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Monday, Monday

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day,” sang the Mamas and the Papas. Today I’m feeling really good about Monday because I decided to take the day off after our trip to southwest Virginia over the weekend to celebrate my uncle’s 95th birthday.

Facebook just reminded me that just 5 years ago we traveled 1,800 miles in a few days. First we headed to Jackson, MS for our daughter’s junior recital (that’s a 7-hour drive from Nashville, in the opposite direction of our ultimate destination, my uncle Paul’s 90th birthday celebration in Weber City, VA). I believe we left Nashville on Thursday,  but that was 5 years ago, so I can’t trust my memory. The FB post also said that my dad made it to my uncle’s birthday celebration. I got kind of a lump in my throat as I recalled that my cousins Joe and Catherine drove to Canton, NC to pick up Daddy and drive him here for Uncle Paul’s celebration.

Daddy didn’t make it until his 94th birthday; he died one month and one day before, on October 28, 2016. I’m sure he would have enjoyed Uncle Paul’s 95th birthday celebration had he been able to attend.

Anyway, today I am glad that I decided to take off work. I am getting much more aware of the need to take a break from work every now and then. Last year most of the days I took off were to care for John (when he had back surgery in May) or for my dad when he was in the hospital for 5 days in August. John and I didn’t go anywhere all year except for one weekend trip to Beersheba Springs, the site of our annual all-church retreat, about 2 hours east of Nashville. I remember being worried about traveling then; it was at the end of September, and I was afraid my dad would die while we were gone.

When we drove out of town December 26 for a couple of days, I felt like a bird freed from its cage. I don’t like staying in town all year. Every now and then I feel the need to fly the coop and hit the road. It’s just good to get away from the humdrum dailiness of life, relax a little, enjoy the sights of nature somewhere else, and forget about normal life for a while.

Last year was a stark contrast to 2015, when we traveled to Spain to see Julie (and had a lovely two weeks traveling around the country…this only served to whet my appetite for further trips to Spain and other places abroad). We went in March, which turned out to be a pretty chilly time to visit Spain. The weather was cold and damp for most of the time we were there (in the 50s and rainy several days). The last few days, when we were in Madrid, the temps got up into the 70s, and we finally felt like spring had arrived.

In June 2016 we traveled to Williamsburg, VA to visit my cousin Joe (and Catherine) and celebrate his birthday. We turned that trip into a minivacation, did some sightseeing around Jamestown and Williamsburg, and met a college friend and her husband for dinner.

Now, after our latest trip to see family, I am beginning to get the travel itch. Julie has spring break coming up in March, and we had talked about heading to North Carolina to visit family there, but alas, they are all busy. So Julie and I may go canoeing or do something at least one day of her spring break. She’s thinking about driving to Mississippi to see some college friends, so I may take a day off and kidnap John from his work and go somewhere.

John is recovering from neck surgery in January. He said to me sadly over the weekend, “I guess I can’t canoe anymore.” We haven’t canoed in several years, since our kids were teenagers. I’d like to get back to canoeing occasionally and horseback riding (which I’ve done only occasionally). I may have to find some friends to do that with and find tamer fare for me and John. I do have a Bucket List of places I’d like for us to visit. The trick will be lassoing him long enough to go somewhere. After all, he owns a pool and spa maintenance business, and he stays pretty busy most of the year. This may be the year I talk him into semiretirement. He turns 70 this September. Time’s a-wasting…we have miles to go and promises to keep (and lots of road trips or at least plane/rental car trips) to go on.

So this Monday is a super fine day to be off work. The temperature is supposed to get into the 70s. I have laundry to do, housework to catch up on (ah, who am I kidding? I will probably spend an hour at the most doing housework), junk to sort through and take to Goodwill, and a friend to meet for happy hour. I am glad I didn’t have to go to the office. I got up at 5:30, drank my first cup of coffee and had my morning devotion, then I felt sleepiness overtake me, and I wound up on the couch with the kitteh for about 30 minutes. Soon I headed downstairs and went to bed. I awoke at 9:30. Now, in my opinion, that’s a great way to start a Monday!

