Wednesday, February 21, 2007
I, too, my friends, am going into the dark night with Jesus. That burst of repentance a few days ago kicked started something good in me. I am facing my sinfulness in this season of repentance, and looking to the passion of Christ--and I don't mean the movie! I mean the horror that even Mel couldn't convey of He who created the universe, stipped down to the poverty of being made Man, and finally to the cross where naked, flesh ripped and hanging from his bones, He hung.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me."
It makes giving up meat and dairy products a trifle, doesn't it?
I have to tell you, I have enjoyed regularly blogging for a change. It's been awhile! A long while. I got my own computer back last night. YAY!!!! And I was thinking of how great it would be to share this journey with you. But sometimes, God wants us for Himself alone.
I also recognize my hunger for readers and the love I get here. Too much hunger. And that is sin. When I watched Lisa and Shanna release their blogs to God, I decided I would stay and tell the story! Well, there is a spiritual discipline called "secrecy". Good heavens! Imagine me keeping something to myself. Maybe one day I will share my first Great Lenten journey with you. Only God knows, and He's not telling.
So, I am relinquishing my addiction to you being here whenever I show up. I am shooing you away from the computer, and urging you to look upon the scandalous, terrible beauty of the cross.
You have no need of me. I love you.
Go with God.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Well, I didn't really take her to rehab. I took her to a place where intake can be done and then she'd be taken to a program. It's a scary thing. I had some flashbacks myself from when I sat in that small room years ago, fresh out of the emergency room after I'd swallowed a handful of benadryl tablets on a day my anger blazed within and nearly destroyed me. But today wasn't about me. It was about her. See, I'd been in too many horrible places to be too afraid. The song Adoramus te Domine (Jesus we adore You) rang in my soul. God was more imporant than food still. I had a little joy to work with.
The people were a sad lot. A young white woman, blackened eye, ligiture marks on her neck where she'd been strangled. Poor thing. Fragile as burned paper.
A beautiful black woman, cautiously eating apple sauce, sitting to herself. Quiet. Looking out of place. Like she belonged in a classroom teaching school.
Two younger black women huddled together like they were the best of girlfriends, as if their pairing would guard them against the terrors lurking within and without.
Two bored, young, black male orderlies. An older black woman doing intake.
The woman I'd brought in and I sat down, and the others ambled around, going in and out of the building for a smoke or a bit of air. She and I read the latest people. We clucked about poor Anna Nicole Smith, God rest her soul. That's when the trouble began. The police and EMTs bring the young white guy in on a stretcher and he's that strange blend of drugged docility barely containing rage. He's in four point restraints. He's in a hospital gown.
I don't know what has happened to bring any of these sad souls here except for the one I've brought. I am hurting for all of them. I try not to look at them full on, though my writer curiousity often gets the best of me. A tall, cappucino colored woman bears a striking resemblence to the rhythm and blues singer Jill Scott. I love Jill. I think she has to chops to be our newest Billie Holiday. And oddly, this woman, walking around, all hard and angry black woman bravado, every now and then she lets out the refrain of a John Legend song, Ordinary People.
"Take it sloooow," she sings. And then as if some inner censor forbids any more, she stops.
One of the orderlies, a stocky light-skinned man lets the White man out of his restraints. They take him over to intake to be assessed first, even though the woman I brought in came before him. Something about four point restraints is compelling, I suppose.
Just when I'm discovering the bevy of men claiming to be Anna Nicole's baby's daddy, I hear the orderly get loud. They are behind me so I didn't see what happened, but the next thing I know, a sucker punch is thrown. This gives way to some serious pimp slapping and a drugged out confused and partially naked and mostly exposed kid was no match for the orderly who in street language, "opened up a can." The black intake woman had to hustle us all to the other side of the room, not that it took much effort. The beat up White girl started crying profusely, and the singing Jill Scott clone started punching the White guy, too! It was utter chaos.
They locked the doors and none of us, including me, could leave. I guess I don't have to tell you who got put back in restraints. The beat up white girl looked so scared that I went to comfort her. I held her in my arms and let her cry and told her that she wouldn't walk though this alone. God was with her. And she was going to come out on the other side alright. I really believed she would. And I think I was there to tell her so.
I asked the intake woman once the dust settled if I could pray with anyone who wanted it. She said, "Start with me! I just got one more boy at home. I hate this job. Stuff like this..."
And then I asked if anyone else wanted me to pray with them. They all looked at me like I'd asked if anyone wanted to do Riverdance in the middle of the room. In fact, I think the Riverdance may have gotten a taker. But the singer challenged me. Got mad that I'd asked people to pray. "Who are you?" She bellowed.
"Nobody." I said, which was pretty much true. I didn't come sporting any labels. I didn't come to "minister" to them. "I just wanted to know if anybody else wanted to pray. I've been here before. I know how it is to be here."
