I want to live alive…

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Yesterday, I smuggled a four pack of Cabernet, a dark, salty chocolate bar, and a couple of wine glasses into the hospital to visit my friend, who is battling cancer. She was delighted that I actually did the brazen thing she suggested, and we proceeded to spent the cold, drizzly afternoon in her private room, talking about the past, the present and the future.

As we sat sipping wine and nibbling chocolate, we shared some painful things and asked some big questions, which neither of us have the answers for. She has decided to stop the chemo treatments — unless the next specialist tells her that a significant amount of time will be added to her life, if she will endure another round.  She hasn’t given up — she just wants to trust God for the outcome.

She doesn’t want to live sick. She wants to live alive.
She is making plans for whatever time is left — who to see and what to do — whether there are many days and years left— or few.

She is brave and new. Her hair is maybe a 1/4 inch long all over her head and she sits bold and braless, laughing out loud in her hospital bed. She is forced to stay there until she is safe to move, for fear of dislodging a huge blood clot looming just under her rib cage. She is as human as a human can be, there is no pretense — and she is gorgeous.

Her face is all I can see today — our hearts are connected and I am in constant prayer. I find myself looking over the landscape of my life. How would I spend my last days? I want to live alive.

I would make my last days lovely for my family
I would light all the candles and bring all the flowers in.
I would saturate the air with beautiful music.

I would stop.
I would stop and listen.

I would wear expressions that penetrate the skin and make their way to the soul.
I would look long into the eyes of those I love and they would experience acceptance.
They would remember and know how they are valued and treasured.
I would give meaningful hugs — like the one I got when I left the hospital yesterday.

I would eat food around the table, laughing with those I love.
I would know that sharing a meal together is sacred.
I would not rush away.

I would understand that things are things.
They are only precious when they are a part of our traditions.

I would savor.
I would not gulp.
My actions and activities would have meaning.

My bed would be luscious.
I would have very few clothes in my closet.
I would not worry about what I look like —
I would worry more that I might miss moments pretending to be pretty,
and neat,
and all put together.

I would learn to breathe what is.
I would not to dwell on what isn’t.

I would forgive.
I would ask forgiveness of those I have hurt and rejected.
I would forgive those that have hurt and rejected me.
I would see the pain that motivates the walking wounded.
I would look through all the contorted manifestations,
and I would find the wounds,
and touch them with God’s love.

But.
In my last days, would I forgive myself?
Would I go to the pain that motivates me?
Would I look with grace upon my own contorted manifestations?
Would I allow God’s love to permeate and heal what hurts deep inside?
Would I do that in my last days?

Could I do that today?

 

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Photo by: Eugene Nikiforov

Mud Balls in the Basement

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I can’t seem to let go. It’s not so much the practical things. It’s the words scrawled on little slips of paper. It’s the cement-hard mud balls that were rolled up by tiny hands. It’s the heartfelt message on a Christmas tag. It’s the smooth rock from a happy shore.

Bereft of so many of my own childhood memories, I have always clung to little things. I’m so obsessed with not losing something meaningful that I have been known to dig through my children’s trash as they purge their bedrooms. “WHAT!! You can’t throw that away,” I gasp, as I snatch it and add it to my pile.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not real big on ticket stubs or figurines.
It’s the more important things — like the little construction paper leaves we cut out at Thanksgiving time. Each of us would take one out of the basket, which sat in the center of the table, and write on it what we were thankful for. When the kids were little, they were always thankful for daddy and the dog.

Or it’s the notes — things that indicate who we have been in the world.
It’s the cards and drawings and well-used trinkets.

IMG_9839As a little girl, we moved across country and practically severed all family ties. Because the tiny fragments of family history that I could remember, were not underscored by tradition or cemented by rehearsal- they began to fade away and get buried in the intensity of the painful every day. While my propensity to collect things that bore meaning began long before I lost my mother, her sudden, violent death caused my inadvertent quest to preserve precious memories to grow more intense.

By the time we unlocked the door to Mom’s condominium, the crime had been solved and there was no one around. The bright yellow police tape, which barred the door, was the only obvious sign that anything had taken place at all. Mom had been brutally murdered and her body had been hidden in a closet in the spare bedroom. Ironically, the house was spotless. There was no sign of the argument that had led to her death. The broken statue that had crushed her skull was nowhere to be found and there was no sign of the gun. The bed was made, the cat was fed, and the dishes were done. It took us awhile to find the shadow in the chocolate brown carpet. It was just about the only clue left. Her blood.

As we began to open drawers and dig through closets, we searched desperately for something we could take away that embodied her essence — something that would allow us to keep her. Perhaps some private note that would unravel the mystery — something that was attached to her plaguing sadness. But there was nothing. No diaries. No special jewelry. No treasured trinkets. Only her smell, which was growing faint in the robe which hung on the back of the bedroom door. I tied the robe up tight in a plastic grocery bag with the hope that I could capture her fragrance there. She was a lonely woman. She had no friends that could tell the story of her heart.

