Monday, July 24, 2017

Sometimes I just sits...

I  used to have a poster on the wall of my office at St. Paul's in New Haven with a drawing of a rocking chair and the words: "Sometimes I sits and thinks. And sometimes I just sits...."

That's where I am tonight, just sitting, not much to say.

I could tell you about Eleanor and Tim and Mimi's visit--but I'd just bore you with proud grandfather and even prouder father and father-in-law stuff.

I could whine and complain about He who cannot be named and all the nonsense in Washington that is making the US irrelevant in many international ways and challenging the very meaning of the Constitution. But I do that enough and there's always--unfortunately--times to do that.

I could tell you about some of the amazing books I've read this week--but go to your local library and find them yourselves.

I could pontificate on how the institutional Church doesn't trust lay people enough and is entirely too 'clerical' but most of you wouldn't necessarily want to know about all that and how 'un-clerical' I've become in my retirement.....

I could write about our beloved dog, Bela, who is 12 and has, we think, doggie dementia. But I recall something about that in an earlier post and I really want to mourn for him in private right now.

The rain and the wondrous cool today after days on end of heat and humidity--I could parse that into a post. But, if you're in Connecticut you know about it and if you're somewhere where it's not 55 degrees on July 24 I don't want to make you feel bad.

Sometimes I sits and thinks and writes a post....

Tonight is one of the sometimes I just sits.....

Friday, July 21, 2017

ok, people looked at this

Half a dozen folks viewed this post today for reasons I don't know. But I remember it vividly and will share it again.

Friday, November 16, 2012

His name was Ben

I officiated at a funeral today. That's not a new experience for me. In my 21 years at St. John's in Waterbury, I averaged a tad over 40 funerals a year. All told, I'm closing in on 1000 funerals. Not the kind of achievement you set out to accomplish....Yet, I am honored and humbled each time I'm involved in a funeral, no matter the circumstances. I've told the 30+ seminarians I've supervised and mentored that the most important things they'll ever do as priests is funerals.

I mean that. And I am privileged to have been a part of so many--for one thing, I'll never say dumb shit like "he's in a better place" or "God wanted her home....". I'm reliable for not saying dumb shit because I have no words at all to say in the face of death. I just sit with the survivors, help them plan the service and hold them if they want to be held.

Ben's mother called me yesterday--we've talked a lot since Saturday when Ben died in a horrendous accident while working on the family's property in New Hampshire--and she said "I feel out of control!" I told her--which is the limit of my conversation with people who have lost someone they love like a rock, "you are out of control. You are ultimately out of control." I wondered if I had tread too near the edge, but she sighed and said, "I am out of control. I have to give up being in control."

Oh, yes, beloved, when people die there is no 'control' to be in control of. When people die, a dear friend of mine wrote over 40 years ago (where does the time go?) when a friend of hers died in Viet  Nam, "it's like a bird flying into a window on a chill morning....."

Fix that, if you can.

You can't, give it up, no control/no control/no control....

In that approaching 1000 funerals, I've never be a part of one quite like Ben's.

He was only 19 when he died. Wednesday, the day before his funeral, he would have been 20. Imagine what that day was like for his parents---no, don't, you CAN'T imagine it and you shouldn't try. You just shouldn't. You and I cannot for a moment imagine what that was like unless you too have lost a child to death. And if you have done that, don't try to imagine because it would be too painful....

Anyway, I was going to the funeral home Wednesday night to pray the prayers for a Vigil with the family. I was to be there at 4:45 but a wreck in Middletown got me redirected and I didn't get there until 5:05. When I arrived there were several hundred people in line to speak to the family. I was carrying a Book of Common Prayer, which serves as my calling card since I haven't worn a clerical collar for decade or more, so people let me cut line. I told the family it was nonsense to try to do the prayers and told them we'd meet in the morning.

The service was at Holy Trinity in Middletown, thanks to their generosity, because St. James in Higganum wouldn't have held the crowd. St. James can seat 80 or so, packed in, and nearly 400 people showed up for the funeral.

At huge funerals like this, often only a few people receiver communion. But I ran through over 350 wafers as a disc of Ben's favorite music played. That and the fact that most everyone at the rail had wet eyes if not tears running down their faces, I realized this funeral was in the top 5% of all the funerals I have done for authentic grief.

Ben's aunt, who is a pediatrician, talked about how special he was and handed out stickers that said, "WWBFD?"--what would Ben Foisie do?

I never met him, but I do think, after all I heard and was told about him, that was a reasonable question. One to ponder. He was so authentic, sweet, accepting, loving, honest--'special', indeed--that trying to live as he would have lived had he been able to--might be a superlative way to live.

