The Mud, the Muck

I saw a sign in my travels recently. It was propped up against a mailbox post in front of a farm. Some of the words had faded, but it listed the things that were for sale: piglets and pork chops.

A span of a life right there, I thought to myself. Piglet to pork chops in the blink of an eye.

For the first time this spring I've noticed how my friends are getting gray hair. In some cases it's the first thing that I see when I encounter one of my people. It could be that us ladies reach a point where we no longer care about coloring our hair or maybe we're sick of the process, the cost. Maybe we're ready for the gray to take over.

Maybe we're so settled into our skin, so beyond trying to impress the world, so no longer willing to pretend that the thing that's happening isn't happening that we're letting the gray have its day. 

Mine is coming in really slowly. It's frustrating, actually. I want the gray head of hair. I have a photo of my mom taken about the time when she was the age I am now and she's got this terrific patch of gray hair. For her it was like, bam! Gray Is Here!

I don't know. I'm a little fixated on it.

"Why is it that everyone always wants what they don't have?" my sweet hospice person said in her tiny voice from beneath the covers on her big bed in her living room where she now lives all her days, unable to go outside or even down the hall anymore. She can't go into the kitchen and get herself a glass of milk when she wants one. She's waiting to die. 

I do not take these utterances lightly. The things that come from the mouths of the dying hold weight and meaning. When you're dying there is no point in small talk and clarity often comes with the disease that is going to kill you. You know what you want and what you don't want; you know what matters and what doesn't. You don't have time anymore for the things that don't matter. 

I am feeling it, the changing of the tide, the growing and leaving of the kids, the graying of the hair. I am feeling it. 

But I'm still here and all of my limbs work and as far as I know no disease is taking me away. Not today, anyway.

"How old are you?" he asked me from his hospice chair the other day. "I'll be 53 on Saturday," I told him. 

He wished me a happy birthday and then told me the story of how he had celebrated a birthday recently. He was pleased because it had been a good birthday.

He lives alone, in difficult circumstances, and he is dying at a young age. 

"What made it so special?" I asked. 

"Lots of people sent me cards," he said. "They remembered me."

His friends, his relations, his people remembered him on his birthday. It didn't surprise me because in the short time I've known him he's made an impact on my heart. But it surprised him, that people cared enough to send him a card on his birthday.

I think that there is a lot of fear around the dying process: fear of the unknown, fear of the pain. But the greatest fear that confronts those whose lives are winding down is the fear that their life will not be remembered, that it was all for naught. That they have done nothing of lasting worth or meaning.

Of course, it's a silly thought, everyone, given any stretch of time here, has an impact. Even the very worst, most miserable of human beings had their moments of kindness and love. Most of us have decades of it, in one way or another, helping others, raising kids, giving back, joining groups. Everyone, by the time they die, has touched a life in one way or another. 

Still, we worry that we will be forgotten. Here, and then gone. Piglet to pork chop before we have the chance to get it right.

And maybe we will be forgotten. The attention spans of people seem to be shortening exponentially. The explosion of the world wide web and televisionization of everything have created an insatiable desire for new information and more information. Maybe our brains can handle only so much.

I doubt it. We forget things like what we had for breakfast or what books Tom Wolfe wrote or what time we're supposed to be at the dentist's, but we don't forget our fourth grade teacher, who taught us to love reading, or our high school tennis coach, who modeled grace in losing. We don't forget our best friend from second grade or her mom, either; we never forget the first person we fell in love with or the boy who broke our heart when we were nineteen. We may not have seen our best friend from college in a few years, but we still recall all the fun we had together, then later how our kids played together as toddlers. The person we love might be far away, but the love we have together doesn't fade.

We forget times, places, names, cities, classes we took, books we read. We forget where our keys are and whether or not the dog has been fed, but we don't forget each other. 

 The Sam, his face.

The Sam, his face.

Sometimes I find myself studying the faces of the people I love, wanting never to forget the nuances, the curves, the lines and bumps, the color of their hair and eyes, the shape of their lips. I want to be able to recall, when they are not with me, the way they look. I saw a boy get off a bus the other day and I watched him walk down the street toward my car and his gait reminded me of my son Sam and the unique way he moves through this world. It made me miss Sam at that high school age. It made me wish he lived closer so I could see him.

I will be 53 on Saturday; my life is way more than half over. I have lived more than I am going to live. What a strange realization. I often wonder what my obituary will read like or if people will come to my memorial service and if they do, what they'll say. We all seem, so often, to be surprised to learn that we matter, that people notice the things we do, that we are loved.

We do; they do; we are.

Piglets to pork chops in the blink of an eye, or so it often feels. In-between, the mud, the muck, the joy, a life. Amen.

Fancy, That

I have three kids. Most of you know this by now. None of them are with me today: Small is in L.A. this weekend; Medium in Montana and Large, Lake Tahoe.

