The Cup (4/X)

My little ‘research project’ revealed to me that romance is something of a game.  The romantic songs were all about one transporting the other into some wishful world.  Being carried away and all of that.  Often the one to whom the song was sung was resistant but couldn’t keep from surrendering to the other’s charms. (Charm…get it? Magical stuff!)

Most of the richer descriptions were written by females. (The males were pretty clueless).  The romance resulted from what appeared to be planned spontaneity.  He planned something that would come off to her as spontaneous but also would show that he knew what she loved without her having to tell him.  The planning showed that he had been thinking of her in her absence.  The spontaneity introduced an element of surprise, which often fosters memory of the event. The fittingness of it showed he knew her heart because he had, unbeknownst to her,  been paying attention, which suggested that she was numero uno.  The aim of the game was to move her toward intimacy with him, to the ‘woo who’ moment. 

However, beyond that, I have wondered  whether romance , and all that goes into fostering it, has something to do with enabling us to go on in the face of the difficulties of life.  I think it is no accident that people speak of the ‘fairy tale romance.’  And, I cannot read that phrase without thinking of Tolkein’s essay on fairy tales.

Without getting too far into it, Tolkien claimed that we ‘escape’ into fairy tales not so as to get away from either the grinding ordinariness of life or the sharp-edged suffering that often emerges in it.  We ‘escape’ into fairy tales so that we may re-enter this ordinary and hard-edged life transformed, enlarged with wonder.  

However, the difference between sheer romance and fairy tales is that romance trades on illusions and wishes while fairy tales plunge us more deeply into the very reality we have escaped. 

But why am I going on about this?   What has this to do with the cup?

I’m not mad at romance.  However, it is romance that sets us up for deep suffering when it comes to the hard loss of your beloved.  You may recall my reverie over scrambled eggs and how it all but gutted me.  Romancing a memory or a spirit who cannot penetrate the thin veil between our and that other realm is a recipe for anguished longing. 

Romance may be a necessary component of living a meaningful life with someone you love.   It may play a subtle role in the procreation of our futures.   We may need those moments of escape to remind us that wonder is not just a Disney production but an aid in us knowing more fully that we walk in mystery every second of our lives.    

But, as much as I cherish the cup because of the moment in which it was given, the saying  printed on it is BS.   “The best is yet to be’ asserts that we can know what we cannot know.  It sets us up for disappointment.   Dreamy sayings, as beautiful as they may be, are still dreamy. 

We had no idea in the Publix parking lot what the future held. 

We just thought, that whatever it held, it would be ‘the best.’

(more coming)

The Cup (3/X)

The Cup (3/X) 

So I have these two ideas to think about.  There is the John Lennon song with the line that he lifted from a poem by Robert Browning: “The best is yet to be.”   And then there is the partial account of my delirium journey and what ‘the presence’ said to me about the noises I was hearing outside my room.  Those noises were “trouble yet to come.” 

I think about each of them.  As I look back over the past 3 years or so I ask which has turned out to be case?  Have the past 3 years turned out to be ‘the best?’  Or, have the past 3 years turned out to be ‘trouble?” 

First, I want to think about each of those separately.   “The best is yet to be.”   John Lennon wrote that song with that lyric in 1980.   He recorded the song to a demo tape.  John Lennon was murdered a few months later, December, 1980. 

Let THAT sink in!

“The best is yet to be.”

+++

If I start from April, 2019 and work my way forward here is what I recall:  Following transplant, I had 16 weeks of recovery before I could do much of anything. Three weeks following the ‘launch’ of my new life- the sermon I preached on August 11th, 2019,  Linda’s beloved sister was found dead in the home she shared with her mother. She was 60 years old.   She had been found a day or two after she died.  She was the main caregiver to Linda’s aging mother who was found at the same time, lying in the floor and completely delirious.  

Her mother spent several weeks in the hospital and was discharged to an assisted living facility and her house, Linda’s childhood home, was sold. 

