Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Good, the Hard and Peeling Potatoes

I am visiting my parents in Minnesota, but not just for fun. My dad had two strokes in the last week. I had to come, even though my mother called me after I booked the flight and emphatically explained that they were FINE, that all was well. I came. 

He spent a couple of days in the hospital, but he's home now and trying to sort out this new normal. I have destroyed the clean kitchen here in my childhood home repeatedly, cooking way too much food. He tries to eat the tons of food.  And he tries not to get frustrated when we cajole him to get rid of catalogs from 1983, but he also shows me the look-book from his Army basic training in 1953 and tells stories about the people he was with  in the photos. 

It's good. And it's hard. 

I find myself folding laundry, peeling potatoes and washing dishes set to music in my head. Actually not just any music. Most of what plays along as the soundtrack to my emotional shoreline of waves washing in and waves washing out are hymns. 

I grew up in a small Unitarian Universalist Fellowship--the hymns I remember from being a kid are "Morning Has Broken" and.....well, yeah. That's all I remember. We probably sang others. But I don't remember them. As a young adult I came back to get married and then to have my children dedicated and then to just come back to church. That's when I started to build this library in my heart of hymns that would rise up at just the moment I needed them. 

The first time I remember this happening I had three young children and we were all at my parents' house, I think we were doing yard work. I remember walking through the back yard with an arm full of tree branches and hearing in my head "I must answer yes to life" over and over again. 

Hey, it was a tough time! Then the verse came to me, it's kind of a plodding hymn in some ways, but it's perfect for working to: 

Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, "Yes" to life; 
though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day. 
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, "Yes." to life

The hymns came more frequently as the years went by. If you sing a hymn a few times a year it soaks into the resource library of your soul. Of course I have "Spirit of Life" which calls the spirit of love to come and sit with me during times of hopelessness and loss.

"Sing in the heart, all the stirrings of compassion."

The somg most present for me today is one we heard in our Q4M worship this week "All Will Be Well" by the Rev. Meg Barnhouse and while it's not in any of our hymnals (yet!) , it is one of the best songs for keeping on keeping on when things are hard. I have plucked my way through the chorus of this on my guitar, teaching it to groups of children and adults--and they have told me that it helps. It helps. It does. 

All will be well, all will be well all manner of things--will be well. 

No, those aren't Meg Barnhouse's words exactly, they're from Dame Julien of Norwich. But Meg set them to this tune with a beautiful haunting melody and a cadence that matches walking. Or peeling potatoes. And then she wrote verses to explain them. It really does help.

So that's what I did today. I peeled potatoes, and made a way too big batch of homemade beef stew, even though I've been a vegetarian for 15 years, no I didn't eat it, but my dad did. My loved ones here in Minnesota did. As I worked the hymns of my faith bubbled up and walked with me. They bolstered my strength and centered my soul and said:

"baby girl. you are holy" 

and reminded me: 

"though these sheltering walls are thin, may they be strong to keep hate out, and hold love in."

May it be so for me and you and my dad and my mom and my family and your family and every single broken and lovely person on this planet. 


Big, fat, rockin' holy AMEN! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mothering and Letting Go

I have been a mother for almost exactly half of my life. You could argue that even though I'd been out of my parent's house for six years and married for four that I was just barely an adult when that dear first child was born. My husband and I lived in an awful little apartment kitty-corner from where we'd gone to high school. Just before our son was born, my husband painted part of the apartment building in barter for our rent.

But none of that mattered. I was young, we were broke, there was a terrible recession and few jobs, our families thought we were nuts for bringing a child into this mess, and it was all meaningless because I was a mother. A MOTHER!

This feels like a lifetime ago. Now, that little baby who lived with us across from our high school is an adult man, and a fine one at that. He's grown and gone but close enough to be dragged home to help with the yard work which he hates but does anyway because, well, he's a fine man!

