Two months. That’s how long it has been since I’ve sat before this computer and shared my thoughts, my life. One month. That’s how long it has been since I lost my Dad. I’ve been busy. We closed on our home the 7th of April, and made two trips to Chicago to see my Dad. Well, one to see him, and one to bury him. The truth is that I’ve been avoiding myself, avoiding this blog, because I wasn’t ready. Grief is a funny thing. It’s never the same for two people. I’ve written a lot about why people are who they are, and how experiences shape them. Grief has a way of pointing out the differences. Some take action and busy themselves to the tasks at hand, while others let grief surround them like a blanket held tight, waiting for comfort, but finding none. There are those who begin the desperate search to find answers, to question God, to layer the guilty “should haves”, “would haves”, and tear themselves apart. For me there is no anger. In our Dad’s final days we were all praying that he be released from his pain, and that he might be able to rejoin our Mother. Her loss was one he had never recovered from. Once those prayers were answered we were all left feeling the pain and emptiness that only death can deliver. For me there was additional sadness. Despite making two trips to Chicago in the weeks prior to his death, I had planned to go and be there for his final days. I had a flight scheduled for a Monday, he died the Friday before. The harsh reality of not living near family is that there are times when the distance causes one to feel like they aren’t quite part of things. Birthdays, graduations, the gradual growth of a child, are all things you witness from afar, and when someone you love falls ill it brings tremendous feelings of helplessness. With my Dad it was complicated further by our move. I wasn’t free to spend as much time with him as I would have liked. When our Mother died (forgive me if I have written of this before), Dad told me he couldn’t go to sleep. For more than fifty years the love of his life had been at his side, and now the bed was empty, there was no one to say goodnight to. My heart broke for him. He had always said that loneliness was the worst disease. I began to call him every night. I spoke about it at his funeral. In almost eight years I missed only a handful of nights, and when I knew in advance that I wouldn’t be able to make that call I asked someone else, usually my daughter, to make the call for me. Eventually those calls increased to every morning, and several throughout the day. I took every call he made. I wanted him to feel secure in knowing that someone would always be there. I would check the television schedule every day looking for his other great love, soccer. I would call with movies, history programs, anything to fill his empty days. There were times when we had great conversation. We would talk politics, religion, family history, and in particular movies. There were also difficult conversations. There were times when I sat here strangling the phone in frustration. Calls when he was angry at his loss, at his loneliness, and his bewilderment at God for taking “his Mary” first, and leaving him lost. Now I am the one feeling a little lost. For nearly eight years the first thing I did every morning was pick up the phone, and again every night, a call so he could hear the voice of someone he loved before he went to sleep. He isn’t lonely anymore, but I am. There is an emptiness in both the beginning and end of my day. I couldn’t call him in the final weeks before his death. I relied on my sisters to put the phone to his ear. On the morning that he died I told him I loved him and that it was time to let go. I told him it was time to go to Mommy and to his Big Mommy (his grandmother whom he adored). I had no way to know that would be our last call. He died about two hours later. Yesterday I called one of my sisters. I was the one feeling lost and lonely; I was the one who needed to hear the voice of someone I love. On the morning that my Dad passed away I was driving to the local mall. I’m sure everyone knows of the horrible drought here in Southern California, but that morning it was raining, raining hard. As I was driving my thoughts were on my Dad. I had only two hours before been telling him to let go. I thought to myself that the way it was raining reminded me of Ireland, and of course that reminded me of my Dad. I pulled into a parking space and said aloud, “These aren’t tears of sorrow; they are tears of joy, a good one is coming home.” I stepped out of my truck and my phone rang. It was my sister calling me to tell me that our father just died. Maybe in some way I knew. Maybe all of those phone calls gave us a connection that transcends this world. Dad if there was a direct line to Heaven I’d call you right now, but I know you are with Mom right where you need to be. I love you both, and I miss the sound of your voice.