In June 2020, I became extremely sick with virus (non-COVID) that put me in the hospital for 2 weeks.  When I got out of the hospital, I had to begin infusing meds. (5 hours per day, 7 days a week, for several months).  Those meds gave me low grade flu symptoms everyday.  One week following the discharge to Emory, I was re-admitted with what turned out to be Occipital Neuralgia, a skull crushing form of headache which is accompanied by a lot of throwing up. It was completely unrelated to anything that had gone before.  It was not until March of 2021 that I could honestly say that I felt like my old self again.   That was almost two years from the transplant.

In May, 2021, Linda was diagnosed with advanced liver disease.  In early July, 2021 she was admitted for a month into Emory.  I won’t even go into all the symptoms of that malady but just say that liver disease is a vicious disease.  After being discharged she went to a facility for physical therapy and then from then until December 5th she was in and out of Emory.  During the time from July to her death on December 8th, she underwent 13 endoscopies and was placed in the ICU twice. 

On December 8th, she died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism.
From Christmas, 2019 to December 8th, 2021, do you think we experienced the ‘best’ that was ‘yet to be?’

+++

“The best is yet to be” is a romantic statement .  By romantic, I mean that it is dreamy, wishful, It is illusory and transportive in the sense that it lifts us out of the ordinariness of life to a future of honeysuckle bliss.  The romantic has nothing to do with hard realities.  The romantic floats above the ground. Everything lacks mass, weightiness, and hard edges.  


“The best is yet to be’ is also BS.  All romantic statements are BS.  (And, I don’t mean that in scatological sense.  I mean it in the philosophical sense as that which is not exactly a lie but is certainly not the truth.  

Linda loved romance but was not very romantic herself.  Me?  Heck, I’m a regular Don Juan.  That was not always the case.  Way back in our earliest days of marriage, Linda would say, “You just don’t have a romantic bone in your body!”  (She didn’t say that with glee…trust me.).  She was right but the reason was that I had no idea what it meant to be romantic. 

So, I went on a quest to learn what it meant.  I wanted to learn the meaning and essence of romance and, by cracky, I was going to act on it.   I asked students in my General Psychology class at Milligan to describe in writing the most romantic experience they had ever had.    As I recall, I got about 80 responses.  I interviewed people about it.  And, I picked 20 romantic songs to better understand what romance is. 

I’ll write about that and why it’s important to grief, etc next. 

The Cup (2/a few)

As many folks know, immediately following my heart transplant, I went into a deep delirium  that lasted about ten days.   I had numerous episodes before the transplant but after the transplant there was no part of me that was not thoroughly lost in it.   There was no rational me sitting on my shoulder.  Even that little bit of me was thoroughly psychotic. 

In that state, I was ‘taken’ somewhere and shown things that both traumatized and transformed me.  I had a guide (a.k.a. ‘the presence”) who stood just just behind my left shoulder throughout the whole ordeal and would comment on what I was seeing. 

At times during this delirium I was in a not-Emory hospital room in a hospital bed.  While in that room I discovered I had these super powers.  If I concentrated hard enough I could turn the walls to glass and see things going on outside the room.  Much of the time the room was just a room. But even when it was ‘just a room’ strange things happened.  

There was an ordinary white cabinet in the corner to my left with a small cabinet next to it.  Whenever food was brought to me and I would eat, that cabinet lean over so as to get a better view of what I was eating.  Whenever I looked up at it, the cabinet would be standing straight.  I was surrounded by a lot of machinery and those machines would do the same thing. 

Linda laughed when I told her that but, let me tell you, when you are in delirium you experience weird stuff like that and it is MORE REAL than what we would call ordinary reality.   It didn’t scare me as much as it irritated me.  I couldn’t eat in peace for that cabinet and all those machines hovering over me.

When the lights were turned out at night, I would hear things tapping on the window, scratching at the door, pawing at the walls, and scurrying across the ceiling.  And, I don’t mean a few things.  It seemed as if there were hundreds of little creatures trying to get in my room.

This happened over several nights.  At one point I remember thinking, “This is what Paul McCartney was trying to warn us about: ‘Someone’s knocking at the door; someone’s ringing the bell…”  He knew all along and was trying to warn us.  Also, Rockwell…that pioneer of the paranormal, yeah, he knew about this back in the 80’s….” I always feel that somebody’s watching me!” 

