Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On Retreat Back in April

For the past several years, I've made a silent retreat of several days, usually at the rural Jesuit Center in Wernersville PA.  Last summer, still pastoring at Tiny Rural Church, I decided that I'd like to make my next retreat in a somewhat more populated locale.  I started thinking about whom I knew, in person or by reputation, in places like New York and Boston, and then remembered that Spiritual Director Emeritus is at Georgetown!  Although my plans for a winter retreat were derailed by the broken ankle episode, I did get there in April.  For whatever reason, I've been thinking about that week today, and so here is my usual pictorial replay:

 I stayed at the Jesuit Residence (the JesRes) on campus, an elegant building in which an incredibly hospitable and kind community of rather amazing men resides.  I stayed mostly to myself, and they all honored my retreat time, but it was a lot of fun to look around at meals and recognize faces from book jacket photographs.  (I think I was probably the only Presbyterian in the building all week, and one of very few women.  Some weeks my life is more unusual than others.) 
My car, sadly, spent several days and a lot of money on its own retreat a local service station.  It had started to sputter as I approached the campus, and the next day was utterly silent and still.  Some kind of transmission line thing.
The first couple of days it was really warm, so I stayed outside as much as possible.
Early morning prayer view:
 I spent a lot of time curled up with my foot elevated and wrapped in my ice pack, probably because I persisted in exploring the campus at least a little bit.
History ~
Trinity Chapel Courtyard ~
My story ~
Crypt chapel ~
Dahlgren Chapel ~
Iggy, of course ~

Michelle and her husband came down from Bryn Mawr for a production in which their son was involved and stopped by for a late night visit:

And a certain spiritual director refused to cooperate for a Serious and Spiritual Selfie.
It's difficult to articulate the results of a week of intensive and silent prayer ~ in this case, relaxed and only relatively silent.  I have a sense, though, that the results of that retreat are starting  to seep into my daily ministry and to sort themselves into a slight and much needed alteration of perspective.
I first became acquainted with a Christ Pantocrator icon at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.   It probably means something that I ran into another one on the other side of the country during a week that might turn out to have been somewhat significant.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More Asia, More Memory

Some seeds flower into the most astonishing color.
This morning I received an email from Josh's girlfriend's father, to whom I had written apologizing for having to leave his wife's memorial service early (previous post).  He filled me in on what we had missed, which included this video as his final farewell to his wife in  honor of their cross-cultural romance.
It is worth attending to for the entire five minutes.  And, of course, it speaks to all of us in our losses.
Our relationship with this family is tenuous and unusual.  But I think that many families who have lost children find themselves briefly and intensely connected to those who have in some way shared in those losses.
I am extremely grateful that six years later this video has come my way because of one of those connections.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Saigon, Chicago, Cleveland

