Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So it begins....

Mimi arrived on the 6 pm train from Grand Central. Life got brighter and more wondrous when I picked her up.

The dog follows her around instead of me. Everyone is blessed by Mimi.

Cathy and the girls and Sumi, the dog, leave Baltimore tomorrow morning--the earlier the better think. We've talked to the girls and they are 'So Excited!!!' About coming to Connecticut. To them it seems like a wonderland.

Josh will come on the train after work--maybe here by 9 or so tomorrow night.

Tim comes on Thanksgiving on Amtrak. John will pick him up and then pick up Hanna and the the 11 of us will have Thanksgiving together.

Not much better than that.

May your thanksgiving be as rich and wondrous as ours.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rag Socks and AA batteries

As I get older, I notice some things. One is that I'm not as fast on the uptake as I used to be. The other is that I'm rapidly going out of style.

The latter first, and then the former.

I exclusively wear rag socks. That's what I call them. They are thick and made of cotton with some wool blend. They are the kind of socks you would need for boots--but there is this, they have no elastic on the top. They are, in that way, distinct from 'crew socks'. I threw away all my socks, two drawers worth, that were not rag socks. I have decided, in my dotage, to wear only rag socks. I wear no socks much of the year and so, when I do wear socks, I should wear what I like. That's my stand and I'm sticking to it.

So, Saturday, I went out looking for rag socks. I went to Kohl's, Bob's and finally, Marshall's in Hamden. No rag socks whatsoever in Kohl's. I even asked someone who worked there if there were rag socks and she, 45 years younger than me if a day, stared at me like I'd asked if the vampire star ship was landing soon....

In Bob's, I found a few rag socks--what I call them--but they were $10 a pair. I was also looking for boxer shorts. I like boxer shorts with a bit of color and style. The ones at Kohl's and Bob's were like $22 a pair.

So, I went to Marshall's in Hamden. If you like Marshall's, you need to go to Hamden. It's like a Marshall's super-store. I found lots of what I call rag socks and lots of boxer shorts that were colorful and fun and all that was about half what it was anywhere else.

I bought 12 pairs of rag socks and 12 pairs of boxer shorts. I probably should have bought more since I am obviously going out of style at a sustained rate....

Then, the other night, I was writing a blog about Ben's funeral when my computer seemed to seize up and I couldn't type. I tried everything my small techno-brain told me and nothing worked. So I played 15 hands or so of hearts, never realizing I could play hearts with my mouse and never need the keyboard.

The next day I went on line and looked at stuff on AOL--which I love and everyone I know tells me is trash, just to let you know how out of style I am....Tried to finish the blog and couldn't type and then played 21 or so hands of hearts--something I do too much in my dotage...I love hearts. Then, about 17 hours after my keyboard stopped working, I (slow on the uptake) pondered if my keyboard needed four new AA batteries.

Lo and behold, that was it....17 hours isn't a terribly long time. But it is a long time to keep trying to type on a battery inhibited keyboard....Oh, well. So much for that. So it goes....

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, November 14, 2012

When Autumn comes to Connecticut

It is Autumn in New England
and the cry of the leaf blowers
is heard in the land.

Like huge birds, their raucous
mating cries sound
across the lawns of Cheshire,
drowning out everything
but their passion.

Men with ear protectors
vacuum the leaves into
large wooden boxes
on the backs of trucks
and carry them away
to who knows where....

The leaves, who gave
us joy in their greening,
are like and embarassment
in their old age.

They must be hauled away--
out of sight and out of mind.

We keep our leaves
and pile them down from
our deck and let them repose
in peace. Decades of them
now, pressed down by snow,
together--our old friends--
dignified and rotting,
which is natures way.

The red maple in the back,
the one I can see out the window
to my right,
is holding  her leaves for dear life.
 Few have fallen.
The ones that remain
shimmer with an almost
day-glow orange
in the afternoon sun.
They should not fear the end.
They will be gathered together
to wait for the snow.

We don't forget our friends....

Friday, November 9, 2012

Standing in line

I was in line at Stop and Shop the other day and was looking at the cover stories on the Globe--a tabloid that, in all transparency, I must admit I've never read--but I do look at the front everytime I stand in line.

The Globe is an equal opportunity defamer. The two stories on the cover were about Barack Obama's Cocaine selling and being registered as a "foreign student" at Columbia and Mitt Romney's sex crime....or, as the Globe put it: SEX CRIME!!!

The things you can lean standing in line with some Ben and Jerry's vanilla ice cream, dandruff shampoo, two on-vine tomatoes and some spreadable cheddar/bacon cheese.

What a great media we have....

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Swear to God...

"I swear to God' this  happened.

Hey, I'm an Episcopal priest, I take oaths to God with a modicum of seriousness....

Late Monday night I went on Huffington Post web site, which has had for months an election map which has invariably favored President (I said "President") Obama. On Monday night it had the president with 271 electoral votes and Mitt Romney with 190 with lots undecided. It also had the opportunity for you to go on and figure out your prediction.

I  played with it for a while and then wrote down this:

Obama 303, at least.
With Floridia, 332.

I put that piece of paper in a paperback copy of Alice in Wonderland and put it in Bern's desk.

Far before Ohio was called, I went and got it and gave it to Bern.

"I wish I was as confident as you," she said.

"I'm not 'confident'," I told her, "I'm right."

This evening Florida fell into Obama's column, giving him 332 electoral votes rather than the 303 he had before that.

Hey, I'm not Nate Silver by any means. I went with my gut and my hope. And I NAILED IT!!!