Thankfully, I learned that if I squeezed my eyes shut..I mean really tight…within a few seconds the lights would snap on and the noises would stop.  The problem was that the light came on like that only when my eyes were squeezed shut.  After a while my eyes would start to hurt and I would open them and be plunged back into the thumping, scratching, and scurrying darkness.

When I couldn’t take it anymore I asked the presence: “What IS that?”

And she, (yes, she) answered as plain as day, “Troubles yet to come.”

+++

Well, whatever you make of all that, there you have it.  This is life….

“The best is yet to be.”

“ Troubles yet to come.” 

The Cup (1/ we’ll see)

Back in late 2019, Linda and I pulled into a Publix parking lot.  As I snaked along watching for a parking place, John Lennon’s song “Grow Old Along with Me,” as performed by the Annie Moses Band, came up from my vast playlist. 

“Grow old along with me,

The best is yet to be…”

Although my eyes were fixed upon a space ahead, I sensed a loud silence coming from Linda.  (When you have been married a long time, you can distinguish between a loud silence and your regular run-of-the-mill silence.).  After I parked the car, I looked at her. Tears streamed down her cheeks. 

“What’s wrong? Does that song make you sad?”  I asked.

“Yes.”

“What about it makes you so sad?”

“It reminds me of how scared I was when you were in for your transplant. I was afraid you weren’t going to make it.”  

I don’t need to convince anyone that that was a special moment not simply because Linda was moved but because Linda told me why she was moved. 

I reached over and patted her hand.  

“Look at me.” I said. “You don’t have to worry about that now.”

We both chuckled.  We always chuckled at those kind of tears.

On Christmas, 2019, Linda gave me a white cup as a gift.  Words were printed in black on the side: “the best is yet to be.”   Of course, I remember the Publix tears.  We gave each other that knowing look across the room.

Although I was still recovering from the heart transplant, I sat back in my chair and reveled n the prospect.  After dealing with Congestive Heart Failure for 18 years and with a blessed donor heart beating in my chest, I could only think that she was right,

“The best was yet to be.” 
+++++

Annie Moses Band “Come Grow Old Along with Me”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA3frCMWi7k



Baby’s Got Blue Eyes

Of all the many things I loved about Linda, her blue eyes had to be at the top of the list.  I won’t go through all of her beautiful features that knocked me over at first sight-you know things like her hair, her tan, her car that was as crappy as mine…

Her eyes… 

(Insert sigh here)

Loved her eyes.

When we were young I wanted to dive into those blue pools.  And, even in the last months of her life when she was sick as you can be, the first thing that happened when I walked into her room was that her eyes and her mouth would fly open as if I were the prodigal returning at long last home.  (That, in spite of the fact that I sat with her every single day!)

Every so often I would slip up beside her and bend down to her bed-ridden ear and sing a little Elton: “Blue eyes…baby’s got blue eyes.” 

I wrote a song not long ago about caregiving.  It’s about a man who feels unqualified to take care of  his memory-failing wife at home.  Without saying more about it, there is a bridge where he talks about the names she called him when joking or when sitting snuggled in front of the fire.  But one line goes…”when the lightning flashed behind her eyes, she used names I won’t repeat.”     That’s autobiography, folks.  Lightning flashed behind those eyes.


Linda struggled off and on with clinical depression for years.  During that season, she would go into that dark space for months at a time.  However, she had not experienced that long descent into the cavern for a couple of decades.  But there were times, when you could see a darkness fall upon her as if a shadow were passing over.  The transformation was visible and showed up in those lovely eyes.  The darkness would sit upon her for a  day or two and then disappear as if the sun had broken through storm clouds. 

Her eyes were our life.  Every moment, every season, every day of light, and every day of darkness, every affection, every affliction showed up in her eyes.  As quiet and shy as she was, her eyes announced everything, if you yourself had eyes to see. 

Her eyes were the last thing I saw of the living Linda.  And now, those eyes, bewildered and fearful, haunt me everyday.  

+++

I had just pulled up at the curb in the front of our house.  I had just returned from the ER where a doctor told me what I already knew.

