Safe and Swim

Originally my plan was to write about “safe” for the letter S.

About a month ago, I overheard a conversation while waiting for my father. He was visiting friends and I was sitting in the front lobby of the nursing home after an unsuccessful attempt to visit Mary  Three octogenarianesses (octogenarianettes?) sat down opposite me.

Their conversation was at an octogenarian level, so I couldn’t help but overhear.

“I just need to feel SAFE,” one said. “That’s why I would come HERE.”

The last word of every sentence was the loudest, and I found it an interesting way to punctuate.

A different lady, the one they were visiting who was obviously a resident, said, “My children kept telling me that I couldn’t do this, that, or the other thing. After I fell…” Her voice trailed off and she spread her arms to highlight the wheelchair she was in.

The third woman said, “I just don’t have the pep to do everything at home any more.”

“When the house sells, I’m coming HERE,” said loud-final-word.

Resident lady said, “I should have come here when I was 70. Now I’m 87, going on 88.”

#3 said, “It’s at the point where I have to do something.”

Loud said, “SAFE. I just need to feel SAFE.”

But as my mind wandered over this “safe” conversation, I thought about Laurel’s water safety presentation that she’s working on, and I thought about how I missed swimming now that it’s over and the pool is closed, and I thought about how unsafe the water can be and water safety is so important and… you see the currents that my mind drifted along, like a lazy river ride that had no definite end.

So S is also for Swimming.

My parents made sure we all could swim — and I’m sure my love of the water began at a very early age.

Mom and Stewart

Mom and Stewart

Mom and Stewart, Donabeth, and Peter

Mom with Stewart, Donabeth, and Peter

The only picture I could find of me. What form!

The only picture I could find of me. What form!

I can remember being in the watch-me stage when I was about 5 at Mirror Lake at Fort Devens. My mom was sitting on the beach and I was in the shallow water, stretching my legs out behind and walking my hands along the bottom.

“Look, Mom! I’m swimming,” I called, but I’m sure I didn’t fool her for a moment.

I remember playing and playing in the water — and I think that may be why I’m a big proponent for kids playing in the water. Kids can learn so much through play.

The thing is, though, water is never really safe. Kids drown in small amounts of water. Elite-level swimmer Fran Crippen drowned in an open water race. Being around water requires vigilance.

Bodies of water are like Aslan — not safe.

But good.

Each time a swimmer slides into the water, he or she is baptized into a new way of moving and breathing.

I think that’s why I love it.

That’s why I go to the POOL.


John 5 begins with the story of Jesus at the Bethesda pool where lay “a multitude of invalids.” The belief was that after an angel troubled the waters, the first one in was healed. Jesus spoke with a man who had been there for thirty-eight years.

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked him.

“Sir, I have no one,” the man replied. No one to put him into the pool when the water is stirred. A multitude of invalids, but each concerned for himself.

To have no one.

In contrast —

C is for Community.

My father and mother enjoyed traveling after my father retired, but as my mother’s dementia grew worse, traveling became more difficult.  One night in New York City, my father awoke to hear the heavy hotel door click shut and realized that my mother was no longer in the room. He found her in the hallway. Another time she got away from him at the airport, and still another time she wandered off in Greece.

On that trip to Greece, their last big trip, the other ladies in the tour group saw the need and began watching out for my mother. What began as a group of strangers ended as a caring group.

My mother and father on their trip to Greece

My mother and father on their trip to Greece

Strangers at the start, friends by the end

Strangers at the start, friends by the end

“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.”  Anthony J. D’Angelo

Community doesn’t have to be intimate to be functional.  Even a small thing, like holding the door open for someone struggling with mobility, can be an act of community. It says, “I am willing to help you, even if it inconveniences me a little.”

Sometimes community is very intimate. I was horrified to see that my mother had had an incidence with incontinence while visiting an old friend of my father. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” I had said when my mother stood to go. “Let me get something to clean that!”

“No, no,” the woman had said. “Your job is to take care of your parents. I can clean this up.”


Looking out for one another.

Circling the wagons in Greece, in Florida, in Cooperstown.

We can be community to those we encounter. We just need to be willing.


Preparing the Body

When my mother died, we — her children and her husband — were all gathered around her bed. We watched her take her last breath. We watched the pulse grew weaker and slower in her neck until it stopped altogether.

The hospice nurse put the eartips of her stethoscope into her ears and held the diaphragm to my mother’s chest. She nodded and said, “She’s gone.”

There were tears.

And there was a stillness.

Each of us touched my mother — her hand, her arm, her face.

After a few minutes, a nurse put her hand on my arm and said quietly, “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

I nodded.

