Monday, November 24, 2014

Airport parable

On Sunday, September 28, I arrived at Charlottetown airport at 4:45 a.m. to catch my 6:00 a.m. flight to Montreal.  I had probably slept for no more than fifteen minutes total the previous night:  a combination of flying anxiety, worry about oversleeping through my alarm, and sadness had contributed to my sleeplessness.  

I had said goodbye to my mom just a short time before.  Dad and I sat by her bed for a few minutes, and then I had to wake her and tell her I was leaving.  She tried to speak to me, but couldn't articulate any words.  It didn't matter.  I will never forget those moments.  I knew this was the last time I would see her on this side of eternity, though I didn't know that she would die only 18 hours later. 

My brother drove me to the airport.  I had naively thought there would be only a few passengers on such an early flight -- but instead the airport was hopping with activity (at least as hopping as Charlottetown Airport can be).  A flight for Toronto left just before ours, and then we boarded.  The plane was full; there were quite a few families with small children chatting about their destination in Guadalajara, Mexico.  

We took off, the cabin lights were dimmed so people could snooze, and quiet descended.  It was a clear, calm, starry morning.  Even at our maximum flying altitude I could see the lights on the ground below.  I stared down at the sparkling patterns, letting my mind wander -- and wonder:  was I was the only person on the plane who had just parted from a loved one for the last time on this earth?

We touched down in Montreal after a perfectly smooth flight -- a welcome contrast to my flight to Charlottetown a week earlier, which had had a rough descent.  We deplaned, disembarked, or got off, depending on what terminology you prefer, and started the long hike from our gate, following the "Connections" and "Baggage" signs.  I avoided the moving sidewalk and chose the aisle between the two sidewalks, just for the sake of a little exercise.  People flooded past me on both sides.

We all converged at the bottom of a staircase and when we climbed to the top, a "Baggage" sign directed us straight ahead, and "Connections" went off to the left.  I had one suitcase to pick up, so I walked through the automatic doors toward the Baggage area.

Suddenly I was alone.

Yes, it was 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday -- but still.  Everyone else was gone.  Was I the only person on my flight not making a connection or heading straight to the exit?

I walked over to the luggage carousel corresponding to my flight.  The screen said bags would be out in 15 minutes.  So I did what any good Canadian would do at 7:00 in the morning:  I went to Tim Hortons and bought myself a coffee.  After drinking it, I wandered back to the baggage area.  A woman sat on a bench some distance away, texting on her phone; a couple of businessman types stood chatting by a counter.  I hoped I hadn't made some mistake about where I was supposed to pick up my bag.

Then the carousel belt started moving, and out came ... 

my suitcase.

Was I the only person who had checked a suitcase through for that flight?

I had decorated my suitcase with two yellow ribbons to make sure it wouldn't get mixed up with all of the other black luggage -- but apparently I needn't have worried.  I grabbed it (looking around a little self-consciously) and headed back to the main airport concourse, where the bustle and activity of the day had already begun.  I was going home, and the sorrow of what I was leaving behind was already becoming mixed with anticipation for seeing Richard and the kids again.

In the last eight weeks, three people I know have died.  Of course, my dear mom died on the 28th of September, having been diagnosed with cancer just six weeks earlier.  Then a close friend of Mom and Dad's, whose family I've known all my life, had a massive stroke in late October and died a few days later.  A week ago my sister-in-law's mom, a wonderful woman, died after a three-year battle against cancer.  So I've been thinking a lot lately about the mystery that death is, yet I don't feel I understand it any better than before I was brought so close to it.  No one escapes death, but everyone's path is different:  some people have time to prepare themselves and their loved ones, while for others it is so sudden and unforeseen.  

Yet right now I'm imagining that death is a bit like that experience I had in the airport.  We're moving along through life, surrounded by other people -- family, friends, strangers -- and then all at once we're redirected.  As if a voice says, "Everyone else is going that way ... but actually, you're coming this way."  We look around, watching the crowd disappear in a different direction, and we feel so alone.  The voice speaking to us is a gentle one, though, accompanied by a guiding hand on the elbow to let us know that it's going to be OK -- and that we won't be going on alone.  I find it comforting to think that God is with us every moment of the journey and at our destination.  

