Shabbat

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Baruch atah, Adonai, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol 

This week, the load was particularly heavy.  There had been the fraught moment Sunday night with María, when the enormity of the decisions we’ve had to make about her place in our home oppressed so hard I almost could not bear it.  Len, my wonderful, charming, extraordinarily witty friend came for a visit and then left, early Monday morning.  When Len lived in Fort Lauderdale, I adored the tartness of his observations, his knack for rooting out pretension and bad taste.  We kept each other company in what we both often experienced as the  aesthetic wasteland of Southeast Florida.  There were many other ways in which we each brought relief from loneliness to the other.  Letting him out of the car while it was still dark on Monday morning was hard and I came home just in time to say goodbye to Sherod next.

The rest of the week was not unusual as far as weeks in ministry go.  There were a couple of pastoral crises, unexpected and quite wrenching.  I learned a new expression I wish I hadn’t had to learn: “roofie rape”.  I officiated at a funeral for someone I’d never met.  I tried to intervene as best I could in an email back-and-forth that reflected all the stress and strain that All Saints is experiencing in this time of transition.  On Wednesday, I had to look some really low enrollment numbers at the preschool straight in the face, enrollment numbers that have all kinds of implications for an already fragile system. It meant back to crunching numbers, back to the adrenaline rush because there’s so much on the line and I have to do my best to get it right when I come up with Plan B.

A low low came when I stood in line at Walmart with 48 backpacks and school supplies that filled 2 carts to the brim. This is actually great—the kids who participated in the summer reading camp are all getting blessed backpacks tomorrow.  But I don’t do Walmart well.  The only thing that kept me from tearing my skin off was an amusing email about ‘military-ese’—did you know that when an admiral is really, but really, P.O’d with you if you are in the Navy, he or she signs off “Warmest Possible Personal Regards”?  You’d think they’d be more direct like, “I am f&^%ng mad”—it is a bunch of sailors, after all.  But no.  Utter politeness. I guess that’s more harrowing.  At any rate, I don’t do Walmart well, no matter how good the cause and no matter how amusing the email.

Knocking around the house by myself all week, when the time felt like it was both mine to do with as I wished, and yet spoken for and weighed down by the responsibilities and fractured fishbowl I carry these days, I have been this weird combination of lonely and thankful for my solitude.  I have also been incredibly aware that my time is taken up with so much to do.  Finally, at about 10:30 this morning, I realized I was just about done with the duties of the week.  I’d been at church, pruning bougainvillea and other bushes at the entrance of the church and was finished.

Even though I was guilty that I’d left my girl dogs all locked up at home, I had my bathing suit on beneath my clothes.  Len gave me what he has correctly called a very “vulgar green” beach chair and umbrella and that was in the trunk of my car. I had a backpack with a towel and a trashy novel with me too (no, it was not Fifty Shades of Grey).  So I went to the beach.  I set myself all up and sat and read my silly little book with happily ever afters and stopped often to cool down in the beautiful water off Fort Lauderdale Beach, and also sipped a nice iced, soy, grande,  1 Splenda Latte.  I’m home now and I think it’s time for a nap.  It struck me.  This is Sabbath.

Baruch atah, Adonai, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol

(Blessed are You Adonai, who separates between the holy and the profane)

Twilight

Twilight

Sherod is quite a lot older than I am which means that he’s usually “been there, done that” before me.  This time, it’s the other way around. During a long conversation last evening, he told me about the way in which his mom was moved from the hospital back to the assisted facility where she’s been living for several years and where, God willing, she will be able to die with dignity and grace.  He marveled at the compassionate efficiency of the hospice team that will accompany the family through this part of the journey.  Yesterday, they moved Juanita’s bed out of the room and brought in a hospital bed instead, as well as the other things she’ll need in the weeks ahead.  Sherod choked up describing how even the director of Cedar Hill, the assisted living facility, got down on hands and knees to clean the baseboards and dust and make sure the room was clean and comfortable for Juanita.    All the staff came in to see her, and touch her and visit with her.  That too moved him deeply.

After days of meeting crabbiness with crabbiness (Sherod’s his mama’s son through and through in ways that sometimes make me giggle), I heard that different tone in his voice.  This is it.  As you begin to walk with a parent to the end of life, you wake up one morning and realize you are listening a little more carefully, holding a hand a little longer, moving that pillow a little more gently because doing all those things is a privilege you will soon lose.

One night this week, as I was sitting on the sofa in our room, putting on my shoes and socks to go walk, I looked out as night was settling in.  It was the gentlest light imaginable, washing the river and garden in those wonderful colors of dusk.  I stopped being in such a hurry and allowed myself to look at all that quiet beauty. Sunset is a kind time, a time for lingering.  We should all be so lucky to have a time of twilight with our parents, as Sherod has been given this week.