“When you’re done, the nurses will come in and wash her body to prepare it. In some faith traditions, the family likes to do that or help with it,” she said.

I quickly shook my head no. My eyes met my sister’s across the bed. It was clear that she did not want to do that either. The 24-hour bedside vigils and the emotional toll of her passing was enough. We would not help prepare the body.

That scene flooded back to me this morning as I read of the women waiting outside Jesus’ tomb.

Several women had watched as Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus in it and rolled a great stone across the entrance. They wanted to see where Jesus’ body was laid. Then, we are told, the women returned “and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early day, they went to the tomb taking the spices they had prepared.”

Not only did they want to prepare his body, they wanted to be first in line. They worked to gather everything they needed. They were not only willing to perform this last service, but they were eager to do it for Him.

My mother’s body was sent for cremation. When I saw her in the hospital bed that day, it was for the last time.

I sometimes look back on that moment and the question that was put to me. Should I have helped prepare my mother’s body?

I honestly don’t know.


Behold the Man

I found my father watching MTV the other night.

Ridiculousness — both the name of the show and the fact that my father was watching it.

I couldn’t watch. Failed trampoline stunts. Awful skateboard mishaps. It hurt.

Watching violence is not entertainment. I don’t enjoy it.

When it’s the first five minutes of a crime show, I tolerate it because I need the set-up to understand the ensuing story, but my kids can tell you that I often avert my eyes during the actual crime.

Like I did during most of LOTR’s “Return of the King.” Too many battle scenes.

It’s the reason I wouldn’t go to “Schindler’s List.” I read the book instead.

It’s the reason that I am the only church-going person over the age of 50 who has not seen Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ.” Ever. Not even clips.

And so, with great conviction, I have been reading and rereading  portions of Lancelot Andrewes’ Good Friday sermons. The common thread in them is to “look upon Jesus.”

In 1597, Andrewes called for people to look upon Jesus, saying,

In the act itself are enjoined three things:

1. That we do it with attention…

2. That we do it oft, again and again, with iteration…

3. That we cause our nature to do it… for in the original it is in the commanding conjugation.

First then, not slightly, superficially or perfunctorily, but steadfastly, and with due attention… And not to look upon the outside alone, but to look into the very entrails; and with our eyes to pierce Him That was thus pierced.

I hate looking on entrails.

Again, it’s like a crime show. But I’m the one in the interrogation room, and the detective is pushing the horrific photograph of the victim across the table, ordering me to look at it. I don’t want to — and yet this is such an essential part of Good Friday.

Look. Look at Him who was pierced.

“Secondly…not once or twice to look upon it; … to look again and again; … to think upon it over and over again… For at every looking some new sight will offer itself, which will offer unto us occasion, either of godly sorrow, true repentance, sound comfort, or some other reflection, issuing from the beams of this heavenly mirror.

In Protestant churches, the cross is empty. I’ve always liked it that way, not looking at a man in agony, but seeing the hope of resurrection. But that’s like skipping to end of a book to see how it all turns out without walking through the dark journey of the protagonist.

Yes, it turns out okay in the end. Jesus rose from the grave. But to fully grasp the story, I have to gaze at Him on the cross. I need to look again and again.

Andrewes’ third point, that God commands us to look and that we must choose to obey that command, hits me in the heart. Yes, my flesh would choose not to view this awful spectacle, but I know in my heart that this will draw me closer to God. I must choose.

In a word, if thus causing ourselves to look on Him we ask, How long we shall continue in so doing, and when may we give over? let this be the answer … ‘Look upon Him till He look upon you again.’ For so He will. He did upon Peter, and with His look melted him into tears.

Peter, who denied Christ, was later asked three times, “Do you love me?” I can picture his eyes meeting Jesus’ and melting into tears.

I don’t think I will ever watch MTV’s “Ridiculousness” — its name says it all. Pointless pain that people find humor in.

But this Holy Week, I will follow the call the look upon Jesus suffering on the cross. It will make Resurrection Sunday all the sweeter.

The Unseen

“The sound stops short, the sense flows on.”

Chinese saying

I lay awake last night listening to creaks and rustles in the house.


The front door

When I had gotten home, I could tell that the front door had been opened. Something was out of place.

“Did you open the front door, Dad?” I asked my father, but he hadn’t.

I put things back the way they should be and went to bed.

Sleep was elusive.

Even though I had looked under every bed and looked in every closet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone else was in the house. Little noises became big noises and took on deeper meaning. Was someone or something watching me?

The person the tile guy had seen rattled me a lot.

My father has been seeing or hearing things, too, but he’ll often complete his story with “but maybe I’m just hallucinating.” Maybe he is. He is older and slipping.