If a mother trips and stumbles in the forest and none of her kids are there to wisecrack, is she still a mother?

This is the worst, the worst part of motherhood. You use every cell of your being, you max out all of your superpowers, you sublimate almost every dream you may have ever had for yourself in the service of raising decent humans. You have coddled them, wiped their snot a thousand million times, fed them enough mac & cheese to send every child of every employee of the Annie's Mac & Cheese empire to college, watched them play so many games that your eyeballs need early retirement. You have spent enough hours in the ER waiting room to knit an afgan large enough to cover Indiana. Tucked them in, sang them songs and read them stories. And read them stories. And read them stories. You've watched them sleep, 'cause, let's face it, they're extra super cute when they're sleeping.

All in the name of ... watching and waiting for them to leave you in the dust. 

One time I was at the bedside of a dying woman. I'm a hospice chaplain; I know you know that, too. She was really beautiful, not hooked to any machines as the dying so often are. Regal in her perch, propped up, hair coiffed, dying quite elegantly. I told her about my boys, men, now, and how they had left for college. "They went as far away as you could go!" I told her, "one is in Montana and the other Nevada!" 

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"They'll be back," she said in her husky, almost-gone-from-this-world knowing voice. 

She would know. She had five boys of her own.

Yea, probably they'll come back, but for now they're gone. This is the first Mother's Day in 22 years that I don't have one of my kids with me and there's no band-aid big enough for that ouch. 

Yes, I know, a whole lot of mothering goes on outside the realm of actual mother-to-kid mothering. There are many people in this world who nurture our kids in the ways we associate with motherhood: with patience and tenderness, with tears and hugs and food. Physically. My kids have gotten a lot of love over the years from my posse of women, from my mom and their other grandmothers and grandmotherly figures. They have been influenced in their growing up by a lot of female role models; it's most certainly true that this isn't all about me. 

Except that today it kind of is. I've always been a little greedy about Mother's Day, as full of schlock as it is, as contrived and made-for-corporate-greed. I have always liked being in the spotlight, if only for a few hours of sticky pancakes and hastily-prepared notes. 

I've seen women who aren't sure who they are once their kids fly the coop. That's not me. I have to get ready for church this morning: there are flowers to arrange and bulletins to print; coffee to make and a final look at the sermon. Later today I have to finish charting my notes from hospice visits I made on Thursday and I have to check in with all the writers who said they'd write something for this week's issue of the paper. 

No, I'm not one of those women who pushed all of it aside to raise kids. I held on to pieces of all of the parts of my life, which has been mostly a mind-bending trip down Exhaustion Lane for two decades, but worth it. 

Because look! There they are ... Coco is waking up in Los Angeles, excited about a day of exploration. Sam watched his friends graduate yesterday, in Lake Tahoe, and tomorrow he starts his summer job. I'm not sure what Nate's doing because he's always so busy doing: hiking and mountain biking and getting his work done. Soon he'll start his summer job, too. Look at them! So fancy in their independence! So out-and-about-in-the-world, no-need-for-Mom-to-do-my-laundry, these children of mine.

They don't need me. It's a hard pill to swallow and the sweetest of desserts at the same time. I think it means a job well done, right? The great irony of it all ... that the indicator of having done a good job being a mom is that your employees no longer need you for guidance, direction, lunch or dinner, sheets or towels, socks or underwear. It happened, of course, bit by bit, with each integrated lesson: they no longer needed me to change their diapers, tie their shoes, scramble their eggs, wake them up in the morning, choose their clothing. Before long Coco will be the last of the Musketeers to drive, and then, well, welcome to that sweet slice of life called the retirement community, Mumsy. Sheesh.

I won't worry about any of it because somehow, against all odds, and believe me when I tell you, there were odds: two divorces, lots of moving around, a destabilizing mother in a world already plenty unstable, against all odds, things have turned out just fine.

Nope, I'm not going to worry today and I'm not going to give them guff because they're in different time zones; I'm going to try to be what I should: happy, relieved, proud. My three can send me their love from afar and I can be happy for them and happy for the world that gets their grace and charms and curiosity today. They're never really ours, you know, these kids. Into the oven at Do The Best You Can degrees for 18 years, let cool and serve with a glass of cold milk. Enjoy you big old world, they're delicious!

A beautiful and blessed Mother's Day, all you moms. Thank you and amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We All Need It

During Paul’s lifetime, the Christian church was not yet an institution or a centrally organized set of common practices and beliefs. It was a living organism that communicated the Gospel primarily through relationships. This fits with Paul’s understanding of Christ as what we might call an energy field, a set of relationships.

I asked them to do something yesterday morning that we have never done in our church, in my time there anyway.