Altogether, a remarkable burial office. Altogether something that made me better, stronger, kinder, more open.

Just the gift that death should give. If we are only open to the giving....

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Growing up, I had lots of family. I had 14 Jones first cousins and 4 Bradley first cousins, plus 12 aunts and uncles and Mammaw Jones.

Having moved around like I have, I lost contact with most of my cousins---all of whom were older than me. And, as time will do, all my aunts and uncles died off, Aunt Elsie Ours, my mother's youngest sister just last year at 92 was the last to die.

I'm an only child and Bern had a brother and sister who never married or had children. So, Josh and Mimi have no first cousins. Bern's sister died and her brother, Fr. Dan, is coming to visit on Friday.

Dan was a P.hd. psychologist  who taught at Temple University and when his parents died decided he should be a Roman Catholic priest. He has a church in Wellsburg, WV, which is in that northern panhandle of the state that pokes up into Pennsylvania. He is closer to Pittsburgh than to any of the few major cities of WV.

He's never met granddaughter #4, Ellie McCartney. So Tim and Mimi and Ellie are coming up on Saturday to meet Uncle Danny.

Our tribe is small. Two children, 4 granddaughters, uncle Danny and Bern and me.

It will be good to be 'family' for a day or two.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Partner! Lordy, Lordy!

My son, Josh, today was made a partner in his law firm of Rosenberg, Martin and Greenberg, one of the largest and most prestigious firms in Baltimore. He went to Brooklyn School of Law, where he met his wife, Cathy Chen, who is a prosecutor for the City of Baltimore.

He does tax and bankruptcy law--his unit kept R,M,G above water during the recession.

I am sure he is super good at what he does. And now that is proven.

I just looked at the web page for R/M/G and saw that they have a lot of women lawyers and several lawyers of color. I've never looked before. Glad I did. Makes my feel even better about my son, The Partner.

Josh is 41 years old, 42 soon, in August. I've never really worried about him. He is frighteningly smart--always has been--and though a little loudly extroverted, a gentle and caring man.

His three daughters--Morgan and Emma (11) and Tegan (8) are brilliant and wonderful. Emma is more outgoing than her two sisters but all are remarkably friendly and kind.

Cathy Chen is beautiful and smart as well.

God, I love my kids and all that came from them, babies that they were once upon a time.

Law partner at 41--not shabby....not shabby at all.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Showing some restraint....

It's been over 2 weeks since I've mentioned He Who Should Not Be Named (our President,by his other title) in a post.

That shows, given the 24 hour cycle of craziness out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., more restraint than I'm usually up to showing.

I'm, not even going to 'go off' on He Who Should Not Be Named, Jr. He doesn't need anyone to air his dirty laundry...he can handle that himself quite nicely.

Neither will I discuss Darth Vader (Steve Bannon in drag) or Pee Wee Herman (Jerad Kushner's look-alike). I leave that to those less dignified and restrained than I.

Nor will I demean either Kelly Ann (who should be demeaned just on principle!) nor Sarah Huckabee whatever though there isn't a bus that should be tarnished by her being thrown under it.

No, all I want to do is tell you about a poll I read today.

It's an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll just out that covers 439 counties in 16 states that either switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 OR Trump won more handily than did Mitt Romney. Most of those counties went for Trump by 15-20 points in the election. Now his approval rating is only 50% in those counties that voted for him by 65-35 in most cases.

The very people who elected him are the very ones who, to this point, everything he does (especially around the environment, the rich and health care) has mitigated against.

Amazing, isn't it, how folks can (just like scripture tells us) 'believe a lie and be damned....'

Alas and alack, 'forgotten Americans', he's forgotten you again already....

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I always check

I always check on what people are reading on Under the Castor Oil Tree. I noticed today that several people had read a post from 2010. So I read it. And almost wept. Dogs make me weepy. And Luke, the dog, truly did.

Thought I'd share it with you again.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Luke Plunski--Luke the dog--died today.

He was Michael's dog first...saved Mike's life once and made Mike's life so much finer, brighter, happier. Then, after Michael died Luke became JoAnn's dog, saved her life in a different way, making it possible to move on after her son's death.

I'll never forget how someone with great good sense allowed Luke to be in Michael's hospital room during his last illness--even in Intensive Care. Mike had lost both his legs to his disease and Luke was his legs for him. Mike didn't take up the whole bed, so Luke would lay where Mike's legs should have been had the world been kinder. Sometimes a medical person would come in and be horrified to see a dog in a hospital bed. Luke would just look at them with those endlessly deep brown eyes and most of the time, the person would just melt.

Luke made you melt. He was a Golden Retriever and a beauty of one. How could you resist that look that said--"I'm laying here where I belong, next to my human...."

