Category Archives: Death
To Believe in God We Have to be Able to Imagine Something Infinitely Bigger than Ourselves or Else We Cut God Down to Our Tiny Understanding.
Pleasure is very fleeting. Joy is a whole other ballgame. It leaves a permanent imprint. The greatest joy comes from love. To me, God is Love. The scriptures were written by humans evolving from tribal to universal. They were created by people with different kinds of minds, from literal to metaphorical. They are the footprints of the human journey. From the accounts in the New Testament, you can see Jesus evolving from tribal to universal. I see Jesus as a unique example of human evolution. Some get it, some don’t. Those that do, have a God that is universal and in everything and everyone. God doesn’t need praise. But I have found praising God brings joy and connection to something greater than us. It could be that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. If we ever recognize that love involves more than loving others as we love ourselves, that it involves loving others more than ourselves, then we’ll know what Jesus learned and did and calls us to do. I think Jesus was a leap in human development, a prototype for the spiritual journey. I think the God within us as humans, the God in every cell of the universe, the God in Jesus are all the same and greater than the bread boxes religions try to contain God in. I don’t think truth or God are limited to Jesus, but I think Jesus finally “got it” and his actions speak louder than any words. He’s my “guy” and to me he embodies both the feminine and masculine. I believe that the spirit of God that was in Jesus lives in all of us. But we evolve by inches like inch worms, seeing through the glass darkly, learning to love slowly and painfully. Prayer is a form of caring. Caring matters, particularly when there is nothing in our limited skill set to do to help. It’s not a substitute for doing what we can. It’s a focusing together. I’ve witnessed and even experienced the power of it. See the blog. Laughter: Carbonated Grace and scroll down for a series on experiences of God being in the timing.
I wrote this in response to reading Spinoza’s view of God, some of which I understand and believe. But I have personally experienced more. And I pray to continue growing both in understanding and ability to love until the day I die. Then hope to explode with mind blowing joy right after that.
I treasure the memory of my child-self’s favorite escape from our cramped seventh floor apartment, Sunday evenings’ outings to a majestic three-tiered fountain amid flower filled terraces surrounded by groves of the stately trees of Forest Park
It’s the soft edge of the evening as I run ahead to the flowing layered fountain. The breeze sprinkles fairy mists on my happy face and thirsty heart. I pause to listen with delight to the gentle staccato of the tiny splashes of the falling droplets. I watch mesmerized as the silent pool swallows them with quicksilver circles of welcome. In the faded light of dusk, they have become one with its dark mystery. I wonder if dying is like this, just melting into a vast welcoming ocean of love?
I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.
My seven-year-old grandson sleeps just down the hall from me, and he wakes up a lot of mornings and he says, “You know, this could be the best day ever.” And other times, in the middle of the night, he calls out in a tremulous voice, “Nana, will you ever get sick and die?”
I think this pretty much says it for me and for most of the people I know, that we’re a mixed grill of happy anticipation and dread. So I sat down a few days before my 61st birthday,and I decided to compile a list of everything I know for sure. There’s so little truth in the popular culture, and it’s good to be sure of a few things.
For instance, I am no longer 47, although this is the age I feel, and the age I like to think of myself as being. My friend Paul used to say in his late 70s that he felt like a young man with something really wrong with him.
Our true person is outside of time and space, but looking at the paperwork, I can, in fact, see that I was born in 1954. My inside self is outside of time and space. It doesn’t have an age. I’m every age I’ve ever been, and so are you, although I can’t help mentioning as an aside that it might have been helpful if I hadn’t followed the skin care rules of the ’60s, which involved getting as much sun as possible while slathered in baby oil and basking in the glow of a tinfoil reflector shield.
It was so liberating, though, to face the truth that I was no longer in the last throes of middle age, that I decided to write down every single true thing I know. People feel really doomed and overwhelmed these days, and they keep asking me what’s true. So I hope that my list of things I’m almost positive about might offer some basic operating instructions to anyone who is feeling really overwhelmed or beleaguered.
Number one: the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift, and it’s impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It’s been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive.It’s so hard and weird that we sometimes wonder if we’re being punked. It’s filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. I don’t think it’s an ideal system.