I had greeted folks when they arrived and was delighted though not surprised to see that some people from different parts of my world already knew each other. I loved watching them squeal with delight upon encounter and then work to sort it out ... why are you here? How do you know Melissa?

It was so much FUN!

I am not tooting my horn, I can't. It's not about me, it's not. You read that first paragraph, it's about relationships, friendships. It's about walking together on the lonely trek called Life. But three years ago I spoke from the pulpit to a handful of people, maybe 15? Yesterday, on the anniversary of my arrival at the Pawlet Community Church the pews were full. There were some empty spaces where some of my favorite people might have been, but I understood. I understood why they couldn't be there. Mostly what I saw was a church full of people.

I looked out and saw a man whose dad we buried the previous morning and a man I had baptised when he recovered from his medical crisis. I saw a woman who had recently become a proud great grandma. I saw a woman whose husband we buried not along ago who had not come to church since her two daughters died. I invited her with a phone call; she came. 

I saw the man whose brother is dying. I saw the couple I married on Easter Sunday.  I saw the man who is nervously awaiting cancer-removal surgery, the woman who is worried about the prognosis. I saw the man who survived the horrible tractor accident sitting beside the man whose wife died recently. I saw the cancer survivor whose sister will be buried next week.

  Open the doors and see all the people.

Open the doors and see all the people.

I saw the folks, husband and wife, who just started coming to church a few weeks ago. I saw my old friends, the men and women who have walked with me through some of my darkest hours and back into the light. I saw my new friends, my parents, my daughter.

So I did this thing that I have never done in my time with our church. And I wasn't sure how it would go because, you know ... rural New England Congregational ... and also because I remembered how it used to make me cringe a little when we had to do it in the churches I have attended.

I asked everyone to greet someone near them. Everyone was seated when I asked them to do this, so I thought it would be quick, a handshake to the neighbor then back to business.

I stood up front and watched.

At first it was quiet, people turned to the ones close to them and said hello. Then people started getting up and walking to other pews. I saw Peter walking around barefoot saying hello to folks, and I thought ... cool ... like the apostles. People were laughing and hugging and it got louder and louder in there. It became like a party, a good one. I wished I had a GoPro on my head to record the whole thing so that everyone could see how amazing it was. I had to reel them back in! That's how out of hand their love for each other got. 

I thought it would never end. I hope that it doesn't.

Our church. Alive, vibrant, humming, with love and kindness and hospitality. I wish you could have seen it. I really do. It would make you feel better about volcanos and government officials and cancer and acid rain and death. What happened during those few minutes of handshakes and hugs is very much the counter-balance to life's sorrow and grief. I need it, you need it, we all need it. Church, at it's very best, is what it was in those moments: a set of relationships, all of us interwoven; an energy field of love. Amen.

 

 

As Good as Mine

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Reading Kimberly Harrington's magnificent treatise on being a mother, a woman, a worker bee, a wife, on this confusing and enchanting trip called A Lifetime inspired in me a desire to go back and re-read the book I threw together a few years ago during some dark days of winter when I basically said, Fuck it, it's now or never. I don't recommend this as a means to move your book into the world, but it worked pretty well at the time and I'm glad I did it. But re-reading it this morning opened my eyes to a few things.

Namely, the fact that I could read the whole thing in about as much time as it took me to drink a cup of tea is the first not good thing about it. The second is that it could be better.

But I guess, of course, with pretty much everything we look back on in this life we think, coulda done a better job there. This includes but is not limited to parenting, forgiving, loving, making time to be with friends, the graduate thesis, all four years of college, forgiving our parents and thanking the flowers for making the world so pretty.

I also have a sickening feeling I should have read the fine print more often in life. I signed a lot of things and signed on for a lot of things that I didn't know I was signing on for.

But maybe that's how we're supposed to do it, just kind of go for it, with a bucket of love in one hand to splash over all the crappy parts. I harbor a belief that when we die we get a few minutes, maybe even an hour, of life review. I'm choosing to believe that we have the opportunity to take a look back at the whole shebang and I do this because it sometimes helps me be aware, when I'm screwing up, that I'm going to cringe when I get to Life Review. I'm hoping to minimize the cringe when the hour comes.

I'm hoping, I really hope I can, maximize the awe.

The thing that re-reading my book did for me was remind me of how incredible my life has been, in terms of sheer book fodder. To be honest, I was kind of amazed by the range of experiences I've had so far, the places I've been, the people I've met, the things I've tried. It made me happy, to think that the 52 years I've been here have been ... interesting. I've done some cool shiz since I got here, a wee little North Dakotan elfin with mismatched legs.

I mean, come on, let's face it. No one knows how or why these things play out the way they do. Everyone I know looks back at their life with a kind of surprise that their life happened to them. It makes me wonder what we were all thinking back in the teenage years. Because, if I recall correctly, we weren't thinking at all. We were having lots of fun, experimenting with ideas and styles and dogmas and drugs. 

