My own mother died at age 72, certainly not a short-lived life. But she was not well for 15 years before she died and when she did go, there were so many things I still was wondering about, things we never got the chance to talk about because she wasn't well enough.
She died from a form of dementia that is not easily explained and so I just say she died of Alzheimer's, because people can understand that and because her illness belongs to that same class of afflictions as Alzheimer's Disease. She became moody and unpredictable, she became unreasonable and vitriolic, she lapsed into prolonged funks, then she lost her way mentally and physically, then she required skilled nursing. She died in my arms on a beautiful late summer morning; we both sat in the sun in my garden as she flew to her reward, legions of angels taking her away from me. I took petals from the roses around us and closed her hands around them as the undertaker came to take her away again. Quite a day. Quite a memory.
All that time we spent together but never enough time to ask her about the things that were really important to me. Like how do you fix it when you are really, really tired? How do you stay patient? What are some surefire hints that the Darkness is near? How do you say goodbye? Things like that. To this day, I still have the boxes of her craft stuff in the middle of the garage; all her wonderful projects never finished. She didn't know what was happening to her. She had no idea how sick she was. Neither did I. So I keep her yarn and her tole paints and her patterns in the neatly labeled bins that I took out of the house my father built for her when she came to Idaho in 1945. I keep the stuff that gave her such great joy for reasons that are completely unknown to me. I keep it close, where I pass it at least 4 times each day. When my children were home, I passed it even more, because I put it right by where I get in the car. Maybe somehow, I wanted a piece of her heart to go with us still? I dunno, but it's still there and I'm thinking about emptying the bins and moving it all out, only now. Ten years later.
So there was a lot of stuff that I didn't know about and I didn't know what to do with. In addition to the craft stuff. I want my kids to get more, more than craft stuff to go with them when I die. I want them not to have to try so hard to remember what I said or how I felt about things. I want them to be able to hear me in their sweetest ear always, if they want. I want them to remember me smiling, laughing, joyful, thoughtful, firm, resolute, grateful, forward-looking. I want them to easily remember how crazy I was about them. How much fun they were for me.
And so I blog. I am writing it all down just for them. Is this the only blog ever written exclusively for an audience of three? Could be. If so, that's just right. Notes From The 'Kan EWA should really be Love Letters From The 'Kan EWA, written for those Loves of My Life, so they can remember. It's my intent to write of the things that matter to me, matter in life, that give me joy and that give me hope. I want to give them more than pictures, more than sterling, china and crystal, more than just a piece of my heart for always. I want them to know what I was thinking and where I came from. Maybe it will help.
I was thinking today about my great-great-great grandmother who immigrated here from Prussia. I have a copy of the letter that she wrote to her sister, explaining why they were leaving. She said she did not want her five sons to be fodder for the czar's war; so she was leaving her home and her family, leaving her country and everything she knew to protect them and give them a better life. She begged her sister for understanding. They never saw each other again.
160 years later, her courage gives me courage. How blessed I am to know how it is that we became Americans. How blessed I am to know the things people in my family saw with their own eyes so long ago. To have their memory now be my memory. It's my intent now to teach my children and their children--never to forget, but to remember always the things that are really important and to build muscle, sustaining and ever limber, that will leap with sickness and separation. And finally, it's my intent to give me rose petals for my own journey, when I go on my way to find Mom.
The 'Kan EWA
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Saturday, March 18, 2006
"Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf."
He said to him,
"My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.” Luke 15:30-32
For many years, I have observed, particularly in business, that loyalty is often interpreted as weakness. I can think of more than a few instances when my generosity and my willingness to move well over the other side of center was taken as a victory, seen as a indicator of vulnerability, received in a manner diametrically opposed to the spirit in which it was given. Sometimes it amuses me, sometimes it makes me sad, many times it makes me just plain weary.
And yet, always you get more than you give.