So today’s theme (in case you wondered after all my rambling) is RECHARGING. That’s what I’m doing. I think I’ll be a nicer person to be around after this lovely day off.

 

P.S. Stay tuned. One of these days I will learn how to send photos from my phone to my blog. I get impatient about wanting to post pictures immediately, and heck, who has time to try to figure out new technological things on a precious day off?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, now. I know you have wondered, if you have ever read my blog, if my blog just dropped off the face of the earth. The truth is this:

  1. I now consider 2016 the Year of the Blur. My dad died on October 28, and most of the year was consumed with managing his care, along with my “normal” life.
  2. When I was ready to write again, I couldn’t log into WordPress. It had been so long that I had forgotten my password. I tried and tried, and then decided “The hell with this. I’ll try again later.”
  3. I have been doing a lot of mental processing and writing in my journal instead of blogging.
  4. I have decided that I will take my time to grieve the loss of my dad. It was an immense loss to me. I told my husband before Daddy died, “I may not cry too much at the funeral. But rest assured, I will be hurting. I will always remember him. I will always grieve his loss, even if I put on a happy face.

So here we are, in February 2017. Much has happened since the last time I blogged (on my weird autoimmune disorders. See The Queen of Weird Diseases if you want to know more. If you would rather skip over that, I understand. Do what you wanna do.).

As  I write this, I have tears in my eyes just thinking about my dad. It was so obvious that he needed to go. I gave him permission to die; I told him on Tuesday, October 25, “Daddy, it’s okay if you go. I’ll be all right.” That was the last time I saw him conscious. He was in bad shape after a cardiac event on August 18. He spent 5 days in the hospital, and then we moved him to rehab at a nursing home about 2 miles from our house.

When we moved him to rehab, I thought, “This is only temporary. He’ll have physical therapy, and he’ll get better.” Now, I must tell you that I am the eternal optimist. My dad was 93, almost 94 (he would have been 94 on November 29), and his health had been declining for years.

Daddy’s cardiac event (in which he was short of breath; the night nurse at his assisted living called an ambulance and Daddy was taken to the ER) resulted in his being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and COPD. I had seen the latter two diagnoses on some of his medical records, but it seems that no one ever really treated his symptoms. I feel bad now that when he complained that he was having trouble breathing, I minimized his symptoms, thinking he was just anxious. After all, the nurses at his assisted living place had said every time they checked his oxygen levels when he complained of shortness of breath, his numbers were in the 90s, and that was good. But when his numbers dropped to the 80s, the night nurse, Pierre, took Daddy seriously and called the ambulance).

During Daddy’s hospital stay, he was completely out of his mind. Nothing he said made much sense. He asked funny questions, and uncharacteristically, he talked nonstop from the time I got to the hospital the morning of Aug. 19 until about 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 20, when he finally fell asleep just as the medical staff were wheeling him away for a cardio-something-or-other. It’s all a blur. The social worker who came to Daddy’s room the second day of his hospitalization was someone who used to babysit my children. What a surprise! She was so kind as she pulled a list of possible places for Daddy to go for rehab. Clearly he would not be able to return to Morningside, his assisted living residence.

So there we were at Bethany Health & Rehab. Daddy started physical, occupational, and speech therapy. For a few days he made progress. Then he contracted 3 urinary tract infections in a row (he was catheterized while in the hospital), and things just went downhill from there. In one of the few times I saw him on his feet, assisted by two med techs, he said, “I’m going back to Morningside, and I’m going to start participating in more activities!” I had nagged him when he was at Morningside about getting to know people and the need for him to participate in activities there. He never was much interested in making the effort to get to know people. My dad is pretty shy, and I think he knew he didn’t have long to live when he moved to Morningside in August 2015…although I was unwilling to accept the idea of his death at that point.