"It's not safe. You need to pray for yourself."
"I do pray for myself, " I said. "But I'm here if anyone else needs me."
"You can't be praying in a place like this," she said again. "It ain't safe."
"You can pray in hell, " I said. And God knows I have.
But she was right, wasn't she. Praying isn't safe! Jesus died while He was praying. Praying just might change EVERYTHING, and no, that ain't safe.
The woman I was with nudged me. The singer was a lot bigger than me, and the person I was with thought she was going to open up a can. But unfortunately, an unexpected benefit of being with demon lover man was that I learned to take a punch. You gotta really bring it to kill me. Oh, yes. The old desire for self-preservation reared up, but I could tell the singer needed me to be Jesus. And even if she beat my behind I was going to count myself a martyr loving her.
It took a lot of time for things to get back to normal. We were all still locked in and restless. The White guy was screaming that all of us were niggers. The orderly had returned as if administering smack downs was all in a day's work, and the Jill Scott Clone kept egging me on.
A litte comment here. A little one there. She was begging for my attention. She expected me to fear her. This woman was every girl bully I've ever known, and yes, I'd just seen her fearlessly punching a man. I was afraid of her. But it ain't courage if you ain't scared, that's what an old wise woman told me. When the woman I took in finally went to the desk for intake I went over to the window right by her. I could tell I surprised her. Heck, I surprised myself.
I peered out the window. "The days are getting longer. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for Spring."
She didn't say anything, and I sat beside her. Looked at her as if my eyes were asking if we could talk. I had to remember which one of us brought Jesus with her. Which one of us had the real power here. Mostly, I had to remember which one of us was really scared, and which one had the love, and only by God's grace, to dole out.
"What you do bad?" she asked me.
"I took a bunch of pills."
"Oh. You a suicide." She said it LOUD, and was surprised when I didn't flinch. See, I wasn't a suicide. I was a suicide attempt survivor, three times over. She'd have to dig deeper than that to shame me.
"Yeah." I said, even though I was so alive and talking to her. "But I've done a lot of bad things."
"Why you do that to yo' self?"
"Sad. Crazy. Hurting." I shrugged. "Hey. Do you know you bear a striking resemblence to Jill Scott."
"I am Jill Scott, " she said, a wicked little smile creeping across her lips.
"I knew it!" I teased. "Can you sing?"
And she went back to, "Take it slooooooow." It was not bad. If whatever deviled her let her loose long enough, she might just have a lovely voice.
"Nice!" I say.
We chit chat, Jill Scott and I, and since she likes John Legend so much I ask her if she's heard his newest CD. It's better than the first. I tell her so. I watch this hard, angry, challenging woman soften the longer we talk.
Love goes a long way. And there is no fear in love. I truly believe, that even for that short time of pushing back my plate, praying all those prayers, saying, "God, I'm a mess, but I'm going to let you be more important than food just because I need you so badly..." I think keeping lent gave a little boost to my courage, and I took a chance on love with her that maybe a few days ago I wouldn't have been able to do, full of myself and whatever I wanted to stuff down my mouth with no attention, no mindfulness, no godliness, and no love, not even for myself.
No credit on my part. I'm the worst faster ever. I'm just telling a story. But it makes me wonder.
Now let me tell you a miracle. They weren't able to take the person I'd brought in. The fight had thrown everything off balance, all except a few graces God wanted to bestow. As I got up and prepared to leave I said, "I'll see you later, Jill."
She nodded, her expression like stone, her mask of toughness firmly in place. "Aw 'ight. Love y'all," she said.
I just smiled at her. Waved. Shook my head marvelling at God as I left.
And that was that.
Monday, February 19, 2007
I remember the first year I went I said, "This is a wonderful network." Nun Katherine gave me a gentle and loving rebuke, "We're a family." She told me. By the end of that weekend, only four months into my journey into the Orthodox Church, I was grafted into that family as surely as I am into the Burney's here in Ann Arbor.
I made Ken sit with me as I went through the photographs of last year's conference. I pointed out all my lovies. I felt that bittersweet pang of joy and sorrow and missing them. I'd been thinking of them most of the day.
See, I've got this story. I wrote it years ago. It was my second novel. It's too short although it's finished, and it's beautiful. It's like an unborn fetus one of my other lovies in a different family said. But I love it, even though I know you aren't supposed to fall in love with your writing. Sometimes a story seizes your heart, and you pray for the day you will have the skill to tell it. This story means so much to me that I'd dare say it is a dream of mine, a big dream to tell it one day, and tell it well.
I knew when I finished the first draft of the story Christ was missing from it. He was in the subtext, but He wanted to be, as we say in the 'hood, "all up in it." I told Jesus to have His way today. I've got a new synopsis. It's all grown up now. The last few years, really my whole life, seems to have prepared me to tell this story. That's why I tell you this with a little fear and trembling. Will you pray with me about this? I think the fetus has grown and the birth is imminent now. Maybe I'm wrong. I'm just dreaming aloud with you.
