muddled last night. My spirits were all over the place. And then I had a night of dreams in which the thought I started this post with - "there are things we know so well that we are able to do them despite ourselves" - kept rolling through until I awoke with it on my tongue. 

I just took the cream puffs out of the oven. They look right. I'll find out shortly.

Whatever my thoughts, whatever my spirits, there are some things I know so well that I am able to do them despite my mood. Baking is usually one of them. Cream puffs are apparently a little more demanding, and so for want of attention, two batches were lost. Not to mention a walk to and from a meeting while all of the small moments of daily life were laid out right there. Right there, right in front of me.

As I have recently written, I am on a spiritual journey. At many points along the way, including my lowest moments, I turn back to Frederick Buechner and reflect on his calming words: Go where your best prayers take you. Unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy. Breathe deep of the glad air and live one day at a time.

Instead of mangling those cream puffs, I should have been unclenching the fists of my spirits. While I was walking oblivious to anything but my own inner dialogue, I should have been breathing deep of the glad air.

I should have, could have taken my lessons from the cream puffs. Stop forcing - either the eggs or the issues - and take the day as it comes. Go where my best prayers take me, instead of insisting the prayers follow me to where I want to go. Take the moment - all the small moments - and enjoy the rewards.

Simple stuff, but lessons I learn over and over again.

Like being on a journey and taking step after step.

P.S. The cream puffs turned out fine.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Finding My Voice

Scene from "The King's Speech"
In the exquisite film, "The King's Speech," there is a scene in which the therapist Lionel Logue explains how he helped shell-shocked veterans of World War I regain their voices - voices that they were afraid to use because of the trauma they had experienced. Some of his techniques consisted of breathing and vocal exercises to re-educate the muscles and nerves as to the mechanics of speech. One of his techniques meant listening with his heart as well as his ears to his clients.

I wrote a post last April about how I have been largely voiceless when it comes to poetry due to my own long term trauma. Like those shell-shocked veterans, like poor Albert thrust onto the throne as George VI, I could barely write if it involved poetry. 

And then a group of my high school classmates coalesced on Facebook. We found, some 40 years after we all began 9th grade together, that we share common bonds after all. One of us, Kate, began to post daily haikus, and eventually that lead to no less than three separate poetry groups on Facebook populated primarily by the Delaware Hayes Class of 1974.

Okay, a disclaimer. We are not talking T. S. Eliot or Emily Dickinson here. There are a lot of limericks and general high jinks. There is also a lot of fun, not to mention appreciation of one another that we couldn't have begun to have had back in our teenage years.

For me, the groups are all that and more. For me, they are a series of exercises in finding my poetic voice. They have become drills to re-educate my fingers and my sentences in the mechanics of poetry. They have become a way to get the taste of poetry back into my heart and into my words.

Writing poetry for a very small, very supportive audience makes me feel as I am starting to speak out loud again after a long silence. I may never regain my poetic voice with the same strength and vigor I would have had had I not lost it for so long. But I don't stutter anymore either. I don't  stand silent in front of the poetry microphone. Today Tonya threw out a haiku assignment of "favorite childhood memory" and before I could stop myself, I had posted four in response.

I was a little taken aback when I had finished. Did I just do that? Really?

National Poetry Month is a little less than five weeks away. I am still exercising, still writing, still building up my skills and my nerves. But I'm giving serious thought to a self-made challenge to post my poetry on this blog during the entire month. 30 days, 30 poems.

I know, it's not the start of World War II and I am not the King reassuring his people. I am only me, reassuring myself that it is okay - more than okay - to write out loud.

And that - giving myself permission to write poetry again - is more of a challenge than all the King's horses and all the king's men could ever have put back together again.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Spent is not a reflection of  how I am feeling these days. Nor is it an analysis of my purchasing habits.

No, Spent is a computer exercise in poverty created by Urban Ministries of Durham. I first learned about it on Nola Akiwowo's blog at Feeding America. It is a thoughtful and provocative tool to raise awareness of what the Great Recession has done to the lives of so many Americans.

Its premise is that you have lost your job and your home. Your savings are gone and you are down to your last $1000.  Spent challenges you to making it through one month without running out of money.

If you choose to play, you are guided through a series of choices, starting with finding a low-income job as a waitress, a warehouse worker, or an office temp. (I flunked the speed test so could not get a temp job, taking instead the $9/hour warehouse job.) From there, the choices come thick and fast. Do you pay your car insurance this month or not? Do you allow your child to play sports when it will cost $50? Do you go to a free concert with friends if the babysitter is going to cost $30?