It's kind of funny how all of us 50-something people are looking back over one shoulder and saying ... wait ... how did ... 

all these years pass by?
I become this person?
my kids turn out so well?
I end up here?

How did a whole life happen already? And Christ, I want some of that time back!

Reading my book, reading Kimberly's book have reminded me of something important: all of this is really great. It is. ALL OF IT. We're born; if we procreate and then we get to watch parts of ourselves moving through this world; we get old, it's hard, and then we die. 

Your guess is as good as mine what happens then. If there is a The Review, I want to laugh for most of it, not cry. I want Wow! to be the thing I say, not Fuck. Being disappointed in oneself sucks, but being disappointed in oneself and not having the chance to right the ship sucks times infinity.

If there is a God waiting there for me, I want my greeting to be Thank You and not a sheepish and pathetic Can I have a do-over?

I love you all so very much; you're a major part of the reason why all of this has been so ... interesting. Please come to the Pawlet Community Church tomorrow morning at 9:30 to revel with me in my amazement at this loving and level-headed community having survived three years of me. Amen.


 

 

 

 

Is Everything

Waking up today by the sea. Coco and I traveled out here with two people I adore: my former brother and sister-in-law, Mark and Margaret, to visit with members of the family to which I belonged when I was married the first time.

As I move deeper into the dynamics of this situation you might lose track. It could become confusing, but not because of all the descriptors, because of all the peace. Stay with me.

We are staying at a magical place called Pow Wow Point, built by my former husband’s grandparents, Helen and Richard (also, coincidently, the names of my daughter and her father, my second husband), now inhabited by their son, his wife and their charming black Lab. We have come here, in part, to say both hello and good-bye to a member of the family who is moving closer to end of life. 

  Finding treasure on the beach with Auntie Margaret and Uncle Mark.

Finding treasure on the beach with Auntie Margaret and Uncle Mark.

This is the first time in almost twenty years that I have woken up in this house. It’s a funny and jarring and wonderful feeling, to have been welcomed warmly back here into the home and lives of these people: Paddy and Laura and Uncle Dick and Jim and Carrie, all these years later.

A lot has happened in twenty years. The band of rugrats: Petie and Patrick; my boys, Sam and Nate; Jack and Olivia and Jake and Brett, whose noses barely reached the picnic tabletop twenty years ago are now all taller than us, studying interesting things in school, buying houses of their own, getting engaged and making music and art. Most of us have gray hair now and a little more to love around the middle; all of us are shocked by the passage of time. We've had procedures, we've made progress, designed houses, taught children, created thriving businesses, we've raised good people. We launched our kids then we have had to turn to our parents to figure out how to help them at the other end of life.

No one is holding a grudge or acting weird out here in this lovely place by the sea. Time will do that, if you let it: soften the rough edges of one’s righteousness, turning it into a kind of generosity that allows one to accept the truth that life rarely turns out how we imagined it would. That we screw up and make lousy choices that we later regret. Most of us have wanted some kind of shot at redemption by now and so have the skills and the grace to offer the opportunity to others when their time rolls around.

It's life people, this is what we do: forgive and move on, forgive and move on ...

It is not lost on me that this particular pilgrimage is taking place in the same week when the leaders of North and South Korea came together, shook hands, sat and shared a meal and spoke of hope and peace. Kim Jong-un began that day by stepping over a slab of concrete that marks the border between those two nations, becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in the south. Later in the day the leaders’ wives joined them for dinner, and during the farewell ceremony the two men, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in held hands.

Families can become divided, I see it all the time in my hospice work. Communities face challenges that provoke contentious and divisive feelings and even entire countries can split in two. We can burn bridges and we can build them, too. I know we often don’t like to admit it, but we are more alike, us humans, than we are different, but we like to be right just a wee bit too often and a righteous stance is fertile ground for disintegration.

Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim broke bread and offered at least the possibility of peace in their time together. It was a gesture as old as humankind, sharing a meal and setting aside past differences. When we arrived here at Pow Wow Point Paddy and Laura set out plates of oysters and tuna, grilled sausage and octopus, the treasures of the nearby landscape. And we stood together on the back patio looking out the foggy bay, talking as if the twenty years between our last meeting and this one had never happened. Yesterday we visited with Uncle Dick, who, from his bed, held my hand and looked straight into my eyes and thanked me for sending him the cards I've been sending the past few months since his wife, Pam, died. And we both cried. "Family is everything," he said. Family is everything.

Bring peace to the table, my friends. Borders, divorces, fences, concrete slabs, these are human constructs, made permanent and unwielding only by sheer force of will. Family and the big-hearted gestures of forgiveness grace are everything. Amen.