DOA.  Sudden Cardiac Arrest.*

I stopped the car and stared at nothing. 

The phone rang and, out of habit, I answered

“Hello?”

“Hello, Mr. Street?”

“Yes.”
“ This is ___ at the Georgia Eye Bank. First,  I want to express our condolences to you over the loss of your wife and I do apologize for the timing of this urgent call.  But, I wanted to speak to you and ask if you would like to donate your wife’s eyes so that up to four people could experience the gift of sight.” 

The is the god-honest truth.: I felt an arrow fly straight through my chest. 

“Her eyes?  Her eyes?  Oh my God…her eyes?” I thought. 

“I know this is a hard decision, Mr. Street.  I’m sorry but we have to act quickly if your answer is ‘yes.’”

“I know…I know.  I’m an advocate for organ donation.  I had a heart transplant myself. Of course, the answer will be ‘yes’ but can you give me 15 minutes to think about it?”

“Sure.  I’ll call you back.”

We hung up.

+++

Her eyes were our life.

My mind imagined all that they had seen.  Those eyes that first met mine.  Those eyes that searched for the first daffodil of Spring.  Those eyes that read Whitman’s poetry to that daffodil.  Every year. Those eyes that first saw Amber and our granddaughters.  Those eyes of sadness, of anger, and of love. 

Those eyes that slayed me.

I thought about our song: “Because I saw the light, in your eyes, in your eyes,”    Yeah, Todd Rundgren. 

Linda had been listed as an organ donor for close to 50 years.  Such donation was part and parcel of who she was. (She donated gallons of blood before she became too anemic to do so.)

She would have wanted me to do that.  And, what was the point of cremating her eyes or of burying them with her? And, good grief, I had been the recipient of such a gift. 

But…her eyes. 

Of course, I said yes.  And since then I’ve wondered what those recipients have seen.  Surely they have seen glorious things. Beautiful things.  Surely they have seen or will see sorrows…but, my God, if they don’t see love, love, love…..they are as blind as ever. 

How could they not with those eyes?

———————————–

  • The ER doctor surmised that the cause of death was Sudden Cardiac Arrest, which basically means her heart stopped beating. That was obvious. After describing her final moments with several healthcare pros, I am convinced that she likely died of a Pulmonary Embolism. A blot clot passed into a lung artery. That diagnosis not only fits her final moments but also seems reasonable given her long stays in the hospital and the numerous endoscopies she endured. But, that’s just me there…

Fallin’

Linda and I were married in a little church in Doraville, Georgia on May 24th, 1974.   (Yes…THAT Doraville. No…It’s not a touch of country in the city. The little church building is still there but now it’s a Buddhist meditation center.)   We followed the traditional ceremony except the preacher somehow managed to work in something about the Rapture.  (He may as well have slapped me with a carp.  But that’s a different story)

Two phrases in the traditional vows stand out to me.   The first is ‘for better or worse.’   One thing that 47 years of marriage has taught me is that when you say for better or worse, you have no idea as to how good better can be and how bad worse can get.  (Sure, you can use the line but credit me.  It’s one of my better ones.  I’d hate to see a meme one day that credits that to Winston Churchill or Groucho Marx.) 

The other phrase is ‘until we are parted by death.’ We take that to mean that the only thing that will sever us from one another in marriage is death.  When death takes one of us, the other is under no obligation to the vows and is free to go a-courtin’ and get married. 

You are free to cancel your subscription.  

I am learning that it doesn’t always work that way.  The dying part I get.  The parting part I get. 

But so what?

In terms of my experience, I am as married today as I ever was.  

Linda died but I’m not parted.  (I can’t speak for her.)

Oh, I know.  It’s only been a little over a month since that horrid day.  Experientially, I have no idea how this works over the long haul.   But, in my my mind, my emotions, my heart…heck…in my behavior I’m still married. 

And that’s part of the problem when it comes to grieving Linda’s death.  This inability to shelve the marriage, this thing which  has been my life is not over.  Yet, physically, she is gone.  And I mean GONE!