As you make each choice, your balance account fluctuates and you are given a fact about what your choice represents in the real world. (Opt not to go to the free concert to save money on babysitting? Be aware that "everyone needs a break but not everyone can afford" one and that may be a contributing factor to higher levels of stress among low-income families.)

I have taken the Spent challenge four times. Each time I have "won" in that I made it to the end of the month with money left over. But when you "succeed" by reaching month's end, the program reminds you that rent is now due.

I have yet to finish the exercise with enough money to pay the next month's rent.

Spent is not a fun or easy romp. I found myself getting a knot in my stomach as I agonized over which utility bill to pay. I chose to pay the electric, so my gas was shut off, which meant I could no longer fix economical meals at home. I lost my job in one round because I took a pamphlet from a union organizer in the company parking lot. In another, I chose not to renew my car registration, hoping I would not be stopped by law enforcement before I pulled together enough funds, including late reinstatement fees, to be legal again. I accepted a coat from a neighbor because mine was worn out. I refused to let my children opt out of the free lunch program, even though that meant they might not eat because of the stigma of getting free lunches.

After I finished (forget "won"), I went to the kitchen for a glass of water. I stood for a long time looking into the backyard, grateful for what Warren and I have. Finances are always tight around here, but we are blessed with so much relative to so many others. Spent reminded me of that.

My friend Sharon has been blogging about her No Spend February. Last week she had some unexpected expenses arise and speculated how to treat the hit to the dollars she had limited herself to spending this month. Sharon wrote:  

Even though I didn't expect some of these expenses, they are still misc. items that need to be counted.  I thought about this for quite a while.  If I counted them, it would make the rest of the month very hard, but isn't that the point of a challenge??  These types of expenses will crop up every month.  If I only had $750.00 a month to pay for food, gas etc. then I would have to make it work.  So, that is what I've decided to do.  Make it work.

I commented back: "We have all sat there, small scrap of paper at hand, noting expenses, prioritizing what we really need to get through to the next payday, the next whatever..."

Take the Spent challenge and see how you do.

Spent reminds us that millions of us are faced with economic choices that do not lead to better times, but are instead desperate attempts to keep the wolf from the door for just a day or two more. For far too many of us, the wolf is already inside the house and we are standing on chairs with a battered broom in hand, hoping to keep it from eating us alive.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Letting in the Light

"Blessed are the cracks, for they shall let the light in."

I have carried that quote around in one of my notebooks for years. It is a good place to start today. This morning, despite the heavy, gray overcast, there were cracks in the cloud cover which were luminous with the early light. I stood for several long moments at the back deck door, just looking.

Last night was our monthly legal clinic. Clinic night is always a reminder that despite my tiredness, physical or otherwise, so many others out there are carrying far heavier burdens. They come to the clinic looking for advice, looking for hope, looking for a place in which to lay down those bundles of worry and dead ends, even if only for an hour. We give them coffee and comfort, cookies and counsel, before sending them back out into the world again.

Working at the clinic does not "cure" my depression, but it softens it by helping me gain a fresh perspective. It cracks open the soft gray in which I am wrapped and lets the light enter.

Thoreau ends Walden on a Transcendentalist note: The sun is but a morning star. As I type these words, it is early afternoon and the room has suddenly brightened. I look up from the screen. The sky is blue and clear; the morning star is shining bright.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Note on Journeying

My last post worried Warren, more than he was willing to admit at first. But it was obvious within some five minutes of his coming home for supper last night that it was gnawing at him.

What bothered him the most was my use of the word "journey" repeatedly.

I didn't get it (or him) at first. But I'm not taking a physical journey, I said. I'm staying right here. I'm just traveling in spirit.

That didn't seem to allay his concerns.

After some discussion, I think I finally understood what he was trying to tell me. One, Warren thinks he and I are on a "pretty amazing journey" ourselves, that being our marriage, and there is a little pang that I feel the need to journey in other ways. Two, he has seen others head down different paths with all good intentions and then find themselves too far apart to ever put the bond back together.

If he hadn't been so heartfelt on that last comment, I would have wrapped my arms around him and said "silly Warren." Instead, I just hugged him close and said "you know better."