 

 

 

Something Similar

If I told you all the stories of everything that happened every day that I work in hospice care your ears would burn and your eyelashes would fall off and your heart would expand to fill the room you're in and you would maybe, probably run to the person you love and look in their eyes and tell them with truth and conviction that you think they're magnificent. You would beg forgiveness for every transgression and offer amnesty for every forgotten birthday cake. You would kiss the very ground that holds you up and thank the rain for washing clean your righteous indignation. 

You would understand, without question, the precious and precarious nature of life. You might even stop cursing slow drivers and customer support representatives. Without a doubt you would see how miraculous your children are and you would stop wishing that your parents were anything other than exactly what they are. 

But I can't. I can't tell you everything, but I can tell you a little.

I can tell you that it can be very hard for some people to die. For some people it takes a very long time, not unlike the drawn-out, epic labor and childbirth I went through with Sam, which went on for what felt like days and seemed it would never end. And when he did finally arrive it was to a cheering audience comprised of his grandparents, dad, uncle, the doctor and I'm sure I'm forgetting someone but trust me when I tell you it was a glorious madhouse of joy. 

I have a sneaky suspicion there's something similar waiting on the other side of death. 

I can tell you that everyone is always heartbroken. No matter how great a jerk the person was in their lifetime, no matter how many bridges they torched just to watch them burn, death always brings great sorrow. The gossamer thread between love and hate dissolves into thin air when life is closing down and all that remains is love. 

Regret, too, of course. But only because there isn't or wasn't more time to right the wrongs, salve the wounds and bind up the loose ends of the heart.

I can also tell you that no one ever really wants to die. Though we may spend our days complaining about the weather, the liberals and the price of coffee beans; though we tend to think that life has beaten us down, we didn't get the fair shake we deserved and no one is working hard enough to save the whales; though we bitch and moan way more than we shriek with delight, no one ever actually wants to leave this place.

In the sunset of our lives, it seems, what we wish for most is another day. 

  Sunset Drive-In, West 9th Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, Stephen Shore.

Sunset Drive-In, West 9th Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, Stephen Shore.

Yes, the work I do is hard. I totally lost it yesterday when I was sitting in the hospital with someone who was coming in and out of consciousness, gesturing madly at times, calling out for loved ones at times. It had been a long day, very long. The general store down the street where I stopped to get gas was SRO with the usual suspects, all men, all having their coffee, all working to figure it out. I heard someone say my name while the ATM machine was robbing me of three dollars and fifty cents, so I walked to the back, to that sacred space of coffee drinking men working it out to find the person who was looking for me to do the memorial service for his dad who died the other day. He was sitting next to the man whose best friend died last week who was talking with the man whose son died a few weeks ago. Part way through my journey to hospice land I stopped at another general store for some coffee and an egg sandwich on gluten free bread and believe me then I tell you that I cringe every fucking time I have to say that. One egg, ham and cheddar cheese, if you're ever making one for me. Standing between me and the coffee dispenser was a man whose wife died several weeks ago and I know because he's become a friend who gently reminded me yesterday that I haven't written anything in a while.

All that death before I even got to the hospice parking lot.

So I was sitting in the hospital with this person and I really didn't know her all that well, but it was really quiet, just the two of us. I put her hand in mine, said a few things then settled into our silence. And in that silence I thought about her whole life, what it might have been like, when she was a baby, someone's baby; who she might have loved, when she had babies of her own, the disappointments she felt, what brought her happiness. I watched her laboring to leave this world and all of the death and all of the sorrow came over me and I started to cry. 

I have been thinking a lot lately about my own lifetime, when and where I came into the world and how this story has played out. North Dakota, 1965. Couple more weeks and it's going to be my birthday. I share it with Ben and Elaine and Joseph and Taylor and Glenn, who just died. I won't be doing hospice work that day, I'll be looking at the photographs of Stephen Shore at the MoMA in NYC.

His best pictures at once arouse feelings and leave us alone to make what we will of them. He delivers truths, whether hard or easy, with something very like mercy is what the The New Yorker writer had to say about him. 

If I told you all the stories of everything that happened every day that I work in hospice care your ears would burn and your eyelashes would fall off, but I can't. I would be breaking the rules and it would be unfair to the dying and I would lose my job. I don't want those things to happen. But I can do something, I can deliver to you some truths with a side of hope that your heart somehow expands to fill the room you're in today. Amen.

 

 

 

 

In The Wounds

When I was a kid I thought that the phrase In the long run referred to a time when we would all have to get up, from our desks — because that's where we spent so much of our lives then, sitting at a desk — and just start running. I imagined some kind of apocalypse and In the long run was the actual time when we would all be running away from it. Or jogging, probably.

I suspect there were two influences that led to this particular childhood brain contortion: that famous photo of the naked girl running with other people from her village in South Vietnam after they had been bombed, and the drills we had in school at the time.

