Note: I don’t really expect anyone to wade through this long, rambling look at events in my life. I just need to write it so as to better see where I am.
My goal is to be in the present moment. But, sometimes life (and Facebook) pull up the past and tripper me to think how I got to the present moment. Then perhaps I can assess the present and rest there more easily.
Yesterday Facebook prompted me to share my status from New Years Eve 2015 (the day before New Years Day 2016). Here’s what I had written:
2015: No doubt I could have eaten less, walked more, run harder, prayed more and been more generous. But, I got to surprise a dear friend by turning up at a celebration of his 50th anniversary of ordination, the dogs and I have taken many walks, I’ve enjoyed biking the Gulf State Park, the house didn’t flood Christmas Eve and the tornado in Birmingham missed us by a few miles; I would have preferred to have a miracle for Molly over the miracle of Molly Praying for Molly Remmert Rossell,. It seems too many folks have left us this year. But, Henry turned 1 and there’s another grandson coming in the spring. A we still go out to dinner on Friday night with my mother. Welcome 2016! I’m sure the best is yet to come!
As I read this, I thought — “Wow! I was mighty optimistic about the coming year.” To be honest, 2016 brought a lot of changes. And 2017 even more changes and loss. 2018 has been a time to process and heal. I chose to look at the past 3 years as a period of growth. I choose to take the good.
When I wrote that reflection on the last day of 2015 much was different in my life. I had just finally taken a break from church music ministry. I still lived in the same house where we lived for 31 years, and raised 3 children, several dogs and cats, survived a house fire and rebuilt. Less than 2 weeks later, on a dream trip to Hawaii to celebrate 40 years of marriage and revisit the place where we met, I stepped off of a banyan tree root and broke 2 bones in my leg (tibia at the ankle end and a spiral fracture in the fibula); The vacation was cut short, and it was almost April before I walked free again. 9 weeks of living non-weight-bearing on my left leg led to more changes. The realization that we could not grow old in that house because of accessibility issues was one of the things that moved us to move.
Letting go of my grounding on Windsor and moving was exciting. By August all was ready for closing and moving. In a space of 2 weeks we closed on the house we sold, found out my husband had colon cancer, closed on the new place and faced the surgery which fortunately removed all of the cancer — and moved. For the second time in a year, one of us was severely restricted for several weeks. By late October, I could ride bikes again and after a week of lots of riding down on the coast, my left ankle/foot finally gave up swelling. By Thanksgiving I realized I wasn’t panicking about falling with every step I took.
Just as JP got the “all clear” in early October, my brother in law got the bad news that he didn’t have appendicitis – he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He would begin chemo immediately, and do very well with it. JP and BIL had the same oncologist..
Not sure I would have evaluated 2016 as “the best!” Broken bones, 2 cancers, new house. We made it! We faced adversity with a semblance of grace. I understood within myself that my sabbatical from parish musician wasn’t a sabbatical. It was a retirement.
Enter 2017: Gonna be calmer and better!!! Do want to see God laugh? Tell him your plans.
In February my mother’s cousin (more like a sister, Mama was an only child) fell and broke her hip. 5 days later they were planning her funeral. Mama wouldn’t go, probably mostly because of a fear of falling herself. She had been having problems with that. At about the same time, another of my mother’s cousins lost his wife to cancer.
In March, I watched family deal with a suicide of someone too young to die, and it seems, too broken to live.
By April, my step-brother had died of a massive heart attack. Mama went to that funeral. We had so much fun “driving Miss Martha” around Florence so she could take in the changes since she had moved away. The funeral service was a musical delight and the crowd in the church massive. 4 songs, all verses for communion. That was Mama’s last trip.
May found us saying “Good-bye” to Mama; a return to Florence for a smaller, low key funeral. By now I was feeling a bit shell shocked. But, BIL had been told he had reached the stage of maintenance treatment and should expect to live a full, healthy life.
