The body doesn’t lie

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It wasn’t much in the beginning but it nagged. Twinges I ignored while I walked and prepared my homily for one of three funerals. It was there as I served during our Sunday services, then a little more insistent on Monday; by Tuesday, during the funeral, I had to focus on my breathing to carry me through throbbing, seeing stars, kind of pain.

On Wednesday, I finally made it to the dentist who took one look at the x-ray of my mouth and said, “I’m sending you to an endodontist. Here are some pain meds and antibiotics—he’ll see you tomorrow for a root canal.” Another office, another gentle person and Southern gentleman who took a different kind of x-ray and said, “you have too much infection—I need you to go home and stay on antibiotics for a week before I can do the root canal. But with the antibiotics, you will turn a corner and the pain will diminish by Saturday.”

Saturday came and went with no relief. It was my turn to do the early service on Sunday and I got through that but the antibiotics were already playing havoc with my stomach and I headed back home early, in double misery now. Monday, the same. Tuesday, a little bit louder and a little bit worse. I rescheduled my appointment with the endodontist for Wednesday instead of Thursday and got in to see him mid morning. Another x-ray and this time, really bad news. My infection had not responded to the massive amoxicillin I’d been taking and it looked to him like the root was fractured. The verdict: “I’m sending you back to your dentist because he will be able to get you into see an oral surgeon for an extraction. It needs to happen today.” Schlepp back to another office with more reasonable music, wait, tell, wait some more. Get an appointment, but not for that day; “Dr. P will see you tomorrow (Thursday).

Go in on Thursday, wait a long time and finally get to see Dr. P who is part of a swank, highly efficient oral surgery center. A quick conversation about going ahead and getting an implant—”it’s only going to take a few extra minutes, I’ll have you out of here in 45 minutes.” All the while my tingly pain runs up and down my face and neck—ok, I’ll do it—and then he asks, “you haven’t had anything to eat or drink for the last six hours, right?” Uh. No. Nobody told me I shouldn’t. Outta luck then—they only do extractions and implants under sedation in this office. Get through another night of pain and come back tomorrow morning.

So finally, finally, yesterday, I got the relief. It is nice not feeling the shots in your mouth—I’ll take the little bee sting of the IV needle going in to deliver the sedation any day. It all happens a lot faster that way too. But after having gone for so long with that infection, when I woke up, I had worse pain than I ever remember experiencing. I quite literally wailed as my sweet husband rushed me to the drugstore to get the pain medicines I needed—I even scared myself. The pain subsided. I slept a lot yesterday. Today, I’ve only needed over-the-counter pain killers, spaced further apart; life and energy are coming back. And with all that the sober reminder—it’s way easier for me to take care of everyone else than myself. But the body tells it like it is, the body isn’t fooled by that lie that “I’ll be fine, I just have to get through this funeral.”

I walked out this afternoon and marveled at the calla lilies that are blooming in my front yard.

Facebook, privacy, utility

I have loved being off Facebook for a number of reasons.  So much gets amplified to the point of distortion there.  I have to manage my private/public boundaries carefully as a priest which means I was always on tenterhooks about having things misconstrued. Facebook too easily makes me reactive,  too easily offends me. There has been great gift getting to avoid all that noise.

Recently, I listened to an interview with a former member of the FCC who described Facebook as a ‘social utility’—a new kind of utility, in many ways like water and electricity. He pointed out that utility companies are viewed as important enough to the life and function of individuals and communities that they are quite regulated in order to make them available to the most people with the greatest ease possible. Utility companies are not known for being bright stars of capitalism with huge growth and profit potential, and instead, as solid performers of some pretty vital functions of communal life.  Part of the dilemma related to privacy on Facebook derives from the fact that the business model for Facebook is as opposite of a utility model as is possible.  Too much of their model depends on transgressing privacy needs for the sake of stellar profits.