Milestone

Milestone

I watched María start edging into sullenness.  Her face is an open book, those dark eyes of hers getting stormy, the silence that used to make my anxiety start climbing, the set of her mouth.  We’ve learned to wait, not rise to the bait.  So finally, she asked if the three of us could have a family meeting.  It’s been a hectic few days—I had a bad case of the stomach flu, we had the closing ceremony for our reading camp at church, a couple of unanticipated, highly stressful meetings got scheduled at the last minute, and my dear, dear friend Len came to visit from San Diego.  Yesterday morning, Sherod found out that his mother had been hospitalized with difficulty breathing and they’d found a large mass in her lungs.  Even though he’s on sabbatical, he’d also been asked to go to the hospital to meet a parishioner who needed to remove a family member from life support yesterday afternoon.   María moved in and out of all this commotion in the past few days with a lot of grace and composure so I wasn’t totally surprised that things were getting shaky.

We sat quietly for a few minutes and then she said, “I don’t like BARC anymore and I want to make a deal to come back home.”  Sherod caught his breath and I said, “Maria, I love you and we can’t do that.  The way we are doing things now is the way we can still be a family and be safe. When you lived in this house, none of us were safe.”  There was a fair amount of arguing back.  She has a remarkable ability to marshal logic and persuasion at times like this.  When that didn’t work, she tried to start escalating.  I was able to say to her that if she couldn’t be nice we’d need to call BARC so they could send a van and staff to pick her up but that I imagined if that happened, she’d have to go to isolation time out.  Sherod stood up and walked away and I started reading a newspaper on the kitchen table.

I finally looked up and there were these enormous tears sliding down her face.  She reached out to touch my hand and whispered, “I love you, Mami.”  The best I could do was just clutch her hand and not start sobbing myself.  After a bit we agreed that a swim in the pool might be a good thing and then it was dinnertime.  We’d been sitting having our meal out on the deck in our swimsuits and weren’t all through eating before she said she was going to change into her clothes because she was ready to go.  She asked that only her daddy drive her, gave me a hug and walked out the door.

I am still not totally reconciled to the reality that my daughter needs to wear a lojack bracelet because she is at such risk for elopement but I’m glad right now that she has that.  I suspect inside her it is going to get a lot harder before it gets better, this new life of hers with far more structure, more immediate consequences, affection but also detachment that we were never capable of.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see her make some effort to run away next.  Sherod is on the road to Alabama, I have a busy day of “to do’s” ahead of me. I do keep having to stop to remind myself that I have to be as brave as she is.  Because today, I’d really like to scoop up my baby and bring her home.

Dust in the Wind

In the middle of the afternoon towards the end of January in 1979, someone threw the fire alarm in my dorm at college.  I was in my room up on the 3rd floor of East Hall, studying.  I joined everyone else galloping down the stairs and at the turn on the landing between the 3rd and 2nd floor I did something that made me twist my right ankle.  Later in the evening, after a long wait in the ER at a hospital in Lynchburg, I found out I had torn my ankle ligaments really badly and I could expect to be in a cast for 8 weeks at least.

I called home that night because I needed my parents to put more money in my bank account to cover the hospital bill. I was in pain and tired so I remember falling asleep sometime soon after that.  I’d been told to stay off my feet the next day and to come back in the afternoon to get my cast. I was still a teenager who could sleep in late.  And by the time I woke up, my mom had called the Dean’s office and the Registrar’s office and had withdrawn me from school for the remainder of my freshman year.  She had made all the travel arrangements to get from Cali, Colombia to Lynchburg Virginia, and also made reservations for us to fly together back to Cali.  She was probably packing her bags before lunch.

That afternoon, as I sat in the cast room waiting for the doctor to come in, Dust in the Wind was playing over the PA system.  I already knew all the things my mom had done and I had not stood up to her.  There was this line she could always get me with:  “you and I have worked too hard and given up too much for you to take that risk with your hip”.  She’d trotted it out first thing when she called to tell me what she’d done, insisting that with staircases and snow and ice and walks to and from class there was no way I wasn’t putting my “bad hip” at risk since I had injured my “good leg”.  I never put up a fight.  I simply collapsed into that narrative, the new sense of myself that I was working so hard to build up pretty much crushed.  I was mortified to have such a dependent relationship with my mom showcased for all my peers to see, right when we were all  beginning to figure out this business of being independent.  I felt like a coward and quitter. God, it was awful. I went home, I got through the rest of the semester working as a volunteer at Chiquitines, an adoption agency in Cali. I made the arrangements to go to summer school at George Mason University in Fairfax.  And I had no idea how fast and furious I gave into despair and depression.  I’d get over it, I’d get on with my life, in fact, my life collapsing in on itself made me rebuild, this time on firmer ground, finding my way into the Episcopal Church and faith and community.  But with a well-refined sense of drama, I decided Dust in the Wind was the theme song of that year and listened to it over and over again.