For all three of those women, God was the destination.  Now they know what the rest of us who remain on earth can only imagine with our finite minds.  I Corinthians 2:9 says that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”  So I know my imagined picture of the process is a poor substitute for the unimaginable reality.  But for now I'll draw hope and reassurance from these mundane sketches.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

November "Twitterature"

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly "Twitterature" post, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.

This month I read two books by Brene Brown:  

- The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are  

- Daring Greatly:  How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, And Lead
I was pleased to hear our pastor quote from Daring Greatly twice in the last month.  Although Brown's books are not  from an overtly Christian perspective, they have a strong spiritual element.  Brown is a shame researcher, and in both of these books she discusses the things that keep us from living wholeheartedly -- such as feelings of shame, fear, scarcity, and unworthiness.  Daring Greatly is the newer of the two and is the one I've seen mentioned in many recent "Twitteratures"; it focuses particularly on how practicing vulnerability can help us live more courageous, authentic lives.  I liked both books very much, though I found Daring Greatly's tone a little over-the-top at times:  some of her expressions seem cutesy (such as "Gremlin Ninja Warrior Training" to combat shame), and her frequent references to "my dear friend [name famous writer/researcher here]" start to wear a bit thin.  I suppose this is mainly a function of her excitement about her work, and in any case it's a minor criticism.  Both books are very powerful and practical, and I had many "Been there, felt that" moments as I read them.

I also read Lila by Marilynne Robinson.  This novel follows her books Gilead (in which elderly minister John Ames reflects on his life, his relationship with God, and his legacy to his young son) and Home (which is about Ames' friend Robert Boughton, Boughton's daughter Glory who comes home to care for him in his old age, and his prodigal son Jack).  Lila is the story of Ames' wife, an orphan who has lived a life of loneliness and destitution before wandering into Ames' church and hearing him preach.  She marries him, but learning to trust him -- and his God -- is a slow process.  This is a beautifully written and very moving book that reflects on themes of God's grace and the eternal destiny of those we love. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

House and home

The other night at my writers' group, we did an exercise where we had to write for ten minutes; whatever we wrote had to include four words that were written on a piece of paper.  The four words we got this time were

car, yellow, promise, farmhouse

I thought I'd share what I wrote.  (Keep in mind it was unedited and spontaneous.)


I spent the last week of Mom's life at the apartment with her and Dad.  On the Thursday I took Dad's car and went over to the farmhouse to pick up a few things.  Mom wanted to be buried in the blue and white dress she'd got for their 40th anniversary party, so I went upstairs to the wardrobe to get it.  I also got panty hose and underwear from a drawer and took a pair of slingback shoes out of the closet.  I didn't know if they would put shoes on Mom in the casket but I thought we should be prepared.

I wandered through the house, which looked, as my brother had warned, like a bomb had gone off.  I looked at the odd rectangles of yellowed wallpaper where pictures had been removed from the wall.  I looked into the bedroom where, just 6 weeks before, Rich and I and Jonathan had slept, with Mom sick down the hall and no one knowing just how sick she was.  My other brother had said, "It's a house, but it's not a home."  He was right.  The rooms seemed desolate, with no more promise of warmth and laughter within their walls.

I went outside, where it was sunny and much warmer than inside.  I was glad to drive away.  I'd gotten what I was looking for -- Mom's dress, Dad's suit, a few odds and ends -- at that moment there was no reason to stay.

photo by Alycia Adams-MacEachern - October 2, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

A time to laugh

In our bathroom we have a wall-hanging with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 on it:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.
a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,

 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak

,a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

I love this passage; almost every time I glance at the wall-hanging I spend a moment thinking about some particular phrase in it.  In fact, I've been pondering the idea of doing a blog series about it ... someday.  (I suppose if there is a time for everything, then that time will come.)