Recently I read Sharon Ewell Foster's AMAZING AWESOME SURELY IT'LL BE A CLASSIC book, Abraham's Well. Please read it. It's about a Cherokee and African American young girl (raga's own heritage y'all) and her family and community forced to walked the Trail of Tears. This book is simply told, brutally honest, and beautifully written. Her finest, and that's saying a lot. It's a book I want my kids, and their kids to read. This is the kind of book I'm dreaming to write.
Now, for the movie. I'm not saying I want the novel I want to rewrite to be a movie. I don't. Some things are all about the words. But this movie has much of the heart of what I need to share in the book. My very own family created this film. A beloved godfather, Father Paisius Altshul worked so hard on this. Give it a look. It's amazing. I'd give you a live link but it didn't work and that just sucked. I'm hoping that this url will get you there just the same:
Consider this a little Black History Month love. Tell me what you thought of it.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
I know I could choose to simply start small. Itty witty bitty steps like I'm doing with the Bible reading and prayer disciplines, but I have the support of the entire Eastern Orthodox church. We do this together. And we mostly do this the same. We give up meat and dairy products. That's what our Lenten fast looks like. I'd like to think if the church isn't with me the saints are, and if all the saints aren't with me, my patron saint, Mary of Egypt is, and if she isn't Jesus certainly fasted on less than no meat and dairy. And how God the Father must have felt when He fasted and gave up His Son for us.
I was reading about fasting last night, and read that one way to think of it is to consider God more important than food. I haven't let much be more important than food for a long time, and my body shows it. But I just want to try. For a number of reasons, my heart is just wide open and soft, and right now I want God more than anything. So, in the face of almost certain failure, I will put legumes, veggies, and tofu in the cart instead of meat. I'll drink more water, soy milk and juice instead of milk. I'll look at labels to see if what I'm consumning has eggs, milk, or cheese. It seems like a lot of work. But most of all, I'll try not to think about giving up anything. I'll try to think of making God a little more important. It's not like I can't eat at all! Maybe when I've had tofu stir-fry AGAIN! when my hubby is chowing down on burgers, or I'm am staring ruefully at the powdered "Nature Burger" left over from last Lent's failure which I hope is still good, instead of thinking of what I can't have, maybe I'll remember what I do have:
A God who is important.
A Savior whose sacrifice it is time to remember.
A heart that needs to be filled, instead of a tummy.
A mind that needs to be emptied of so much garbage along with my atrocious diet in order to feast on His word.
And the need to keep things far more simple than I do.
What if these simple foods change my life? My health? My way?
He said He was the Bread of Life. He's been my Lover, but how often have I truly let Him be my Feast? I haven't even been in church lately to feast upon His body and blood there. How often have I come to Him with my real, physical hunger? My doctor hasn't told me to cut down on the Bread of Life. I've never stuffed myself on Jesus until I was sick and lethargic. I want to let this be a quiet, soft Lenten season of real seeking, and real finding my soul's food. I want God to surprise me.
May you partake of love and grace.
"I am the bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:25)TNIV
Saturday, February 17, 2007
What astounds me more is this online phenomenon ragamuffin diva. Honestly! I show my draws! My dirty, stankin' draws! And there you are telling me how brave and honest I am. It's a little absurd, isn't it?
Once I asked a publishing person what my future could be with their publishing house. She asked me what Ann Lamott's publishing future could be with CBA. I was quiet for a moment as I pondered what she said. Ann Lamott has no publishing future with CBA that ANYONE, including me, can forsee. In fact, I'm pretty convinced my CBA days are numbered and there may even exist the possibility that I may be on the Orthodox Church's hit list if they have such a thing! I should add that I should have seen the writing on the wall as per that conversation with the publishing executive. Turns out I didn't have a future with that company afterall. So you see why this whole thing of being a Christian writer, me, raga-d, has me trippin.
Last night, admitting how lost I am. Angry that I couldn't FIND my favorite Bible--there were others, but I am a brat--I told a friend who loves me and thinks I'm the bomb that I am literally a Christian with NO meaningful spiritual practice right now. The only thing I do, I said, is write. I rarely pick up a Bible. My prayer life is a very heartfelt, "God help me. I'm so sorry." But we all know that is no way to live in Christ. I haven't been to church since before Christmas. And hadn't been so much before then.
I say all of this to say that I realized something very important about myself last. Something deep and profound. Something I need to always remember, treasure, and take with me. You ready???
There ain't a damn thing about me that's worth anything.
It's true. I am the worst wife, mother, friend, Christian, example, leader imaginable. When I say I am the chief of sinners I say it without stuttering or without reservation. I don't even have enough left in me to dredge up any pride.