I spent most of my visits with Daddy just holding his hand, talking to him about my day, things the kids (my adult children) were doing, the weather, what John was up to as manager of a pool & spa maintenance business. Some days his face would brighten up when I walked into his room. Some days he just lay there, looking at me with a tortured expression, like “How long do I have to endure this?” Many days he was sound asleep by the time I managed to get across town in rush hour traffic, and I hesitated to wake him, because he often was not comfortable while awake.

Toward the end (about the third week of September), the nurse from Bethany called me one day and said, “You know, your dad can’t seem to get a break. He is not making any progress in his therapy, although he tries hard. I think it may be time to focus on palliative care.” Sadly, I agreed. I met with the palliative care nurse one week, and a week later, she told me she thought Daddy was ready for hospice care. Again, I agreed. I felt better about hospice care because I thought Daddy would appreciate the spiritual aspect of it. I never got to talk to the primary chaplain on duty, but one chaplain who visited said his face lit up when she said the name of Jesus. That made me feel better.

During this time, when I normally would have sung hymns to Daddy, I had a bad cold that I couldn’t seem to shake. It affected my voice, and there were a couple of days I had laryngitis. So when music would have been a comfort to both me and Daddy, I was voiceless. Therefore, all I could do was sit beside his bed, hold his hand, rub his shoulder, and occasionally talk. Most of the time I was just quiet. He slept a lot. I played Words with Friends and chatted with everyone who came into Daddy’s room. Got to know some of the med techs and nurses quite well. One sweet med tech discovered after talking to me that Daddy didn’t normally have a mustache. She had shaved him and left a mustache, and I just thought it looked so funny on him. Almost Hitler-esque but it curved down around the corners of his mouth. After I told her that he didn’t usually have a mustache, she always shaved his face completely.

So then we came to the week that he died. I was there the night before he died. He was coughing and it was like waves every time he coughed…no productive cough. I was afraid he was going to choke. The nurse kept running into his room and giving him atropine drops to try to dry up some of his congestion. He was already dry from being on oxygen. The nurse had met me that night and told me Daddy’s baseline had changed drastically that day. He asked if there was anyone I needed to contact who might want to see him. He and I both knew that Daddy wouldn’t last much longer. After I was there for about an hour and a half, I decided to go home and try to rest a bit. I managed to sleep that night, and I went to work the next day. I got the phone call from the nursing home at 10:30 telling me that Daddy had just died.

It was the saddest day of my life. Even sadder than when my mom died on February 10, 1991 and I wasn’t there with her.

I am at peace with my dad’s death. He is no longer suffering. But oh, how I miss him. The other day I pulled out his billfold and looked at his driver’s license, renewed when he was 92, just before he came to Nashville to live with us for 13 months while undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. I saw his picture and I cried. I find notes that he wrote (when he could write), and I cry. I refuse to get rid of some of his clothes, because I just want to wear them and remember Daddy. I know he is with Jesus. That thought consoles me. But oh, how my heart grieves.

Time will lessen my pain. I will get through this. But right now all I want to do is grieve, and I will let myself do that.

This week I have spent time at home recovering from a cryo ablation to my heart on Monday (for atrial fibrillation). Actually, it’s not been as bad as I thought it might be. As a Linda Ronstadt song says, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

Back in July I had a brilliant idea to schedule a bunch of doctor’s appointments, my 56,000 mile tuneup, as I called it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I scheduled a visit with my cardiologist (whom I had not visited in two years) and finally got around to calling a colorectal surgeon to take care of an embarrassing little problem I’ve had for a couple of years. My GI doctor had referred me to this surgeon on my last visit to him (nearly a couple of years ago). He said she could give me Botox injections to “fluff up” my butthole. Lovely. The thought of that daunted me and did not motivate me want to go see her.

