Livin’ Large

A stranger’s furrowed brow, faltering voice, eyes locked on mine helped to make the message unvarnished. His partner silent, shaking her head in disbelief, a Sharpie style embellishment of clarity.

“Your place is beautiful, so many huge trees, private and beautiful, secluded but easy access, storage buildings… but your house! No dish washer, no garbage disposal, no walk-in closets, one TV and only one bathroom? Sorry, but this is just too primitive for us.”

Primitive? I live in primitive conditions?

Take another look.

My Halloween tree, craggy and huge, is home to an owl…night music for the velvet hours spend in the Sunday Room, a large sun room named by a three-year old just learning the days of the week. Sycamore shade keeps the room cool in summer protected in winter. Red-bud trees announce spring along with oak leaves that hold until those red-buds blossom.

A real barn, red and tin roofed, may now be emptied of lifetime collections but it is safe harbor to memories, to a karma of diverse talents and fierce determination to solve any problem.

We washed dishes together, he meticulous with scalding water and me with quick hands and ragged towels. What mechanical thing could replace that time?

Each room bustles with constant and sustaining memories. Family, children, their spouses, grandchildren, friends and neighbors push back against the walls of this house making a mansion where walk-in closets need not apply. Even that one bathroom proved to be a miracle of scheduling, taking turns, learning to G.I. shower during crowded holiday visits.

Among my Catholic friends, a particular practice involving St. Joseph is about 100% guaranteed success. When a home goes on the market, a statue of St. Joseph is buried in the yard to insure a quick sell. Several friends check weekly to see if I have handled that particular real estate boon, promising that it is more important than half empty rooms, bright lights, stashed family photos and a fresh cookie smell.

And still I resist, making little effort to acquire that stature of the saint, even if I knew where to buy it. The For Sale sign persists in advertising my primitive living conditions while I keep reliving volumes of sharing my life with Bob and our family–most definitely Living Large.

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Never Lonely

The dead are never lonely.
Dead is gone. Maybe in an eternal bliss, no matter the name. Maybe in that down side of bliss. Maybe just gone, no more–dead. Universal destiny, the sure and certain agent of change.

Because death is, life surely must evolve out of pretense, of false pride, of ignorance. Surely we recognize the life requirement to face the mirror with honesty, with a grasp of the reality of death.

This was a drive-around-and-pretend-to-have-a-destination day, one of those days that can suck the good out of the best of work intentions. Air so sweet with autumn, colors random, filled with splash and zest. My favorite season of layered clothing, sun and shadow, wood fires to warm old memories.

Without warning the tears came, blinding me. I was driving. I was not the passenger in his big SUV. Was not reacting to his hand as he reached over, touched my cheek. Such a brief and private moment, one I perpetually took for granted.

My thought was so odd. “Please don’t be lonely. Be OK. I don’t want you to feel like this. Please don’t be lonely.”

So I am grateful. I am. He is dead but he is not lonely. That is a good thing.

Keening

A ramble…
Grief is universal.
We all experience the suffocating moments that change lives. There are no bromides that actually move the process along. Cultures build the box and most times grief lives in that box.

In our home we joked about the John Wayne School of Communication, the stoicism that pushed grief down and never let it heal in the light of other humans. Prayer is a common crutch offering the illusion that something helpful is happening. Moments of gasping for breath as the sobbing overtakes are inescapable.

Keening isn’t often part of our culture. The sound is animal like. Men and women give over to being consumed, lost in the grief. Maybe keening is a hedge against depression of unresolved grief, of grief swallowed not sounded, of self medication to bearable.

Men and women lose a job, a home, a life time of expectations. They, as they knew themselves, are gone, emptied out of all they found dependable. Nothing works, no boot strap pull matters.

A person hears the partner’s declaration that the union is over, the love simply isn’t. A maze of hurt, insecure and confused, marks the lives within the ripple.

The devastation of illness is a grief played over and over, every day a family tears in the grip. Long range plans dissolve. Hope in a different future becomes one-foot-in-front-of-the other. Joy shuts down and pretend takes over.

Maybe we do keen, but not in a way that helps. Too much silence, too much John Wayne and not enough bellow against the pain. Too much stiff upper lip and not enough rage.

Last evening, a conversation about healing from cancer ended after an hour but the thoughts continued most of the night. A compassionate doctor told the patient that some of the most difficult times were the days, weeks and months when other people pronounced healing over, but it was not. Times when fear, loneliness or depression still shadowed every day, but other people felt enough was enough. Time to move on…stop dwelling on fear. Get over the grief compelling acceptance of a new life, a life of threat. Keening seems so very much in order.

