Tuesday, August 25, 2015


If you had told me seven years ago that I would survive the events of the following week, I would have told you that I would not.

Which is true, in some ways.  That girl is gone.  She disappeared late one night in Chicago, hours before she even knew it.

Because our minds no longer work as they did before, it took me seven years ~ seven! ~ to register the proximity of the coming and going days of the children of the four women, me included, who met online soon after our children died, and shared much of those first tender years together.  Two birthdays in the past couple of weeks.  Another loss anniversary in the next few days.  And then, the day Josh was born, followed by the day he died.  I am inundated ~ not unhappily ~ by words and pictures from heroic women, women still moving forward.  Seven and eight years later.

I could not tell you how we do that.

It seems to me that at seven years, I might have words of wisdom to share. 

I am grateful, so grateful, to be his mother. 

I am not grateful that he is unable to live out his life, that the world does not enjoy his many gifts, and that I no longer share his company.   I am, by turn and all at once, horrified, bereft, angered, heartbroken, baffled, lost.
I can hardly stand it, actually.  Perhaps that is the wisdom I have to offer: You wouldn't believe how far you can continue to walk when you can't stand it.  How brave you can be.
One of my FB friends, who lost her son to suicide only two years ago, posted this song last year.  A vampire wedding song?  There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . .   .  A thousand years, and a thousand more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Pretty Pictures

Over the past several months, I've been re-posting a lot of nature and scenic photos on Facebook.  A lot of them come from the Department of the Interior; others, from various photographers focused on Ohio (my home state), the Blue Ridge Mountains (North Carolina being my pretend home state), northern Florida (the other one), the National Park Service . . .  you get the idea. 
Sometimes friends thank me for re-posting those beautiful images.  I suppose that's what it looks like I'm doing: posting pretty pictures.  Or humorous or moving or unusual ones.
But what I am really doing is FIGHTING BACK.
I have no idea how one heals from the suicide of a child.  But it occurred to me, last winter or so, that one possibility might be to recover some small portion of my enthusiasm for the beauty of this universe.  When a child dies, so does pretty much everything else.  But small glimmers of life eventually reappear here and there, and for me, they take the form and shape of nature.
Every time you see one of those posts, you are seeing me say: There is life beyond death.
Some time after I started collecting these photographs, I came across an article about Amherst College psychology professor Catherine Sanderson, who apparently does a lot of public speaking (including a famous TED Talk) on the topic of happiness.   More explicitly, on what people think makes them happy and what, in contrast, actually does.  Nature is high on her list of what makes us happy.
I don't know what I think about happiness, other than that it can be hard to come by.  But I'm not surprised by Catherine Sanderson's conclusion about nature.
Image: from the Department of the Interior FB page ~ a RWB hitches a ride on a RTH

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Prayer with the Mothers

One outcome of loss: it does, eventually, create in one a sense of solidarity with others who have experienced something similar.
I'm not much for praying for specific outcomes ~ but I do pray for healing, whatever that might mean.
And so I pray with the mothers.
The mothers whose children are dying, or have died.
The mothers whose children are starving.
The mothers whose children are refugees.
The mothers whose children are immigrants.
The mothers whose children will soon be motherless.
The mothers whose children are soldiers.
The mothers whose children are victims of terrorists.
The mothers whose children are terrorists.
The mothers whose children walk out into a dangerous world every day.
The mothers whose children are being raised by other mothers.
The mothers who leave abusive relationships with their precious children and little else.
The mothers whose child-daughters are forced into early marriages.
I support, in a very small way, an organization called ASCEND, which is helping a small group of young Afghan women climb mountains.  I pray with their mothers, who are watching their daughters take steps that may be dangerous in many ways beyond the physical.
I live in a world in which most mothers worry about which pre-school or which soccer team, which wedding caterer or which dress.  Because of my son's death and thanks to the internet, I know many mothers who have lost children ~ but not among my daily life friends.  But also because of our loss, I have a much better understanding than I did of what motherhood is for perhaps the majority of mothers in this world.
I don't go into this kind of detail often.  But at least once every day, I simply pray:
The mothers.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Scout 'n Me

I haven't yet read Go Set a Watchman, although it's sitting on my ipad, and I don't know that I will.
All of the reasons pro and con have already been thoroughly digested and analyzed on every form of media outlet, and I don't have anything new to offer.

I just have Scout.  And me.

TKM was my first grown-up book.  I read it when I was ten and in fifth grade, mostly with the aid of a flashlight, in the event that one of the real grown-ups would get up in the night to go to the bathroom and see a sliver of light under my door.

I was mesmerized.  I did not know what the word "rape" meant and, when we discussed the book at dinner, my own father, who looks a great deal like Gregory Peck, did nothing to dissuade me from the notion that it meant a violent act by a man against a woman which was, for some reason unclear to me, more heinous that a man pummeling someone of his own gender.

I did not understand anything at all about racial tensions in the South, or anywhere else.  In my rural, all-white world, they were not discussed, at least not in my hearing.  Within the next few years that would change, and I would discover a depth of racism in the extended family of my own dead mother that left me as as stunned as a girl otherwise unexposed to much of the world could be, but at ten I did not understand.

What I did understand was Scout, and Jem, and Dill.

To the extent that TKM is a coming-of-age novel, it was ours.

I was Scout: motherless, feisty, disinterested in convention, absorbed in figuring out a world in which adults played significant but peripheral roles.

My step-brother, same age as me, was Jem: physically bolder and more adept, but still my partner in our age of discovery.

My younger biological brother was Dill: the face of daydreaming innocence in the wake of tragedy, easily overlooked by adults until suddenly and occasionally he wasn't.