We talked a little more about my view of spirituality and about our mutual commitments to this relationship. Warren then headed off to the monthly Symphony board meeting. These are tight times for the Symphony and Warren has been spending many, many hours beyond the office week working on various issues. While he was away, I baked for tonight's legal clinic. The rhythm of baking, sliding the cookie sheets in and out of the oven, gave me plenty of time to think about our conversation and to explore further my own thoughts.

When Warren came home, chilled and exhausted, we shared heart cookies, hot chocolate, and some more talk. Because of events in my life before Warren, I needed reassurance that we were "okay." (This was one of those nights in which the Ghost of Relationships Past sat down on the couch to eavesdrop.)  I also needed to voice what I was feeling.

I shared with Warren that I have struggled emotionally more this winter than perhaps he has known, even if he has sensed it. Given the weight of the Symphony matters, I have kept somewhat quiet in recent months when it comes to talking about my personal concerns. Fairly or unfairly to him, my thinking has been "Warren has enough on his plate already; he doesn't need this." So I have masked my moods as "exhaustion" and spoken somewhat vaguely of how tired I am and how hard it has been to keep up with him this winter.

That is not untrue, but a more honest label would be "depression." Not serious (I am blessed that it rarely is) and not omnipresent, but depression nonetheless.

It is what it is. Not the first time, not the last time. Just there.

This morning as I drove to swim, I felt the gray mood settle gently on me, despite the brilliant sunshine, despite a quiet breakfast with Warren just minutes earlier. I said aloud the words I ended yesterday's post with: Go where your best prayers take you…Unclench the fists of your spirit…Breathe deep of the glad air.

In this winter of my discontent, it is solace to intentionally, purposefully carve out time to read and reflect on words such as these.

I can't be on all of Warren's journeys and he can't be on all of mine. We are blessed to share many of them, the most precious one being our marriage. As I finish this post, I breathe deep of the glad air, knowing that at least one of my best prayers took me to where I am today, alongside Warren.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Journey, Part 2

One of the young adult novels on the bookshelf here is The Ramsay Scallop by Frances Temple. The story, set in 1299, tells of two betrothed youths who are sent by their parish priest on the pilgrimage from England to the shrine of St. James in Santiago, Spain.

The priest tells them that the proper way to go on a pilgrimage is "to take only the spirit and those minimal necessities that keep body and soul together." No, they may not take paints to capture the sights. No, they may not take a fishing net for sport.

"Pilgrimage is painful," Father Gregory reminds the village as Eleanor and Thomas prepare to set out. It is not a pleasure trip.

As I have recently written, I am on a journey. At Katrina's request, I am reading A Purpose Driven Life, one chapter a day, for the next several weeks. Small wonder that thoughts of being on a pilgrimage are lodged in the corners of my mind. Is it coincidence that I keep stumbling upon references to pilgrimages? This morning it was this quote by Richard Niebuhr: "Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys."

We (the personal we: Warren and I) are at one of those points in Life where outside matters - professional and community - are weighing heavily on us. We, but especially Warren, have been carrying those bundles around on our shoulders a lot lately. Quiet, heavy concerns are draped like cobwebs in our home.

I haven't read my daily chapter yet today. Like clearing away the day's candle-ends to better focus on my daily reading, I need to bring down at least some of those cobwebs before opening the book. But I have been restless, reading some, writing some, trying to express on paper what I am thinking and feeling in my heart.

While I putter through my thoughts, this one keeps popping up in my mind: I need to get outside of my comfort level. (Make that a "we" if I drag along Warren.) I am not at all sure what that means, or may mean, in my life, let alone in our life.

I don't know if it is one of the cobwebs, or is instead a broom with which to bring them down.

This weekend I read one of Frederick Buechner's beautiful memoirs, Telling Secrets. In it, he wrote of the AA saying, "let go and let God." It is one I say often, especially at night when I am awake late into the dark hours. As Buechner reflected, "Let go of the dark which you wrap yourself in like a straitjacket, and let in the light…Go where your best prayers take you. Unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy. Breathe deep of the glad air and live one day at a time."

Go where your best prayers take you…Unclench the fists of your spirit…Breathe deep of the glad air.

I'm trying.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Just a couple of weeks ago, the sun was rising to the south of the Victorian mansion due east of us across our backyard. I noticed this morning that the sun has moved a few notches further north and is now rising just on the south edge of the house, reminding me again of the infinite motion of the universe.

We had another vivid reminder today of the swift passage of time. Warren's son, David, turns 21 tomorrow, and we were addressing birthday cards to put in today's mail.

Warren was at a loss. "I don't know what to write," he said.

