A Driveway Moment: History Does Matter, Mr. Trump

IMG_1550This morning on my way home from church, I turned on our local NPR station, knowing that I had already missed much of The Moth. The Moth is a non-profit group that presents storytelling events across the U.S. and abroad. Today the locale was Dublin. Sometimes the stories are good, sometimes not so great in my opinion. Some are stories that NPR calls “driveway moments.” In other words you pull into your driveway, the story is not finished so you turn off the ignition, sit and listen, taking a wonderful story into your heart and mind.

The story that I had tuned into was being told by a man with an elder’s voice. At the end of the narrative, I learned a new name: Tomi Reichental, author and speaker on the Holocaust.

Mr. Reichental was born in 1935 and spent months in a concentration camp with his mother and brother. I don’t know the details of their detention: his book I Was a Boy in Belsen will be released soon.

His narrative today was of one memory from 1944 in Bergen-Belsen, Germany. One day he, his mother, and brother, along with many other women and children, were made to undress. They were marched into a large concrete room and handed bars of soap. The door was then closed and locked; the guards had walked away. The women looked up at the showerheads that lined the ceiling. Two or three minutes passed. The naked mothers held onto their children. There was no talking, just looks of anguish on the women’s faces. Reichental was pressed against his mother’s cold body. He could hear her heart pounding.

Then all of a sudden the hiss of the showers began and warm water sprayed down on all.

The women started laughing and crying. They were hugging each other, and this nine-year-old boy could not understand. It was just a shower after all. The only one he would have during his imprisonment at Belsen.

It was only later after their release, when he says his life began, that he understood why his mother and all of the other women had been so joyous when the water rained down on them. They all knew of the death chambers, thousands who had been handed bars of soap and then marched into gas chambers.

Mr. Reichental is eighty-one years old. He tells his story and writes his story, hoping that his Holocaust experience will be etched in our minds, as it is in his.

Recently Donald Trump said on television that he asks his supporters to raise their hands because they like it so much. They like to show their commitment. They are certain they will vote for Trump. It’s all in good fun. And I don’t believe that Mr. Trump is thinking of Hitler when his supporters raise their hands.

Many viewers are probably scoffing at the criticism that the Jewish community has heaped on Trump. But my immediate thought was maybe that’s how the German community began their support of Hitler. All in patriotic zeal. Excitement. A time to hope for change.

Whether it be a Trump, a Clinton, a Sanders, or a Cruz, we aren’t electing a dictator. We are electing a president who needs to know about the world and about history. We need a leader who isn’t all about him or herself, but about the commitment that all leaders must make to peace and justice and love for all. I don’t know if that man or woman is running for the office of President, but during this election season, I would hope that the candidates and all of us can remember the Holocaust and be sensitive to those who bear its scars. It is the very least that we can do.

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In the Woods, an Advent Moment

It was our first time to get a Christmas tree alone, as a couple, without one or both of the kids. The kids, after all, aren’t kids anymore. As we started out, parking the truck at the side of the road, venturing out into the deep snow of the Arapaho Forest, it seemed easier; only two opinions would be voiced as we looked for our perfect/imperfect tree.

Bob wasn’t satisfied to stay in the territory close to the road. He wanted to cross over the deep meadow to the other side, maybe a quarter of a mile from the truck. Evidently the trees always look better to him when a trek is involved. So he waded ahead through the snow, up past his knees. I said I would wait to see if it would be worth my effort.

I stood and in a short time he called to me, saying he might have found something. But I couldn’t see him across the expanse of snow. All I could see in the distance was trees, all of them much too grand for our living room. But then he would call to me again, and I knew that he was a man on a mission. He would find our tree, and I would brave my way across the snowfield to help him carry it back to the truck.

So I stood still, in the snow and waited. And waited. The wind blew gentle flakes over me. It was like dust gathering on my jacket. Minutes began to feel like a long time. I occasionally heard a snowmobile. A jet flew high overhead and shook the ground. But I waited. My black boots firmly planted in the snow. There was really no place to go and no need to go.