June was full. Cooper, our 12 year old diabetic schnauzer left us. When Cooper died I did shake my fist at the sky (at God) and holler. Too much! We left for vacation. My sister called: BIL had been feeling horrible. They were at UAB since his lymphoma had transformed into a double-hit lymphoma. He would spent most of his time for the next 4 months undergoing intense, debilitating chemo.
In September I retrieved him from the hospital after a round of chemo. We had to make several stops on the way home for him to relieve himself (diuretics are a bear!) and to buy him a hand dipped milkshake. He enjoyed it so much that he said I should have gotten him the big one. I had. He returned to the hospital less than 2 weeks later, where he died on October 8.
A part of writing this is to try to find my way through 2017. It is still a bit of a blur. You notice very few actual dates.
2018 must have been healing and loss. One of my son’s friends died suddenly at 32. We had known this child/boy/man since before he could walk. But his friends showed up from far and near for the day of remembrance. His mother is still reeling. A good friend’s husband passed in April. He was in his late 80’s and had been failing for a while. But, one is never truly ready to let go. We celebrated my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday in May. Visited with her as she slipped out of consciousness in July and returned to RI for her funeral in August. And, by year’s end, our dear friend from church (and Sunday breakfast buddy) had gone home to heaven. On Sunday before Christmas, we said goodbye to Grace, our 15+ year old schnauzer (Cooper’s mother);
In the flow of life, 2018 was overall good. I went back to practicing yoga. I’ve continued trying to get back to a bit of running. I’m making peace with the music at church. We’ve ridden bikes. We had a lovely Thanksgiving in Birmingham with my brother and all of the remaining family. We spent Christmas in Florida with my oldest son and his family. Life is good. I find myself a bit more in touch with the eternal “I AM” and better centered in my day to day life. I do better at looking in the mirror and accepting and loving what I see.
For 2019 I pray for peace and grounding. My only resolution is that this is the year of purging [added] sugar from my diet. I’ll start right with cornbread, collard greens (for folding money), black eyed peas (for good luck and pocket change) and ham (hey! it’s pork for good luck just like hog jowls);
I learned a new spanish word back in 2012: Querencia… a place of safety, home, a place from which one draws strength, a place we all need to go to and be made whole, it seems: the Wanting Place.
At one time in my life, querencia had a very concrete, physical location. It was the interior of St. Mary’s Church in Opelika. A not too large space with cool, green carpet overseen by an oversized crucifix from the front and loved into peace by the gaze of Mary in the center of the stained glass window that graces the back of the church in the middle of the choir loft wall.
Even my skeptical, cynical self cannot wipe away sitting in a back pew and knowing that Jesus wrapped His arm around my shoulder and declared “Welcome home.” I know, kind of strange. Imagined. But, somehow undeniable and very concrete. I knew at that point that this place was HOME – Querencia – place of safety, place where I must go… my “flee to.” It has been a place of much laughter and many tears. In this tiny chapel of a church I have been ripped to shreds and made whole — sometimes it seems the shredding and healing were almost simultaneous.
There are a few places in this world where the veil seems very transparent and Love (and Love’s associate, Peace) are able to shine no matter what madness and darkness surrounds me.
But, life is a journey, and we don’t often get to keep the same Querencia, at least not in a physical sense. There are indeed those thin places and times, but I find I must seek Home in God, in all of creation and look for the times I am almost awake and aware of God’s presence. These moments become Querencia.
It is hard to believe, but Advent is here. Time flies, it seems.
When I was walking the Camino back in October, I would often sing to myself to get me through. On mornings when the fog was so thick that I could barely see 10 feet in front of me, I would hear in my head: “We walk by faith, and not by sight…” complete with various instrumental accompaniment. And, when climbing or descending steep slopes, several songs of Advent would pop into my head. You can imagine: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every hill made low” type of thoughts. So, it should be no surprise that I chose an opening song for mass this morning that begins “Let the valleys be raised and the mountains made low.”