There has been art this week. I am in the middle of something as I write this, but tonight isn’t a night for sharing art. It is a night about questions. I made a piece of art last week. It was a homemade postcard for my dad. It was a simple watercolor encouraging him to get well enough to come to California. Unfortunately that remains to be seen. If you have followed this blog over the last year and a half you probably surmised that my mother’s death wasn’t an easy one. That’s one of the reasons that I have questions about my dad’s condition now. For my sisters and I our mother’s death was a long three weeks of suffering, both ours, our dad’s, and obviously much more so hers. Now it is my dad who hasn’t been well for weeks. In his case it isn’t that he is even close to dying, but that we are losing him in another way. Again I won’t share details, his privacy, our pain. I can say that I am personally questioning why? Why again must we watch one of our parents suffer so much? I don’t have any answers. I only have bewilderment, pain, fear, and of course prayer.
There was another question in my life this week. Not my question, but one of an innocent eight year old who asked me what prejudice means, what racism means. Tough questions. There are of course definitions to be offered, but really no explanations. This is a child of mixed race. He is a beautiful child, a child who has unfortunately known incredible pain in his life far too soon. He is a child that some people might not like simply because of his beautiful warm brown skin. I explained the best I could, but in the end I offered him only this: We are all the same inside, and that I have no answers to why people are who they are. I wish I did. I wish I could offer him more. I wish that I had some magic that could make the world a better place. Maybe I do, maybe we all do, one child at a time.
Merry Christmas to all!
Now that the frantic shopping has ceased (at least for a day), I thought it was time to reflect on what this holiday truly means. I have a very simple story to tell that will say it all…
As you may or may not know, this blog began as a way to force me to focus on my art for a year. I had spent a lifetime putting the needs of everyone in my life ahead of my creative dreams. It worked for a while, but then life thumbed it’s nose at me and the blog became more about my life’s journey. I have however in the process produced a lot of art, and some that I am quite proud of. I hope to return to its original purpose soon. For today I am posting art, it just isn’t mine.
I have never posted the work of another artist on my blog, until today. Last week my dear friend Theresa asked me to pick her daughter up from school. Emily is six. We had a great time together, we made matching poinsettia bracelets out of felt for both Emily and her mom, and with me handling the hot glue gun, and Emily choosing the silk flowers, we created an angel for her bedroom Christmas tree. We weren’t quite finished when Theresa came to get her. As we continued to work on Emily’s angel Theresa and I talked about the holiday. I mentioned that I wasn’t quite in the spirit, missing Jessica, Dan’s long commute keeping his days away from me quite long, and that because we had packed to move I couldn’t find half of my Christmas decorations. Among them my nativity set. Emily left the room and came back bearing a shoebox she had come out of school with. “You can have this.” I opened the shoe box to find a nativity scene she had created in school. I said, “Oh Honey thank you, but I’m sure your Mommy wants this.” Theresa said, “No, she wants you to have it.” I said that I would put it out every year. Emily cleverly pointed out that it was only paper and might not last. I said not to worry. Amongst the many, many art supplies that I own is a small machine to do lamination. This morning I laminated my nativity scene. I will keep it forever and display it with a warm spot in my heart. That lovely gesture from Emily is what Christmas is all about. No UPC code, no brand-name tag, no fancy wrap. A simple white shoe box filled with love from the heart of a six-year-old. You can’t get a better present than that. I bring you my first guest artist, Emily Navis. Have a Happy Holiday.
So here I go once again, just when I thought my words about words were over and done with. Not so fast. On Sunday in the New York Times magazine there was an article about a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court. It is about the 1st Amendment, and the individual right to free speech. Seems like a clear-cut case right? It isn’t. It seems a marriage dissolved, the male half of the couple went onto social media and posted about wanting to kill his ex-wife, he actually went into some detail, and more than that he made a video. He claims that he was venting anger and frustration, that he never actually intended to follow through on any of what he wrote. Meanwhile, the ex-wife was very frightened, enough to take out an order of protection. She does not feel that he should be able to terrorize her even if it is only through words. He served some jail time, and is now suing for his right to free speech. (This is a very simplified explanation of the case.) The case that will be presented to the Supreme Court is asking this question: What is more important, the right of the individual to express what he feels? Or the rights of the person that those words focus on who lives in fear of the threat?