I have hundreds of songs on my iPhone and at some point in the past few years, I loaded Dust  so tonight, with the shuffle feature turned on, I walked and found myself listening to said piece of music.  Now, there are some pretty scary things going on with my work.  The ground feels really shaky under this part of my life.  I am working long hours, and trying to maintain, reassess, reinvent and reconfigure, all at the same time.  It all feels so precarious now.  It was tempting to give in to a good pity party as those violins wailed.  Instead, I found myself going back to the white board that’s taken residence in my mind, where I am keeping lists and sketching possibilities and alternatives.  I still like the plaintiveness of the song.  It’s just not my song. I managed to grow up.  I learned to stand up to my mother and then I learned how to tend to her and love her.  I’m still learning to stand up for myself and for my vision of the  ministry I’m working on, even if times get tough.

Towards the end of my walk tonight, I saw a woman walking her dog, coming towards me on Riverland Road.  As we got closer to each other, I walked under a street light and she said, “Rosa”?  I recognized her too.  She’s the wonderful physical therapist who worked with me after I had my hip replacement surgery.  She lives on my walking route. The first thing she said was that she was blown away by how well I was walking.  Yup.  I am. I no longer think of good hip or bad hip. They’re just my hips and when I’m out on my rambles and Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie plays on my iPhone, I dance down the street. I get to be the decider about risks and am much more inclined to consider possibilities.  I probably sound like a broken record, but, really, this is a miracle that keeps unfolding for me…

Ministry

Ministry

Sherod and I were looking forward to a nice evening with our girl last night.  A pattern is emerging with her: dinner somewhere most Wednesdays, time for swimming  and hanging out a couple of times during the weekend.  That’s what was in store until I got a call from the folks at BARC.  Maria had had a very bad day at her day camp and was now being “transported back”.  They would have to “implement procedures” as soon as she arrived.  I know what that means, of course.  A couple of strong people would help her off the van, and would use the techniques that have been developed to move a person from point A to point B with as little force as necessary, no matter how out of control that person might be.  They’d take her to a completely empty room and close the door behind her.  She would be in isolation time out until she had regained control and maintained it for a prescribed amount of time.   M, who made the call to me, asked that we not take Maria out last night.  Always, always, the mixture of relief, sadness, hope and fear.

The change in our plans gave me time to go walk.  After very heavy rains yesterday, my usual route would have large, deep puddles all along the way so I took another path.  I walked up to Davie Blvd and headed west. Davie is a busy east-west street.  It was a little before 8 and already, dusk was turning to darkness quickly.  At first I was irritated by all the noise and commotion of walking against a lot of oncoming car traffic.  Then I realized this was yet another experience of a more pedestrian life.

As I walked by a gas station, already lit up by harsh lights , I wished I had a camera with me.  A short, wiry man, with slightly bowed legs, wearing cowboy boots, faded blue jeans, long-sleeved plaid shirt and baseball cap, stood with his back to me, putting gas in his beat up pickup.  A couple of blocks later, I was almost at a bus stop when a bus, the inside lit up, stopped.  I stopped too and looked in the bus.  It was Friday evening, almost night, and so many of the riders, of all sizes and colors, had one thing in common.  They all looked exhausted, many of them slumped against the window, a few against each other.  Another caricature and icon.  I ended up going past about four bus stops and noticed something about them.  There are covered areas now, but covered just enough for people to stand under.  Most have no benches. Those that do, have handles across the middle to make sure no one can sleep on one of those benches overnight.  There are all sorts of logical reasons for discouraging this practice.    But how unkind.

I turned south on 35th Avenue, by the local Publix.  A man was walking ahead of me,  wearing threadbare shorts and a t-shirt and what I have always called shower slippers, carrying a bag of groceries.  When I take my regular path, I run into lots of walkers and runners, all intent, all pretty energetic, all moving quickly.  Not this person.  The way he walked bespoke weariness.  In Spanish, I asked for permission to go past him and picked up my pace.  Two blocks later  I was back in the jasmine scented silence and dark velvet of my more normal route.

As familiar as that felt, I found myself wanting to go back and get on the bus I walked by.  I would have wanted to sit with some of those exhausted-looking people long enough to tell them I could see them and their exhaustion.  I wished I’d had the courage to go up to the man filling the gas tank of his truck to ask about his week, about the family he’s probably left behind in a Central American country.  I wanted all of them to know they are not alone, they are not invisible, their story matters. I just wanted to be with them. I spent a very big part of my week on administrative stuff—I met the deadline to submit the  big grant application I’ve been preparing. I have launched a staff member and me on a major developmental project that has a lot riding on it.  I’m engaged in all those institutionally necessary responsibilities that define the church.  I can be energetic and competent .  I’ll even  finish my sermon today and whirl through my Sunday routine tomorrow.  But last night it felt like the sidewalk along Davie Blvd should be my church.