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Archive for October, 2010

the grace to lose

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Back to a recurring theme (for those of you who know me, that is), one that has haunted me for years and is (sorry for the cliche) close to my heart.  At least any sort of mention of it makes me cry, so I suppose it must be.  Story first, then poem.

Most people who know me know that my parents ran a boarding home for elderly people for most of my childhood, from about 4 years old till I was a junior in college.  We had many people stay at our house, some for literally hours, some for several years.  I’ve often thought about writing a book about it, but the fact that I was so young for most of it makes it difficult to give any sort of real details rather than hazy memories.  But one lady I remember very clearly.  I think she stayed about two days, maybe three, and I was probably twelve or thirteen at the time.

I’m not sure exactly what was wrong with her, but she had some sort of cancer and had basically come to our house to die.  When she came the first day, I helped make her welcome and comfortable, as we always did.  She was cheerful and sweet (from what I can remember), and I didn’t think she was all that sick.

Within hours, though, she had worsened dramatically.  The next day, or maybe the day after, she was so close to dying that they brought in a priest to give her last rites.  After he and her family left, I stood in her doorway.  I had seen plenty of our elderly people worsen, and some I had seen dead after they died in their sleep, but I had never seen someone actually dying before.

You know how they say that someone’s breath rattles in their throat?  Hers did.  I remember standing in the doorway listening to her breathe, the rattle in and out.  I felt like I could hear her life leaving her, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I don’t know how long I stood there, but I remember thinking, “I don’t ever want to get old.  I want to die young.  I never want that to be me.”

I tried once in college to explain this to a friend of mine; we had gotten into a debate on the ethicality of euthanasia — I was for it, she was against.  It was emotional on both sides, of course.  I don’t pretend to know what should be done in all situations, but I also remember my grandfather dying of cancer, very slowly.  I was too little then to know if he was in much pain, but I’m sure he was.  It seems to me that is is more dignified to let someone go while they are still themselves, still human and in control of their mind and body.  It seems cruel to let them hang on and wither away to nothing, to die with a rattle in their throat because they can’t breathe anymore.

I wrote a poem a while ago for all those who I saw die over the years, and all those who have to watch their loved ones disappear.  To me, death for them is letting go of life, and maybe it should be a choice to let go sooner, and maybe that is wrong.  But here is a threnody for that lady whose name I can’t remember, and the others who drifted away quietly, letting go and floating into the Dark.

deadflower

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Threnody

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Lively, sparkling,

Full of surprises and sunshine

Till the frost came,

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Now she lies like a snapped flower,

Limp white petal-hands,

Her head fallen to one side,

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Soon she’ll be a husk

Becoming earth again.

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Why is “to die” an action verb

When it renounces all action

Gives up, slips out, fades away like the mist,

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Letting go?

sunset

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Water of life

I grew up in Maine (which all of you know, most likely).  I remember going out on rainy days and playing around dragging leaves out of the culvert, splashing in the puddles, and walking back to drink from “our” waterfall.  My family has a cabin on a little lake that a water-bottling company gets their water from, and we were never afraid to drink from it, either.  We had two wells at our house, and we were often at the ocean on Sabbath afternoons, where I would eat the seaweed (the kind with bubbles filled with little drops of salt water — you can only eat so many before you need a regular drink of water).  I never really realized that there are places you can’t do any of those things until I left Maine.  Suddenly I know people who wouldn’t even drink their tap water without running it through a Brita (yes, I do it too), much less drink from a LAKE!

This blog post is about water because today is Blog Action Day and this year’s topic is water.   Here are the facts:

Unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Unclean drinking water can incubate some pretty scary diseases, like E. coli, salmonella, cholera and hepatitis A. Given that bouquet of bacteria, it’s no surprise that water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week.

More people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets. This means that sewage spills into rivers and streams, contaminating drinking water and causing disease.

Every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water. They do this while carrying cisterns weighing around 40 pounds when filled in order to gather water that, in many cases, is still polluted. Aside from putting a great deal of strain on their bodies, walking such long distances keeps children out of school and women away from other endeavors that can help improve the quality of life in their communities.

It takes 6.3 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger. That 6.3 gallons covers everything from watering the wheat for the bun and providing water for the cow to cooking the patty and baking the bun. And that’s just one meal! It would take over 184 billion gallons of water to make just one hamburger for every person in the United States.

The average American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world. From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, Americans use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. Now imagine using that same amount to bathe, wash your clothes, cook your meals and quench your thirst.

The worst part of these facts is that they are not necessarily resultant of war or other disasters; they’re just the way of life for many people.  (I remember the water in Bangkok not being potable.  We all (even the Thais) bought water and it was normal.)  How much of the world’s water is polluted from acid rain, for example?

Water is pretty basic.  Knowing that people are dying because they have to drink bad water, while I use it rather prodigally because we don’t have to pay for it makes me feel really guilty.  It should make all of us feel guilty, at least enough to donate so others can get clean water.

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The devotional for today was a story of a mother who kept finding her baby son’s plush football in his crib, though she never put it there.  She discovered that her older son kept putting it in with the baby in the hopes that he would grow up to be a pro football player.  She drew the correlation between that and keeping a Bible on the nightstand, never opening it, but hoping to have a better relationship with God all the same.

Unfortunately for my spiritual life, this struck a chord with me.  I do have a Bible, several journals, and some study books beside my bed, but I’m more likely to dive into the library books sitting there, or just go straight to sleep.  My personal religious life is like an on-again, off-again relationship between two teenagers who can’t seem to figure out what they really want.  I want to be close to God, but it seems like something else is always more important than daily Bible study and prayer, or an event at church.

I guess the question for me at the moment is, how do I become someone who wants to spend time with God?  I obviously have the best of intentions, but we all know what that means.  I’m just another paving brick on the road to hell, if I can’t get my act together.  I need something more than just a little devotional story when I remember to read it during my planning period.  I need to feel my separation from a close relationship with God the way I feel it when I’ve had a fight with Kent — hollow in the stomach and tears close to the surface, until I make it up with him.  That’s the way a distance from God should feel, but it doesn’t.  I try to take baby steps, like reading the devotional, or studying the Sabbath School lesson at night with Kent, but it’s always so easy to just leave God out of my day altogether.  Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me — others seem to do it easily.

I have all the questions and no answers.

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sometimes i could reach up

pick a bouquet of stars

feel God’s smile and his nearness

sometimes the cover slams over

the deep well-shaft of me

so thick i cannot see the light

i sometimes feel so close

i can hear his heartbeat but

i always seem to drift

away like a feather on the

tumbled wind of whim

i write poetry to him

about deep love and sacrifice

then angry (like now) at an

interruption i irritably demand

aloneness

i wonder do i really love him

or do i hide behind my

self-righteous rhetoric

hoping no one will notice

the chasm in my face

to know one thing and say

another to snap or scold

too easy it is for me to

turn like a sheep

away from the Shepherd

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