But in this piece, I don't think our Lord was speaking specifically about loyalty and faithfulness or even family. I think our Lord spoke through Luke to remind us once again about one of his key values: life. Our Lord teaches us about life, over and over and over again. The first time I am aware of it is when Luke tells the story of Mary's conception. This angel visits a young girl with an unlikely, largely impossible story/assignment. And she does not question the angel once--not a why me? but I'm up for partner this year! how did my name come up?--but embraces the life that God sends her. Simple. Wonderful.
In practically the same breath, we are told the beautiful story of Elizabeth, old and barren, but yet, suddenly living in the springtime of motherhood. John Paul II left us with the lesson of a millenium, that of life and ever always moving forward, with resolve and courage. Soon, we will be reading that wonderful story of the women tending our Lord's tomb, who find it empty on the third morning. They are met by an angel who says, "He isn't here."
He was out preaching to the people, doing the best work of his ministry. And that's the lesson I think God wants us to take in all things. Get out there and live your life. Do your best work. Go forward. Celebrate, rejoice, kill the fattened calf and make beautiful music. Choose life.
The Kan EWA
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
My little son is a real Boy Scout. Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. His brother and sister don't call him The Christ Child for nothing.
When he was 18 months old, I pulled him out of the deep end of the swimming pool; no heartbeat, no pulse. I gave him CPR, got him back, and ran down the middle of the road with him held high in my arms over my head, both of us dripping wet, to meet the ambulance screaming up the road to help us. They raced us both to Sacred Heart where he spent two weeks in Pediatric Intensive Care. The doctors said he should be just fine.
I became afraid of the water after that, although I never admitted it. Me, who swam the icy water of Lake Coeur d'Alene and waded in the dangerous, dirty flow of the St. Joe before Memorial Day most years. After those two long weeks in September, I always had a pretty good excuse in hand why The Christ Child's swimming lessons could be delayed another year and since his father never did learn to swim, I had a nifty and powerful co-conspirator, although he was unaware of his role.
So The Christ Child grows up, getter bigger and moves into Boy Scouts. Goes to Camp Cowles. Never gave it a second thought. He always had so many different interests and was so excited to go to get intensive training in one aspect or another of the great outdoors, I completely forgot about that "little" body of water the camp just happens to sit on, Diamond Lake.
And when the Scouts found out he couldn't swim, they took him in hand, marched him down to the dock and taught him. He was not afraid of the water, had no memory of the near-drowning, but was not a natural athlete as a little boy. It didn't come as easily to him as it did for my other kids, who went off the high dive at the pool before they were three. He was different. But he stuck with it and a very kind man stuck with him, until he got it and became confident.
The Christ Child will always remember him, for his kindness and for his care above and beyond what was normal under the circumstances. He said later that this guy really got to him because one night while they were there, he told all the kids around the campfire, Listen, you don't just try your best to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous and kind; YOU ARE A BOY SCOUT, you are trustworthy, loyal, helpful courteous and kind. He said that very thought called him to be somebody specific and directed him on a very real journey. For him, it was His Moment of Enlightment, his own epiphany. He was about 10 years old.
Once camp was over, he did not have any contact with the kindly man who helped him and inspired him and set the course for his early life's journey. He never felt the need to go back to the guy and let him know how he effected him; The Christ Child just lived his life, was always true to himself and what he learned that summer at Diamond Lake. Ultimately, he became a Silver Palm Eagle Scout, the highest award an active Scout can receive, booking hundreds and hundreds of community services hours in the process.
Last year, I had to call The Christ Child with some very bad news. Our mayor, Jim West, had been accused of some serious deeds and at the very least, had turned his back on the trust the people and the voters had placed in him. The news of this horrible scandal deeply saddened The Christ Child because that man who had been so kind to him and had given him wings to fly so many years ago was Jim West.
And so my other little boy had direct contact with a principle in one of the city's most notorious sexual abuse chapters. Only in this instance, my little boy was redeemed by this man who had such dark, dark secrets. I hope and wish for Jim West's own redemption and that sometime, he gets back some of what he gave out so many years ago, during that one week at Scout camp on Diamond Lake.
says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.