There's a scene in an early episode of the most recent season of Downton Abbey that goes something like this:
One of the recently widowed Mary's suitors has come to dinner.  At the end of the evening, her mother-in-law Isobel, for whom the event has been excruciating, shakes the young man's hand and says, "I hope that we'll be seeing more of you."  Isobel's nemesis, the Countess Dowager, says in an aside to someone else, "One hates to admit it, but that was very well done."
I think it's something to which to aspire, that people say that we have done well when circumstances seem to dictate that we would not.
Yesterday, the Quiet Husband and I attended the memorial event for Josh's former fiancée's mother.  In a strange twist of fate, it was held here; several members of the far-flung family live nearby, and so they decided that all would gather here.  A's father and I have been in very occasional communication, which meant that he told us when his wife died, and welcomed us to the event.
We debated until the last minute  whether to attend and, if so, for how long. In the end, we decided to go for a bit of the gathering time and stay through the lengthy program (which, finally, we had to leave before its conclusion, since I had another obligation).
I am so glad that we went.
We have not seen A in nearly six years, not since the day she joined us to clean out the apartment she and Josh had once shared in Chicago.   We all learned a great deal about one another and about Josh's death on that day, one of those days that burns itself indelibly into your mind. She and I corresponded frequently for a year or so, but in the ensuing five years she has built a new life, become engaged, and moved to a new city. While I wish that her life were with my son, it was a tremendous relief to see her doing well and talking animatedly about her work and family. 
I don't know how A experienced it, but our conversation reminded me of one many years ago.  Our daughter had flown into Chicago from her semester abroad in Prague, and the two girls and I lingered all morning over breakfast. A told us about her decision to drop out of her academic graduate program and focus her life upon dance; I remember the excitement I felt for her as a young woman finding her authentic path in life.  I felt some of that pleasure for her again yesterday, knowing full well the life-changing terms of the interruption we had all experienced.
Insofar as the memorial event was concerned, it had been engineered by A's father to tell the story of his marriage, beginning with his life in the Air Force in the waning months of the Vietnam War, and the young Vietnamese woman who told the cousin working in the officers' club that she wanted to meet an American.  Slides, videos, photos, memorabilia: the story ~ of 20th century Vietnam, of a young woman whose girlhood had been marked by devastating loss and hardship, of a young officer, and of a family life spent criss-crossing the country in a peripatetic military career ~ was spell-binding.  And A spoke beautifully about her mother, their relationship, and her loss. 

 (Saigon, 1966)
I still don't really know why we went.  To see A.  To honor the mother with whom I had once thought I would share the role of mother-in law but in the end never met.  To honor the father who was a support to me in ways he probably knows nothing about.  To recognize the small and tenuous and yet striking connection between our families.  I don't know.  But I am grateful to have witnessed what I did.
Since Josh died, I have often thought of Eleanor Roosevelt's words: You must do that which you think you cannot do. At first, those words applied to getting out of bed.  Now, to other things, but still often.  I find, though, that I am usually grateful in some way to have done whatever it was that it seemed I could not.  I am grateful for this.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rediscovering Wonder

When I was a little girl growing up in the country, wonder was an everyday experience. The caterpillars we watched morph into butterflies, the birds we spent days trying to catch, the creek we wandered for hours, the snakes we actually did catch and keep in jars on the stone wall out back until we tired of them and let them go.

Today they say that children experience grief in spurts, moving quickly back and forth between moments of intense sadness and periods of play and humor.  That rings true to me, and it also explains why otherwise intelligent and perceptive adults fifty years ago believed the professionals who told them that children do not grieve.  Those moments of intensity come on quickly for children, and disappear almost as fast, rendering them invisible to people who don't want to see them anyway.  And children are quick to sense the latter, and learn to keep their sorrows to themselves.

Thus I could roam the countryside, play sixteen-inning games of softball, and splash in summer camp brooks and waterfalls, finding wonder easily despite the airless density of childhood loss.

For adults, it's somewhat different.

A couple of summers ago, I heard myself saying to a spiritual director, "I was, quite simply . . . completely enchanted by my children.  And then . . . one of them was gone.  And thus enchantment evaporated from my life."

I've been reflecting on that statement this summer.  Perhaps my capacity for wonder, if not actual enchantment, is making a comeback.  Or, at least, tapping on the door.  This summer has already ushered in its grueling moments, with more predicted ~ most of them having to do with pretending to enjoy myself so that others are not burdened.  But I find that I am longing for some genuine joy.

Interesting, isn't it, that this surge of hopeful anticipation should accompany my renewed ability to walk short distances?  Yesterday I walked a mile around my immediate neighborhood early in the morning, and another mile in the opposite direction in the evening.  It's such a pleasure to see the world on foot again, to notice faces and dogs and gardens in ways that one can't from a car.
In her poem When Death Comes, Mary Oliver, who has certainly experienced her own deep loss, says:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
Regretfully, I will not be able to say that of all my life.   Or, perhaps, I will.  Perhaps the black hole of the last six years, sucking all the gravity into a huge and heavy space of darkness, will someday reveal itself as its own venue of wonder.
But for now, I think I would like to return to the more conventional forms.