Know what matters? What helps? What heals?

The touch of family/friendship, understanding of new ways that seem to mock what was once a life. The touch of family/friendship that is the knowledge that someone hears the silent keening, someone reads fake words and finds the truth, someone would respond…even when it feels impossible to ask. Someone is willing to give all the time needed. Talk about wonderful creatures!

With Any Due Respect (CCR)

On Sunday, October 2, 2011, The Kansas City Star published a letter by Mary Pat Miller of Overland Park, Kansas. In her letter, Miller shared her thoughts concerning those attending Mass at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in downtown Kansas City, about protesters outside the Cathedral and about the prayers for “… healing…wholeness…in an environment befitting of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”. To further quote Miller’s letter: “Those faithful sitting in the pews don’t have their heads in the sand concerning the ongoing controversy. They just know that God will not abandon his church if they are faithful to his word.

God will not abandon those faithful to his word?

Are we now facing the devastatingly painful question about what act of faithlessness did thousands of children commit? What sin of childish innocence/obedience created their abuse and the subsequent institutional cover-up of that abuse? Were these children not abandoned by the church of Holy Men of God ordained to teach, protect and walk in the Jesus philosophy?

Healing and wholeness in an environment befitting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Healing cannot happen until the cancer is removed with deep and certain cuts to the core. The Catholic Church has failed to cleanse itself, to monitor, to punish and to excise
those who have abandoned the word of God through their obscene abuse of children. Wholeness may follow this depth of healing only if the Catholic Church abandons the culture of protectionism and accepts the help and the rules of civil authority.

Hard Rain

Every year a blessing falls, the nutritious fruit of the walnut trees, a free gift of nature. Besides the crop, the trees grow bigger each year becoming prime for wood harvest. Outstretched arms cannot circle the Halloween Tree and that girth tells the tale, example for all the other lesser walnut trees. Past years have produced enough to fill twenty plus fifty pound animal feed sacks. Some years we simply add to the quality of squirrel life creating mini-mountains of plenty.

Remember the concept ‘bumper crop’? Bumper to bumper is the new bar, helmet required.

With the appointment for an agent and clients to view the house confirmed, my shed painting schedule ended. First the drive-way and a heavy-duty broom to find the asphalt under the sea of green. (Walnuts fall with a green outer husk.) Dodge ball, the constant fall aided by the wind, the clear drive never happened. Fine. Call it good for now and move to the yard. Prospective buyers need to see actual grass under the pea green obstacle course.

Start the mower, hitch the trailer and think ‘3 hours to rake and load’. By now, I am lamenting another of my hasty decisions to sell our bikes. Hanging on each handle bar was a helmet and I needed a helmet now. Hard rain hurts.

Hey, maybe a quick pass with the lowered blade engaged would slice a few to minutia, saving some rake strokes. Unhitch the trailer and give it a go.

Wow. Loud and probably denting the blades. Then, of course, I heard Bob’s voice reminding that walnut oil and grass don’t work together. OK. Fine. Stop. Rake. Now you, Gentle Reader, can remember “The hurrier I go the behinder I get.”

Clock ticking. Wind picking up. New objective. Never mind picking up, just get into piles clearing pathways through the beauty of this place. Mower and trailer back in the shed. Paint tools stowed. Rake with all the gusto that these old arms can muster.

Then came the crunch at the end of the long drive-way, a two car crunch. Quickly, move to the barn so the prospective buyers can have time and privacy to admire the home, the partially cleared harvest, the beauty that could be theirs. Right.

Fifteen minutes inside the house and gone. No walk. No nodding heads struck by the beauty. No admiration of the spotless decks recently cleaned and dressed. No head shake of wonder at the number of outbuildings, some just spiffed with new paint.

Oh well. By Saturday the gift of hard rain should be finished. By Sunday, the harvest up and gone. By Monday? I’m thinking early October blizzard.

On The Father, Joseph Matt (CCR)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 The Kansas City Star, page 1
Headline: Lawsuit alleges priest’s paternity

Granted abusing children is infinitely more debased than having sex with a consenting adult. Granted the consenting adult was vulnerable in the therapy session, transference known to every 101 Psychology student. Granted the woman/mother gave birth to the priest’s child, hiding paternity for many years. Granted the priest may not have presented himself as a trained therapist but simply offered his position as priest and friend. Granted the sexual relationship continued over a period of time, consensual sex.

