On the day my father died, I came home from work early and sat with him. His eyes were closed most of the time, which was par for the course over the last two years. He’d mostly stopped speaking, but when I kissed him he moaned a little and fluttered his eyelids, acknowledging my presence.
I had a vision of him then. He was outside, moving through a field. Ahead of him, the sun was so bright that I couldn’t see what was there, and it threw him into silhouette. I couldn’t see his face, because he was striding away, moving quickly as usual. But his hair was thick and dark, and he moved with purpose and ease.
In the bed, he grasped my hand.
After he died, I held it for a very long time. I remembered my duty: to be a witness. His skin was soft and smooth. He lay as if sleeping. I memorized his face and his fingernails. For each of my sisters and brothers, I held his hand, keeping it warm though he no longer could. Silently, one by one they each had their turn: Continue reading “Visions”
Don Rowland Searle
January 14, 1942 – June 13, 2017
Loving husband and father. Doting grandfather. Engineer, gardener, Manchester United fan. Steadfast, gentle, honest, genial, determined, kind.
Grateful for the gift of his life, our hearts are broken at the loss of it.
Continue reading “Don Rowland Searle”
My father came home from the hospital last night, and his prognosis is uncertain. While I feel a deep sense of peace with the decision to bring him home and prioritize his quality of life, I struggle to express that peace meaningfully, especially with my children. I find that I am a pillar of strength except for the moments when I am not. This is a list of things to remember in the midst of uncertainty.
The short version:
Stay true to the Coach Taylor principle: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Even when you are, by definition, losing.
The long version:
If your goal is to avoid death, you will eventually be disappointed.
Don’t give in to the temptation to turn grief into outrage. Every death is painful for someone, but not every death is an injustice. We’ve gotten so many good years with our dad; some people never know their fathers; some people’s fathers die much younger; some people’s fathers live to 101. Saying it’s not fair that your dad is dying is like saying it’s not fair that the stone you picked up isn’t a bird. Continue reading “Things to remember right now; AKA, the Coach Taylor principle”
Every morning as I arrive at work, I make a right turn down into the driveway that goes under my office building to the garage. I have to cross the sidewalk, and am acutely aware that this very last part of my commute could be the most dangerous. The sidewalks are busy, full of people on their way to work or finishing their workouts, unlikely to notice an underground garage in the middle of the block. It’s true today, as always.
I look carefully to the left. No pedestrians. I look carefully to the right. No joggers, or women with strollers, or people with the earbuds in and music turned up. The way is clear; I make my way forward and turn across the sidewalk.
WHAM. On my right, out of nowhere, a man slams his hands into my car window, the rest of his body landing with a thud a split second later, his face up against the window, before bouncing backwards again. I roll down the window as he waves and turns around. “Are you okay!?” Continue reading “Fast and furious”
I’ve been away this weekend on a retreat in the mountains. The program has been centered on quiet, and on the works of Flannery O’Connor. And so, I re-read “Revelation” this weekend, and I am reminded of just how treacherous a trap it is to believe that you have sufficient good judgment to sort people into the deserving and undeserving. (If you haven’t read “Revelation,” you should.)
Recently, I eavesdropped on a debate my friend Jordan got involved in on Facebook. He astutely argued that if you’re interested in building a political party that can win elections, you should stop thinking of people as existing on a binary scale–you’re either a good person or a bad person–and instead think of each individual as a person who does a good thing, or a person who is currently doing a less good thing, and even a person who is doing a bad thing.
In “Revelation, ” the protagonist Mrs. Turpin reasonably observes that she is fortunate to be middle class, but credits herself for responding appropriately: She is stewarding the resources given to her. She has manners. She isn’t rude, even to people who don’t really deserve her kindness. She’s a respectable, decent person by all commonly held standards of the time. But despite being a good woman, she is also, as a girl she encounters says, “a wart-hog from hell.”
The story is not about how someone who thought she was good was actually bad. It is about about both/and. Mrs. Turpin is both good and bad. She is herself and a wart-hog from hell, too. As are we all. Continue reading “Sunday morning, on mercy and uncertainty”
Last week, I worked at Welcome Table, a twice-monthly free dinner at my church, open to the public. Early in the evening, I went from table to table with a pitcher of lemonade, offering drinks to guests waiting for dinner to be served. At a table in the back, I spoke to no one in particular as I asked, “How are you tonight?”
As I poured lemonade into a plastic cup, the man to my left said, “Much better now!”
“Good!” I smiled. By the way the other men at the table laughed, I knew that he wasn’t talking about the lemonade, but I pretended he was. I filled the glasses and moved along to the next table.
Later, I circled the room to help those who’d finished their meals, scanning for spills to clean up or for dishes to clear from those who’d finished their meals. Each time I approached that table in the back, there was more laughter. Probably just enjoying each other’s company, I hear an inner voice say. The man called me over, even though I’d already bussed that table.
“Can I help you with something?”
“You already did, honey.” More laughter. Keep smiling. Keep working.
Continue reading “Early warning system”
I wrote this for church this morning, where I led the portion of the service called “prayers of the people.” Happy Easter!
So I interrupt your regularly scheduled joyous Easter program to bring you: the prayers of the people. Seriously—as I prepared these prayers, I worried about being huge downer. There’s a section of the prayers of the people where you’re meant to pray for the world, and nations, and leaders—and it was hard to edit down that list to a manageable size.
It wasn’t yet Easter—I was writing and praying during Holy Week: on Thursday, when Jesus was betrayed and arrested. On Friday, when he was crucified. And mostly on Saturday, when his followers scattered in disbelief and grief and hopelessness. On Thursday and Friday and Saturday, so many things in our world seem so far from what we thought God was going to be like. There is so much suffering.
But I remembered: part of the beautiful mystery of the cross and the empty tomb is that suffering is not evidence of the absence of God but that God is present— even and maybe especially—in our pain. The love of God is stronger and more certain than it maybe appears to be on Saturday— I remembered that as followers of Jesus, we must bear the good news to people living in a Saturday world that Sunday is coming!—in fact, Sunday is here! Christ is risen!
And so we can bring our suffering to God with confidence, and hope, and even some inexplicable joy. Continue reading “The prayers of the people”