Friday, February 24, 2006

Who's hanging out on your grave?

One of the biggest interests of my professional life is death: its rights and rites, preparation for, grief reactions, which undertakers wear what... the whole shebang. Notice I say, "my professional life." If I went back to bartending, teaching, catering, or any of the dozen other jobs I've had in my life, I would turn my back on my death interests. So, it isn't death itself, but our reactions to it that interest me as a minister. As a person, I experience death like everyone else.

In the personal vein, I was reading the superb blog "Octogenarian" today, and it reminded me of my grandfather. Grandaddy Cameron died 17 years ago. I did not get to know him as an adult, which makes me sad because I was quite fond of him. As a child I felt sorry for him because of his speech impediment. (Turns out, it was a Massachusetts accent, but I didn't learn that until many years later. ) On my most recent visit to my grandmother, we went to Grandaddy's grave to freshen it up. It brought back a lot of memories of his illness (asbestosis), his death, his funeral, and his legacy left upon his children and grandchildren.

Richard Cameron was a good and kind grandfather. I wish he had lived longer so that we could have laughed more, shared more stories, learned more about each other. I know all that I missed with grandaddy because I've had all of these years since his death to get enjoy these things with my grandmother. I'm grateful that she has gotten to meet my children. I have enjoyed hearing her stories about her life, what motherhood was like for her, how she remembers Grandaddy. As you can see, she has done a very nice job taking care of his gravesite.

During that recent visit, we visited a lot of graves. Grandmama Cameron has to be one of the most dedicated friends and family members who has ever lived. We took a huge box full of flowers to the cemetery so she could tend to dozens of graves of her friends, church buddies, and extended family. As a Unitarian Universalist, graveyards aren't really part of my tradition. Some people use them, but most people cremate and scatter, use church memorial gardens, or keep the urns. Watching my grandmother tidy up the cemetery and visit the graves of her old friends and family was a meaningful ritual for me, too. At each grave she shared memories of the person buried there.

I was particularly touched with the special flowers she had chosen for the grave of a friend's baby. Had she lived, the baby would be menopausal by now, but my grandmother still honors her and the friend who lost her. The friend, who became our inlaw, has Alzheimer's now and remembers none of her children, living or dead, so it is particularly touching that my grandmother remembers her lost baby for her.

While Grandmama was laying out all those flowers with the help of my son, I got to wandering around the graveyard and found this grave. The small pile in front of the grave is a Jack Daniels cap and matching handkerchief. Turns out my grandmother isn't the only one tending graves in this graveyard. This made me think of the unique little things we do in honor of those we love. Grandaddy Cameron is one of the people who taught me how to appreciate life and love, but Grandmama Cameron is the one who taught me how to love in the face of death, and how to remember.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Render Yourself Obsolete

Today I gave an invocation for a Bar Association function. Lawyers. Lots of them. I decided to call us to our best and highest selves. I gave thanks for the noble calling of the law with its roles of preserver of justice, encourager of equality and fairness, and arbiter of peace. In the spirit of prayer I asked, "May we know success in our vocation to such a degree that we one day render ourselves obsolete." May it be so and Amen.

My husband was in attendance but seated at a separate table.
"What do you think she meant by that?!" asked one of the attorneys at his table as soon as I had finished. "I don't think I like that idea...'Rendering myself obsolete.' No, I don't like that at all."

My husband let the critique go on awhile before he revealed our connection. It is a tribute to the attorney, or evidence of his professional habits, that he did not back down after the revelation. He was not so much confrontational as flummoxed. I am pleased to have sparked a little conversation. So often I receive no feedback from an invocation and am left wondering if I should have just mumbled my preschool age son's favorite blessing, "Drace. Awww man!" (Translation: Grace. Amen.) And I also stand by my words.

The goal of my religion is to create a more just and equitable world in our own lifetime. I think it is a wonderful idea that this world could become such a paradise that my services would no longer be needed. I would hope that anyone who works for justice would still believe that it is possible, and that they could be helpful in bringing it about. If we can't imagine peace, how will we know it if we see it?