I looked at him, only to see unshed tears in his eyes. "I  don't know what to say. I haven't seen a lot of him in the last several years…and I just don't know."

We were both quiet for a moment. Then Warren blinked hard and finished signing the cards.

After I mailed them this morning, I found my thoughts turning to David, my stepson of now two plus years. I still find it improbable that I have a stepson at all, let alone the one I am blessed to have. And now he is turning 21.

Time flies. Time races.

I have known David for much of his life; I've seen him grow up. When he was a middle school student and I was still practicing law, he interviewed me as part of the requirements for a Boy Scout merit badge. I turned the tables and interviewed him when he finished his questions. David gamely went along with it, but I can only imagine he left that interview thinking "man, was that weird."

When Warren began divorce proceedings, David was a junior in high school. Because of the machinations of his then spouse and the gross neglect of the magistrate (long since removed from her position), he barely saw his children during the two years of proceedings. He missed almost all of the events that made up David's final high school months, including his becoming an Eagle Scout. There was a long, painful interlude where Warren had no children.

David was on the verge of leaving for college by the time the divorce was final, and now the emotional distance was joined by a geographical one. It was a time of a new start for him, a time of picking up pieces and starting all over again for his father.

For a long time, David flitted in and out of our lives on an erratic and intermittent basis. He would be funny and sarcastic and bombastic. He loved making provocative, in-your-face statements about his world views. "All mankind is evil and should be bombed!" When he talked, I imagined his words scrolling by in boldface 48 point type with exclamation points used liberally.

We would see him for five minutes here, an hour there, and then he would blow back out the door and out of our lives again. Warren would sigh and reflect that he hardly knew his son, hardly knew what to say to him.

But time moves swiftly and brings changes to us all.

In recent months, David has been stopping by more frequently and staying longer. He is still funny and sarcastic. But he is less swift to voice an outrageous opinion just for the sake of causing a stir. He will sit for long periods talking seriously about his studies, about his life, about topics of mutual interest with his father. When they made Hyer peanut brittle this Christmas, it was a joy to watch them work together in concert, each knowing the other's rhythms.

The teen has turned into a young adult, and the young adult is turning into a man.

A week ago tonight, David came by the Symphony office where we were participating in the downtown First Friday events. I was busy talking with those stopping in, so did not join David and Warren as they visited. When he left, David - my husband's son, my stepson - gave me a long, sweet hug.

My marriage has been a long string of gifts, starting with Warren. Two of those blessings have been his children. Under the circumstances, I didn't know whether they would accept me in their dad's life, let alone let me enter theirs. 

I am blessed beyond measure on all counts.

I have a stepson, David, who is 21 tomorrow. Happiest of birthday wishes, David.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Journey

Katrina sent me on a journey.

Knowingly, purposefully, she set my feet on the path and said "go."

We recently were in New York for Warren's mid-winter managers meeting with the League of American Orchestras. Sunday evening, as Katrina and I talked and talked, she suddenly looked me square in the face and told me there was something she wanted me to do.

When Katrina fixes me with that "I'm serious" look in her blue eyes, I have learned to shut up and listen.

"I want you to have a relationship with God, April."

I don't remember her exact words. But those are close enough. She then told me she wanted me to commit to reading The Purpose Driven Life over the next 40 days - a chapter a day until I was done.

Katrina and I have never really discussed my beliefs or faith and it is something I touch on only occasionally in this blog. When she told me what she wanted, I didn't squirm. But I did hedge. I told Katrina that God probably had a deeper role in my life than she realized.

But, as I said, Katrina in her adamant mood is not to be taken lightly.

There was more to our conversation than this bare bones recital. She made some heartfelt observations about me and gifts in my life that moved me deeply. I talked about my beliefs with her more openly that night than I am willing to talk with almost anyone else.

And I carried the book home with me.

I let the book sit in my reading pile for the first several days back without so much as opening it. There was too much "noise" going on in our lives when we got back: no lights, no heat, no phone, no internet  when we returned because of ice storms, then I had to get the grant filed, and then…

…and then I ran out of excuses.

The book was still there just sitting quietly, waiting for me.

I felt a little like Jonah, who when God ordered him to go to Nineveh, instead headed the opposite direction. I wanted to dig my heels in and put it off again.

The book still just sat there.

And, finally, quietly, I picked it up and read the first chapter.