When I first heard Facebook described as a utility, it helped me understand the issue with the business model and why I had such a visceral reaction against the cavalier way in which my privacy was used for financial gain.  Now, having lived without Facebook for over a month, I understand it is a utility in a deeper sense.  It is a really important means of communication and connection with the community I serve, the people who are far away, who are busy and who matter to me, people who I lose without Facebook

Admittedly with considerable reservations, with a new determination to set up the tightest privacy constraints possible, with the awareness that there are no free lunches, I am headed back to that space.  Along with the anger and trepidation I feel about this particular tradeoff, I am also aware that connection matters to me, enough to say, I’m going back on Facebook and there will be folks I’ll be glad to catch up with because I have missed them all these weeks.

Four

Four—that’s the number of miles I am walking three or four times a week now.  It’s like reclaiming a better version of myself, renewing a connection with the land that’s different than what I experience working in the garden. Sleep comes easier and deeper at night, my mind gets clear, and on hard weeks like the one that’s just ending, I am able to sort through between what matters and what doesn’t.

Today, for part of the way, I dwelt with the words and thoughts that are beginning to take shape as I prepare the homily for one of the three members of our parish who died in a 48 hour span.  I had my phone with me and decent reception so I used YouTube to get to some music I haven’t heard in a while—on the way back on these treks on Old Selma Road, I have to walk up a moderately steep hill and I find the music gives me a rhythm that overcomes all that complaining and resistance my body wants to unleash, about half-way up the hill: “it hurts too much, it’s too hard hard, it’s too long, I’m so hot, why am I doing this?”

After the first couple of times I took these walks, I gathered up a walking stick and some pepper spray. Around the curve from the farm, heading east, there’s a Rottweiler who came flying toward me, teeth bared and spittle flying. Scared the sweet bejesus out of me. Recently, though, I happened to hear his human friend call him Rocky. Now as he comes bounding in my direction, I stop and calmly say, “Hi, there Rocky—look at you being such a good dog and taking care of your homestead.”  Mostly, that catches him by surprise and you see that pea brain of his trying to process these strange data.  “She knows my name and she is a stranger and I am totally confused.” Sometimes he just flops down, sometimes he stays on the property and walks along, with me across the street and he growling, but not messing with me.  I am always cautious and I’d use the pepper spray and walking stick if I had to, but I believe we have some kind of truce going.

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There’s a little creek that runs alongside the road a little further down, and thick woods on either side.  When I first started started walking down the road, I wore jackets and sometimes even gloves, and the wind could blow something fierce. One day, it was so windy, I heard trees literally clacking against each other as they bowed and bent in the wind.  There was only the palest green sheen as you looked at the woods down the road, tiny new leaves little more than a glowing promise.

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Now, the shade is dense, the heat and humidity are rolling in, and in the past two weeks, when I’ve been thirsty, I’ve been able to pick juicy, ripe, wild blackberries to slake my thirst. A bank of wild roses is in full bloom and I’ve watched nettles, poppies, crimson clover, and these incredible little purple flowers bloom and fade. The black-eyed Susans are also beginning to bloom.

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I walk next to a couple of pastures that have a fair number of cattle.  I am deliciously amused by the way in which the cows stop what they are doing and turn to watch me as I approach. I always greet them which, in turn, makes them think I might have some food with me (or at least that’s what I think is going on), because darned if they don’t all start walking along with me, they and I on either side of the fence, until they reach the end of the pasture; they then watch me and moo as I continue my trek. I’ve seen deer, raccoons, a small bunny who was beyond terrified by me, hawks, an owl and a small turtle crawling across the road.

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Walking in the promised land is what this feels like…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anamnesis, April 26

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Memorial for Justice and Peace

The invitation was unexpected and deeply appreciated.  Early on the morning of the 26th, EJI held a service of dedication for the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. We began to gather at about 7 for a service that would begin at 7:30. I ran into fellow Episcopal and Methodist clergy from Montgomery and saw Episcopal clergy of considerable national renown.  And then, a few minutes before we were allowed to enter the Memorial, a soft stir went through those who’d gathered and there was Jesse Jackson. Old. Feeble. Moving very stiffly, walking towards and then past us. Still an imposing figure.  Many find it easy to dismiss his voice, his work on behalf of civil rights.  I can’t do that. Yes, I see the flaws and the messiness of his humanity, but then that’s true for all of us, isn’t it? Waiting to go into the Memorial, those of us who knew each other spoke about Jackson and especially, remembered his speech in 1984. I heard respect for Jackson, and I found that a reason for joy.