I would like to share this sentiment of working toward the goal of rendering one's profession obsolete with other groups before whom I speak. When I looked at my calendar, however, it became clear that won't be possible in the near future. My next eligible speaking engagement? The Funeral Directors' Association.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

On Tears

If I go a week without someone crying in front of me, I must be on vacation. Tears are my definition of normal. Earlier this week, someone barely teared up in my presence and confused me with a profuse apology. "Why on earth are you sorry?" I wondered, but this led me to two questions: 1) Why in front of me? and 2) Why not in front of others?

Obviously, people have different reasons, but I think some of the most common answers to #1 include: I am in a trusted profession, a profession many turn to in times of personal turmoil; and anyone who knows me, knows I will not judge them for crying. The possible answers to #2 are what trouble me.

From the derisive remarks I have heard, it appears that many see tears as signs of weakness, illness, selfishness, or helplessness. Funny. I always thought angry outbursts and violence were those signs. Evidently I am in a minority on this topic. Men in particular can be incredibly judgmental on the topic of crying, while women can be wildly defensive. What a shame.

How can we ever know or trust one another, if we can't mutually express our natural emotions? In fact, forget others. How can we know ourselves if we are forever editing our responses? Tears often tell the truth better than any other form of expression. Sure, there will always be those who are lying through their tears, but most people do that with their smiles. It's a lot harder to fake a tear than a smile.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Secret of Snow

The Valentine's Dance was tonight. (See immediately preceding post.) The band was swinging tight. The dancers were graceful. No sign of necking at the hymnals, but we had to leave early to relieve Little Man and Princess Cheerio's babysitter, so... maybe? Couples, singles, same-sex couples all showed up and were festive. Only one problem: snow. Turns out that the secret to bringing snow is to schedule a dance. Our record is that 50% of our Valentine's dances are snowed on or out.

Chatted with the band before I left and we plan to leave these Valentine's dilemmas behind us. Next year we will have a "Swing into Spring" dance. Ciao, Cupid.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Deconstructing the Valentine's Dance

One of the greatest communication difficulties of a religious community is how to describe what it is really like to be part of the community. Case in point: the Valentine's Dance.

We have a tradition of holding a Valentine's Dance with a marvelous swing band, professional photos taken, a big dance floor, and about half the time - inclement weather. Every year the same people come and have a good time. They would like others to join them and are open to a diverse crowd, but how do we describe what the Valentine's Dance is and isn't?

The first issue is: are same sex couples welcome? The organizers always say they are, but then feel that this fact should be understood and doesn't have to be publicized. Give me a break! We are a church in Richmond, Virginia. In this town most same-sex couples would think "Church Valentine's Dance" would be code for "Heterosexism-fest."

Then there's the question of dates. Are singles welcome? Yes. "Will I feel out of place?" they ask me. How should I know? The church treasurer isn't making out with his wife by the hymnals, if that's what you mean. (Or, at least, he was not last year.)

"Does everyone dance?" "What do people wear?" "I don't drink." "I like to smoke." "Is the music loud?" "Will I know anyone?" I find myself saying, "Just show up. You'll see. It's fun," which is the equivalent of saying "boogledy lala fingzu", but I don't know what else to say because there's a trick to these things.

Call it critical mass, tipping point, or just party mojo. Our church is not static. Because we invite people with diverse beliefs to share our community with shared values of mutual respect, the power of the individual quest, and the goal of living this life well - we are constantly changing. We are not a creed. We are not a book.We are whoever participates. We are now. We are you, when you are here. That's Sunday morning. That's Valentine's. That's every day. But just try to put that on the Valentine's Dance poster.

So my trusty volunteers and I moved the furniture tonight and started the decorating. I have high hopes this year. Maybe people will try something new. Maybe it won't snow. And, if not the treasurer, maybe somebody will sneek a little smooch over by the hymnals. I hope it will be someone I talked into coming.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Little Man's Triumphant Departure

The social elite are so caught up in making an entrance that few know the finesse required of a good exit. Little Man has mastered the classy farewell. On Sunday, His Sweet Self incoherently entered the hospital via his mother's arms and the ER entrance. Two days later he left as the Grand Marshal of his own checkout parade.