This is what I did last night when I realized my atrocious habits are going to ruin my family. I might bust hell wide open, but I don't want that to happen to them. I cried out to God with my whole heart to have mercy on me, not for my sake, but theirs. The Orthodox Church has great appeal to me. We know how to ask God for mercy. We know how to say we're sinners. I picked up the Bible I found in the wreckage of my bedroom. I can see why sloth is a deadly sin. I dusted off my altar. Kissed every saint, Jesus Christ of Sinai and the blessed Mother. Lit all the candles I had in prayer, and went to the cross. I did all I could. I did some business with God. I asked Him to save my family. Next I'll stretch out and ask Him to save y'all.
I don't know why you come here except for this. Here is my one thing. And you probably knew this before I did. I thought it was because you liked my writing! Ha! Okay, I know you come for Jesus, but there are so many, so much more worthy that can give Him to you better. Despite my utter inability to do anything right--What I want to do, and God knows I want to, I don't. What I don't want to do, that's what I do. I want to love Him, but I am fat, lazy, cuss too much, am completely undisciplined, completely self-absorbed, I can go on and on. It is Jesus that keeps coming to me. He keeps loving me. And the only thing I do, my one blessed thing in this life, is that I write down that He came. He sees worth in this mess that I am. His creation. His loved but soiled bride. He loves me. He hasn't left me nor forsaken me. He's poured blood over each and every sin. Every sin I've committed since I gave my life to Him.
Yeah. I've got my Bible right here with me. I'm reading it. We'll have new wheels next week and I've already told Father Leo we'll be back home. As many as can fit in my godfather Laike's car will go tomorrow. I'm sick of myself. Of my selfishness. I'm ready to walk the walk and clean up the mouth. Yeah, I said it. I want to sound a little more like Jesus. Well, when He's not cursing fig trees.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
"We love Him because He first loved us." I John 4:19
And hey, don't tell me you think I'm great. You want to do me a favor, comment and tell me, "Me, too." Or at the very least, say, "Yeah, you really do suck."
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
We lived in a small town. He graduated the year I entered highschool as a freshman--the year his brother Joe was a senior. Joe was a hottie. He was voted "most handsome." I had band with him. I was loosely known as a flautist and flag girl, and Joe played trumpet. For a long time Ken would be known to me as Joe's brother. The guy who always asked me if I needed a ride.
That's how we met. Ken asked me if I needed a ride.
I said no.
I always said no. I don't even remember how many times he asked me, I just know brother was determined to get me in an automobile and I had some kind of car aversion when it came to "Joe's brother."
One day he asked if he could walk with me.
Ha! I love a guy who can change his technique!
So we walked. We've done a lot of walking for these last fourteen years, and we've walked together as husband and wife for eleven years today. One of those days, so many years ago, when he noticed me, and lemme tell you, I was not much to notice, he looked out of his door on Middlebelt, way before he asked me for a ride, and said to his mother, "That's the woman I'm going to marry." I never thought much of myself. I never thought I was anyone's first pick. But I was his. That was a miracle to me.
But a lot happened in between. We were a couple of kids then. We became friends and we genuinely liked each other. Life happens. Sin happens, and other S-words. Abuse happens and abusers. Things get done to us, and we do things to ourselves. I remember leaving home for D.C., being nearly killed, and coming back having lost most of who I was. But I remembered Ken. The first person I looked for when I got home was my best friend. The second was Ken.
What a pair we made. Me fresh out of a nightmare. Him fresh out of rehab. Me completely out of my mind. Him having realized his life had become unmanageable--basically, out of his mind, too, but better off than me because I hadn't had rehab. I talked him into getting me pregnant even though we weren't dating, having sex, or married. What's worse, he agreed. Sometimes despite the fact that you are out of your mind, God will give you a bit of mercy. The son we had is the most delightful human being EVER! A gift of grace if ever there was one. We really did fall in love. And somehow, despite unbelievable obstacles, we stayed in love.
We finally got married on Valentine's Day on the evening of a blizzard. Only a few came out. We'd planned to have a Kwanzaa wedding, but dear Lord, on December 8th, seven days after we moved in together I had a stillborn baby. I was in no mood for a wedding. January came, and midway through I was pregnant again. And miscarried again. When I was tired of all that death coming out of my body, I told God He had my attention. I told Ken I wouldn't live in sin anymore.
That stormy night we had no money. My sister (really the cousin I was raised with. I hate making these distinctions. Sheesh!) bought my wedding cake, but didn't show. None of the relatives that raised me came. The relatives that didn't raise me, who lived in town, did. My father gave me away. I'm the only one of his daughters that he did. My brothers threatened Ken with extreme bodily harm (and they are capable!) if he ever hurt me. I wore my sister Jill's cross--something borrowed. My wedding dress was borrowed, too. My Sister Carlean stood with me, and my daughters were my flower girls even though we didn't have any money for flowers and they held empty baskets full of imaginary flowers. Ken's ex, in a final act of vengence, put little flower girl Bianca in a black dress. A hot mess, I tell you. We'd gotten the licence that very day, and the guy at the cleaners almost didn't give me the wedding dress because he charged me the wrong price and I didn't have any more money.