However, I had an appointment and I went. She recommended that I see a physical therapist. I thought, “Okay, whatever” and went to Results Physiotherapy to see a pelvic floor specialist. Oh my gosh. Never knew that a doctor’s visit would be so intimate. I thought I was familiar with that after having been to an obstretician/gynecologist over the past 30 years, but no, this was even more intimate. I discovered I have a prolapsed bladder, and I had to do several exercises like Kegels, clamshells, and leg raises to work my gluteus medius. And all that was before I even got to work on the real problem, which, as I mentioned, is personal and embarrassing. At this point I am ready to deal with it through exercises so I don’t have to have yet another surgery.

Meanwhile, my visit to the cardiologist resulted in my wearing a heart monitor for a month, because the doctor had no documented cases of atrial fibrillation other than when I had a stress echo (treadmill) test about 9 years ago. I know I have something weird going on with my heart, because my pulse races and pounds in my temples (palpitations), and I get short of breath and lightheaded with mildly strenuous exercise (walking up an incline or doing some poses in yoga).

So I got going with my physical therapy, which turned out to be twice a week, and then I discovered it could take as long as 3 months. I got up in the morning thinking, “What day is it and what time do I have to be at the doctor and which one do I go to?” It wreaked havoc with my work schedule.

All this is in addition to two autoimmune disorders I have: primary biliary cirrhosis, so far kept at bay by medication (since 1989) and CREST syndrome, a disorder I discovered I had about a year ago. That little autoimmune disorder carries with it several interesting complications: calcinosis (calcium deposits, which I have discovered are quite painful and flare up from time to time in my elbows), Reynaud’s phenomenon, esophageal dysfunction, scleroderma (hardening of the skin, both outside and in my connective tissues), and telangio-something (red dots under my skin, which may travel to my face and make me extra attractive in my older years). The chronic diseases are something I deal with all the time, which means that I may be extra fatigued or have a flareup of a calcium deposit (which can land me in the hospital if not caught soon enough), and of course the acid reflux that goes along with my esophagus (I have actually had 2 ablations for Barrett’s esophagus).

While I was wearing the heart monitor, I had a documented episode of atrial fibrillation (heart racing up to 200 beats per minute), which finally convinced my cardiologist to refer me to an electrophysiologist for evaluation for a possible ablation. Hence I had the ablation, and I must say it’s the easiest surgery I’ve had to date. All that hurt after the surgery were my elbows from lying on the calcium deposits for so long. So I’ve been resting up this week.

All that is to say, it’s important to stay on top of all the symptoms of my weird diseases, though I may not be brave enough to schedule another tuneup where I do a blitz of several doctors at once. My rheumatologist told me that I am tough, which he likes. That was enough to get me through the next several months. Yes, I can be tough, but it helps for a medical professional to recognize that. His assessment gave me enough oomph to get through all the needles and the courage to face the unknown with my ablation. Hopefully this is the last of my medical drama for a good while!

It’s only mid-August, but it seems like the summer has flown by. I feel a little wistful every year about this time. It’s as if another summer has passed me by, and I didn’t get to swim nearly as many times as I would’ve liked. Okay, I’ll quit whining. I did get to do quite a few things.

One highlight of our summer was a trip to see my cousins Joe and Catherine back at the end of June. The occasion was Joe’s birthday, but it was combined with a visit from Catherine’s siblings and their wives (she has 4 brothers), as well as my cousin Sue and my uncle Paul (who is 93 years young and still gets around quite well without a cane). The extended weekend was fun. We sat around and chatted a lot, celebrated Joe’s birthday on Saturday, finally got to meet little Stella, Joe’s 18-month-old granddaughter who is absolutely delightful, went to Busch Gardens and rode several rides (I, however, didn’t participate in the roller coaster rides with younger cousins Nick and Stephanie. There just comes a point in one’s adult life when you realize that maybe slinging around in a roller coaster and having your heart come to the top of your throat just before you go sailing down a steep incline and get jerked around side to side may not be the best thing for your body). Joe and I road the Log Flume, and I wish I had bought the picture of us at the top of the hill just before we went sailing down to come to a nice splashy end. I screamed for all I was worth! It was good to see family and friends who have become family that weekend. Mona and Craig made the trek from Louisiana via Michigan and were on their way back home with Mona’s parents…what a long trip! John and I had a fun weekend then.