Many years ago, my grandfather scorned the church because the local priest ‘had a woman’. To my grandfather the “sanctimonious position of the church regarding women and sex was disgusting, especially in light of what Pop believed to be common practice–a priest ‘having a woman’. Pop was born in Missouri in the late 1800s.

John Doe reports (page 9, Kansas City Star, September 27, 2011) that “My lawyer asked Bishop Finn what they were going to do about Joe Matt…And his answer was, well, Joe Matt’s done all these great things, he’s been a good guy, he takes care of his brother. All he did was compliment how good a guy Matt was.” Joe Matt returned to parish work after acknowledging paternity.

Many of my blogs reference the Catholic Church stated position: One True, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic…the one true church built on the rock called Peter and based on the Jesus philosophy. Many of my blogs reference my Catholic baptism and my years of sincere and loyal participation. Many of my blogs reference the beauty of hundreds of wonderful people true to the liturgy, tradition and dogma of the church.

I have written on sexual abuse of children by ordained priests, men of position and power entrusted with the welfare of those children. I acknowledge that many other organizations have dealt with abuse issues.

I have challenged the Catholic Church position that women are lesser than–unworthy to function in the roles assigned to men.
I have challenged the Catholic Church position on gay marriage, on homosexual persons created in that ‘image and likeness of God’ part of the creation story. I have supported the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. I have supported gay marriage and the rights of gay couples to parent children.

A whitened sepulcher is the image that refuses to leave. A magnificent edifice created on the beautiful teachings of a man named Jesus. This man named Jesus taught social justice, integrity, truth, adherence to stated principles. The building is a singular masterpiece until the doors open and the extent of corruption spills out.

Remember the parable of the widow’s mite, the pittance given (and praised). In her great need, the widow gave her money to the propagation of the so-called faith and her story became a part of the yearly calendar of readings. That widow’s mite helps to support a splendid city of pomp and wealth. Maybe Jesus would be shaking the dirt from his rope sandals.

Donnelly College Scholarship Dinner

Last week Donnelly College hosted the annual Scholarship Dinner. My volunteer duties included time at the reception table and a stint outside welcoming attendees. Actually, the time outside The Jack Reardon Center was disguised as a welcoming gesture while the main purpose was to guard the four reserved parking spots insuring that only certain folks used those spaces. Jazmin, a Block Scholar, and I were asked to identify (how?) those allowed in the front and center slots and to move others quickly on and out. A stretch limo was the no-brainer, but the other choices had embarrassing moments.

Jazmin shivered in the steady breeze, her bare arms shaking as the time dragged and the fourth VIP failed to show. She continued to smile as we welcomed each person in the wonderfully diverse crowd.

We talked of our history in Kansas City, Kansas, the changes along Minnesota Avenue, the scheduled EPA exodus to Johnson County. We talked of the immense value of Donnelly College as a beacon of not only education but a beacon of ethnic diversity and understanding. We talked about the life changing Block Scholar Program. Jazmin had her goal, Civil Engineer, that would be reached because the Block Family understands the value of protecting and nurturing young people determined to pursue a degree.

A small car whipped around the barricades taking one of the reserved spaces. That noisy engine could not belong to the tardy VIP, right?
As I prepared to give my “Sorry” speech, an order priest dressed in the long brown robe, rope belt and sandals jumped from the car, head down, and hurried towards the Center.

Not five minutes prior, The Archbishop of the diocese entered a bit breathless from his long walk. How could I ignore the blatant move by the little car, give priority to Father X when the Archbishop did not command a reserved spot? How could I do that?

In the name of equality, diversity, parity and multiplicity I did that. We were freezing and there was plenty of space if the late arriving VIP happened to show. Besides, Jazmin and I were hungry.

There is so much that could be written about the evening, about the program, about Mr. Block’s caring speech, about tremendous spirit of giving evident during the pledge drive, about the filmed interviews with Block Scholars, their lives opened to the audience, about the attentive and efficient wait staff, and about the hard work that preceded the event.

Rather than those important aspects, I believe that a glass raised to Steven and to Matthew—to their lives, their determination, their openness—is a glass raised to the purpose and order of that evening.

These young men represent the Mission of Donnelly and of the Block Scholar program. Steven and Matthew stand with pride, owning life mistakes and growing successes. They own it all. It is a privilege to know them.