One of the things Katrina and I talked about that night was listening to God. I believe God talks to us - any of us, all of us - all the time, but we don't hear Him because it is too noisy in our lives - because we are too noisy in our lives. (I recently said to a friend, complaining that God never spoke to her, "how do you know He hasn't and you just weren't listening?")

I am only on Day 3 of the book and there are 37 to go. Each day I have to think ahead as to how and when I will read the day's chapter. I have to carve out quiet and space to read a chapter. A line from a novel by western writer Molly Gloss always comes to mind: "[s]he prayed silently a few moments to clear her mind of all the scraps and candle-ends of the day..." 

Even in just three days, I have had to clear my mind of the candle-ends of my day before concentrating on a chapter.

I don't know where my reading will lead me. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote "every journey has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware."

I don't know what my destination is. It may be different than the one that Katrina has envisioned for me, and it may be different than any one that I can conjure up.

I just know I'm on a journey.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Angels at Death

I recently discovered Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and spent an hour last week touring it online. The site is filled with beautiful, evocative photos of statuary that reminded me yet again how close death always is, and how different our responses to it are through the eras.

We forget, in our modern, technology-driven society, that death in America prior to the mid-twentieth century was a very real and immediate event. People died young back then. People died at home. Women died in childbirth, children died of diseases we have now largely banished, people died of infections and illnesses that have become distant medical memories.

We tend, in these modern times, not to talk or think too much about death, because it is "depressing." In these modern times, death is something that doesn't happen to most of us (or so we think) until we are old. We have conquered many common illnesses; we have even miraculously turned many incurable cancers into "manageable" diseases instead of imminently terminal ones.

But it wasn't always like that.

Woodlawn Cemetery reminded me how close death always has been. In the nineteenth century, death was personal. Death was someone who lived not in a far away country, but right next door or, all too often, right there in the house.

The statuary reflects the intimacy of death.

There are angels, but I am not certain I have ever seen angels with such piercing glances.

All photos are from the Woodlawn Cemetery website,
Angels who seem deep in thought about why they have been called to earth and captured in stone.

Angels who seem troubled that there is so much sorrow.

The writer Anne Morrow Lindbergh, one of my favorites, was no stranger to death. Her firstborn child was murdered; her older sister Elisabeth died in her thirties of heart disease. In her journals, Anne wrote movingly of her losses. Trying to make sense of her son's killing, she saw death as "a little door" for such a little child. When Elisabeth died, Anne wrote that it was

a week of false hopes, and false dreams; all kinds of plans and schemes that now seems irrelevant - because Elisabeth died. Roads that set out and never got anywhere, half-finished sentences, half-drawn sketches of the future - and the whole thing insubstantial pasteboard to be knocked down in one breath.

Death is always just that close, just that little door away, just an angel's wing beat away.

While traveling last weekend, we received word that the adult daughter of very dear friends of ours had died suddenly. We got back in time to attend the memorial service.

Gail had struggled with alcoholism and mental health problems for many years. Someone found her body at home last week, just days short of her 57th birthday. It was a sudden, blunt end to a life that had come unraveled piece by piece over the years, despite the love and intervention and help of her family and friends.

The memorial service was spare and simple. The minister made us all laugh, recalling the brighter times and moods that were Gail. She then spoke quietly and plainly about the horrific illnesses that, ultimately, Gail could not conquer.

The homily was based on the first two Beatitudes

                    Blessed are the poor in spirit,
                    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
                    Blessed are those who mourn,
                    for they will be comforted.

The minister spoke of Gail as being poor in spirit, not as a chastisement, but as a reflection of the painful emptiness that alcoholism had carved out in her life. She spoke of Gail being now in the kingdom of heaven, her spirit renewed and whole. 

Surely any angel alighting on Gail's grave would resemble one of the Woodlawn angels, with a fierce, troubled gaze.

Our town was emerging from an ice storm that had paralyzed the area, but the church was full. The mourners had braved the ice and the cold to attend; the mourners had braved the hurt and the pain to assemble. Afterwards, we all gathered with the family to exchange memories and tears and laughter and hugs. There was an outpouring of love and support, from the teammates of the teenage son Gail left behind to her friends and the friends of her parents.

There was comfort for those that mourned.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Coming Soon to This Space!

Coming soon to this space - a post from me!

The grant was filed at 9:40 this morning, we will be back in our home tonight for the first time since last Friday (first we were out of town and then we came back to no heat, power, or phone), and I will return very, very soon. Maybe even tomorrow!

I have missed this. I have missed you. Can't wait!