Before I tell you how that makes me feel, I want to say something about the experience of grief.  On the one hand, given certain premises, the experience of grief is a rational experience. That was behind what I wrote in that little piece called “I’m Fine.”  My weeping and wailing is perfectly rational given what has happened.  It makes sense. 

On the other hand, the experience of grief is non-rational because, as I wrote before, it is an altered state of consciousness.  For awhile at least, you don’t live in the same world as other people.   Who weeps over scrambled eggs?  Who talks to a box of ashes?

Having said that,  part of what is so wrenching about this grief is the awareness that Linda is gone and I am still married to her.   You know how that makes me feel?

At first, I wanted to write “Abandoned.”  However, that word suggests that her dying was a choice.  Something on the order of running off with a traveling salesman.  

So how does it make me feel?

Bereaved. 

To be bereaved is to feel deprived of something (or someone) of great value to you.   Of course, she didn’t ‘choose’ to die on December 8th.  If it was, in fact, a pulmonary embolism, which is likely,  then some  dumb clot passed Into an artery in her lung and that was that.

She was deprived of her life.

I am deprived of her.

All by a dumb clot.

I’m furious at that stupid clot. But what does a clot care about that?

Bereavement is tricky business.  I mean when you have been suddenly deprived of someone, you don’t wipe them from your heart.  You go on as if nothing and everything has happened all at once. 

I’m still married to her.  Nothing happened.

She was taken from me. Everything happened.

I wrote a song about this the other day. The song came to me while I was flipping through some old pictures.  I turned to one in particular and all but fell to my knees. 

+++

“I spread some old photographs,

On the table top.
From forty years ago.

My heart almost stopped.

You were so beautiful.

I could not believe.

That you said, ‘yes’

And married me.”

+++

Now get this chorus:

+++

“Now I am falling, falling, falling in love with you.

What am I gonna do

If I keep on falling, falling, falling in love with you?”

+++

A clot took my bride and I’m still married.

She’s gone and I’m falling, falling, falling.

The Bear Who Lost His Boy

A bear lives on the shelf of my bookcase in the den.  He is a threadbare bear.  His once fluffy coat is gone and what remains feels like burlap.  He is stuffed with straw.  He is missing an ear.

I believe he was born in Germany.  I believe he was brought to America by a war-worn grunt who had the stuffing knocked out of him somewhere between the coast of northern France and Berlin.  The soldier brought him as a gift to his three-year old son whom he had never seen. 

The soldier died years ago and the bear he brought to the boy is an old man now.  

The boy?   The boy died in 1966 when he was 22 years old.  Cerebral hemorrhage… just as he caught a basketball and started to dribble it down the court.  

He was just starting when he dropped dead.

Today marks the 56th anniversary of his death 

The bear’s eyes, which are nothing but dark threads, stare wistfully into space.  His expression never changes.  He is a sad little bear because he has lost his boy.  For him, the boy is forever young. 

No one ever told the bear the truth.

The bear adventured with the boy.  He was the boy’s right hand.  The bear dreamed with the boy as they sailed the slippery surfaces of sleep   The bear broke bread with boy and loved those times when the boy, being a boy, threw him high into the air and caught him as he fell.

But one day the boy stopped.

He had outgrown the bear.  

I cannot fix the date because I wasn’t born yet.  I can’t tell you the anniversary of the bear’s grief.  I just know, as far as the bear was concerned, the boy died long before the boy died. 

No one ever told him the truth but I think he must be a wise old bear. 

He’s pushing 80 and has seen a million losses in his life.  He has watched his own plush surface drop away.  He has seen the boy’s dad die and then his mom.  He knows how it feels to live in a grief-filled house.  He has lost many homes because he was  moved many times.  He spent years in a dark box in a hot attic. I found him and brought him home.   And now, his distant eyes watch me. 

Like most of us, the bear has learned a lot by living.  No one told  him the truth.    He learned it the hard way.: 

.
All of God’s creatures are meant for love.

And all creaturely love attaches.

And all love attachments are joined to that which passes.

Even tiny losses grieve.

I Hurt Myself Today (2/2)

I want to learn from my miseries. 