The Memorial itself becomes more and more haunting as you find your way through it.   I was almost overwhelmed as I got close to the last part of the exhibit, when weathered steel column after weathered steel column hung overhead.  So many and so close they feel like they press down on us, crush us with the burden of such violence.  So far up though, that it would be easy to think, “there’s no way I can take down the person or people who hung like that column, hold their broken bodies against mine.  What’s done is done.”

There’s a wall fountain that runs the length of that last side of the Memorial, humming that lovely, lilting song that water sings as it runs down and away.   Against that joyful sound of  water, the silence of those columns made of steel, made of the gossamer of memory, the utter silence, hung overhead and cried louder than the keening of all those who mourned the men, the women—children—who died by lynching in our country.  Time and water both carry so much away—our memories, the ugliness we don’t want to see, the blood that has been shed. Enchanted by beauty, like the beauty of that wall of water, it is so easy to forget to see, or hear, or engage what we get wrong as a nation; distracted, we don’t realize how, too easily, justice and mercy get left by the wayside. It was an act of will for me not to let the water lull me or carry me away from what I had accepted to remember by attending this service of dedication.

In the next couple of days, as has become my practice, I went for afternoon walks that kept me next to a small stream that runs parallel to Old Selma Road, that kept me where I could still hear that lilting song. My thoughts kept returning to that wall of water, and what part it might have had to play in the most intensely painful, sobering section of the Memorial.  It occurred to me that it was also a veil of tears, a re-gathering of all the tears that have been shed because of racially-motivated terrorism.  And it was a reminder of the hope that we are capable of being washed clean, as we are washed clean in the waters of baptism.

During the service of dedication, after an opening prayer and introduction by Bryan Stevenson, founder of EJI, the group Sweet Honey in the Rock began to sing and from then until the end of the service, I found my own self in tears. What most struck me was the gratitude that was lifted as prayer in the music that was performed and the reflections and comments that were offered.  There wasn’t demonizing or shaming or denunciations in what I heard. What I did hear was an urgent need for all of us to understand that the threads of fear and hate that weave through the part of America’s story that made lynching acceptable, still weave their way through our story today, and still have the power to  “choke the life out of our democracy.”

The reading for the fifth Sunday in Easter in the Revised Common Lectionary comes from Gospel of John; it is the last of the great I AM statements: Jesus said, “I am the true vine and you are the branches” its message is all about abiding with, and loving one another as the way to bear rich fruit.

People I love deeply in the community I live in have questioned the need, the value of a memorial such as the Memorial for Peace and Justice, have been deeply offended by it.  I struggle to understand that position and I pray for ways to have conversations that will help me understand and will allow us to abide with each other in less silence, less careful walking around things that make our relationships feel brittle and fragile.  For now, what I can see clearly is that part of my love for this country, this state, this little corner of God’s creation consists in remembering, remembering so as to be inspired to work against everything that resides in all humanity and is capable of taking the easy path of lynching, and hating, and destroying, and killing the other on behalf of our own comfort and safety.

 

Magical thinking: it will get me every time

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Things started out innocently enough.  A colleague at work posted an incandescent set of pictures of Grayton Beach on his Facebook page a few weeks ago. Sun, sky, sea, all of them endless, all of them beautiful, all of them beckoning. We continue to find our way through a time of transition at my church and that is hard work.  Juggling the demands of my small, complicated family, watching our country get more and more frayed at the edges, all of that gets to me. The list goes on, but what’s important is recognizing I was tired, I was reaching for some Sabbath time of laughter, playfulness and renewal. It was pretty easy to talk my spouseman into a plan for the visit we had already scheduled for the girl Maria right after Easter. I’d take the time off,  she would come in on a Thursday, on Saturday we would take her and my dad to Grayton Beach for a few days before she had to return to Fort Lauderdale. I saw Sherod’s hesitation and I quickly wrote it off as his reluctance to be anywhere at night but in his own home, ready to slip into the bed he loves.