Then I thought about how alone I was. And how alone he was in the pine forest just across the way. The solitary wait seemed too long. I rather ridiculously thought of mountain lions. Though there was beauty in the stillness of the gray day, I felt too alone, a little vulnerable. I called to him, “Bob.” No answer. “Bob.” All was quiet, all was calm. Except I started to wonder where he was, if something had happened to him.

“Bob!” And this time I was yelling so loudly my throat scratched with just a note of panic. This time he answered, “I’m over here. I think I found a tree.”

In those minutes of waiting perfectly still in the knee-deep snow, I thought of what it would be to be alone, without him. What if he were gone, if something had taken him. As irrational as it seemed, and so unlikely, at that moment it felt like a possible truth.

He called for me to come look at the tree. I waded up to my thighs in snow before I saw him among a gathering of pines, and then found an easier sled trail that curved over to the little clearing where he came into sight. I trudged through more deep powder. He called to me, wondering aloud if the tree he had chosen would be okay, and even before I saw it I knew that it would. We would take this one no matter how much of a Charlie Brown tree it happened to be.

When I got to his spot, I said, “Yes, it’s fine.” He quickly cut it and we each took an end. We stopped occasionally to catch our breaths, not easy walking in deep snow with a nine-foot tree. Mission accomplished, we got to the road, placed it at the side and retrieved the truck. The tree fit into the bed perfectly.

As we drove away from the forest, just a mile from where we had found our tree, there was a herd of elk grazing at the side of the road. I took a few pictures from my window.  All was back to normal in my world, but for a few moments I had experienced aloneness. Peace. Quiet. But utter aloneness. I was glad to leave it behind.IMG_0728

Now I’m ready for Christmas, enough of Advent, enough waiting. Our tree will soon have its lights and ornaments. Ready for Christmas.

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Prayer and My Questions

At my church, and I assume churches all over the world, there is a time to present the prayers of the people. In my church parishioners raise their hands to ask that we pray for a friend who is having surgery, for a family that has just lost their mother, for a child who has cancer. I sit and wonder if I should raise my hand. But my concerns are too emotional to share, so I pray my silent prayer.

What does it mean to ask people to pray in public, aloud. Does it mean more to God if more than one person is praying for the same gift. Does it mean more if we mention a name. To whom or what or we praying.

Well, I’m not doing very well as a Christian, and yet it doesn’t bother me to admit this, because I am trying. Somewhere along the line I had pastors who led me to believe that it’s okay to always be questioning. It started with Pastor Knobloch and there’s been a long line of men and women in the church who have meant so much to me. Funny but I only recently realized this. If I count on my fingers the people who have made an impact on my life, those pastors would be there.

I have wonderful theological discussions with my pastor-to-be daughter and disturbing discussions with my atheist son. Both stretch me and make me question even more. I don’t often get that at church so why do I continue to go.

A young friend, a pastor who writes on-line about faith questions wrote this week, entitling her blog piece, “Why Church: Casseroles and Communion.” She has the gift. At the end of the essay she says, “Being together matters.” And that’s what I know about church and faith. It’s what I try to convey to my son. Church is a place of togetherness, caring people praying together, sharing a cup of coffee together, walking out of the doors together with a sense of communion.

I wish I had the answers to my questions. Well, maybe not. What if I did not like the answers. Perhaps it isn’t the completeness of answers that we seek but the sharing of questions that can give more comfort, knowing that we are all in this world of suffering and joy together.

As Mihee writes, casseroles and communion: Sharing the bread, sharing what we have, what we can give. These can be our prayers, I think. At least it’s all I really know for now. My questions will not end, and I think my prayers will also be without end. Doing together is probably the best answer I/we can have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Highly Recommended Reading: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

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The three siblings were stairsteps as children. Clyde’s birthday was yesterday; he’s 79. Middle sister Jane is 80, and Edie is 81. We had birthday cake in the gazebo that Clyde built this summer. I was on my neighborhood walk and needed to rest my sore foot. Just in time for carrot cake.

I wondered what I would talk about with these three as I saw the ladies carrying the cake tray out. Not that I’m young, but I wondered if we would find a common thread of conversation. Jane had made a small scrapbook for Clyde; looking at those pictures became the focus and offered a little talk and laughter.

They spoke about how the three of them hadn’t been alone like this since they were children. They live in different states, but here they are together celebrating a birthday with their children and grandchildren scattered and spouses having passed on. Each now lives alone, yet they seemed to be truly happy.