When I saw that photo as a little girl I didn't know anything about napalm or what the Vietnam War was about, it was just a really scary image. And I linked that photo with the elementary school air-raid drills we were having at the time. Sometimes we had to get under our desks, because, of course, a first-grader's school desk is good protection from nuclear bomb fallout, and sometimes we went down to the basement. 

Childhood is a confusing time in so many ways, and more so when you heap images of war and weird school drills onto the pile.

I read a bit about the girl in the photo, who she is today. She is married and lives in Canada, has two kids. I read that she was embarrassed by the photo for a long time and how she eventually decided to turn her old wounds into gold. She started a foundation to help children who are victims of war. 

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These are the days, in church, after Easter, when we talk about Jesus and how he died a truly horrific death, public, painful, gruesome. Crucifixion was what they did with the bad guys back then. Only he wasn't really a bad guy, he was just a threat to the leadership of the time (whole other blog post). The story goes that he died and a couple of days later he reappeared, walking around, talking to his friends and eating broiled fish — a questionable choice for a first meal, post-resurrection, for sure, but probably easy to digest.

So he comes back from the dead and everyone is really confused and skeptical, no surprise there. The big surprise, actually, is that this guy who seems to have just pulled off the impossible doesn't throw lightening bolts or turn pennies into pots of gold to prove he's special. He just spends his days walking and talking with people and he tries to calm their fears in the most basic way. He shows them his hands and his feet and his abdomen and he says Put your hand on my wound ... go ahead and touch it. Put your hands on my wounds; it's how you'll know I'm human. It's how you will know that God is everywhere, even and especially in our suffering.

He also breaks bread with them and eats fish with them. And eventually they get it, in the stories it says that their eyes were opened and their hearts were burning. 

Our bodies are our places of our deepest wounds, they carry all of the stories of us and they don’t forget the things that our minds don’t want us to remember. The metal pin jutting from my knee is the day a car rammed into me. The two tiny scars a little further up tell the story of a leg that was shorter than the other one when I was born. The creaky knees are a reminder of the many days I have spent on mountain and tennis court. There is a scar on my right forearm where they took some cancer out. My face belies a lifetime of lazy sun worshipping. These tired and saggy breasts did the work of launching three humans; I have probably cried enough tears in my life to fill a small pond in which we could all enjoy a summer evening swim. All of the flesh, blood, bones and salty water that is me hold the many beautiful and sorrowful stories of these 53 years.

I know now, all too well, about The long run. Forty-five years have passed since I saw the photo of that little girl. There will most likely not be forty-five more. I carry this body, with all its scars, its stories of childbirth, injury, drinking and sobriety, bravery and cowardice, heartbreak and love through my days hoping, always, for the opened eyes and burning heart that will allow me to see God in all of this madness. In the walking and talking and in the bread and fish and of course, in the wounds. Always in the wounds. Amen.

In the Most Unexpected Ways

Many mornings when I open this blog I have no idea what I'm going to write about. I don't have a plan. Something might have sparked a small memory for me, but usually the story kind of writes itself. 

People have asked me, what is your writing style ... what is your writing practice, and then I have to kind of twist myself up and try to explain that I don't have one, that writing is something that kind of happens to me and not because of anything I do, any particular technique or habit. Stories happen to me, not unlike a sneeze or a dream ... I don't really have any control over the situation.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, but who cares? It's also counter-intuitive to everything we are taught in this life ... that we're supposed to master something, that we have to work really hard to get good at something. There's some truth to that, but there's also some truth and mystery to the idea that we're supposed to be conduits for what has to come into this world.

How do you write your sermons? people ask me. I don't, I tell them, if I'm feeling brave enough that morning, they kind of write themselves; I just hold the pencil.

Five years ago today Reid was on life support. One year ago today Joe was dying. Somehow, by some mysterious force I was part of their stories and I allowed what I experienced to transform my own life. I suspect that the two of them continue to work their magic through me.

I'm just the conduit, is what I say. Half the battle in this life is getting out of the way.

It's raining, raining like crazy today. I moved into this cottage beside the river in the frozen winter, so I am just now seeing how amazing it is to live beside flowing water. There is water overhead today, falling down on the tin roof that turns it into a beautiful and comforting sound, and water down below, moving swiftly. I feel like some kind of human mermaid-y thing, slipping and sliding in this terrestrial in-between land, 

The Easter story is playing out this week. I remember when I was a kid, staring up at the guy named Jesus hanging from a cross. I had no idea then that execution by crucifixion was a common practice. It was just scary and weird to me. The story makes a little more sense to me now, understanding it within the social and political context of the time. Still, I've never been comfortable with the bowl of granola we were fed that Jesus died for our sins. We're all still sinning like crazy and the world is full of horribleness, so it didn't work very well, if that's the story line. I much prefer Richard Rohr's take on the whole deal which is that God didn't need to be convinced that we're lovable, us silly little humans. Jesus didn't come to convince God any differently about us; Jesus came to show us a thing or two about God. Namely that God is an infinite well of generosity and humor and patience and love. Who the heck doesn't want that on their side?