I don’t think there is one among us who hasn’t said something in anger that we aren’t proud of, or wish we could take back. I’m pretty sure we have all also been rather casual in tossing around the word “hate”, “I hate him.” or “I hate you.” Sometimes in jest, sometimes in reference to an actor in a movie, someone we don’t even know, but for some reason there is something about that person you find distasteful. We don’t really hate them. I think for most people if they really did hate someone they would have a difficult time saying it to the person’s face. This is my issue with what this man did, and for that matter what people in my own life have done. I mentioned the family member in my last two posts who was saying hateful things. Do I really think he hates my husband? No I don’t. Social media have become society’s mask to hide behind. How easy it is to say mean and hateful things when you don’t have to look someone in the face. It makes bullying easier, it makes racism easier, it makes sitting in judgment easier. Think about it. Isn’t that the reason that a particular organization wears white hoods covering their faces? Would you have the nerve to walk up to someone you barely know and call them a coward and a liar? I am asking all of us to remember that behind that screen lies a human heart that can forever hold the scars of what it’s mind sees and reads.
I ask because someone I know has just had such an experience on Facebook. He wrote a remark on someone’s post. He did it because the person was mistaken, it was not his place to do so, and I have told him that. It didn’t end there. Someone else that it had nothing to do with joined in. The person I know sent a private message that man and questioned why, but told this man he was doing it via private message as to not have a public discourse on a page that belongs to someone else. What he got in return was a message calling him a coward for not posting publicly, and calling him a liar. He is neither. He has not responded, although he wants to, but I have told him to let it go. This person doesn’t know him. I can only assume through connections that he may have heard things that aren’t true, but I can’t be sure. Fueling ignorance gives people more to feed on. Do I want to say something? You bet I do (Obviously I have a lot to say about a lot of things….), but I won’t.
As I said before, I don’t want hatred or anger in my life. I am just deeply disturbed by those who hide behind the mask. Why must people resort to name calling? When my husband was dealing with his family member he asked for facts. He never got any. He got name calling. What is wrong with old-fashioned debate? What happened to, “I believe you are mistaken for these reasons…fact…fact…fact.” In return, “I see your point, but were you aware of…fact…fact…fact.” It worked that way for a long time. I am aware that even facts can be skewed to one’s own perspective, but at least no one was calling anyone else a liar.
There is a loss of decorum in our society, a loss of self-respect, class, and by that I mean to present oneself to the world in our best sense, through the way we act, dress, and speak. It is becoming increasingly easier to spread untruth, to spread vile words, to spew hatred. I’m on the fence with the Supreme Court decision. I do believe in free speech, very much so as I write what I believe here on these pages, but I also feel a duty to not use my words to hurt people. Free speech was meant to make us a better people, a greater Nation, by giving us the right to criticize that Nation. It was never meant as a blank check to use as a means to bully teenagers into killing themselves, or to cause fear in another because of anger and frustration, it was never intended to be used to dehumanize our fellow citizen. We live in a country that guarantees us the right to speak, but we should also as citizens not just of this Country, but as citizens of the world at large, use our words carefully. I sometimes write of spirituality and love, today I share wise words from some who are far wiser than I:
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
He who believes in Allah and the Last Day should either utter good words or better keep silence.
A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
“Silence is sometimes the best answer.”
In the end I guess I do have a few more words, and quite possibly some wise ones at that.
If you could plant a field of seeds would you sow? Roses or weeds? Remember that words are like seeds, once sown they take root in the hearts and minds of others.
And with that, I have no more words, I only offer you something lovely to plant in your mind for today.
It seems I am obsessing once again. My last post about a family member is still bugging me. I get obsessed the way some people get fleas, it itches and itches, and never seems to go away, unless of course something new happens for me to obsess over.