Being with them brought to life the book I had just finished reading:  Being Mortal by Dr. Atul Gawande is about the final days, months, and years of life. When our bodies wear out but the desire to make our own life choices is still very much a part of who we are and who we want to be. I told them a little bit about the book, and that carried our conversation to a place that was rewarding for me and I think for them, too, as they were in accord with the author’s message.

Gewande is a surgeon, an award-winning writer, a thoughtful physician. His chapters are lessons in how we should approach aging and death. He has researched the way nursing homes and assisted living homes operate, why some fail and why some succeed. There is hope!

In the book he shares examples of his father’s aging and his patients’ terminal illnesses as well. He charts his own growth as a physician and surgeon. He is well aware of where colleagues are failing their patients by not being honest and realistic. He became aware of his own shortcomings in helping patients make end-of-life decisions. His journey is a part of the book’s story.

We are all mortal. Yet it may seem easier not to think about it. Gawande illustrates how it is much more difficult if we don’t approach our mortality with clear heads, clear instructions, and careful thought.

Bob asked me if the book was depressing. And my answer was not really. There was one chapter whose ending had me silently weeping. The terminally ill patient was so young. On a whole, however, it isn’t a depressing read because I believe as Gawande does: I want to be in control of my own life no matter what my age. I don’t want to approach the next decades of my life with my head buried in some mystical cloud of denial.

I strongly encourage you to buy the book and keep it to read and reread: that’s part of my plan. Gawande paraphrases the philosopher Ronald Dworkin in writing, “Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy—the freedom—to be the authors of our lives.” I like that idea and hope to also make it a part of my plan as I approach all of those happy birthdays to come.

 

 

 

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Sometimes It Is a Piece Of Thread

 

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What keeps us going when times are bad, when days are bleak.

I will always remember a sermon given by Rev. Cotter in Flanders. He spoke of that universal truth that things may be going very well, but then a bad day comes and everything seems to change. It is when our faith is tested.

So what keeps us going and looking with hope to the future for better days ahead. A prayer. A hug. A gesture from a neighbor that says I care so much about you.

Recently in a Bible study group, the speaker on the DVD said that we need to strive to show more kindness than is necessary. Wow. What if everyone followed that advice. Show more kindness than is necessary. Think how good our days would be.

In the meantime, until that day of kindness comes, what keeps us moving forward when all seems lost, when you are so sad and discouraged that all that seems to cleanse is a flood of tears.

Maybe it’s a call to that neighbor to ask how he is doing. Maybe it’s a call to Mom to see how her day is going. Maybe it’s a call to your child who has drifted away. Or maybe it’s a trip to the hairdresser—whatever works, that’s what does it.

For me, tomorrow, it will be a spool of thread. A trip to town to look for that perfect amber color that will be stitched into a top that will make its way in a package to Berkeley and be opened by my sweet girl.

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I love this poem by William Carlos Williams:

so much depends upon

a red wheel barrow

glazed with rain water

beside the white chickens

It is reported that Williams, a physician, was watching over a patient, a sick child, who he wasn’t sure would make it through the night. He looked outside and saw the wheel barrow and the chickens. A splash of color, a bit of life. What would make the difference, what would make the little one live. He didn’t know, but he sought answers as we all do.

Is it a prayer or a hug or a new morning of hope, getting into the truck and driving to town to buy a spool of amber thread. We wake each morning with the new sun and know that the possibilities are there. In a quiet prayer we feel new hope and see new colors in the sky. And tonight that is my thought for all.

A good morning and good days of sunshine and hope.

 

 

 

 

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Voices

imagesnotavailableShe wore a long black wool coat. It hung loosely on her body, hiding her size and figure. Her black hair was also long and a bit wild and matted, tinged in grey. I didn’t capture a complete image to bring home with me. Maybe that’s why I love to take pictures. I’m pretty terrible at remembering facial features. (I would be terrible as a witness to a crime.) If I had only had a Rolleiflex camera, I could have looked down into the glass and made one click to capture the beauty of her face.