  All Soul's.

All Soul's.

The other night I had the gift, the honor, the pure joy of sitting with three other Vermonters who are faith community leaders at All Soul's Interfaith Center in Shelburne. One was a Hindu, another a Muslim and the third a rabbi. And me. A Christian. The idea was that we would talk about building bridges, about how we make connections across lines of difference. We talked about generosity and patience and love and curiosity and compassion. And we made people laugh. Fran Stoddard, the moderator and person who organized the whole thing, had these terrific glittery strands in her hair that I wanted to ask her about but never got the chance. She was sitting there in her moderator chair, asking good and important questions about religion and people in Vermont and what people might not understand about our faith traditions and then the light would catch the gold or blue or green sparkle in her hair and it was totally adorable and enchanting.

You know, that's the thing about life. It catches you off-guard. There is glitter in places you don't expect to find glitter. A Hindu, a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian can share the stage and it can be very funny. The rains of this day will make the grass green. And on Sunday morning we will gather in the cemetery at daybreak and think about a guy who died, not because we're sinning jerks, but because we're shining and bright. Because we sparkle in the most unexpected ways.

Amen.

Much Prefe

Don't Believe Everything Your Children Tell You

When they roll their eyes and draw out your name, Mooooom. Or, actually, it sounds more like Maaaaaaaaaam ... and they have your phone in their hand and they make you feel really small and not very smart because you haven't closed the tabs recently.

The lecture is the same every time: about battery life and probably something else, but mostly I think it's a battery life issue. You have let them down because the poor battery on your eight hundred dollar texting device is working overtime because you have opened Mail and Instagram and Voicemail and Alarm and Weather and Maps and Maps and Maps and Kindle Reader and Amazon Music and Voice Memo and the New York Times Grammar Quiz, which is a far better addiction than red wine, you tell them. Seriously! Who doesn't want to be a better copy editor!

They won't hear it. To be so careless as to forget to close your apps! is high on their list of modern transgressions.

You've got bigger things to worry about, I say, as we are loading up the car with posters to head to the pro-gun control/anti-school-shooting rally. Angry young men are using you people as target practice these days. Get in the car.

Things are speeding up and we're all going down, one way or another. The world is so weirdly different now. It used to be that you could walk to school, share your lunch with your friends. No one was allergic to anything and some people's parents didn't even know where they were all day. You could go home with another kid without telling your mother. Everyone's mom was confident that, like the prowling and hungry family dog or cat, you would find your way home in time for supper. 

Yes, my loves, things are in bad shape and we are all going down, but it won't be because of the 38 open tabs on our cell phones, I promise.

 

My Friends are Laughing

They're entitled to it. To yoga I said Never! Actually, I think I might have said NEVER!!

The more I said No, however, the craftier yoga became. She stealthily worked her way into my life until she was sidled up right beside me, nestled inside of a person I love so much that I had to invite my friend and her yoga over for the afternoon. It was as if that goddamned yoga kept following me, smug in her knowledge that she would wear me down, eventually.

I knew it was curtains when I heard my dad telling someone he was doing yoga. Somehow that seemed to be the nail in the coffin. Or I don't know, maybe the pry bar, it's too early to figure out the right metaphor. It was like .... Christ, if my conservative Republican dad is doing yoga, then I better shut up and give it a try, too. That's not actually sound logic, but that's how it went.

Then came The March. It was as if The Yoga loosened the very fibers of my being and they were all rallying and shouting ... Quick! Get her to a march! Make her hold a kitten! See if she'll test drive a Prius!

One by one, the pillars of my Melissa Refuses campaign were starting to fall.

But you know, these kids, these angry teenagers, they're irresistible, captivating. I love listening to them shouting. It feels like the power and energy they're gathering is actually going to cause worn-out institutions to start to crumble. I can just see the little pieces of concrete giving way and I can imagine the whole damn thing falling eventually. These kids are tenacious and smart and articulate and beautiful and madmen with weapons are gunning down their friends. Christ, if I had cowered under a desk while someone walked through my school with an assault rifle and I lived to tell the tale, I'd spend my days screaming at the incompetent and greedy adults who put that in motion, too. I'm on their side. 

And, as Coco pointed out, the women didn't really have a purpose, they were just mad. These kids have an actual goal and the laws are already changing because of them.

  I did it for her.

I did it for her.