If you are willing, and obey,
you shall eat the good things of the land;
But if you refuse and resist,the sword shall consume you:
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!
Monday, March 13, 2006
I have thought about this for so long. And it makes me so angry. Adults, in positions of authority and responsibility, molesting children. Unbelievably, both my boys had near-misses with sexual violations of trust as little boys. I know that it's only by the grace of God who loves me that nothing happened to either one of them. During a rough period of adjustment following a nasty, contentious divorce, our family pediatrician, Dr. Ken Kapstafer, referred me to to a child psychologist to help my oldest son settle into our new life a little easier. Straight into the arms of Father Pat O'Donnell walks I, with my little blue-eyed blond, curly-haired monster. And he was SUCH a monster. He badly needed someone to help him sort through the catastrophic turn his life had taken. How is that Pat O'Donnell did so many unspeakable things to other little boys but didn't lay a hand on mine? Not as if he didn't have the chance: one hour sessions weekly for 3 months, behind closed doors. Didn't seem like any cause for alarm at the time. I trusted all the health-care professionals in my life with my life and that of my children and my parents. I trusted everyone of them, no questions asked. Only by providence did my family make it through that time unscathed. My son, now 30 and a highly successful businessman and still the object of his mother's unfaltering adoration, says it's because he had a different mother than alot of the other kids. For starters, his mother was a convert and had no idea that the priests were really rock stars, subject to unconditonal acclamation. He laughs about me finding out that Pat O'Donnell hurt him in any way: mom: you'd kick in his office door at Sacred Heart, grab him by the back of the neck and kick his ass all the way down Washington over to the Public Safety Building where you'd face plant him in the concrete outside the front door and as you came up for air, you'd start taking names of your Junior League buddies who were lining up for sloppy seconds. You of course, would want to do a good sort, prioritize, integrate the information and then instantly produce a brilliant strategic plan for hurting him to the fullest extent possible. His suffering would continue unabated for the rest of his natural life.
That works for me. My son knows me well.
Fact is, I'd like to do it anyway. And here's my problem: I'm a person of faith in Lent. I am absolutely under obligation to forgive Pat for his deeply dark deeds and acknowledge his torment and anguish. Meanwhile, a woman in the UK files a obscure and unsubstantiated claim against our own Bishop at zero hour. Like his suffering in this matter is not complete? My anger soars and explodes, complicated in its fiery machinations. How can I ever be perfect as Matthew exorts me to be without forgiving all of these people?
The 'Kan EWA
Thursday, March 09, 2006
I am working with a convicted felon under community supervision who is trying to work his way into being a productive member of society--become employed, father his children, contribute to our community. My guy, who sexually molested two young children, meets with me every week and I offer encouragement and support and tell him the truth in all things. One thing that was quite surprising to me is the amount of psychological therapy felons and sexual offenders are required to complete, some at their own expense. He has completed an extensive and exhaustive unit of counseling called "Moral Recognition Therapy". When he told me this, I wondered what the hell is moral recognition therapy? One day the time was right, so I asked him, Just what is this moral recognition therapy anyway? What do you learn? He gave me that slightly startled, slightly puzzled, calm look as he answered It's Where I Learn How to Tell What Is Right and What Is Wrong. Oh, says I. And I think So you can morally recognize things? Hmmph. Another What Does He/She Mean Now/Boy Am I Completely Clueless Moment between us.
Not too long ago I was a the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I had the most puzzling experience. I was in the butterfly conservatory; this is a controlled garden, a tropical rain forest environment, where tens of thousands of brilliantly colored butterflies, some the size of your hand, some the size of your littlest fingernail, live and play. P.S. 23 from Brooklyn was there and at a point, the teacher stood in front of her group where she held her arms out wide, as if to lead them in song. The butterflies flocked to her and landed on her hands and arms and she said to the group, Now--are these real? The children grew still, anxiously still, until one girl in back of the group answered with quiet confidence. Yes, those are real. A relief spread through the children and I moved on, completely perplexed, a little annoyed. What was that all about?