The next baby came along almost exactly three years after the first, and he lives most of the year in New York going to college now, at least when he's not adventuring or researching in distant lands. He's gone for months and months at a time. I can see his face on web chat, but I don't get to eat lunch or watch movies with him for absolute eons at a time.

The last baby came along two years later. He's still at home, for now anyway, but turns 18 one week from today. He's headed into what passes for the second year of high school in this house--a second year of community college and if all goes well, he's headed for either a great BFA in musical theater after high school or maybe he'll just launch into a career. If I could choose it would be school. But this has been the biggest lesson of mothering.

Often I do not get to choose.

Often I am sitting on my hands, or biting my tongue or just smiling and waiting as these damn children go off and create lives of their own.

They choose girlfriends and schools and cars and jobs on their own!

Sometimes they even go to the doctor and book haircuts and good lord-- buy SHOES without me.

There was a time that I made all of these things happen for my boys. I even had say over the food that appeared before them and the clothes they had to choose from to wear every day.

And this is just how it should be. I am happy. I love my boys like a deep wide river that powers over every boulder and cliff it meets. Today I saw this photo and thought "there's my heart!"

But look at them! They are grown! They need me, yes. But what they really need is for me to have a full and interesting life and to leave them the hell alone!

We are in the season of leaving. College semesters begin, summer fun and travel are ending, we're settling into a low-key time of school and work getting back to our simple lives. That handsome boy on the right leaves on Friday and I will not lay my eyes on his physical being until Christmas. Christmas, people! I am devastated. And not.

It's a funny thing, the work of a mother is to make herself completely unnecessary to the daily lives of her children. And while yes, I think I may be succeeding in this, letting go of my children is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The task at hand is to rip your heart out, and duct tape it to your child as they march off to their future lives and then smile and princess-wave to all those who are watching....And I have to do it three times.

If I were not a professional church lady I would say out loud "F*CK!! THIS IS HARD!"

Oh, well, I guess I just said it.

It may be the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But I would not have traded it for anything in the world. Not one thing. Not a million things. I have been blessed with this sacred role. I am a mother. A mother.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stigma--and the Phrase "Commit Suicide"

People commit crimes.

People commit murder and if you want to go there, people commit adultery.

We humans are broken and we screw up and we sometimes act out the past wrongs done to us by screwing up other people--some of them people we absolutely treasure.

When we humans do really bad things we use this language. We commit crimes, we commit ills against society.

But I do not believe that people commit suicide. I believe that suicide is a tragedy and a horror and should never have to happen. I wish that we would cradle one another gently when times are dark and we should never be alone when depression tries to corner us and speak its lies to us about how we are unworthy and unlovable. I also know that sometimes the pain of living gets to be so much for some folks that they can't take it and they do the only thing that makes sense in the crazy twisted moment of that reality, and end their existence on earth.

I do not believe that taking your own life is some kind of a sin. I believe we are all here in this blessed and sometimes cursed life, struggling to do the best we can. And sometimes it hurts like hell. It's awful. Heartbreaking. Devastating to those left behind. But it is not worthy of what we mean when we use "committed". To say that someone has committed suicide, unless you really believe it to be a sin against god that disallows that person from a heavenly afterlife, is old, dated, inaccurate use of language that perpetuates the stigma of mental health problems.

People die by suicide. It is a horrible tragedy. But lets not make it worse by saying that our beloved brother or sister committed something. Language matters, what we say makes a difference and the words we choose change the meaning of what we say.

Let's all say what we really mean.

I am terribly sad that Robin Williams died by suicide. I pray that his loved ones can hold the beautiful memories of his life close as they reel from his loss. I pray that we can all try to take a little more care with one another and to learn to love ourselves--especially our broken parts.

We can take a line from Williams' character in "The Dead Poets Society":

Let us use the words that we mean. Stop the stigma. And let each person on this planet know that we are all, at our very core, whole and holy and good. Love surrounds and lifts us all, even when we cannot feel it. Especially when we cannot feel it. You are so loved. You are. So loved.