I want to know why I ran that nostalgic sentimental film in my mind, especially since I know that doing that can compound misery 

But I also want to know about that because many, if not most, people who grieve know what it is to be triggered by seemingly insignificant things.   “The least little thing can set me off.”  I want to be able to help them by learning what helps me. 

Here are some observations:

First, there is a triggering object or event that serves as a link from the present to the idealized past.  Scrambling eggs today is linked to scrambling eggs then. (Not  any ‘least little thing’ sets us off.  It seems to be particular things that set us off.  Why this thing versus that thing?  I don’t know.)

Second, these kinds of experience are not deliberately chosen but spontaneously emerge ‘on their own’ from within.   I never said to myself:  “I think I’ll go down into the kitchen, grab some eggs, and scramble them so as to make myself  miserable.”   (Chances are that if I had deliberately tried to make myself miserable I couldn’t do it. Emotions can’t be ordered around..)

Third, if these sorts of experiences emerge they must emerge from somewhere.  That observation opens up several possibilities: is God at work in this?  Is the Spirit?  Is it me?  Is the devil trying to crush me? While I’m open to possibilities, we do know far more than we think we do and are far wiser than we know. 

Fourth, we can benefit from being attuned to that inner wisdom. We encourage our children to listen to that ‘inner voice.’   Maybe we adults would do well to cultivate that habit ourselves.  I like to think that there is an unconscious side ot myself that looks out for me and knows what I need even as my conscious self has no clue. 

Fifth, it is possible that what we experience on the painful surface is an evidence of grace at work within us.  My flood of tears over the egg bowl need not be seen as collapse but as liberation from the bondage of that painful numbness.  Why do people think that someone who weeps at a gravesite is ‘not taking it well.’   The truth may be that the mourner is ‘receiving it well.’  Perhaps the grace of God or the inner wisdom of the human spirit knows which buttons to push so as to deliver the mourner from her agony.  

Why do we often see tears as little drops of failure rather than showers of painful joy that serve us when we don’t how to serve ourselves?

What if we came to see grief not as a journey of ten thousand steps but as as a voyage across deep and dark seas?  Why do we see it as plodding along rather than as riding upon the winds of grace?  

The rusted hinges of prison doors screech when they are opened.  Freedom cries as it is being born.   The winds of grace howl sometimes and we, like wilderness wolves, join the chorus. 

.  

I Hurt Myself Today (1/2)

I had been up a while and struggling to write this past Saturday morning when I realized that I felt hungry.  I set aside my laptop and shuffled downstairs without a clue as to what I might find to eat. 

I felt as dry as a desert.  I had realized on Friday that grief is not all tears and sadness.  Grief can be numbness, a painful numbness.  In that numbness, things that ought to move you do not.  It is as if you are looking in on life but not living it.  You are walking but dead.

You don’t feel guilty about it though you may think you should.  (Isn’t there an obligation to feel something following the death of the love of your life?)  You don’t feel ashamed that you don’t feel guilty.  You don’t feel cold and indifferent even though you are.  

I felt hungry, that I needed to eat but, really, whether I ate was neither here nor there.  

I opened the refrigerator, looked around a second or two, and then saw the gray and green container of eggs.  I had forgotten that I had Instacarted some eggs.  

I took them from the refrigerator and shuffled over to the kitchen counter.  I  poured another cup of coffee and stood there a second as I contemplated what  I would do with them.

“Ah, just scramble them.’

I put things in place: eggs, salt, pepper.  I shuffled back to the fridge to get some grated cheese.  I also took some lemon juice.

  I shuffled back to the counter, opened the middle bottom cabinet and retrieved my favorite mixing bowl.   (I found it in a thrift shop.  It’s an aluminum bowl with a sordid history.  A previous owner had shot it several times with a BB gun.)

I cracked the egg on the counter with my right hand, quickly lifted it over the bowl, and let the contents ooze into the bowl.  Then I repeated that action with another egg.   I added a few drops of lemon juice, grabbed a fork, and whisked away. 

That’s when I hurt myself.