Here's what I learned in these eleven years. Marriage really is a mystery. It is a veritable laboratory of love. It will test everything about your capacity to love. And you will fail. I am grateful someone told me beforehand that there would be days I'd be profoundly disappointed with the person I married. That I would be bored to death sometimes. They told me there would be times my heart would stray. My eyes. What they didn't say, but the Bible did, was that this awfulness too was the mystery of Christ and the church, because don't we get bored? Don't we stray? Aren't we at times, whether or not we admit it, profoundly disappointed as Christians? Marriage tested my faithfulness to Ken, just as being a Christian tests my faithfulness to Christ, but there's more.
There's this other side of the mystery. There are momemts when I am so profoundly moved by Ken's love that it takes my breath away. There are times when I am rolled up in a ball of nothing in my own sweat, sloth, and despair and it is Ken that holds our home together, cooking, and cleaning, caring for children, then tenderly sitting beside me, saying nothing, offering no judgement, and I lie there, knowing I don't deserve him, completely unable to come out of my foulness and his love becomes Christ drawing me out. Ken has been Jesus to me more than any human being that I have encountered in this life. He has loved me more. Pushed me more. Angered me more. Challenged me more. Bored me more. Fought with me and for me more than anyone. My parents didn't fight to keep me, but I can assure you that Ken Burney has, and will again if he needed to. Ken is my Jazz. My book readers know what I mean when I say that. Dear Lord, he's a very complicated melody. His notes have made me sing out loud, and his beats have made me do a very nasty groove!
On the day I left the demon lover in Washington D.C., and I waited all night at Union Station for the next bus to go to Detroit, I put the last quarters I had in the television to watch the Arsenio Hall Show. James Ingram was the surprise guest. He came out of the audience to everyones delight, including mine, singing "Find One Hundred Ways." As I listened to the words, still battered and disillusioned, I decided right then and there, demon lover be damned, to believe in love again. And that, my friends, is why Ken is the person I looked for after my best friend. He was a friend before he ever became a lover. He stayed a friend when it was hard for him to be a friend to himself. He is still my friend. I cannot imagine a time, come what may, that I will not have him to lean on.
Once, I decided to divorce him. I was in seminary, and his addiction was raging. I went to my professor, a Godly man and theologian I trusted. I said, "Tell me how to get out of this." And he said, "You have no scriptural grounds for divorce." He explained that if it were too much I could separate...but I wanted God's okay to get a divorce. For all the hell raising sin I'd lived in, I needed God's okay in this, and God didn't give it to me.
Not much later I had a dream. I don't have many of these, but when I have them they are unmistably God dreams. In this dream God was talking to me about Ken, and He said, "You will be his joy, and he will be your laughter."
Those words kept me through many dark days, and one day, the addiction was gone. One day, the hell had given way to a bit of heaven and I had myself a fine man. My laughter bubbled over in my soul. We are imperfect. Oh Lord, we are a mess sometimes, but tonight...I am loved so many more that one hundred ways, and just as James sang so sweetly that night so many years ago, in his arms tonight i'll reflect that I owe him the sweetest of debts. And God knows, I wanna pay.
I love you, Papi. I am yours. You are mine. And you're my hero.
Matthew 19:6 (The Message)
4-6He answered, "Haven't you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh—no longer two bodies but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart."
ONE HUNDRED WAYS
Quincy Jones with James Ingram
Compliment what she does
Send her roses just because
If it's violins she loves let them play
Dedicate her fav'rite song and hold
Her closer all night long
Lover her today
Find one hundred ways
Don't forget there could be
An old lover in her memory
If you need her so much more
Why don't you say
Maybe she has it in her mind
That she's just wasting her time
Ask her to stay
Find one hundred ways
Bein' cool won't help you keep a love warm
You'll just blow your chance
Take the time to open up your heart
That's the secret of romance
Sacrifice if you care
Buy her some moonlight to wear
If there's one more star she wants
Go all the way
In your arms tonight
She'll reflect that she owes you
The sweetest of debts if she wants to pay
Find one hundred ways
In your arms tonight
She'll reflect that she owes you
The sweetest of debts if she wants to pay
Find one hundred ways
Ya gotta believe it whoa
Love her today
find one hundred ways
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Well.... There was the funeral. How was it? It was a funeral and it sucked. There was a dead man who did NOT look like my father lying in a casket and I tried to walk up to him alone, but I punked out, stopped, and wouldn't look. My sisters and brothers had gone before me. I am totally NOT brave at funerals. They looked and they took their seats, and I tried to get Carlean or Gina's attention so one of them would go with me and I didn't have to look alone. They didn't understand. They thought I was wildly gesturing for them to come sit with me in a row toward the back. I gesture again for one of them to come to me. They think I want them to sit with me. They gesture for me to sit in the with them in the front. I wonder if I have to put on white face and do a pantomime for one--just one--of my four, count 'em, four sisters to come and look at a dead person they've already seen and finally I stage whisper come and see him with me. They can't hear me. I say it again. Finally I march over to Carlean and say in less than kind tones, "Come and see him with me so I don't have to go up there alone!" Dang! And this is the person who promised she'd act a fool at my funeral, crying, "Why didn't you take me, God," and trying to crawl into my casket. I promised her the same, by the way. We believe it's just nice to have at least one person who completely loses it at your funeral.