The shack down the road was the Radley house, and the elderly owner's German shepherds, lolling in the sun as they stretched across the blacktop between us on our bikes and town with its dime store and ice cream, were our Boo.

The town, a couple of miles down that road, was our Maycomb.  Many of the adults who populate Scout's world were easily recognizable in ours.

I can't relate many of our stories, as they involve how country children with free reign and bicycles spent their time in the early 1960s , and we will probably carry them to our graves.

But I can say that the curiosity, and recklessness, and sometimes courage, and fierce loyalty evinced by the Finch children and their friend Dill were ours.

I'm not sure that, even all these decades later, Jean Louise will speak my story as Scout did.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Songs of Life

Ok, I admit it . . .  the technology has advanced beyond my capabilities, and I don't know how to make a playlist.  But maybe Marie's Friday Five will motivate me to learn

A while ago I noticed that people in a small cyber group of which I’m a part seemed to have playlists for all kinds of situations, so I started finding songs to fit my moods. And I’ll be at the Wild Goose Festival this weekend, so music is on my mind. For today’s Friday Five, tell us about your favorite songs for different situations.

1. What song do you listen to or sing to deal with times when you are sad?

River (Joni)

2. What’s a song that inspires you?

Girl on Fire (Alicia Keys)

3. What’s a song that reminds you of a happy time in your childhood?

We Come From the Mountains (a summer camp song)

4. What’s a song that makes you want to dance?

I hope someone will have some ideas here . . .

5. What’s a song that you share with someone you love?

Up On The Roof (JT and Carole King)

Bonus question: What’s a hymn or spiritual song you love to sing?

Bring Many Names

Friday, July 3, 2015

Delicate Arch Hike (Utah)

We made a family trip to Utah in May, and since my friend Elaine has said she'd like to go to the iconic Delicate Arch in Arches National Park (my new favorite), I thought I'd provide a travel guide.
As you can see from the map, it's possible to hike a short trail and see the arch from a distance:

That was not my idea, however ~ and my daughter has come close to disowning me for following through on hiking the trail right up to the arch.
We reached the trail about 5:30, hoping to see the sunrise hit the red rock at a little after 6:00 am.  When it became apparent that I could not make the hike in half an hour, I urged my husband and daughter on, figuring I'd walk at my own pace.  Even my own pace was strenuous.  As I considered my imminent heart attack, I looked at the view behind me and hoped that someone would remember to say at my funeral that I died livin' the dream:
I did not mind my many pauses at all:
Most of the second half of the hike up covers a huge rock face, of which this is a small part (looking back down):
The only markers at that point are a series of cairns, which might explain why, when I finally reached the arch, or as close as I was going to get, there was no sign of husband or daughter.  Frantic at the thought of what might have happened to them ~ this hike has its scary moments ~ I was imagining having to hike down an hour and call the Park Service to mount a search and rescue effort.  I finally found someone who had seen them, and said they had given up and turned back.
It seems that they went the wrong way and came upon Delicate Arch on the other side of the bowl on which it sits, and discovered themselves looking down a sheer cliff.  They couldn't imagine that I had continued hiking, so they headed down the rock, not knowing that by veering to the left they would have been able to reach a narrow trail and a fairly wide cliff on which to walk and sit.  That's where I was, and here's what I saw at about 6:30 am:
And, looking the other way:
Was it worth it?  I'd say it was the highlight of my year so far.  But I think that if I want to go back someday, I'm on my own!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Political Participation (Friday Five)

Today's Friday Five by janintx offers a series of personal questions or . . .  "If you prefer for this Friday Five, you may write about any of the current affairs that you are thinking about." I think I'll make up my own to accompany the latter:
1. What is the first national tragedy or crisis of which you remember being acutely aware?
The assassination of Robert Kennedy.  I had become, at the age of twelve, interested in politics, largely due to his charisma and energy.  I recall being home from my first year of boarding school, wandering out to the living room in my pajamas early in the morning, turning on the television to the Today show, and watching in horror as the events of the previous evening unfolded on the screen.
2. What was the first march or walk in which you participated?
During the spring of my senior year of high school, many of us participated in a 20-mile walk to raise funds to combat hunger.  I don't remember where we walked ~ Northampton, maybe? ~ but I do remember that my big toenails turned black and fell off a day or so later!
3. What was the most moving event in which you ever participated in response to a national crisis?
Each spring, my entire school of 700 girls sang a Sacred Concert.  I realize, now, that we were the beneficiaries of an incredible choral music tradition and education.   In May 1970, we were completely absorbed by the Kent State shootings as the concert approached.  Our brilliant music director rehearsed a powerfully slow and stirring arrangement of "Once to Every Man and Nation" with us for the end of the concert.  I have never heard that arrangement since except on my recording of the concert and on the school website.  Many of us have remarked in the decades following that we have never forgotten that experience.
4. How has your church responded to racial issues in our society?
Last winter, we used some grant money to take dozens of high school students and teachers from two schools to see the movie Selma and brought them back to church for lunch and a panel discussion with community leaders. My congregation is small and struggling, but that event, in which about ten of our members also attended the film and helped with the lunch, created tremendous positive energy for us and helped us see what kinds of contributions we might make to our community.
5. What are you doing about Charleston in worship tomorrow?
So far, what we have is a statement of prayer and solidarity on our sign out front.  Tomorrow, as part of our continuing visioning process, we are taking time during worship to do an exercise designed to enable people to indicate what areas of mission are important to them.  I had planned about a two-minute sermon to introduce the process, but now I think that I will add a few sentences, referencing the Pope's encyclical on climate change and the Charleston shootings, to remind my people that Christianity is a revolutionary faith, one which asks us to live the whole of our lives differently and in which even the most basic acts of faith can be a risky business, and that we are called to embrace the gospel in many ways we might not expect.