The parade was led by a bedraggled father figure, whom we'll call The Strong Sleepy One, who had spent the past two nights on watch in LM's suite. The Strong Sleepy One was bearing in one arm some of the many toys that had arrived as gifts or mysteriously apparated in the room. On the other arm he bore the bulky throne of a tiny cheerio encrusted princess who had been allowed a brief visit in her brother's room. Miss Cheerio emitted squeaks of elation every time Little Man looked her way, and mumbles of satisfaction when a Cheerio made it into her mouth.

Next in the procession was the Grand Marshal himself. Little Man's sartorial choices caused oohs and ahs down every hall of the parade route. He wore light-up sneakers, a basketball uniform, a very bulky coat (diagnosis was pneumonia - I'm not letting him outside without a parka until July), and a black fireman's helmet with neck flap and face shield. In his arms was his trusted companion, Ted the Bear, who was dressed for the occasion as Spiderman.

Bringing up the rear was the shabbily dressed security detail, The Protector, holding all the hospital detritus that didn't seem to make it on The Strong Sleepy One's first two trips to the car. In spite of her rumpled bargain bin clothing and bird's nest evocative hairdo, The Protector was beaming like an Oscar winner.

The Grand Marshall bid farewell to his room, "Thanks for making me well!"; the hallway fish tank, "Bye bye, fishies!"; his adorable nurse Alyson, "See ya', Alice!"; and gave a parting speech for a wee wizened gal in volunteer pinks, two people on their way to an appointment, and a member of the janitorial staff. Transcript follows.

"Mama, I was in this hospital a loooooong time. You and my sister missed me a whole lot, didn't you? I'm really strong. Aren't you glad I'm coming home? Oooh, look. More fishies!"

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Little Man

Today seemed like the usual seventh day: wake, feed others, feed self, drive to work, four hours of extroversion frenzy. The usual until my son, my Little Man, started feeling ill at church. He had a slight fever and a few other symptoms. I was handling it as one of the common bugs known to the 3yr. old variety of our species. I consulted other moms and we all agreed: bug.

I became more concerned when he lost interest in lunch. Then there was one more alarming symptom after the next. Within 3 hours, Little Man went from a 3 year old with a cold to a patient in the emergency room. Tonight Little Man and his Dada are spending the first of a couple of prescribed nights in the hospital. Oh, Little Man.

I came home, informed the grand-posse, packed up survival supplies for them both (dental floss and deodorant for Dada; cowboy pj's and a teddy bear dressed as spiderman for L.M.) then headed back to the hospital. When I returned, some things had worsened. Now L.M. had an IV, O2, and he was getting over hives from a previously unknown medication allergy. Other things were better. They have a diagnosis and he'll be out in a couple of days.

The doctor didn't ease my mind nearly as much as Little Man himself. He had already found ways to play with his immobilized IV arm. He was interrupting the doctor's review with, "Mama...MaMA.....MAMA." He was working a scheme to get the O2 out of his nose for good. And he was prompting me to extend the list of tomorrow's visitors with: "Who else? Who else?" While I was projecting every tragedy of the past into our future, he was seeing the possibilities of now and feeling better. My Little Man can also be a little Buddha sometimes.

Oh, Little Man. You get well, my precious one. Get well.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Blog-i-verse

Many thanks to the pestering, ridiculing, persistent friends who made me look into blogging. I have spent the past week wandering aimlessly through the blog-i-verse and have had a blast. I love it all!

Giggly girls in Singapore looking for shoes? I love you. Grumpy students lamenting their classes? You rock. Bloggers of the world with questionable English? I am your sister. Wacky moms, obsessed hobbyists, retirees with agendas, and wannabe novelists, poets, and journalists? Prepare to be boarded.

Blogspot alone has enough deranged and daring individualists to keep me amazed, amused, and inspired for months. I have seen the promised land, and it is filled with people willing to write about: a) their first sexual experiences in the 1940's, b) how to choose building placement on a lot, c) local political candidates in rural Canada, d) world peace, and e) that itchy red rash. By comparison, those of us writing for professional reasons are a dull bunch indeed.

For those of you checking in on a whim, I apologize. I am a dull blogger. But please know that if this blog weren't part of my church duties, I'd regale you on the topics of: my grandmother's corn toe, my favorite Billy Ray Hatley and the Showdogs' songs, what really happened on my ninth grade field trip, and the medicinal properties of Ewan MacGregor's smile.

Then again, maybe there's something to be said for dull.