We got back home barely in time to prepare for Julie, our 24-year-old daughter’s, arrival back home from 2 years in Madrid. It is interesting (on both sides) to get used to living with a young adult and trying not to revert to old patterns. So far I haven’t done as well as I’d hoped, because Julie reminds me that I nag her constantly. Oh well. Guess it’s in the mom jeans, I mean genes, but that doesn’t mean I have to voice every thought. And a funny thing I’ve noticed is my tendency (our tendency) to blame misplaced objects on Julie rather than ourselves. I told John we needed to stop jumping to conclusions…we may be the ones who are putting things in weird places, and in many cases “the enemy” was us! I will say I am quite proud of Julie for not sitting around on her duff and waiting for jobs to come to her. The first week she was home, jet lag notwithstanding, she applied for 20 jobs. She had a job before she had been home 2 weeks. It’s not one she wants to be working at very long, but she felt the need to make some money and get on the way to supporting herself, and I say Bravo! to that. She is trying to figure out the next chapter of her life, but meanwhile she is hostessing, waiting tables, doing whatever is needed at Coco’s Italian Restaurant, a popular restaurant in Nashville. She is working hard, and we’re somewhat like two ships passing in the night, because our schedules rarely jibe. But maybe that’s for the best, because it may mean less conflict.

And then there’s my dad. John and I moved him to an assisted living facility in Canton, NC back at the end of December after he’d lived with us for 13 months while undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Turns out he wasn’t exactly in assisted living but in an apartment that provided some services (like assistance with bathing and administering his medications, plus 3 meals a day, and housecleaning once a week) he needed. He experienced several falls (none of them major, thank God…just mostly slips from his bed and one fall as he was backing into the bathroom, holding onto his walker and he lost his balance and fell back toward the commode). John and I went to NC the first week of August (left on a Saturday; returned on Monday) and were checking on him. While John was trying to arrange a primary number for the service my dad has been paying for in which he wears a pendant around his neck that he can push if he falls, the head nurse came by his apartment and told us that a spot had opened up at the assisted living facility just across the street (there are several buildings in this facility), and she thought Daddy would get a better level of care there. While I was trying to absorb all this, I asked if we could go take a look at the room, and we put Daddy in his transport chair and took him over there. The huge downside is that he did not have a bathroom in his room but had to walk down the hall a short distance (and share a bathroom with all the residents on his hall). There are 4 bathrooms for about 26 residents, not an ideal situation. When you’re 92, you don’t need to try to remember to gather supplies to go to the bathroom like you did in college … plus, it’s just hard to go down the hall to a bathroom. I didn’t take in this information at the time (being under a little duress, with our having planned to leave by 2:00 p.m. so we could get home to Nashville at a reasonable time to prepare for going back to work the next day), but there was no sink in Daddy’s room.

So back John and I went to Canton/Waynesville the following weekend, and in the meantime Daddy had a rough week trying to adjust to his new home. He has expressed dissatisfaction, saying he feels like he’s in prison. I didn’t know exactly what to say. I usually try to put a positive spin on things, but there was not much positive to emphasize in this situation. About that time my stepsister and her daughter and son-in-law came over to visit Daddy, and I quickly went outside to call an assisted living place in Nashville that we’d looked at and nearly signed papers to admit Daddy back in December, when we got the e-mail from the assisted living place (we thought it was assisted living, but according to NC law, it’s a multihousing unit, and it’s private pay only…and they do have a dining room and one CNA on staff, and the nurse comes by every day to check on the residents, but they are pretty much on their own) where Daddy had decided he wanted to go, and they had a vacancy. I talked with him about it, and I wanted to let him be part of the decision. Of course, he chose to return to NC because he was quite homesick for Canton, and he had felt pretty isolated here in Nashville. His main activity was going to the doctor’s office, getting treatment, and occasionally getting out to the drugstore or to Kroger or Costco, and often that was with John. He went to church with us a few times, but staying for both Sunday school and the worship service was too taxing/stressful for him.