My poor daddy. It was beginning to look like nobody was going to lose it at his funeral. You know how sometimes at old people's funerals not many people cry? Well, I know when Brennan Manning dies a lot of people, me included, will probably cry, but some old people just don't have a lot of people left to weep profusely for them. Yes, we cried, my brother's and sisters. My mother sat on the other side of the church, on the side with the people who are NOT family. She was also mad that they gave her HIS last name in the obituatary. Nevermind all those childen she bore him. She and he (now divorced I need not even say) weren't related darn it!
Now, mind you, prior to the funeral I was feeling more than a little salty with my people. I was in Ann Arbor grieving all by my lonesome. Again, separated from my family, all huddled in Detroit. Together. Odd how your assigned role in life plays out in your family of origin, again and again. I was the lost child again. Hated it. I was hurt and wouldn't let anyone know I was hurt. It was then that I wrote the private eulogy below, and decided to share it here only.
I guess God decided to pull a fast one. My friend Gina ended up taking me to my father's funeral. I didn't even ask my family to pick me up. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to depend on them and I'd miss his funeral. And I was angry, but mostly sad. I'd gotten in Gina's van. Gotten the kids settled and Ken was locking the house and printing the MapQuest directions to the funeral home, when at the last minute, I ran into the house to print out the eulogy I swore a solemn oath I'd never share with the people who didn't so much as ask me if I wanted a freakin' line in his obituary to say goodbye. Yeah. I was angry. But mostly sad. I printed out the Eulogy, but still didn't tell a soul in my family about it.
When the funeral began nobody said anything to me about sharing. The obits were all made. Nobody needed my input. I was invisible anyway. The lost child. While there was a picture of me--good and pregnant with Kamau, from 13 years ago, there was no blurb. But I would have liked one. Sure. I try to act like these things don't matter, but they do. So I sat there feeling sad, and listening to the obiturary being read.
Finally my family turns to me. They want me to read one of my poems. Can I settle something right here? I'm not a poet. I'm a writer who on RARE occassions will write a poem, and many of those are bad. I NEVER! EVER! Memorize them. My memory is mostly shot for things I really NEED to remember. Nor do I keep a big ol' notebook full of 'em handy for all occasions.
There. It felt good to get that out.
So, I take my eulogy out. And its a bold eulogy. And I begin to read out the pain and the loss and the love I had for my daddy. And my voice cracked at times. And my brothers and sisters laughed and cried with me, because it was their story too. And it was the story of a few others in attendance. And maybe the story of a few readers here, too. I get back to my seat and my own daughter, Abeje is crying, too. "Good job, mom," she says. Abby isn't one to pass out praise or tears, so that I touched her touches me the most. I know God moved in that place.
So, God didn't let me be forgotten, or be the lost child or left behind. He was faithful. And there were more tears shed during those words than at any other time during the funeral, including when they closed my father's casket, which surprised me, because that was the moment that absolutely broke my heart. Makes me cry through my tears as I type this.
Lord, have mercy.
Goodbyes are hard aren't they? When they closed that casket on that strange shell that I didn't recognized as James Hawthorne, I knew that was it for this life. And if I live another year, or another forty, I wouldn't hear that voice I know so well again. And even now, in these days that followed, I've thought curled up in my bed. "He's really gone." And when I want to pick up the phone and call him for the rest of my life on this earth and say, "Hey, daddy. Guess what!?" I'm going to have to restrain myself. He's just not here anymore.
One thing I love about being Ortodox is the way we respond to each other. When my church family found out about my father, emails poured in with their kind, very Orthodox greetings. My favorites. Memory Eternal. Our loved ones will be remembered always. And my favorite of all, used all year 'round, but especially after Easter, "Christ is risen! And that very risen Christ, makes possible a mass family reunion that will give all my beloved's who came to know Him--and He made that remarkably possible, didn't He?--He'll give them all back to me.
But I'm still here. Me and my blues. Me and my night sweats. Me and no daddy. Lord, be kind to us who remain with our aches and our pains. Help us, Jesus. Help us who have not risen. Who have not even died, but are dying, a little bit more every day.