But the part that has struck me the most in the last while is this pairing:

A time to weep, and a time to laugh.

When I look back at the past three months from the time of my mom's illness to her death and afterward, I remember so many laugh-out-loud moments.

The day we took Mom to the hospital and she was admitted, Dad and I were helping her into the van.  She was very weak, but as she climbed in, she said, "Well, they'll be able to tell we're from the country:  we're all wearing plaid."  And we were!  It was not at all unusual for my mom and dad both to be wearing plaid, as this photo attests -- but I was, too. 

In the early days after she was hospitalized, Mom was very confused.  She had high calcium in her blood, and was being given fluids and IV meds to bring it down.  During that time she said some very strange things.  Of course if someone were in a chronic state of hallucination and confusion due to mental illness or dementia, it could be terrible for that person and his or her loved ones; I don't want to make light of that.  But there were many times when we couldn't help laughing.  Mom kept talking about letters -- "how the D's and the F's were all coming in waves" -- and at one point she looked right at me and said, "And I just didn't know how to interpret that!"  She said once (and keep in mind this was August), "It must be snowy out there; they put these green leggings on me.  Well, my legs always were my best feature."  She pointed at one of my brothers and said, "He's the sign of the promised land, you know."  And when my cousin, who had lost her hair due to chemotherapy and was wearing a knitted hat, came in to the hospital to visit, Mom looked at her for a while and then said, "What does she do with that hat?"  ("Uh -- wear it," my cousin laughed.)

When Mom was more back to herself mentally and helping -- from her hospital bed -- to direct the packing for Dad's move to the apartment, she told one of my brothers that she really should be at the house herself to make those decisions.  "After all," she said, "It was my kingdom."

A day or two before her death, Dad told Mom that she was the best woman he'd ever met.  Her response:  "You haven't met many women."

I'm glad that sentence is there in the Ecclesiastes passage, telling us that there is a time when it's good and right to laugh.  But I'm sure the writer isn't talking about malicious laughter at others' expense or cheap laughter at vulgar things (sitcoms come to mind). Rather, the moments of laughter that I've described seemed to happen when we were living intensely and deeply at the heart of life, not just skimming the surface of existence.  I've never had that experience before of spending hours and days at a person's bedside, watching for signs, counting breaths.  These times were accompanied by so many feelings:  sorrow, exhaustion, gratitude, hope, fear ... and laughter.  I look back and think, "We really lived during that time."

There was weeping, too.  But right now, I'm remembering the laughter.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October "Twitterature": hilarious and unputdownable

Today I'm joining Modern Mrs. Darcy again for her monthly "Twitterature" linkup; that's where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.

I read two books this month that I'd highly recommend:

Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton.  Melton is best known for her Momastery website and blog where she strives to live life openly and unashamedly.  In her words, "My job is to wake up every day, say yes to life’s invitation, and let millions of women watch me get up off the floor, walk, stumble, and get back up again."  This book is a compilation of essays and posts about her addictive (or as she puts it, "festive") past and her struggles with parenting, marriage, and faith.  This is a woman who puts a bag on her head during her kids' tantrums, endures her child yelling "Mommy, you smell like a bar!" at the dentist's office (she meant candy bar, honest), and faces the unfair truth that laundry must be moved from washer to dryer well before a week has elapsed.  Hilarious and endearing, with a lot of wisdom. 

 The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.  A young woman named Edie goes to Milderhurst Castle to visit the reclusive elderly Blythe sisters and find out more about her mother's experience boarding there as a child during WWII.  The secrets she unravels -- about the youngest sister's long-lost fiance, Mr. Blythe's mysterious writings, and her own mother's surprising past, just to name a few -- keep the reader turning the pages ... and this book has a lot of pages!  I've only read one other novel by Morton, The Forgotten Garden; that was good, but this one was greatIt's the kind of book the word "unputdownable" was made for.  

What have you been reading this month?  What's the most "unputdownable" book you've ever read?