Normally, people in my neighborhood [, town, state, country] travel from place to place in motorized vehicles. We travel mostly by car. And, in traveling that way, we lose touch with the ground beneath us. We are no longer acutely aware of hills versus flat areas. We lose consciousness about changing landscape and the energy required to ascend or descend a hill, or walk on uneven ground, cracked sidewalks and paths littered with twigs, leaves, acorns and pecans (or walnuts or chestnuts). We forget just how much easier it can be to travel a smooth, flat road. Boring maybe, but still generally a more gentle ride or walk. Only when we get out of our comfortable space, get on foot or some human powered form of transport, do we begin to be awake to the world around us. And only then can we begin to appreciate the proclamation of valleys being raised and mountains made low so that our God has an open, direct way to approach us.
While walking the Camino there was a space to open up and feel the road. There was a way to be grounded in the present simply because my feet were definitely grounded on the road that I walked. I was awake and aware of the world of my present moment and I could journey more easily than usual, letting the past and the future fade as I concentrated on the present. I get a lot of that when I run or practice yoga as well, but somehow walking The Way created a special image in me of being present in the current moment. It is an image that I hope to maintain and enhance.
In Advent, we are making a journey to the place where we receive God’s love in the form of a new life — Jesus is born as one of us, with all of the wonder and joy and tears and difficulties that we will face. I hope to walk this Advent rather like the Camino — one step at a time, in the present moment — and to arrive at last at Christmas with a sense of wonder and thanksgiving a bit like the joy (and sorrow and excitement) of arriving in Santiago de Compostela. To stay with the present and simply experience it.
On my way to mass this evening, I had to stop to get gas. Distressing to see what it costs to fuel my car! Besides, I got notice that I was needed to play for mass in mid-afternoon and I wasn’t in a joyful, positive state of mind to begin with. There was a tornado watch in effect. I was tired, and grumpy and just generally out of sorts.
The rain was falling, but just as I finished filling the tank, the sun burst through the clouds. The rain began to fade away. And right there at the Exxon station, I was treated to a full blown, full arc, double rainbow. I had to step out and just gaze at it. My mood began to transform immediately and I thought to myself “Wow! God is reminding me of that there is good everywhere.”
On to mass. Running late. Couldn’t find the second page of the communion hymn. Somebody had made a major mess of the numbers for the hymnboard. No time to check my tuning on my guitar. Went to set the cell phone to silent and saw a missed call from my youngest child who was in an automobile accident yesterday (not his fault, thank goodness). My emotions are hanging out all over my face.
And Fr. Jack proceeds to focus the homily on how God shows up in the most unexpected places (water from a rock in the desert? get real!). Nothing spectacular required. God is present in wine, water, bread and oil. How common and basic can you get? And I thought of the rainbow.
Out of nowhere the sacred is injected into life. In a shared meal, a surprise rainbow, a baby’s smile. Life is good. There is hope.
It may seem a small thing, but… I never sleep all night through, even using my CPAP.
Several years ago, I didn’t sleep well at all. (Pre-CPAP) I woke up repeatedly during the night, my mind spinning out of control. Anxiety. Panic. No way to shut it down. I found my own use for a rosary in those days. Instead of a Mystery, I would try to focus on just one of the great cloud of worries, and hand it over. Then, came the Hail Mary’s as I tried to let go. Next, decade, I would try to single out another worry and let go. Some nights I think it took all 15 to calm down enough to try to sleep.
Quiet. What a gift! Now I still wake up a few times per night. But it is different. If I lay on one side for too long, my hip hurts and I wake up. If I am on my back, sometimes my arm will go to sleep and I will wake up. And there’s that stupid hose that pushes air into the CPAP mask and tangles me up at times. But — the mind in quiet. The cloud of worries has dissipated. The present lives. I breathe. I am. Aaah.
It was a pretty useless cloud of worries — a list of things that I could not control or things that I had “done wrong” that took great joy in hounding me. It was a cloud intent on keeping me from peace, from the present and always in the past or future. May it never return.