+++

I remembered those every-Saturdays when I cooked up eggs for the two of us. I had gotten into experimenting with eggs on the promise of Chef Michael Ruhlman that if you learn all the ways to cook an egg you will have learned all the ways to cook anything.   I saw myself preparing some egg dish and carrying it to Linda.  I saw us eating together.  And, I remembered her trying my new concoction and hearing her say, “You know…scrambled is fine.”

It was a standing joke.  

Truth be told, some of my creations fell flat.  A well-seasoned meringue is a peculiar thing to eat on a Saturday morning.   “What did you eat for breakfast today?”  “Oh, a very nice spinach and foam dish I cooked up.” 

I felt the corner of my lips move toward a faint smile as I ran that film in my mind.  The filtered edges of the image.   Bluebirds and butterflies  lighting on our shoulders as we laughed and talked in slow motion to the sound of a Kenny G soundtrack.

I felt myself sinking into the movie that I ran in my mind.

But then, a dull but glowing ache. 

I felt it but couldn’t localize it. It wasn’t in my head or my hands or in any of my joints.   It felt as if it was everywhere and nowhere at once, as if it were not in my body but floating around me just above the surface of my skin.

It was the pain of yearning.    

I put my hands on the kitchen counter, bowed my head over that wounded bowl, and heard myself yelp before the flood of tears.  

On Sunday morning,  I told my little community that I had turned the corner from the disbelief that Linda had died to something else.  I was falling, falling, falling into a deep pit of sadness. 

It started with those eggs and that stupid sentimental film.

(1/2)

+++

I’ll See You in My Dreams

Yesterday I wrote that faith is inseparable from imagination.   Having preached that for years, I know from experience that not everyone receives that.  For some, the thought of faith being wrapped up with imagination diminishes faith. . 

“Faith is about the truth!”  They say. “Imagination is about fantasy.”

I half expect them to quote from I Temptations 3:24:  “It was JUST my imagination…”.  (If they did, I would remind that the group’s name ought to serve as precaution.  They are “The Temptations” after all.  The devil would like nothing more than for us to divorce imagination from faith.)

To believe is to imagine.

Every Sunday I hold up a piece of bread and I say, “This is the body of Christ broken…”  No one questions that.  No one says, “With a minute!  That’s just a piece of bread!”   Everyone sees it as the body of Christ. 

I may preach, “To be absent from the body is to be present to the Lord” and the minds of the faithful immediately imagine what that must entail.   

“I can only imagine…” 

Why am I thinking about this?  I am thinking about this because I am thinking about Linda. What is the relationship of this grief I am experiencing to how I imagine her current condition?  How has faith, indeed faithful imagination,  shaped me for such a time as this?

I think back to that night at the Gray Fairgrounds and the sadness I felt that Linda was missing out, the guilt I felt that I had gone to Tennessee for Christmas without her.   

I have been taught that at death a believer like Linda goes to be with the Lord and that nothing can compare to the joy of that reality.  However, I confessed that the joy of that reality could not possibly surpass the sadness I felt that she was  not with me and missing the sight of a well-lighted cow jumping over the moon. 

My grief was compounded by the ridiculousness of that feeling.  But, truth be told, that is how I felt.  I felt as if I had betrayed her by going to Tennessee without her. 

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I am convinced that grief is not simply an emotional response to loss but is, in fact, an. altered state of consciousness  The cow jumping over the moon is nothing when compared to grief drop-kicking you over Mars.

I know about altered states of consciousness.  I wasn’t  just sitting around doing nothing in the 60s.  But, on top of that, I experienced such profound delirium during transplant that it transformed my worldview.  As a result, I am even weirder than you might imagine. 

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Linda was a swimmer.  She swam year round if she could.   In the summer, we joined a private pool that was part of a particular neighborhood. As long as lightning bolts where not striking close the pool, Linda was in it.  She swam non-stop for an hour…well, except when she stopped to investigate the traps around the pool to rescue stranded frogs.  (After her swim, she would sit on the steps close to where I sat under an umbrella and rescue stranded carpenter ants from the water.  I came to call her ‘Saint Frankie.”)

During the Winter she swam three times a week at the YMCA.  We’ve lived in Atlanta for 21 years.  She started that routine about 10 minutes after we moved in.  

She swam like for at least 40 years.