If you don't believe me--and why should you--ask Bern, she'll tell you it is so.....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Christmas Morning

I woke up this morning and it was Christmas and almost everything I wanted was under the tree....

Four more years.....They're going to be good ones....

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A modest way to world peace....

I was in the Vet's office with my dog and a woman was there with her three month old granddaughter in one of those humongous strollers people have now that turn into a car seat somehow. I don't get how they work but I don't need to know since, chances are, I'll never have a three month old child to worry about.

Anyhow, I watched how people reacted to the baby. People make silly faces at babies and say things you don't normally hear in conversation like: "Goo-goo, whoo-whoo, baby, baby". One young Asian woman even took out her car keys and shook them for the baby, making faces and talking in non-sense syllables.

Here's what I was pondering while all that was going on.

What if we all greeted each other, friends and strangers, the way we greet unknown babies? What if we made silly faces and did baby talk and shook our car keys at each other in the store or on the street or when someone came to our house? What if 'passing the peace' at church consisted of babbling and funny faces and shaking shiny things to each other?

What if each of the Presidential debates had begun with Romney and Obama making silly faces at each other and going "Goo-Goo, Boo-Boo!" and showing each other their keys?

What if the beginning of each meeting of the House and Senate was that kind of behavior? Or the prelude to arguments before the Supreme Count, or the opening ceremony of the UN's general assembly?

Imagine Palestinians and Jews passing each other making funny faces and saying silly things and shaking shiny objects?

I mean really, what a baby causes us to do is to find the very depths of our silliness and affection and willingness to look foolish. In other words--our best of all Angel.

It would be hard to have an enemy if we were being silly and affectionate and foolish to each other all the time. And there's no way you could consider fighting a war with people who danced around making faces flashing car keys at you....

This may just be the simplest way to find an atmosphere of acceptance of differences and a forum for settling difficult disputes. And the remarkable thing, if you think about it for just a moment, is that it would be completely natural and right: we were all babies at some point and people made faces, sputtered nonsense and shook keys at us. We'd just be doing that for each other.

Wouldn't that be a way to acknowledge the 'baby-ness' of each of us? And after we'd made fools of ourselves to each other, wouldn't it be terribly difficult to be disagreeable and hostile to each other?

My wife told me to stop talking about this long before I got as far as I've gotten writing it down. So I made funny faces at her and said "Goo-Goo, Maac-Maac" and showed her my keys. She laughed.

Who wouldn't?

I think I'm on to something here. Want to try it out and see...?

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Day of the Dead

Today, November 2nd, is All Soul's Day on the Christian calendar. Our neighbors in Central and South America take it very seriously. They spend time with those they love but see no more on this day. We should take it more seriously than we do.

November 1st is the day Christians celebrate All Saints--those exemplary figures in the journey to the Lover of Souls who have left an example for us to strive for and reach for and lean into.

All Souls are all the other dead--like you and me--who lived and struggled and had joy and great pain and knew wonder and died unremembered...except by those of us who loved them.

I'd invite you to gather your Dead around you. To invite the memories long forgotten to be fresh and knew. To spend time with those you love but see no more.

I plan to be present to my parents, my wife's parents, a beloved cousin, aunts and uncles,  a whole group of friends and mentors (getting larger each year!) and welcome them into my life again, to share a moment, a memory, the love that bound us together.

My mother died when I was quite young--just after my 25th birthday. I remember feeding her one of those little waxed cardboard containers of vanilla ice cream on a small wooden spoon a day or two before her death. She did not know who I was, but she loved vanilla ice cream greatly and it is a great memory for me. One of my aunts, the only aunt or uncle who is still alive, came into the room while I was doing that. "Jimmy," she said, "has anyone wished you happy birthday?" Until she asked I hadn't even remembered it was my natal day.

My father lived to see our children. He called me one night and told me, "you're friends are here and they're taking my stuff." I realized he was seeing things and had his pistol out. I asked to speak to one of my 'friends' and he came back a minute or two later and said he couldn't find them. That was a call at 3 a.m. The next day I flew from Hartford to Charleston and rented a car in the midst of a sudden snow storm. The West Virginia Turnpike was officially closed, but when I told a State Trooper what I was up to, he let me drive it. "Just don't think you'll be helped anytime soon if something happens," he told me.

I got to Princeton and called my Dad from a pay phone--remember those?--and told him to take the bullets out of his gun and lay them on the kitchen table where I could see them. I peered in the window and saw them splayed across the table and went in. I brought him back with me to CT after getting his power of attorney from a local JP (who probably should have been removed from office for believing my Dad was 'of sound mind'!)

He lived with us in New Haven until he started wandering away and had to go to a nursing home. At least I got to spend time with him, in his diminished capacity, that I never got to spend with my mother.

I think I'll invite them over tonight--on this Day of the Dead--to hang out and reminisces about days long ago that we shared.

Just ponder for a while, what you might say to those long dead. Invite them to share a few moments and tell them what you need to tell them. And listen for whatever wisdom might be returned to you.

Does that sound just too weird? This, in the Celtic year, is the "Thin Time"--these last days of October and first days of November--the 'thinnest time', in fact--when the barriers between this life and the next and whatever in in between are dropped and wondrous journeys can be made between the realities. That's why Halloween ('All Hallows Eve') is around this time.

The time is 'thin'. It is the Day of Dead. Ponder that. On All Hallows Eve the saints and souls walk among us, looking for hospitality.

Invite them in to sit a spell, to 'bide for a while. How weird and wondrous it is to sit for a time with those who are dead....

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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.