Now, some 30 years later, I am thinking through a recent visit to my mother-in-law’s home. In her prime, Joyce was a proud and lovely woman — the consummate hostess, accomplished homemaker, and a keeper of treasured things. She is spending her final days waiting for heaven in the memory ward of a nursing home, unable to speak. Dad is still walking the halls of the house, but nothing is the same without her. As I ran my fingers over the things that used to mean something to her, which are still neatly arranged in her home, I realize her essence is fading. One day soon, all of the treasures that fill Joyce and Stew’s home will be disassembled and divided. If the stories aren’t told that are attached to the objects held dear, they will one day become items to be taken away in a box.

3229343087_c485ed07cf_bThen, as I sat in the middle of a heap in my own father’s basement, wading through the items he and my stepmother collected over the years, I contemplated what it all means. Sally died of breast cancer a few years ago and it’s hard for my dad to figure out what matters. What if he gives away something that could be meaningful to someone? How can he possibly muster the energy to sort through all the things that have no meaning to him without her? Cookbooks and sewing stuff, and bathroom junk, and pretty pictures, and little statues, and extra shoes, and bags, and jackets? There seems to be nothing that truly bears her essence.

In the end, we all lay in our beds and face the end of opportunity. Our piles of stuff, no matter how well pared down, gather dust and go out of style. Much of what we hold dear will be loaded into boxes and hauled to Goodwill. So how do we capture the essence of what has been? It’s not the things we keep that bear meaning. It’s not the bed or the sheets, but it’s the warm place left by the breathing person who slept there. It’s not the after-shave my husband wears, but the way the room smells after he’s gone. It’s not the swing set, but the bare spots left in the grass from all the days little feet wore away patches. It’s not the field, but the path that runs through it.

So, through the connection of many dots, I have arrived at today. I’m going to approach the pile in the basement, and write down the stories that are associated with my little things. Then, maybe, I can let them go and my children won’t have quite so many boxes to take to Goodwill. They won’t have to wonder why I saved a little wooden box full of mud balls.

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Photo Credit: Locket photo by Paula Bailey

like a wounded bird…

Sunrise at Truman Lake

Photograph by Rick Hebenstreit © 2006. Used with permission.

The sun was just peeking over the horizon as I sipped my first cup of coffee this morning. Save for the occasional creak, the house was quiet… even the dog lay sleeping.

This near silence is savory and surreal at our house. You see, about this time every year, we stop feeding the fire in our wood stove and turn off the fans; fans that push the warm air out and fans that suck the warm air in- the necessary distributors of essential heat
horrid purveyors of continuous noise.

That day- the day we switch off the fans- is like a personal holiday for me. Goodbye to long winter months spent listening to the constant drone. This morning, in the bit of day just before dawn, as the fog lingered over the lake, I just sat and listened to the absence of noise.

steam rising from hot coffee

Photograph by Papierdreams © 2009. Used with permission.

As things get quieter inside the house with the days of early spring, the noise is steadily increasing outside. The birds have come home after wintering away. Aviators of all sizes dart back and forth in the sky with bits of grass and string as they busily build their nests; they perch on branches and sing rapturously in a hundred different keys. Ahhhh…. I wrapped the blanket a little more tightly around my shoulders and lifted my cup to take another sip, when, “Whap!”

A bird hit the window.

Wren

Photograph by Pete Walkden © 2009. Used with permission.

After I mopped up the mess I made as a result of jumping straight out of my chair, I went to the window to discover a beautiful, little wren laying stunned just outside the back door. When this kind of tragedy occurs, it is always the same course of action; my son, Will, quickly steps in. First, he finds a suitable box and lines it with a soft towel. Then, he carefully lifts the bird off the ground and places it in the box, promising to nurse it to health, but secretly hoping to keep it forever. He places the box in a safe place, away from predators and elements such as, wind, sun, or rain. Over and over, Will visits the motionless bird, gently stroking the still feathers and speaking soft words of encouragement. He waits for signs of life. Most often, the injured bird slowly regains it’s strength and takes flight. Then we all celebrate.

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Photograph by Margaret Holland © 2011. Used with permission.

Today, I spent some time thinking about that little bird. How many times have I flown straight into a window? There have been times I have lay on the ground stunned… either by the stupidity of my decisions in flight- or by the sheer injustice of the placement of the window. Sometimes windows can be so clear… invisible barriers that don’t appear to be in the path at all. God gently lifts me off the ground like a wounded bird, gently stroking my feathers and speaking to me in melodic whispers. He sustains me with the tiniest drops of nutrition and keeps me protected until I regain my strength. He constantly checks on me, hopes for me and prays for me. He doesn’t seem to think about how careless I was to fly straight into a window. He plans for my complete recovery. I am so precious, He wants to keep me… but instead, sets me free to try again.

On the days when I feel like a stupid, aimless bird who has hit a hard window, not once, but again, He nurtures, sustains, and helps me.
As I recover in the restful silence, He teaches me a new song, and sends me back into flight.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/43005149@N03/4324821523/

Photograph by Roscoe P. Herbtrane © 2010. Used with permission.