The next day I was at the Slave Exhibit at the Historical Society of the City of New York, where another public school was touring. I was standing at an exhibit that included some stuffed animals and heard one little boy from Harlem say to another I'm not buying any of this. Them birds ain't real. He was utterly disgusted and I was utterly fascinated. This little kid thought the museum was trying to pull a fast one. What was he talking about?
My neice was in a recent production of 'West Side Story' at Lewis and Clark High School here in The 'Kan. On Saturday night she borrowed her mother's car to go to the performance and parked right at the front door of the school, ran in for hair and make up and to dance the closing night. Mom drives a Hummer. My neice came out afterwards to see her mother's car spray painted with huge bright, flourescent letters: NO! This at the front door of her own high school, in her own neighborhood, in her hometown.
I have wondered much about what all of these things mean but when my little neice was the victim of neighborhood terrorism, it became clear to me: we have raised children who can't always tell what is real and what is fantasy. They have played so many video games with incredible animation and animatronics but without any bridge to and from reality that they just aren't sure what acts of violence, hostility and terrorism really are. We are now having teach the real here and now in our grade schools, in an effort to provide a broad context for the inputs and stimuli that children routinely receive. Not only that, we have raised children who will express themselves, under any circumstance. We have asked them how they feel about all things and nurtured and prized their self-esteem so extensively, they believe that expressing themselves in any manner is acceptable. It's okay to tell someone, in a malicious manner, if you don't like the car they drive. Nevermind if they are a member of your neighborhood community. They need to know how you feel. And finally, these same expressive children grow into adults who don't know right from wrong and have to experience the aftermath of a heinous crime to begin to understand. And at the root of most of this is our failure as parents. We have dropped the ball.
Now we must all live with what we have created. We must continue to retro fit and try to go back and make reparations, as in the case of my felon. We must be there for each other when we suffer at each other's hand, as in the case of my neice. But most importantly, we must walk alongside the new generation and carefully explain and delineate everything in absolute terms, as in the case of the school children at museums anywhere. We have to be the bridge between the imagination and reality, firmly rooted in natural consequences and pillared by respect, contemplation and self-restraint. How we got here from there is not quite clear, given our own upbringing, but here we are. In a prison that we have built ourselves. And amongst us are our own little terrorists who are in for a long ride, if humility, along with the last penny, aren't forthcoming soon.
You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you,you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” --Matthew 5:20-26
The 'Kan EWA
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Monday, March 06, 2006
St. Igatius holds that God is present is all of human existence. So God is revealed to us in the world and all that it holds. When my children lived here with me, I was conscious of seeing God everyday; somedays practically every hour.
I first became aware of it when my mother died. Suddenly, I heard her voice and saw her spirit in my daughter. It startled, then disturbed, then fascinated me to see my mother almost channeled in my daughter, who was such a different person than my mother. I saw it again when my father died and I began to see him in my sons and their cousins. My dad's very corny sense of humor surfaced in these hip, handsome young Gen X guys--a true contradiction. But this time I knew God was walking with his arm around me, in consolation. And after that, I could see God everywhere, but particularly in my children and the places they were and things they did.
Once the kids grew up and moved away, I didn't think of it so much then, but knew that God is present everywhere, always and by His grace, shows his face in the most exquisite places.
I saw God this past week in my friend Bre. She left her cushy job where she was well-liked and pampered to go to work for a non-profit agency for less money. She is now on the front lines of efforts to help the sick and the addicted, the homeless and the disenfranchised. Her huge beautiful heart has been plugged in and her eyes are wide with the people's plight. In those eyes, I see God.
I see God in my friend Jeanine, who gives countless hours to The Women and Children's Free Restaurant. Jeanine's daughter has struggled to be a whole person, healthy and productive; Jeanine has shown more patience with her in 21 years than I will ever show with all people in my entire life. I see God in Jeanine's brilliant smile and her compassion and love and faith that things will get better.