Friday, February 09, 2007
I went to see my father days before he died and on the way I listened to my brothers and sister telling stories--not so much stories about my father--just growing up stories, and I felt so sad because I didn't know those stories. I didn't know the people in the stories. I had other stories from where I grew up away from them. I had different people. I said to them, "These aren't my stories." And they gave me the strangest look. It's as if no one had ever said that outloud. I got bolder still. I said something about my father. "I don't have many stories about daddy." My sister Gina said, sadly, "Neither do we."
I take that back. We have stories about him. He was quite a rascal. But these were the kind of stories that children hear snatches of in whispers from adults that don't want you to know things. Or they're stories you hear poured out in thick sobs over the telephone to bestfriends or sisters. Stories that you hear yelled while you're sequestered in the bedroom while the grown-ups are in the kitchen. Stories with bad words in them. Or even stories of such audacity that they make a person a legend! There's the one about my father teaching art at Temple University until they found out he had no credentials to do so. There are many more, far more scandalous, and not nearly as funny.
I think all of his children came to a point where we had to make a decision. I decided early to love him. Hate and bitterness are costly. Besides. I had lost the father who raised me far too soon. I liked having a daddy in my life however scant his presence. I remember when I worked at the mall. Once I was in a clothing store, hanging out, and I saw a father with two of his daughter, both around my age. He looked as if it was tormenting him to shop with them, but I could tell they were his delight. "Daaaaadeeee," They cried out at his merciless teasing. And I missed having someone to say, "Daaaaaaaadeeeee," to. It wouldn't be until I was good and grown, and he had gotten sober and come to Christ that I would truly have him.
Christ makes the difference, doesn't He? I remember the first time Daddy wrote me a letter. It was his testimony of being an addict for 39 years. It was part testimony. Part apology. Something I could hold in my hand for years to come. I had my daddy for the first time. Not the drunken voice on the phone making promises he couldn't keep. There were other letters. Lots of phone calls. He knew the plots to all the books I'd written back then, even the ones I didn't publish. There were times I felt like I could talk to him about anything. He was proud of me, and treated me like I'd won the Nobel Prize in literature before I ever got a hint of an indication that I'd get a book published. I loved that I got him when I was an adult, and much more sure of myself, and less needy. I felt like I could look him eye to eye. I could be both woman and baby girl. Strong and vulnerable.
I don't want to make it sound like we had a perfect relationship. Money kept us largely apart. We couldn't call too much. Couldn't visit one another. We usually saw each other when somebody died. I have no memory of shared meals with him. Of going out with him. Of spending holidays with him. Just speaking on the phone. Sporadically.
Just before he died he wasn't feeling well. Went into emergency for something he thought was fairly routine, and found out it was merely a symptom of something insidious. And widespread. We all thought it was his heart. For weeks I hid from the thought that I'd lose him. I slept. For weeks I slept as long as my body would allow, thinking sleep would shield me from the terror and the depression and loss assaulting me. Sometimes late at night I'd want to call him, but couldn't since it was so late. When I crawled out of my funk--figurative and literal--I called my mother and asked how he was. She told me about the cancer and that his prognosis was okay. The next day I finally talked to my sister Carlean and we did a three way call. Finally I faced the truth and spoke to my father.
He was so happy to hear from me. He said, "I kept thinking, 'Where's my baby?' "And I thought that was the damndest thing. Where is my baby? Wasn't that the theme song of our life together. Always I was separated. Always. We talked about so much in that conversation and so little. We talked about my second book. I told him I'd make sure I'd get him a copy even though it wasn't going to come out (and I did get it for him thanks to a little help from my friends.). But it was too late. The next day he couldn't talk anymore because he needed a ventilator to breathe. To my knowledge, he never spoke again.
You know what I loved about this conversation? How animated Daddy got when he started talking about reading my book--the first one. He went through a plot analysis, and then started talking about the characters as if they were real. And I could feel how proud he was of me. And it took all the sting out of some of the madness that happened in my career this year. I made my daddy happy. I made my daddy a fan. The last time I talked to my daddy in this life he told me how much he wanted to read my next book.
I've learned something very important in this life. People love you the way they can. They don't love you the way you want them to. If you cling to how you want them to love you, you may find yourself bitter and terribly unhappy. But if you accept the love you're offered you may find a few treasures buried there.
This is what I know about the man I'll say goodbye to for good in this life in the morning. I know by heart the sound of his voice. The music of his laugh. I know that nobody calls me his "baby" like my Daddy. I know he missed me, and wished I called more, but didn't make any demands because he felt like he profoundly failed me in life. I know each time I talked to him he wanted to apologize about his failures, but I made him stop when I was forty. I couldn't forgive him anymore than I already had.