Then the front door. Clearly it had been opened. We never use the front door.

I do believe in an unseen world. It’s actually part of the liturgy I repeat every morning.

“I believe in an unseen battle waging all around us and that Christ is already victorious in that battle. Therefore, we have nothing to fear.”

We celebrate that victory this coming Sunday. Death is conquered.

The unseen world is there, and occasionally we bump up against it, but I don’t think it uses the front door.

I lay awake, imagining not an unseen world, but a flesh-and-blood world invading my space.

And it was unsettling.

Every sound I heard flowed into an imaginary monster.

In the morning, as I sat with my coffee and my Bible, a brown-gray mouse scampered across the kitchen floor, bold as could be, until he saw me. I set another trap. I know how to deal with mice.

I knew the field mouse did not open the front door, so I asked my brother when I saw him an hour later.

I felt almost embarrassed asking — because, really, no one uses the front door — “You didn’t, by chance, open the front door, did you?”

“I monkeyed with it so we could slide the deadbolt,” he said. “It’s locked now. Nobody can come in that way.” He had done it to relieve my worries. Ha!

It explained the thing I had seen moved by the door.

A logical explanation is so satisfying. It makes all those noises I heard in the night shrink down to innocent old house sounds.

Now if only I could find an explanation for the man seen upstairs.

Resurrection Branches

OsterpostkarteI was delighted to learn that the pussywillow is waved on Palm Sunday in many Eastern and Slavic churches.

“The Pussy Willow is also our Easter symbol,” said Father Czeslaw Krysa, rector of St. Casimir’s Church in Buffalo, in a 2013 article. He said that it is “one of the most prominent Easter symbols, because of the fact out of this dry, kind of twig all of a sudden bursts forth this beautiful flower of life, and it is the first bush that blooms.”

They call them “resurrection branches.”

Reading about them reminded me of a poem/prayer that I wrote back in January.

Oh Lord
I need a pick-me-up
For I am feeling down
Outside the snow is glittering, cold,
Inside my heart is brown
And dry and brittle, mostly dead,
Like last month’s Christmas tree
Weeping prickly needles
Which need be swept by me

IMG_8480I know You can’t restore the tree
To vibrant verdant green
— Well, yes, You could
And yes, You did
When Aaron’s rod was seen
Bearing fruit
— Can You do that with me?
Of course, You can —
but would You, Lord?
Miraculously use me?

For, Lord, You know I have this fear
I’m one of the eleven
Sticks that stayed quite dead and brown
Not bearing fruit for heaven

I fear I too am dead inside —
Like Lazarus, I stink —
Roll back the stone –
Call out my name –
Pull me from this brink

Of hopelessness
Of deadfulness —
I need to be made new
Please water me
Sunshine me
And let me grow in You.

Today the rocks and stones and pussywillows are crying out “Hosanna!”

Weary and Worn Out

Matthew 9:36
When He saw the crowds,
He felt compassion for them,
because they were weary and worn out,
like sheep without a shepherd.

IMG_8356“Sheep without a shepherd” — that explains a lot, doesn’t it?

I’ve struggled to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon. Why is he so successful?

I watched the piece that demonstrated how he speaks on a 4th grade level, using more one-syllable words than other candidates. That explained some. People understand his message.

His immigration plan: a big wall. So easy to picture.

His economic plan: jobs. America is going to be great again. America is going to win. It’s that simple.

If only it were.

For so long, the middle class — my people — have felt unheard. We work, often more than one job, long hours, low pay, and for what? So that somebody else can get free healthcare or a free cell phone or free food. The programs put in place by the government show compassion for the needy, but are carried by moms and dads working multiple jobs and having less and less to show for it all. Nobody in power seemed to listen to their cries.

Until Donald Trump came along, full of the braggadocio of a casino, promising wealth and prosperity.

Just slip some tokens into this slot machine. Lights and bells will go off, and you will be rich.

Just vote for Donald Trump and America will be great again.

For too long we have been sheep without a shepherd.

For too long we have been buying lottery tickets in the hopes of being a winner or sending money to the Joel Osteens of the world who promise prosperity to those who give generously.

We have been made ripe so that we fall from the branch with just a touch, just a promise from a shyster.

Like Israel in Jesus’ time, we look for a political messiah.

But there is none.

We huddle in fear like sheep.

But God sees us and has compassion on us.

He doesn’t promise a resurrection of the United States of America.

He IS the resurrection.

Donald Trump is not our savior any more than any other political candidate.

Jesus is.

This world is not our home. We’re just a-passing through.

Let’s not forget.