; At the beginning of summer, I bought her a new bathing suit.  She wore it a week or two before she got sick.  As I was sorting through clothes, I reached down and picked up that bathing suit.  At that moment, some schmuck shot an arrow through my heart.  

Let me tell you, and I know this from experience, it is hard to hug an empty bathing suit. 

Tell me that grief is not an altered state of consciousness.    “He’s lost his mind, someone saw him hugging a bathing suit.”  

Except it wasn’t empty.  She was in it.

“Oh, that was nothing but your imagination.”

“Uh, if you don’t mind, I take my imagination straight with nothing-buttery.”

But, the critic is right.  She wasn’t there.  

Linda was the warmest human being that ever lived.   Oh, I don’t mean that in terms of relationships.  Linda could be a little distant in relationships.   No.  I mean she was warm.   Sometimes I would prosecute her about it, “Have you been tumbling in the clothes dryer again, young lady?”   The dogs loved her for that. 

I didn’t feel that warmth but for a second she was there. 

Well, was she there or wasn’t she? 

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Here’s something to think about.  When a believer dies she goes to be with the Lord.  While people say all kinds of things about what happens right after you die,  some of those things are not found in scripture. 

Scripture is sort of vague about what happens immediately after you die.  You go to be with the Lord.  You are ‘in the Lord.”  You are secure.  You are safe.  You are ‘asleep in the Lord.” 

Asleep in the Lord.

We read that as if it is saying that you are unconscious and unaware in the Lord.  But, anyone who has ever paid attention when asleep, knows that sleep is a period of activity.  High activity.  It is…ahem…an altered state of consciousness. 

For example, you are highly vigilant when asleep.  Of course, part of you is ‘dead to the world’ (what an interesting phrase, huh?)  But part of you is wide awake.  

I live in a house that creaks and pops.  (My house mocks me since I do too!)  I sleep right through those creaks and pops.  They are old familiar friends.    But, let there be an unusual creak, an unfamiliar pop and I’m sitting up with pie pan eyes.   (Did you know we hear with our eyes?) 

Whaaazat? 

I wouldn’t assume that being asleep in the Lord is like being asleep  in this realm but even being asleep this side of the veil is not a state of total unconsciousness.  (I’m not sure how any one could sleep if they were truly in the Lord?!?)

And then there are dreams.  Holy Moley.  Dreams.  

I heard a song the other day and the guy sang “…but I was only dreaming.”   ONLY dreaming my hind end!
There is no ONLY dreaming. 

If nothing else , dreaming is thought to occur as the brain repairs itself (what? Repairs itself? While I’m asleep?) at night.  While you are slobbering on your pillow, your brain is clearing out clutter, hooking up new connections, and generally maintaining itself   Some think that dreaming  is a side effect of that. 

Okay…but why are dreams, though odd, sometimes coherent?

Apart from this trip over Mars that I am currently experiencing, I have experienced three major periods of grief: that which followed the death of each of my parents and that which followed the death of my cousin when I was 16.   Each of those seasons of  grief were resolved because of a dream…a grief dream.  

I am awaiting a visit from Linda.  At night, as I turn in, I speak to her and say, “Bud, feel free to come by tonight.”   (Over Mars…remember)

She came by the other night but this was not a ‘grief dream.”  She and I were in a huge cafeteria and she wanted to sneak into the kitchen.  (That was sooo Linda!).  While we were creeping around in the kitchen, I noticed a rather large woman watching us in spite of the fact that her hair completely covered her face.   

“We better get out of here,” I said, “We are being watched.”
Linda turned to run and tripped over a mop bucket and sprawled onto the floor.
We both broke out laughing. I helped her up and we ran for our lives. 

We walked up this hall together still giggling.  I touched her arm and stopped.
We hugged.  She felt as if she had just stepped out of the dryer.
I woke up…and fought back the tears because they bring headaches.

Oh, that was just a dream. 
Oh, that was just your imagination.

I like the idea that Linda is asleep in the Lord.  I imagine her snug in his care.  Whole.  No longer suffering the god-awful symptoms of liver failure. 
The only question I have is this:
Does she dream about me?