The homeless. Her dirty backpack, which looked stuffed with her belongings, spoke of her homelessness. Bob noticed her first and asked if we should offer to buy her a beverage. Of course, easy to do as she was sitting at the table next to ours at Starbucks, a bit out of the baristas’ sight, feeling comfortable enough as a non-paying visitor that she took off her snow boots and slipped her feet into soft house slippers. Just a little respite from the cold.

She accepted my offer and requested iced tea. Twenty-five degrees outside and she wanted a cold drink: “Wouldn’t you like something hot?” I offered. “No, just iced tea please.”

She wasn’t surprised that we got her a drink and immediately broke out into conversation, one that I could barely understand. I understood every fourth word she said; later Bob said he got more of it. Children and grandchildren scattered, she hadn’t seen them for over eight years. Now I think of that and wonder if she has their phone numbers. I think of my unlimited calling plan and wonder if she could have used my phone there in Starbucks while I drank my hot mocha.

But I wanted her to have a hot drink.

We think we know what the needy, the homeless and poor need.We certainly think that we know what they need. But there are many reading this who have done mission work and have learned it doesn’t work that way.

She talked quite a lot, but her voice was a problem for me. An accent, years of smoking, an impediment. I couldn’t decipher much of the conversation. I wanted to get going as I was uncomfortable to not be able to respond to much of what she said. Only that she seemed positive about the New Year and said she hoped the last days of this year would also be good. I don’t always feel that hope, and there she was giving it to us in her gravelly, broken voice.

We walked away but I will remember her.

They all have voices. The ones we walk by and turn away from. The ones with signs, begging for change. The Denver homeless even have a newspaper that individuals sell on the 16th Street Mall for two dollars, entitled The Voice. That same day we were in the city I bought one as I always do, but I don’t always take time to read it. I might have even left it behind at one of our other stops.

I want a picture of her to share on this blog page, but I don’t have it. Yet I know the next time you’re in the city, any city, you will see her or him. I want to remember to take time to hear her voice again. Next time I know that I want to be different, be better.

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Friendship

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When I started typing tonight, I wrote “Friends,” because I have reasons to be thinking of friends and what they mean to me. And that word quickly turned into “Friendship.”

It sounds right: friends on a ship. I have a few friends on ships right now.

Tom called today. Our spouses were at a church meeting and maybe he was feeling alone. I sat outside in the warm winter Colorado sun to talk and listen. He talked about a possible move to be closer to his twin brother. We talked about how sad that would be for those of us who would miss him and Ann, but still he said what I was thinking, “It’s another adventure.”

Another couple from our church left Grand Lake in October. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Maybe it was too painful for them to have a goodbye party. I think their ship, too, is taking them closer to family. And there’s Judy who I met soon after we arrived in this valley. As it turns out, we went to the same high school in Illinois. Our paths met here in the mountains, far from where we grew up. She’s gone now to be near her children.

I’ve met Cathy from high school days in the same way. We met at an Obama celebration party at our house. I asked her where she was from, and within minutes we learned that we were just a class year apart, perhaps even in a club together. Serendipity. And I met Fred at the same party. He was at Eastern Illinois University the same time I was there. We danced that night for gosh sakes! I think of that and it’s just unbelievable that two college kids would meet in their sixties, nine hundred miles from “home” and dance as if time had never passed.

And then there are friends waiting for a grandbaby to arrive. That feels like smooth sailing to me, waiting for a baby, knowing their hearts will be brimming with joy next spring.

Finally, I think of best friends who have sold their ranch and are on their way to new adventures. Of course, they are the reason for my thinking and writing about friendship. There’s a real emptiness in my soul lately, and I know it will be there for quite some time. I drive past their gate nearly every day, and it feels like a home place that is no longer open to me. I think they are going to love traveling, and I can truly imagine some of the adventures they will have. But I’m here. Not sailing toward anything new.

Yet maybe something new is coming. Maybe my next adventure is just around the bend. I will meet new people who are beginning retirement. I’ll meet the people who have bought my friends’ ranch and I will pretend to be happy for them. But if I’m lucky, maybe I will like them and feel true happiness that they are in the neighborhood.

Being open to new experiences, new happenings, new life, new people who step into our lives. Who knows who will step off of the boat next. And if we are willing to greet them and let them in, well, let the adventures begin.

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