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.
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.
I’m back. So soon? Yes, I realized over the last few days that expressing myself on these pages is cathartic for me. I am feeling frustrated and weighted down by our current situation, writing helps me work through my feelings. I’ve always enjoyed writing, in fact I kept a diary for nearly seven years when I was younger. I’ve spent years starting and not finishing short stories, and have multitudes of paper scraps with single lines written on them. A thought or idea pops into my head and I grab whatever happens to be handy to capture the idea before I forget. Sometimes these elusive thoughts have come and gone before I have a chance to do anything with them. Many of them have languished for years in a file folder in my studio, and some have gone on to be parts of poems. I digress…
The point of tonight was to finish what I started last night. When I reread what I wrote I forgot to point out one thing about myself, and that is that I love to work. I derive a great deal of self-satisfaction from physical labor, and the accomplishment of a task. I hadn’t intended to add to last night, but this morning something happened that fueled my displeasure with those that would imply that I might think a job is beneath me. We have hardwood floors throughout our home. Unfortunately two of them sustained damage by bed frames that bore holes and scratches in them. We called in a floor professional who took a look, realized it wasn’t a huge job, and told Dan he could save us money by passing the job onto his “guy”. The implication that somehow the price would be less by cutting out the middleman. Then we got the call with the price…$625. Six Hundred Twenty Five Dollars! To replace what came down to replacing about eight pieces of hardwood, which by the way we would be supplying. He claimed that the flooring in the guest room would take a day. Dan told him we couldn’t afford it, he said he would see what he could do and call us back. That was yesterday. This morning when Dan went for a walk, I did what I do, I did it myself. Me, still in my nightgown, sitting on the floor of the guest room (I can work as long as I’m sitting), with a hammer, two chisels, and a small screwdriver. Forty five minutes later Dan came home to find the “all day job” more than half done. I got up and brought him in to see what I had done. His response? “That’s my girl”. I am not one of those women who gets an idea, and then proceeds to make her husband do all the work. I think it’s my Parent’s influence. They were both hard workers, and always did their best. If it’s my idea, I try my hardest to accomplish it. If I need help I will (sometimes) ask. I believe that it is one of the best parts of who I am, it never occurs to me that I can’t accomplish what I want. There is one exception, that unfortunately is my art. If I could master that confidence and apply it to my art, there would be no stopping me.
Another photo tonight. I promise not to make this a habit (not sure you want to see all my appendages), but sometimes when I get an idea in my head and just go at it there are consequences. Consequences like this…
This is what happens when you don’t wear a glove and smack your hand with a hammer. Did it stop me? No it didn’t, in fact I did it three times, and this is only my left hand, I am sparing you the photo of the blister that covers the entire tip of my right index finger, or the tear in my right knuckle, or the cut left by the sliver of wood that went in my right hand. All day? Six Hundred Twenty Five Dollars, yeah right, I don’t think so, not when there’s a hard-working woman in the house.
One more thought as I look at my no longer colorless hand. People of the world, particularly in Gaza, give peace a chance. I say that my parents influenced my work ethic, but they also taught me that we are all the same. Respect each other, and honor the individual right to worship God, any God, your God, their God, in whatever way they see fit. Love each other, and stop killing in God’s name. As my very wise eighty-one year old father says, “Here’s how I look at religion. It’s like soccer, as long as you’re in the game it doesn’t matter what color jersey you are wearing.” Like I said, a very wise man.