I saw God when I had lunch with my friend Jenny Rose, now in nursing school, who is wondering where her real destiny lies. She will perform valiant service to us all somehow; in exactly what capacity, God has not yet revealed. She has a pure and loving heart and is simple and uncomplicated. God smiles through her.
From time to time, I see the NFL MVP, Mark Rypien. Last week, he raised $157,000 for the local Boy Scouts, at breakfast. At breakfast. His generosity always speaks to me and God ignites the laugh of this giant with the paw-like hands.
I have been thinking about our friend, Kasey. Was a key employee with the county until he retired a year ago with the onset of Parkinson's, at age 45. He has two little girls at home. Kasey has been approved for a pacemaker in his brain and will have the procedure soon. God surely, surely lives in this gentle carpenter and teacher, who is such a good and beautiful man. Somehow, I see God's love in Kasey, too, but it's a painful love, that hurts when I let myself feel it fully. Is Kasey supposed to somehow give me courage and resolve? These days, he is stiff but walks in a blinding light.
And so, I am ill-equipped to respond with the appropriate gratitude. How is it that I can have so much, but be so little? I, too, have a unique mission; but it hasn't been revealed either. Maybe the journey IS my destiny. Jerusalem, my Jerusalem.
The 'Kan EWA
Saturday, March 04, 2006
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up.
If you hold back your foot on the sabbath
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;
If you honor it by not following your ways,
seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice—
Then you shall delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.
The 'Kan EWA
Friday, March 03, 2006
Is 58:1-9aThus says the Lord GOD:Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,lift up your voice like a trumpet blast; Tell my people their wickedness,and the house of Jacob their sins. They seek me day after day,and desire to know my ways,Like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the law of their God;They ask me to declare what is due them,pleased to gain access to God.“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”
Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,and drive all your laborers.Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,striking with wicked claw.Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!Is this the manner of fasting I wish,of keeping a day of penance:That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes?Do you call this a fast,a day acceptable to the LORD?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:releasing those bound unjustly,untying the thongs of the yoke;Setting free the oppressed,breaking every yoke;Sharing your bread with the hungry,sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;Clothing the naked when you see them,and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,and your wound shall quickly be healed;Your vindication shall go before you,and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
I LOVE Isaiah. Substance over form; and don't even try to fool me. I have known you for a thousand years.
The 'Kan EWA
Thursday, March 02, 2006
I welcome Lent. Psychologically, I wonder if I know it means the beginning of the end of winter? Whatever it means, I like it. I am a well-intentioned, faithful person. Even at that, I need a certain discipline to provide a river bank of sorts for that raging turbulent flow that is my life and whose waters teem with all kinds of foreign objects, good and bad, light and dark. That discipline is Church. One thing we do in the Holy Roman Church is observe Lent. A designated community participation provides me with an exquisite time of contemplative thought and examination. We Catholics pray, fast and make sacrifice, and keep the needy and helpless ever closer to our heart and on our minds. For 40 days.
It's said that the forty days are symbolic of the time Moses and Elias spent in the wilderness; the Jews spent forty years wandering in in pursuit of the Promised Land. Jonah gave Nineveh forty days to shape up and repent. And Our Lord Himself spent forty days in the wilderness, fasting and praying in preparation. So forty days is what we do. Our sorrowful reflection during this time provides us with fuel for the whole next year--I've found that if I short-cut myself, I end up short-sheeting myself and in the fall, almost nothing makes sense anymore. I need the full forty days time-out to inventory and then to re-calibrate.
So: off I go. Into the wilderness to ponder the tragedy that is me and to plan my own resurrection; to walk away from the dark into the light, towards a new life.
Moses said to the people:“Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,which I enjoin on you today,loving him, and walking in his ways,and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,you will live and grow numerous,and the LORD, your God,will bless you...Choose life, then,...a long life for you to live on the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”--Deuteronomy 30:15-20
The 'Kan EWA