So I let Daddy make that decision, and it has not worked out great for either him or us. Not to mention placing a burden on my stepsister and stepbrother, who have to take him to doctor appointments and get constant calls about supplies he needs from Wal-mart.

After he moved on August 5 to the “new” (really old, more than 100 years old) assisted living facility with the bathrooms down the hall from his room, John and I decided that we just needed to suck it up, admit we’d made a bad decision, and find a place for Daddy in Nashville. Sometimes you just have to say, “I am sorry, I was wrong.” That certainly applies in this situation. I also say, “I made the best decision I could with the information I had available at the time.” So be it.

We got back home late Monday night (around 10:15 p.m. Eastern, 9:15 Central time), and we both prepared to go to work on Tuesday. We had an appointment with an assisted living place here at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday. I was a little bothered (well, a lot bothered) by the distance Daddy would have to walk to get from his apartment there to the dining room. There’s a shortcut across the courtyard, but that wouldn’t work very well in bad weather, and the walk around the facility to the dining room was even longer than the distance he’d had to walk from his apartment to the dining room at his first “assisted living” residence, and that was challenging enough for him.

So back to the drawing board. John called another facility that I’d already taken a look at in December, and he made an appointment for after work a couple of days later. We toured it, and even though it is a “high-rise” residence (8 floors), there is an apartment available very close to the elevator, and Daddy will have a short distance to walk to get to the dining room. He will also get the assistance he needs to find his way around, and the RN/sales manager said that they would train him in fall prevention and there were physical therapists available who can work with him to do some strengthening exercises. Daddy is really good about doing PT exercises; he’s been practicing almost daily since he had home health care with PT just before moving to Nashville.

So the next thing is getting him moved here, and we are preparing for that. Oh, I forgot to mention one other minor thing. I am having heart surgery sometime around the first of September. It’s for atrial fibrillation and sounds like it’s not too major (an ablation), except for any time you have general anesthesia and are cut on, it’s “major surgery,” in my opinion. So there goes the rest of the summer…and I am praying for strength and sanity to get through all these changes…and the patience to explain it all to Daddy and perhaps take over his finances and then just do what I need to do for him to help him get settled. I am so thankful that John is by my side to look out for me and his father-in-law, and I’m glad Julie and Daniel are around to visit their granddad as their work schedules permit. Together we’ll get through it all, moving Daddy and having my surgery, and just adjusting to a new season of life.

So yeah, I’m a little sad about summer’s end and the usual crazy schedule of fall as we return to a busier schedule. This fall will be different. I will have to be mindful of my physical limitations. Somehow it will all turn out for the best. I know a certain person to whom I pray and place my trust in…that Person watches over me and my dad and cares about what happens to both of us. Oh, and by the way, God cares for all people, so we wouldn’t be anything special, except for the fact that the Bible tells us (and I get the strong sense from attending my church) that even the hairs on our heads are numbered, and we do not need to worry…that God’s got us covered.

My Bucket List

I heard Bob Cowsill being interviewed on Hippie 94.5 (my favorite radio station) on the way to work today, and he said that a bus tour (his last with the Cowsills was 43 years ago) is the last item on his Bucket List.

Hmmm, I wondered. Is it good when you’ve crossed off all the items on your Bucket List? I don’t think I’ve ever made a Bucket List, though I have certainly mulled about it. I would bet that my Bucket List has changed over time.

Right now, here are some things I want to do before I die. And when I cross off the last item, well, I think I’ll be adding to the list. Don’t want to tempt fate or whatever!