I know he loved jazz, all kinds. And sometimes he missed being Catholic, but he didn't like all the Latin. He liked my Orthodox version of the Nicene Creed more than the one his Presbyterian Church used and was still waiting for me to send him a copy of ours. He had skin the medium brown color of pecan shells and that I always seem to write a character or two that color. He hair was a whispy cloud of white curls very much like the texture of my own hair. He gifted me with a replica of his nose. I know he was sweet, and kind, and precious, and wonderful, and funny. All the things he always was, but the booze and the drugs blunted and dulled. But they were there. Always. And when he was most himself, you could see it.
I know now that when you don't get all the love you want, you should get all the love you can, and can all the love you get. And put those cans of love in the pantry of your heart and save them for the winters of the soul when you will surely need them.
I am saving my daddy's love, because unlike string beans, beets and peaches, canned love keeps forever, and you can savor it in this life, and it's even sweeter in the next.
I am looking forward to the day when I will see Daddy again. And drugs, and alcohol, and depression and money, and time, and selfishness...nothing will stand between us. Love will bind us together like white ribbons and beautiful, bright bows. And we will love forever. Listening to Jazz. Laughing. Drinking wine. And I can read him all my books. His baby girl's books.
Did you hear me, Daddy? You won't miss a thing. I love you.
Claudia, your baby,
and this time, it's me that is so very sorry for all the times I've profoundly failed you.
Friday, February 02, 2007
My beloved father, James Harold Hawthorne, has entered the bridal chamber of Your glory where the rejoicing of the celebrants and the unspeakable delight of those who behold the ineffable beauty of your kind face never ends. All because You have risen. Glory to You. Keep him for me, Jesus. Love him well, Lord. Love him well.
"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Rev. 21:4
Goodbye, Daddy. Jesus took care of this. I'll see you later, okay.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
I am unbearably sad.
Maybe on the beach I'd find myself a rock to sit on. And because I didn't take anything, for a while I'd be as salty as the water, thinking that I should have brought a book. And then I'd think of daddy. And having no food to eat my weight in complex carbohydrates with, I'd just sit there, watching the water move.
Mavbe I'd stay alone for a long time. Sometimes solitude is good for the soul. But I wouldn't want to be there too long. Not long enough to drown in my sorrows. I'd just like to visit with them for a while.
Maybe Jesus would come to me. He'd be wearing His dark overcoat over his jeans and long-sleeved t-shirt. His hair tousled by the wind. Looking cold and forlorn. Maybe He'd gaze at me with those warm brown eyes. Those heartbreaking, sad eyes of His. Maybe He'd be wearing one of those WWJD bracelets and maybe that would surprise me, so when He finally sits down next to me, I give the bracelet a gentle tug and say, "What's that all about?"
"I wear it to keep me on my toes."
I'd laugh, and maybe Jesus would root around the pocket of His overcoat until He found something for me. A bracelet. It says, WWCMD?
My laughter rises and swells like the water about us, and He laughs at the sound. "So," He says, "What would Claudia Mair do?"
"And what else."
"I'd get around to talking to you once I finished tormenting myself."
He nods. Encourages me to go on.
"Why isn't this easier?" I say. "Why is it so hard to just be human."
"I found it hard," He says, "And I'm God."
I turn to Him. "Remember when you said, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?' Did you really mean it?"
"I'm not one to exaggerate."
"Sometimes I feel like God is so far. And I'm afraid to admit that."
"That's why I let there be a record of it. I wanted you to know on days like these it really is hard to be human, and that feeling forsaken by your father is as bad as it sounds."
I take his arm. His words have excited me. "Is that what I feel? Forsaken by my father?"
But He doesn't answer me. He stands. "Don't stay out here too long." And then He leaves me. Alone.
Maybe I'd sit there a little longer, even though it's cold. Maybe I'd let the wind whip through my hair and redden my ears and nose. But don't stay out there too long. Asthma. The cold air in my lungs could cause problems.
Maybe the things that Jesus didn't say are as meaningful as the things He does.
And maybe I'd trudge on back. Away from the beach. Away from the choppy, endless waters going further than my eyes can trace. Maybe the sand would cling to my shoes. Maybe before I'd leave, I'd grab a sand dollar or sea shell to remember the day. And maybe I'd take that shell and put it on my altar.
And maybe, when I light my candle, and place my shell beside it, and think on Jesus saying, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me..." Maybe I'll remember that His story had a happy ending, and that Jesus would ultimately reign forever with His father.
I'd settle for an eternity with jazz, and good coffee, and a quiet spot to sit and listen to daddy's stories.
Maybe, that's exactly what I'll get.
Update: Daddy was mostly unconscious while we were there. He'd just had a surgical procedure to put a tube in his throat to help him breath, as the ventilator through his mouth was a temporary solution. For just moment he seemed to recognize me and my sister, but he was unable to communicate with us. More on this later.
Will you continue to pray for him?