My mother always said that everything comes in threes. If there was a plane crash you can bet she was waiting for two more. We are Catholic, and Irish so there is the legend of St. Patrick and the shamrocks that represent the Holy Trinity. There is the rule of thirds in photography and art. If you are a collector then you know that three makes a collection. If you are a driver’s ed student there is of course the dreaded three-point turn. I started thinking about this today as I was driving through a parking lot. What triggered my thoughts were the people crossing through the lot as I stopped to let them pass, and how this can be related to people in our every day lives.
There is the apologetic one. You know, the person who scurries as fast as possible as if apologizing for getting in your way, head down, quick steps, glancing nervously sideways to make sure you haven’t changed your mind and are going to plow them down any moment. Then there are those I consider “normal”. They appreciate that you’ve stopped, they give a quick smile and a wave, and continue on their way. Finally there are those that act superior. They step in front of your vehicle nose in air, refuse to look your way, and stroll leisurely (sometimes on an angle!) in front of your car, as if they are the most important person in the world and you are an inconvenience in their day. I began to think that maybe people come in threes as well. There are of course existing socioeconomic groupings, Rich, middle-class, and poor, but I think in general the rule of thirds can be applied to many of us. There are the life of the party people, friendly, out-going individuals, who seem to fit in everywhere, former cheer leaders, high school quarterback types, they ooze charisma, and when you stand next to the finer examples of them you feel horribly inadequate. (I say finer examples, because aside from the rule of thirds, there also exists a sliding scale, some people are on the bottom of their group, some are on the top.) Then there are what I shall refer to as the “Norms”. Regular people who try to live their best life, they are friendly, nice, will go out of their way to help in any way they can, feel more comfortable in a small group, and don’t enjoy all the attention. Applying my sliding scale once again, there are people in every group that bear traits from another. Finally, there are the people I will refer to as the “Eeyores”, you know Winnie the Pooh’s com padre. Nothing is ever good enough, everyone is out to get them, cheat them, they never get a break, think everyone else has it better, I could go on, but I’m sure you may know an Eeyore, and understand what I’m talking about.
Back to my obsessive point. Religion. It can be a wonderful mysterious loving thing. It can also be an excuse for doing the wrong things. My three people rule again. There are people like me. I have my beliefs, I live what I hope is a life that includes doing good things for others, and caring for others needs. Loving my family, my friends, trying to be a good member of humanity at large, but not feeling the need to shout what I feel and believe off the rooftops, or to force what I believe on others. I am a firm believer in “to each his own.” No one knows what is going on behind the closed doors of another house. No one knows what resides in the hidden parts of the individual hearts and minds of others. I say, “Do not judge, less thee be judged.” Returning to the family member who made the remark about Dan going to hell for not accepting Jesus as his Lord and Savior, I have a question. (Not for him in particular but to the universe at large.) What if say you were born into a family that practices Judaism? Are you wrong for believing what you were taught and raised up in? Are your parents and ancestors liars? The answer is an unequivocal no. What if you were born in one of those South American tribes that are deep within a jungle and never heard of Jesus? Anyone? Locked out of heaven because you didn’t get the memo? My husband asked his brother at the time if a man who harmed a child, someone who did a horrible thing, but who accepted Jesus was going to heaven? He said, “Yes.” ( I say again here, for that man who is guilty of harming a child? Hate what you did, I can be angry, I can have intolerance for the act, but not my place to judge. I don’t know where you came from, I don’t know if you are mentally ill, or if you were a tortured child yourself. God will decide.) But Dan, Dan who stops to help old people in grocery store parking lots, who can’t pass a homeless person without giving them whatever he can, or buying them a sandwich, Dan who is a great and loyal husband, a very loving and giving father, he’s going to hell. That would be my number two kind of religious person. The kind that hold themselves above others because they believe. They wield their faith like a hammer ready to pound it down in judgement against others. I envy the faith that some people have. Mine tends to be a little shaky at