Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Honoring Mom

A rainy Tuesday afternoon.  Soft light and silence caress me.  I pour the coffee in the mug--French Roast.  Dark, bitter, and warm. This was "our thing".  Two o'clock in the afternoon whenever I was home, we'd sit at the kitchen table, drink coffee--"Mary likes warm coffee ice cream," she would remind herself--and gossip.  A smile spreads across
my face. . .I raise the mug. . . Here's to you, Mom.

Last Thursday was the first anniversary of her death.  My family came to Chicago.  We ate good food, saw a play at the Goodman, and endured a Cubs game-- fitting ways to honor a woman who cherished her family, the arts, and a good time.  She would have relished seeing us together, her three children and son-in-law.   Family who love--and even like--each other.  The world is full of people who don't have that. The fact we do is in large measure because of Mom.

"You get to go through my underwear drawer," she'd say whenever we talked about her death.   A dubious privilege, and one that, alas, my difficulties traveling kept me from enjoying.   Then, "I want to be launched in a rocket, with my hand positioned so that every time I orbit the earth, you'll see me waving to you."

Thankfully, she lived well past my teenage years, that time when I fought so hard to prove myself and assert my independence.  Somewhere along the way she stopped being MY MOTHER and became the person who is also my mother.  It lightened a burden for both of us.

In her last years, I would remember with her:  The sight of a bright red cardinal in the window on a gray, snowy day.   How hard she tried to get me to like books--

("I bet you regret that now!" 


And the words she spoke to a moody 13-year-old me:

"You have a responsibility to make this world a better place for your having been here."
They are a guiding force in my life.

The loss of her vision and memory engulfed her in depression, yet she faced her death with crystal clear courage.

"Put a lot of laughter in your life," she told me during what we knew would be our final conversation.  Our last words were a sort of benediction to each other:

"My love will always be with you."
"And mine with you."


Saturday, August 9, 2014


Ok, I will now attempt what amounts to a magic trick for the technologically impaired:  Below are some of my dad's pictures, in all their beauty, and a picture of my mom and dad.  Special thanks to my brother, Bill, for getting them to me.  He really is the magician in the family:

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Moments with My Father

I have spent the week thinking of my father, who sleeps for increasingly long periods of time, and is apparently having seizures.  When I called him earlier this week, he did not want to talk.  Yesterday he talked, but his words made no sense.

Some months ago, as his health began yet another decline, I reflected on the gifts which he has brought to my life.  As my family and I continue to search for ways to express our love for him while respecting his needs, I share that reflection, and pray for his peace:

                                                       My Cyrus

          When the Israelites had been in exile for a generation and more, Cyrus the Mede—that Persian, gentile, “not one of us” king—told them they could go home.  And they learned:  that God shows up in amazing places, and can speak through anyone.

          The summer I was 19, I went with my father to a nature preserve, where he spent the day taking pictures.  On the way there, he told his would become reverend daughter that he didn’t believe in God:

          “I go to church because your mom wants me to, I guess.”

Years later, in seminary, I hung the gorgeous, breathtaking pictures he took that day on the walls of my room, and told friends, “My father says he’s an atheist, yet his pictures bear witness to God.  You cannot create something that beautiful without being connected to the holy.”

          At 26, I was jobless, depressed, and living at home.  My father, who had spent most of his life avoiding expressions of intimacy at all costs, looked at me and said, “I know things look pretty bad right now, but I promise you, things will get better.”

          A few years ago, I went home to visit my parents.  We hadn’t seen each other in three years.  They were in their nineties; I was a lot more disabled than I use to be.  Traveling wasn’t easy for any of us.  We knew this would likely be the last time we saw each other.  My mother couldn’t get enough of me.  My father barely said two words.  Not because he was mean or evil, but because he was Dad.  Words were as hard for him as walking was for me.   Yet when I left, I saw him standing at the window—crying.

          From my atheist father--


          Who took gorgeous pictures

          Who said just the right words

          Who had tears in his eyes


I learned—


that God shows up in amazing places, and can speak through anyone.