The weather we got was basically the total opposite of the pictures that had so beguiled me in the first place—windy, cold, gray.  The condo we rented was fine but a little small for four of us when there wasn’t much to do outside. The night we got to Grayton, we went to dinner at a lovely little restaurant and sat where the owner was shucking oysters. Maria was curious and the owner a lovely woman who graciously offered Maria the chance to eat her first-ever oyster.  There was fanfare and laughter and a fake pearl necklace to place around her neck after Maria got that first taste of the entire ocean concentrated in one speck of life called an oyster.  We left the restaurant filled with the happy light of being a family on an adventure.

A picture of us 24 hours later would have been described as something much closer to hell.  Our girl had started escalating into her problem behaviors and she barely held it together that evening.  In somebody else’s condo. In a town where no one knew us. In a situation that could deteriorate to the point that we would have to call in cops, I had to face into the truth that I had allowed wishful thinking—magical thinking—to bring us to a place of excruciating vulnerability and I did not have time to wallow in self pity.  We needed to do what was necessary to get back on safer ground.

By the next morning, we were on the road headed back home.  All the way back, it was dicey, Maria cycling in and out of that scary place where her eyes glitter with calculated rage and I just pray this isn’t the moment she’s going to go postal on us.  Getting home made nothing better.  She continued to escalate and by late evening, she had begun to engage in the kind of self-injury that makes me want to tear my own skin off like she does, because I feel so angry and hopeless and scared at my inability to protect my daughter from herself.  Late in the night we realized we had to start looking for help.  Mainly, what came out of a series of pretty desperate calls was the realization that we live far from the kind of resources she and we need in such times and that the next thing we should do was make the plan to get her back to BARC.

This was Monday evening and on Wednesday, Sherod was supposed to drive her to the Atlanta airport where they’d rendezvous with a BARC staff member who’d fly with Maria back to Fort Lauderdale.  The decision we made that night was to see how Tuesday went, making tentative plans for Sherod to drive her back to Fort Lauderdale if we had any concerns about her behavior.  These days, airlines don’t take kindly to folks losing control of their behavior mid-flight.  We knew if she lost it, her flight would more than likely be diverted to the nearest airport and there’d be cops waiting for her on the tarmac.  But Sherod driving her, or the two of us driving her, had its own dangers. I started trying to find someone able to ride along who was stronger and more able-bodied than two aging parents and came up empty.

For most of Tuesday we breathed a bit easier. Maria settled down and in fact, by the afternoon was in that fun, friendly, loving place I adore sharing with her.  We moved forward with the idea that we’d stick to the original plan. Until we couldn’t. Until again, as evening fell, she ramped up and engaged in even worse self-injury.  Over the course of 3 hours, we radically changed the plan and in the middle of the night, I bought tickets and made flight arrangements so by 9:30 the following morning, two BARC staff members were boarding a flight to ATL and I was preparing to drive to pick them up and bring them back here. We got back by 4:30 in the afternoon and at 5, Maria, Sherod and the two staff members were in Sherod’s truck headed south.  She got back to the safest place she’s ever known right after dawn yesterday morning.

What this outline of the past 4 days fails to capture is the horror of watching your own child hurt herself so badly the blood runs down her arms.  It isn’t shame I feel as I reach out, trying to find help in the middle of one of these situations, but it is an absolute emptiness. I have to ask for help, and people are always so extraordinarily generous about trying to do what they can, but I feel like I am asking them to stand right next to a dangerous black hole. This time, I also had to carefully fold and put away the guilt I felt about having taken my family on a dangerous misadventure.  Is that what triggered Maria’s behavior? We won’t ever know.

Life goes on. The pieces are put back together.  We have new data now, data that insist we have to look carefully at the ways in which we have tried to continue to be Maria’s mom and dad.  It will be a very long time before we even consider bringing her back for a visit.  The next time we see her, it will be at BARC itself, probably for only a short while, and the visits for the foreseeable future will take place there, where we know we have the staff support necessary to keep her and us safe.  Maria often calls early in the morning and after I woke up today, I had to consciously prevent myself from reaching out to her. It’s not that I don’t love her.  I would give my life for this woman-child this instant. But my love for her cannot be acted out on the basis of magical thinking.  I have to put that love into actions that help her move forward into the most promising future possible and right now that includes not making pretend that everything’s alright and nothing has changed.