times, but what I don’t agree with is the superiority complex that sometimes is part of the package. There are amongst that group some who spit fire about God and the bible, but then would deny aid to those in need. Senator______(fill in the blank). Finally, the worst in my book. (And that would just be in my book, my personal opinion, trying not to judge, but sometimes….) The religious zealot who uses the words of their God, whomever that God should be, to twist them in to a crusade of harming others in God’s name. I’m not judging here, I’m right, you’re wrong. We are all God’s creatures, even the ones who don’t believe exactly like you do. Not your place to decide who gets to stay and who needs to go. Stop hurting people, stop killing children, stop claiming to be acting in the name of God when you do horrendous things. No God, I mean no God at all, wants us to hurt one another. Religion and faith are about peace and love. I have mentioned these wise words before, they come from my dad (and as always must have a soccer reference. I’m paraphrasing here), “It doesn’t matter what color jersey you are wearing, as long as you play the game.” He was talking about faith and spirituality, and I’m with him. I don’t care who you believe in or how, that is up to you. I believe in a loving God, a forgiving God, a God who knows what is in your heart and in mine. What I do care about is when people hurt each other no matter what the weapon of choice, a sharp tongue can make a deeper cut sometimes than a sharp sword, remember that.
Before I say anything I want to say that I am not above reproach. I make mistakes, I hurt people (though never intentionally), I say thoughtless things without thinking, in other words I am human. I am also angry this morning. We have a family member who has upset me. I will only say that he knows who he is. I am taking him to task publicly because I know there are others out there like him. He doesn’t agree with the political beliefs held by our family. That is his right and his privilege, as it is our right and our privilege to feel what we feel and believe. Yet this individual believes it is somehow justified to call my husband names, to spew hatred, to try to demean those beliefs that my husband holds dear. By the way, he calls himself a Christian. The Christ I know and believe in is a man of love, of charity, of kindness, of self-sacrifice for his human brother and sister. I am amazed that someone would call himself a believer, a follower, and find it acceptable to attack his family member in such a manner. You know who you are. I am ashamed for you. The vile and inappropriate remarks that have been leveled verbally, via email, and by text are deplorable. I am asking you to stop, I am asking you to remember your faith, I am asking you to show your family member some respect. I have sent a text to this person this morning because I picked up my husband’s phone to call my elderly father, and I saw the message that was sent to Dan. My husband is a good, decent, loving, hardworking man. He is kind and compassionate. This person also told my husband a few years ago that he is condemned to hell because he hasn’t chosen Jesus as his Lord and Savior. I have news for you, not your call. While my husband is not a man of faith he lives his life in a manner that God would want. I am asking, no I am telling you, and everyone like you who thinks it is OK to present yourself to the world as a Christian, but to privately express yourself in a less than Christ-like way, that you so don’t get it. Maybe you need to reread that bible of yours. Hatred doesn’t work, judgement doesn’t work, the only thing that works, the only things that matter in this life are love, compassion, faith, and family. If you wish to continue to be part of mine you will stop. I don’t want another word of hatred to cross my door. You are someone who my husband respected and admired, he was mistaken. I will no longer allow you to hurt the person who means the most to me in this world. As I told you via text this morning, he is not “stupid”, he chose me.
If you are not my family member, but any of this rings a bell, think about it. Examine your own behavior. As I said above, I am not above reproach. I simply feel that there are those who are mistaken in their beliefs, I also believe it is not my place to judge them. I do not hate them, I don’t demean them, I don’t stoop to inexcusably childish name calling. I try to live my life caring for those I love, but also caring for the less fortunate. I am asking everyone who reads this to remember the season, remember what it is about, remember that you shouldn’t treat someone else in a manner that you would not want to be treated. I will also say that even if you are not a Christian there is the way that Jesus asked us to live our lives. There are ways in many religions that speak to the core of who we all should be, loving, kind, compassionate, and caring human beings. It is the way we should all live, believers or not.