Also, a lot of the women were wearing silly pink hats on their heads back then. Representative of their genitalia, I think. Maybe I got that wrong, maybe it was a cat thing, but I doubt Emma Gonzáles' message would be quite so powerful if she were standing at the podium wearing that business.

Do you think men would march in Washington wearing a knitted version of their junk on their head? I asked the nearest man when this was burning a hole in my tolerance. Because if you can imagine tens of thousands of men doing that, then I'm down with it.

It was a derivative of my lifelong argument about make-up: show me a man who has painted his face with goop, one that's not on his way to a club hoping to hook up with another man, and I'm on the make-up train. 

I digress. Yes, I went to a march. Yes, it was uplifting. Yes, we sang songs and walked around town. It was a good way to spend a morning and I ran into a bunch of people I know. Still, I did find myself looking around and thinking ... we're preaching to the choir here; everyone here is on the same page ...

Eventually I got cold and Coco had to go to the bathroom so we went inside the closest church. While I was waiting for her, I saw some roped-off stairs. I wanted to see what the sanctuary looked like and I felt I had enough authority, as a pastor, to bypass the rope and head up, which I don't, of course, but I moved the rope and went upstairs anyway. I found my way to the heart of the place. There was a man sitting by the organ wearing a terrific wool sweater. I went over and said hello and then I sat down and talked with him for a while. He described in great detail the story of the stained glass window behind the alter. He told me about the history of church organs in the state of Vermont. He told me that their pastor was going to retire soon and I could see that he was sad about that. She's the best boss I've ever had, was what he said. 

The church was really beautiful, the man was really kind. I went back downstairs, slid myself past the roping again and rejoined the ranks in the park. I was there for Coco. I was there for the 17 and the 28 and the 13. I was there for Charleston churchgoers and the Pulse partiers, now dead. I was there because I get that we die, it will happen sooner or later, but I would much, much prefer that it not be at the hands of an angry madman with easy access to a gun.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nicer

Sometimes you get in the zone in life and it's great. You are so content, so centered with what you're doing that time passes and you're completely unaware. Because what you're doing is exactly what you should be doing, your heart is in its proper place and your mind and soul are deeply engaged. We've all been there. Gazing at a sleeping baby will do this, walking in the woods, for some of us. Skiing is one thing I can name for myself. There are some universal zones: watching the ocean wave in and out; holding the hand of someone you love.

I think that we can wander through life for a long time unaware that we're looking for that zone, our zone, all along. What is that thing ... what is that thing I was born to do ...?

  In the zone with Nate the Great.

In the zone with Nate the Great.

The zones, the good ones, are different for all of us. For me it's sitting with someone at their kitchen table and listening to them tell me the stories of their life—I never want to leave—people are so captivating. I've seen photographers in the zone, people mowing the lawn, too. Margaret is in the zone when she's teaching me yoga. The sun went down on us the other day, we were so engrossed in what we were doing. Sam, when he's flying through the air; Brett when he's doing the Sunday Times crossword, Coco playing lacrosse, my mom when she's praying. 

We all find our way to our sweet spot in life, eventually. Or at least we hope to, that's the idea. The thing is that it feels like there are more and more opportunities for derailment; there are crappy zones, too, places and spaces and people that draw us in and then suck the life out of us. 

I don't really care about the data mining stuff in the news recently in regards to the Book of Face. We all knew, we can't pretend this is news. I've come to see that Facebook is just one of those zones that doesn't feel good. Spend more than a few minutes there and you feel like you need a shower. Sure, this could be said about the vast majority of things we do online, but Facebook gets the blue ribbon when it comes to being a zone of malfeasance. Yes, yes, it has its good points. Yes, I have connected with people there I probably wouldn't have otherwise, and yes, it has been a good tool at different times in my life.

But mostly, mostly, I just want fill my days with more of the uplifting zones, the productive zones, the good ones. I want to use my time that way. And honestly, I would be afraid ... if someone made a pie chart of the ways I spend my time ... there have absolutely have been times when I know it would make me cringe to see the truth. Can you imagine, if, at the moment of your death, some sort of accounting ghost met you out there with a graph of how you spent your hours and suddenly you were faced with the truth? You'd be like ... can I go back? Can I do it over?

I'm not sure. I don't know if we get to come back and try again. Management hasn't sent that memo out to us pastors yet. In the meantime, I'm going to hedge my bets on maybe and try to focus on a more graceful, hopefully meaningful use of the hours I have left. 

And I want to mention something really sweet that has happened since I stopped logging on to FB so much: in the past week I had no fewer than four events when I reached out to someone and they replied with, I was thinking of you at the same time! Could be a coincidence, but I like to think that because my attention is more focused on the things of this world and the people I love, the energy we are sending and receiving, directly to and from one another, is stronger, clearer. No data-mining middle men. It's all just ... nicer.

I love you all and am infinitely grateful that you are a reader. 

Amen.