Luke became a therapy dog after Michael died and brought joy to hundreds and hundreds of people in hospitals and nursing homes. He was never assertive, always patient, always waiting for the human to make the first advance. And as gentle as a spring breeze, as sweet as the smell of honeysuckle, as healing as magic chicken soup.

He always came up to communion with Jo, mostly because he knew his job was to be near her always and he did his job to perfection. And one day, his great head leaning against the altar rail, I simply gave him communion--just a wafer like everyone else. After that, he was my great, good friend. If I'd forget and someone else gave out the bread on that side of the altar rail, I'd glace over and he'd be looking at me with those eyes that made me melt and I'd feel like I'd been rude to the Christ Child...which isn't far from true. Luke was about as Christ-like as any creature I've known.

I suppose some people might have objected to my giving him communion--but I never asked and, most likely, wouldn't have cared. It was only right and proper and in good order.

When Jo and Luke got into the library on Sunday mornings for the adult forum--they were there almost every week for years--he'd want to come greet me. Jo would give him his short little leash which he would carry in his mouth and he'd come to say hello. (He'd also take the chance to roll on the Library rug, but who can blame him for that?) It was one of the highlights of every Sunday, that little lick and rubbing against me.

My grandmother divided the world into two distinct groups "church people" and people who, well, were not 'church people'. I tend to divide the world into 'dog people' and everyone else. Loving a dog is like holding your heart in your hand and feeling it beat for a while. You all know the "DOG"/"GOD" stuff...well, I'm not sure it isn't true.

Lord I will miss him....

Jo held him as he died. I've held dogs as they've died and there is very little more profound and humbling than that. The pain of a dog's death is sharper and cleaner than even the deaths of people you love. I don't know anyone who, when someone they love dies, doesn't have some unfinished business or some guilt or some unanswered questions...mixed up stuff. With a dog, it's just pain. You know they never blamed you for anything, were never disappointed in you, never thought you should change your ways....they simply, purely loved you. Just like you are. Just like that. That's a Dog/God thing--there is no other creature besides a dog who can find that Agape Love, that redemptive Love, that Love that knows no bounds, that love that mimics God's love for each of us.

I weep for Luke tonight...but more for Jo. I know the pain she feels. I've been blessed and privileged and made a better person by the love of dogs....

Monday, July 10, 2017

Soon I will HAVE the picture I wish I had....

I heard from several people about my last post. (Thank you all for reading and responding with images of the Collie and the Lamb.) The first was Mike Miano, my old high-school and college friend. (Mike and I, along with Mike Lawless and Doc Lykins, lived one year at every college boy's wet dream address: 69 Richwood Avenue. I kid you not.)

Several folks sent me pictures of the picture but Charles Dimmick sent me a link to a place where I could buy it. And I did. Just a few days now. I even have a hook all ready beneath the three plaques that are on the right frame of the window directly behind my computer when I can glance up at any time into the trees and sky.

The plaques, from top to bottom, are 1) a rather drunken looking face projecting out of the plaque with  the words "In Vino Veritas" ('in wine, truth'); 2) a small plaque in graved with "SHALOM" ('Peace' in Hebrew, though the Hebrew means so much more than 'peace': it means wholeness, completeness, everything included and in harmony); 3) another plaque with raised letters saying, "VOCATVS atque non VOCATVS Deus aderit", which means, in translation, "Summoned or not Summoned, God is present (there)."

Just below that is a hook where something else important to me hung which I doubtless gave to someone, probably the last deacon to work with me, as a priestly ordination gift. I tended over the years, to give gifts to those being ordained of things precious to me rather than something new. I think they 'got it' when I did that.

So my picture of the collie and the lamb will hang there, just at eye level as I type, to remind me that, on whole, I had the kind of childhood everyone, simply everyone, should have--never struck in anger, never shamed or belittled, always kept safe, loved by two large extended families, in a town where everyone knew everyone else, able to roam the mountains until dark most summer days, nurtured and well-educated. It should be like that for all children and as I look at the collie and the lamb I will wish that for all children, truly.

The Left window frame is taken up by (if you are interested) a rather large Native American  Dream Catcher my daughter gave me.. On the top of the window that could go up is my high school yearbook photo and a photo of Bern when she was in her 20's. We grow old, we grow old--and I do need to wear my trousers rolled since the heel of my shoe catches on most of my long pants. I shrink. But there in the window, Bern and I are ageless but young....

The print of the collie and lamb is attributed to either Albrect Schenck or Walter Hunt and is either called "Collie and Lamb" or "Shepherd's Call". No one is quite sure. But if I wanted I could get it on greeting cards. I might just do that someday.

I'm waiting, not too patiently for it. When it comes, I'm off to find a frame....

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.