I’m not going to write today about my house. Sometimes things happen that resonate in my brain, and reorders my perspective about what is important in life. I went to the pharmacy today to pick up a prescription. An ordinary errand on an ordinary day. The woman behind the counter is not Caucasian, she is Middle Eastern. I’m not sure where she hails from, I will presume, although I do not know, that it isn’t from the U.S., she has just the hint of an accent. I have a hint of an accent myself, it’s a Midwestern twang with a touch of the Brogue, depending on which words stuck with me from my very Irish upbringing. None of that matters. She is a lovely woman, pleasant and nice. She always has a smile, and through the many years that I have been patronizing the pharmacy we have developed an easy rapport with one another. Today she seemed tired, and I thought I heard a trace of illness. I asked if she were coming down with something, and then she began to cry. Her nephew was killed in a motorcycle accident only two days ago. She told me he was only twenty five, she had so much pain in her eyes that I began to cry as well. I reached for her hand and held it just for a second, and for a moment she seemed surprised, and then pulled away. I told her I was sorry, I told her there were no answers. She lives amongst elderly relatives, some are sickly, but they are alive. She is at a loss, she doesn’t understand why this young man was taken when she has people in her life ready to move on. We stood for a few moments and talked about her nephew and my mother. I told her the one thing that I believe, that he will always live on in their hearts. I told her I talk to my mom all the time in my laundry room. With that I realized there was another customer behind me, a woman. I wished the pharmacy tech well and stepped aside, and then the other woman looked at me and said, “I talk to my mother in the garden.”
I wrote about this incident because in that singular moment I wished that the world at large could share that human connection. I talked about the pharmacy tech’s heritage not because she was different, but because we are all the same. Her pain was my pain, the hole in my heart caused by my mother’s death is the same as the hole in her heart, and of the heart of the woman behind me. I am tired of reading, and so much more exhausted seeing the effort that is put into pointing out all of our differences. Bill Maher had a show on in which he and a guest were in essence laying a blanket definition of who Muslims are are what they believe. It wasn’t pretty. Ben Affleck was on the program and was challenging their statements. I’m with Ben. I’m a Catholic. Not really a practicing Catholic, but it is the foundation of who I am, and in how I choose to live my life. There are particular programs on these days where the hosts are “Christians”. There is nothing remotely “Christ-like” in how they portray the issues of today. One of the most spectacular qualities that we as humans have is our differences. God given differences. By that I don’t mean the stuff that interferes with leading a good, and God-like existence. Things like racism, ignorance, intolerance, violence…the list goes on and on. I mean the differences in each and everyone of us that makes us unique. It’s the reason that you can’t “blanket” any religion. I have three sisters, we all live our various levels of faith in our own manner. Does that make one of us a “good” Catholic, or another a “bad” Catholic? No it doesn’t, because according to what we believe it is not for us to judge. Would I be comfortable if because of the current pedophilia problem every priest was labeled a pedophile? Or by default that I am somehow responsible for what a number of sick individuals did? No I wouldn’t. I happen to have a dear friend who is a priest. He is a good and honorable man. I’m tired of everyone sitting in judgement of everyone else. What would it take to understand that because you worship differently than me you aren’t wrong? You are different in the magnificent way that God created you. We all hurt, we all bleed, we are all devastated by the loss of loved ones. We all love our children, we all want to be happy, we all want love. Here’s the other really great thing that God did. We’re all the same too. Let’s stop looking at the differences in the wrong way. Let’s celebrate our individuality, the many traditions of worship, the many expressions of love in whatever form they may take, the many colors of our skin (even for those of us that have no color in our skin), the way that each of us are different from the person next to us. Then let’s embrace what is the same. Let us comfort those who have lost, cheer for those who succeed, wrap ourselves in the connection we all have, the human experience. Finally, let’s begin to turn a deaf ear to those who would divide us, who would abuse the name of God, of Allah, of Jesus, or whomever one prays to, by turning them into weapons of divisiveness, or of judgement. Of turning our backs on what I believe everyone’s God teaches, and that is love.