Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lord in the End

Last night, I had a dream that my mother-in-law told me I was going to Haiti. At first I had misunderstood her, and thought she said she would be making a return trip. "No," she said. "You're going."

I woke feeling slightly queasy, knowing I would most likely never make the decision to go somewhere so violent and so poverty-stricken, where children eat cakes fashioned out of mud and contaminated water, and life expectancy, if childhood is survived, is somewhere between 45-55. Despite the good people working there truly doing God's work, and how much I support and admire that, I have immense difficulty imagining myself there as an observer, helper, worker.

My in-laws were there several years ago, working with a priest named Fr. Tom Hagan, who founded Hands Together back in the 80s. With their tales from abroad, and with a DVD my husband and I watched that detailed the amazing work that Hands Together is attempting (building schools, employing teachers, creating health clinics, training citizens to screen for basic health issues, creating sound structures for homes instead of dilapidated shacks, showing people how to utilize sustainable agriculture), it provided a stark reminder of how little some people truly have, and by great contrast, how much we do.

I've been obsessed with the new David Gray CD, and my daughters love it too, making it easy for me to just keep it in the player. On his first track, he sings, "When will you realize my friend, Lord in the end, now you can't take it with..."

And I look around and see all the stuff that will be left behind when I am but a shell in the ground, or ash, or whatever I decide when I get over the fear of being a corpse.

And I admit to being confused sometimes, knowing in my heart that the accumulation of material possessions isn't why we're here and looking around for inspiration. Perhaps we needn't be Fr. Tom Hagan. Perhaps we needn't go to Haiti. But God wants us, not our iPods.

And honestly, in my Church, we're not always provided with the best example.

Recently, the Vatican launched an investigation into the activities, practices, and adherence to doctrine of American nuns. I can't pretend that I'm particularly well-read on this investigation, so perhaps my opinion should wait until I digest a few more articles. But I doubt my views would change much, if at all.

Here we have women, a great many of whom follow the example of Christ and his disciples, giving up material possessions, the trappings of money and ownership, and administering to people. To the public. Like Fr. Hagan does in Haiti, here they are feeding the poor, running homeless shelters, helping the abused, the addicts, the most vulnerable members of society. One cannot help but note they're being investigated by men in one of the most opulent places on Earth. Men who didn't make a vow of poverty. Men whose very robes probably are made of material so expensive, the cost could feed a family for months.

And I wonder what kind of message that sends to people in the trenches. That perhaps it's better if they're not seen, not heard, not helping, just in case anything they do or utter goes against Church doctrine. I wonder about sexism. I wonder how we can continue to spread the message that single line from David Gray's song details, in barely a dozen words, if some of the people who best exemplify Christ on Earth are being intimidated and reined in.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Because He Can't Return to Sender

Dear God,

I apologize for being absent these last couple of weeks. I know I was all gung ho about you and then I up and left without so much as a courtesy wave.

I feel as I can squarely place the blame of my absence on that tricky system of blood, hormones and fertility that seems intent on doing me in. My period was like 20 days late, though I'm sure you know that. I'm sure you might have stopped in when I was counting the calendar days, purchasing dollar store pregnancy tests, and practically trying to squeeze the blood out on my own. You were probably there for a while when I spent multiple mornings crying in a thankfully empty house, truly believing the world was ending and the origin was my uterus.

I'm sure you know I've been trying to make up for my disappearance by being effusively thankful. I've thanked you for everything from the sun shining to the particular colors the Japanese Maple makes as it grows into Fall, for kind friends and for a family that makes me smile as often as they make me roll my eyes.

(I cannot, however, thank you for the a-hole that keeps leaving Skoal cans and empty Pepsi bottles that he fills with his dip spit on our lawn. I know we're supposed to pray for the people that piss us off, but I'm finding this charge particularly hard to fulfill. Instead of folding my hands, I'd like to clench a fist and let it land on his nasty, litterbug chin.)

I'm also sure you know I've been perusing the library for titles of books to help keep me thinking about you. And certainly you know I put most of them down and walk away, because Lord! I want to think, but not THAT hard. Seriously, how many of them are essentially reference books? I can only read one text at a time, and right now, that textbook is about chemistry.

So I picked up another of Anne Lamott's books called Grace (Eventually).

And I'd like to thank you for Anne Lamott, because her book about her son's first year was my bible after Lillian was born. Her words -- bitter, passionate, searching, healing -- got me through the toughest parts.

I like Anne because she's messy. I'm messy. We're all messy. But I like how she includes her messiness in her thoughts on faith, along with those moments when suddenly, it all makes sense, if only for a second and without the arrival bells to announce grace's presence. Anne says she wishes for the bells sometimes. Me too.

A kind of celestial suckerpunch.

And so Anne got me thinking. I was going over some of my old non-fiction essays that I wrote in college about my hospitalizations, and I was struck by all these moments of grace throughout. Moments that at the time, I just thought were quirky or funny or poignant, like Jackie, the dementia patient, asking for a bird feeder to hang outside her second floor security window; or another patient, Vaughn, telling me how much I was worth; or a nurse staying with me longer than required; or even that weird guy who always had phlegm in his beard telling me how pretty my hair was.

Okay, that guy was just creepy and I'm not sure there's a moment of grace there, but anyway.

And I guess that's what I'm trying to do here, even if the moment isn't graceful, exactly. But those moments exist and in them, that's where you can be found, if only we don't close our eyes. And it's astonishing how often I do walk around with my eyes glued shut, either angry or depressed or resentful, and so I don't see, I don't take comfort, I forget what you desire for us.

At the end of one of these essays, I'm standing in the floor's rec room looking out the window at the waning light of evening and the people leaving their hospital jobs or leaving their relatives after a visit, and Jackie comes and stands next to me, watches for a second and then exclaims after seeing the traffic light turn, "Green means go!" It's impossible not to view that through some other lens now, one that is merciful and loving, and see what you wanted for me then.

So I'm trying, God. I'm going to throw my apple core in the composter, say a prayer, and maybe take a walk while my world is quiet. Or maybe read Anne a bit more.

Maybe I'll pray for the Skoal-sucking litterer. Probably I won't. Baby steps, God. Baby steps.

Most sincerely,