Every time I have to confront the cost of magical thinking when it comes to Maria, I fight to hold on to a kind of hope that requires me to continue to learn to be the best mother I can possibly be for my daughter. Those itty bitty voices of shame and despair can’t be allowed to take hold and drive the next thing I can do to love her and the next thing after that. Sometimes the best love of all is the love that is capable of stepping back and slowing down enough to think things through, take careful steps, postpone a more immediate sense of gratification for a kind of health and wholeness that comes from embracing reality, no matter how hard that might be.

Just For This Sunday in April

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church  
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.
 Emily Dickinson

The spouseman. The daughter. The dad. Me. A condo in Grayton Beach, and wind, ocean, and, occasionally, a bit of sun.  The second Sunday in Easter and a quick time of sabbath for the fam…

Monday after Easter in the garden. Now.

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I got to work out in the garden early this morning. I am about 80% done spreading the 3 cubic yards of mulch we got a couple of weeks ago. My roses have been bursting with blooms and today I also spent over an hour dead-heading them, cutting off the blooms that are past their peak. I filled my wheelbarrow and that was just a start. I’ll have to spend about an hour a day until Friday or Saturday to get them all trimmed back because they flowered so profusely. It’s a good problem to have. And this has been a good way to spend the morning after Holy Week and Easter Sunday.

On Monday, I went to a funeral at a Methodist church; the first hymn we sang was In the Garden. This is not a hymn that I’ve ever heard frequently, nor like much. It is certainly very sentimental. But it made me happy that morning; these days, the garden is where I find myself, my hope and my joy, maybe even my salvation.

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I think it has to do with time. June 20th marks the 5th year since I moved to Lowndesboro, and I’ve worked each year to do a bit more with flower beds; this year, even doing some container planting. Time has done the rest.

Time is at once cyclical, linear and inexistent out in these spaces where the light goes from gentle to harsh to kind, day in and day out. I see in my mind’s eye an image of the garden covered in snow this past January, while I look at so much new growth pushing through the earth. I still am raking leftover leaves from the fall, not a lot of them, but enough make that time present as well. On Saturday, I tried something new. I planted a bunch of Dahlia tubers and now must wait patiently for them maybe, hopefully to grow into plants and then bloom later this summer.

I go out, start working and lose track of time, so all of a sudden, my throat is parched, and the sun is hot, and 3 hours have just flown by. It isn’t just that I have something to show for the time—though I feel quiet pride seeing the mulched beds, my new plantings, the strong muscles in my arms. It’s that there’s this giving and receiving of life that leaves me not giddy or silly, or some kind of exuberant, but rather, profoundly, joyfully grateful. I know I speak of gratitude a lot, but maybe that is the best gift aging has brought me.

I am so profoundly grateful for the tiny flower that comes out, in part, because I did just a bit to create a favorable environment for it to thrive. Mainly though, it blooms because that is what a plant was meant to do and that little flower is beautiful. I am grateful for the silence that is not empty—or worse yet, filled with unspeakable anger, or grief, or hurt, or suffering. The silence of being busy and pushing my body hard is my favorite silence of all these days. I am grateful because I love the notion of tarrying in a garden, with my thoughts about Holy Week and Easter, with my hopes, with the sense that no matter that my days are limited, I have days, however many there are.

Mainly though, it is time as now I am so glad to live in. Not time past. Not time future. Time now. Though I appreciated In the Garden in a new way on Monday, it is another hymn by Jaroslav J. Vajda, that our choir at Ascension sang during a couple of our services last week that has been with me all morning:

Now the silence, now the peace,
Now the empty hands uplifted;
Now the kneeling, now the plea,
Now the Father’s arms in welcome;
Now the hearing, now the power,
Now the vessel brimmed for pouring;
Now the body, now the blood,
Now the joyful celebration;
Now the wedding, now the songs,
Now the heart forgiven, leaping;
Now the Spirit’s visitation,
Now the Son’s epiphany;
Now the Father’s blessing,
Now, now, now.