Number two: almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes — including you.
Three: there is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way,unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job, and we can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world.They have to find their own ways, their own answers. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them.It’s disrespectful not to. And if it’s someone else’s problem, you probably don’t have the answer, anyway.
Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.
This brings us to number four: everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe, so try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. It will only make you worse than you already are.
Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them or get anyone sober. What helped me get clean and sober 30 years ago was the catastrophe of my behavior and thinking. So I asked some sober friends for help, and I turned to a higher power. One acronym for God is the “gift of desperation,” G-O-D, or as a sober friend put it, by the end I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.
So God might mean, in this case, “me running out of any more good ideas.”
While fixing and saving and trying to rescue is futile, radical self-care is quantum, and it radiates out from you into the atmosphere like a little fresh air. It’s a huge gift to the world. When people respond by saying, “Well, isn’t she full of herself,” just smile obliquely like Mona Lisa and make both of you a nice cup of tea. Being full of affection for one’s goofy, self-centered, cranky, annoying self is home. It’s where world peace begins.
Number five: chocolate with 75 percent cacao is not actually a food.
Its best use is as a bait in snake traps or to balance the legs of wobbly chairs. It was never meant to be considered an edible.
Number six —
writing. Every writer you know writes really terrible first drafts, but they keep their butt in the chair. That’s the secret of life. That’s probably the main difference between you and them. They just do it. They do it by prearrangement with themselves. They do it as a debt of honor. They tell stories that come through them one day at a time, little by little.When my older brother was in fourth grade, he had a term paper on birds due the next day, and he hadn’t started. So my dad sat down with him with an Audubon book, paper, pencils and brads — for those of you who have gotten a little less young and remember brads — and he said to my brother, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy. Just read about pelicans and then write about pelicans in your own voice. And then find out about chickadees, and tell us about them in your own voice. And then geese.”
So the two most important things about writing are: bird by bird and really god-awful first drafts. If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.
You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us,and that’s also why you were born.
Seven: publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and evil people I’ve ever known are male writers who’ve had huge best sellers. And yet, returning to number one, that all truth is paradox, it’s also a miracle to get your work published, to get your stories read and heard. Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, that it will fill the Swiss-cheesy holes inside of you. It can’t. It won’t. But writing can. So can singing in a choir or a bluegrass band. So can painting community murals or birding or fostering old dogs that no one else will.
Number eight: families. Families are hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. Again, see number one.
At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal –remember that in all cases, it’s a miracle that any of us, specifically, were conceived and born. Earth is forgiveness school. It begins with forgiving yourself, and then you might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants.
When William Blake said that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love, he knew that your family would be an intimate part of this, even as you want to run screaming for your cute little life. But I promise you are up to it. You can do it, Cinderella, you can do it,and you will be amazed.
Nine: food. Try to do a little better. I think you know what I mean.
Number 10 –grace. Grace is spiritual WD-40, or water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin and me exactly as much as He or She loves your new grandchild. Go figure.
The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and heals our world. To summon grace, say, “Help,” and then buckle up. Grace finds you exactly where you are, but it doesn’t leave you where it found you. And grace won’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost, regrettably. But the phone will ring or the mail will come and then against all odds, you’ll get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness. It helps us breathe again and again and gives us back to ourselves, and this gives us faith in life and each other. And remember — grace always bats last.
Eleven: God just means goodness. It’s really not all that scary. It means the divine or a loving, animating intelligence, or, as we learned from the great “Deteriorata,” “the cosmic muffin.” A good name for God is: “Not me.” Emerson said that the happiest person on Earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot and look up. My pastor said you can trap bees on the bottom of mason jars without lidsbecause they don’t look up, so they just walk around bitterly bumping into the glass walls. Go outside. Look up. Secret of life.
And finally: death. Number 12. Wow and yikes. It’s so hard to bear when the few people you cannot live without die. You’ll never get over these losses, and no matter what the culture says, you’re not supposed to. We Christians like to think of death as a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live again fully in your heart if you don’t seal it off. Like Leonard Cohen said, “There are cracks in everything, and that’s how the light gets in.” And that’s how we feel our people again fully alive.
Also, the people will make you laugh out loud at the most inconvenient times, and that’s the great good news. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you. Grief and friends, time and tears will heal you to some extent. Tears will bathe and baptize and hydrate and moisturize you and the ground on which you walk.
Do you know the first thing that God says to Moses? He says, “Take off your shoes.”Because this is holy ground, all evidence to the contrary. It’s hard to believe, but it’s the truest thing I know. When you’re a little bit older, like my tiny personal self, you realize that death is as sacred as birth. And don’t worry — get on with your life. Almost every single death is easy and gentle with the very best people surrounding you for as long as you need. You won’t be alone. They’ll help you cross over to whatever awaits us. As Ram Dass said, “When all is said and done, we’re really just all walking each other home.”
I think that’s it, but if I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.
Sarah Smarsh on That Moment When, a new show by PBS News Hour on Facebook Watch says a lot of what I have experienced about the differences and the similarities between people. Many people simply don’t question the strongest influences in their childhood, particularly those that gave them some sense of security in a frequently confusing and frightening world. Their minds don’t work that way., They learn differently, not by extrapolating or questioning their experience, but by building block by block on what they experienced and were taught. For many, the two influences that gave them some sense of security were parents and church. And their personalities and mental processes did not incline them to question the only security they had. Why would they? But some of us are born asking questions and challenging authority. Instead of security, we experience the status quo as a jail. We were what were called “strong willed children” by traditionalists and as ” children who color outside the lines” by creative people. As such, the more an authority figure, whether parent or teacher or preacher tried to control us, the stronger we pushed back. Not because we had our own world view, but because we wanted the freedom to explore, the joy of finding new ideas. BOTH are necessary. Creative personalities often throw the “baby out with the bathwater” and seldom consider the practical limitations of ideas. The need is for dialogue and balance, not assuming stupidity or evil on the part of those who approach life differently. I was once told that a high IQ had a downside because no matter if you are a genius, NO ONE is always right. And the Bible is full of chosen people who were used by God, but had blind spots and weaknesses that got them totally off track, such as David and even Peter in his conflicts with Paul. The call now is to not push each other into ridiculous and dangerous extremes, but to listen through the jargon to the important values of each side of issues . How many innocent people do we justify killing as collateral damage when we become involved in cultural conflicts on the other side of our shrinking planet? The question isn’t really do we kill or not, but whom and why. How many killers do we kill in hope of it being a deterrent to other killers and who decides when someone is beyond redemption? How many killers get out of jail and kill again? How do we choose between an unborn baby and its eleven year old mother’s mental and physical well being after she was raped or the victim of incest? How many unborn babies do we kill because we want to drink and sleep around? We have to recognize that one law or political slogan doesn’t fit all situations and together find the flexibility to attempt to decide different choices in the light of human spiritual values, not just blanket laws or knee jerk reactions to situations that have not affected our own life. And to do that, we ALL have to admit that we see through the glass (and in the mirror) darkly. Pride blinds us. We need each other.
I had a fun blessing this morning.
The other day when exhausted, I attempted to close my husband Julian’s RX account with the Medicare medicine insurance. I didn’t have the correct number in reach and the recorded voice kept saying “I can’t understand your answer and kept asking for the same thing over and over, even after I kept answering, “He died.” Finally, I shouted, “Go to hell!” and hung up. Needless to say, the recording was unimpressed. Today, I started over, with the attitude that I was too tired to do anything else, so sitting down arguing with recordings was as good a way as any to spend this day. I at least had one of the magical thirteen digit numbers, so I finally got to speak to a person. After explaining that I wanted to close my husband’s account because he had died and thanking the woman for her condolences, she asked, “What is his zip code?” Of course, I couldn’t resist that. When I replied, “I don’t think they have zip codes in heaven,” there was a profound silence, followed by a smothered giggle. I rescued her by apologizing and admitting that I just could not resist that.
After that we quickly developed a rapport, so she apologized profusely each of the six times she put me on hold and I cheerfully told her it was fine, their music was lovely and I didn’t want to do anything today anyway. \And actually the music was lovely and soothing and during one protracted wait, I found myself kind of floating around in my head thinking about the oneness of all things and that the Spirit is in each of us and we are all in the spirit, and everything is one whether in this life or elsewhere and I actually felt close to Julian and comforted. Who knew? Attitude is everything.
Anyway, when she came back to tell me she needed to transfer me to someone with Medicare, I was very mellow and thought that was great, because I needed to call them anyway.
The transfer presented challenges however and at one point she and I both thought we had been disconnected. But what once was lost, now was found and we parted friends forever and I got a new person and new music. We played the “on hold” game for a while and then she announced cheerfully that she was going to transfer me to a live person. That made me wonder about her for a moment, but in the spirit of cooperation, I assured her that I definitely had a preference for alive people.
November 6, 2018 A sad morning, but much gratitude that Julian, my husband of almost sixty years, did not have physical pain. I was able to hold his hand and tell him I love him as we listened to the lovely song he wrote at The Meadows. Then he quietly quit breathing as his heart stopped. Tonight children, grandchildren, and a great-grandson gathered to chose photos of joyful times with him to celebrate his life and love. There was much shared laughter at wonderful and funny memories punctuated by moments of tearful awareness of our loss. As hard as this year has been, my worst fears never happened and there were moments of beauty, joy, and love sprinkled generously through it all. I am very blessed.
It’s a monster size time of change and challenge with my husband Julian now in the nursing home on Hospice. Our almost sixty years together have been a normal human mix of happy and sad, easy and hard, comfortable and scary, tender and frustrating, but we have persevered and now it’s like we are both part of one imperfect, but whole person. He panics now, if I leave him alone. But bless our five children and grown granddaughter Carmen, who are so thoughtful and willing to give up their free time so I can have some down time. This weekend, I finally admitted that I need the down time, not just to go home to sort and clean there,. Writing and connecting with friends to sort out my feelings is much needed therapy. I think most extroverts need to express what is going on within to get in touch with it themselves.
Today, I realized that I am reacting emotionally to trying to make The Meadows a home and then coming back to our apartment where much of it is now in the unfinished process of drastic change. The garden outside the window at the Meadows is lovely and is kept up beautifully by a team of people. And yesterday, our family, with Julian making decisions, turned the room into a tiny apartment with everything but a stove. (I have my choice of three microwaves in all directions from our room anyway.) It has a wonderful homelike feeling.
Though it isn’t permanent and isn’t really ours, going there has been the right choice, because most days I am busy helping Julian and couldn’t manage to clean and cook like I would need to at home. Also, as he becomes weaker, I would not be able to take as good care of him alone. In an imperfect world, it is an amazing luxury, one that most people do not have. I am humbled by our good fortune and sad that all cannot share it. Though with our life in such a period of change, I do sometimes feel “homeless.” But at this moment, I am looking out at the pretty flagstones Steve put around our bird feeders, at the now healthy holly tree that I feared was dying, and a familiar bright cardinal in the lush greenery outside our windows. My small comfortable bedroom/office with walls covered with photos of all our family at different ages and stages feels so familiar, safe. and comforting. But even though family offered to take turns to let me stay home several days, after two days, I miss Julian so much, even in his grouchy or fearful moments, that I feel lost. And I realize that home is where he is.
Handling all the maddening business challenges of our situation sometimes gives me an almost overwhelming desire to curl up in a fetal position in my very own bed and suck my thumb and not answer the phone, the door, or open any mail ever again! But like now, a tiny wren sitting outside the window looking at me makes me smile and I rally.
The helpless feeling,when Julian wakes in the night and talks about how lost, confused and frightened he feels, leaves me speechless from feeling unable to console him. But sitting close and holding him until he calms some, I blow lightly in the wispy hair left on the top of his head. It’s something that makes him smile, bringing memories and a tiny moment of joy that heals us for a while.
And after a sleepless night alone in our apartment, when the first colors of the sunrise finally warm the world and my heart, I think of the words of the song, “And then comes the morning, yesterday’s sorrows behind.” And I remember that both the dark and the light come and go. And thanks to grace all around me, I can let go and start again.