1. Go on a mission trip to Mexico. My church, Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, takes an annual trip to Puebla, Mexico. This is the one I want to participate in. One of its focuses is educating women. I believe the primary focus is “Give Ye Them to Eat” or something like that.

2. Travel to New England and do a historical tour with John.

3. Go to the Grand Canyon with John. I’ve seen it before but he hasn’t. I am ashamed to admit that we didn’t take our children to the Grand Canyon. Oh well. Life got busy. We did take other great and not-so-great trips.

4. Go on a hot-air balloon ride. Yes, this will challenge my fear of heights, but it just looks like so much fun.

5. Learn to paddle board.

6. Write a collection of stories, poems, or perhaps a book. Whether it gets published or not, well, we’ll see.

7. Continue practicing yoga and do as much exercise as I can to keep my body healthy. I believe in the power of exercise to relieve stress, and I’m hoping it will also ward off dementia, which runs in my family. I am planning to take a tai chi class at some point.

8. Walk outside in nature and appreciate the beauty every single day that I can.

9. Learn more about botany. I am already obsessed with identifying trees. Not so much their scientific names as their ordinary names and maybe a little about them.

10. Continue to read all kinds of books. Well, maybe not so many trashy novels, but balance is a good thing. 😀

11. Practice conversational Spanish and brush up on tenses besides present tense. Learn at least one new Spanish word each week.

12. Work toward more balance in life...have more fun, don’t continually work more hours than I have to (this has become a habit), bite my tongue when I need to but also speak up when I need to.

13. Find some joy in every day. And learn not to work so hard at my spiritual life. God loves me the way I am. Of course I can always do better, but I just need to chill and accept that there are seasons in the spiritual life, just as there are seasons in nature.

14. Do at least one random act of kindness a week.

Okay, these are enough items to keep me busy for the rest of my life, I think. I have some other ideas, but for now this is enough.

Song of Peace

Fireworks behind statue of liberty

“This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.”
–Lloyd Stone, 1912-1992/3, written in the interval between WWI and WWII when he was only 22

This song is one that our choir has sung several times around the 4th of July. I love it because it reminds me that just as we in the USA feel strongly about our country, its beauty, and our patriotism, so do people of other countries love their land, its beauty, and they are patriots too.

Over the years I have come to appreciate the freedoms we so often take for granted in the United States. I love my country, despite many things I see that make me recoil. A few things that come to mind are racial prejudice, the rich lording it over the rest of us, crooked politicians, a callous attitude toward those who are less fortunate than we, an air of superiority, and insistence that one point of view is right while everyone else’s is wrong. But though there are a lot of things that are wrong with our country, there are also many things that are right with it.

Traveling outside the U.S. has a way of making you see our country differently. When my husband and I visited Spain for a couple of weeks in March, I thought it was interesting to watch the news. There wasn’t much about the United States on their news. Oh, my…does that mean America is not the center of the universe, as we sometimes think we are?

This was our second trip to Europe; the first was 30 years ago. When we got home after that trip, I was so thankful for many things I’d taken for granted: air conditioning, ice in drinks, clean public restrooms without having to pay an attendant, being able to communicate in a common language. After our trip to Spain, I realized my perspective has shifted. We Americans are often spoiled. We visit other countries and expect things to be the way they are here. Well, they’re not.

I enjoyed our trip to Spain. We found the people friendly and helpful. Of course, it helped that I was able to communicate in Spanish. Not fluently, but my conversational Spanish was passable and I understood most of what I heard.

I’ve often heard it said that people are reflections of the way you treat them. If they treat you kindly, perhaps it’s because you send out vibes of kindness. If they are nasty toward you, maybe it’s because they sense some ugliness in you. Or maybe they’re just kind or nasty on their own…I don’t know.

On this trip, rather than thinking about what I missed about home, I started thinking about the advantages of being in another culture. It’s good to experience a slower pace of life, to linger over a meal for a while, to be anonymous in a crowd, to not feel like everyone owes me something (I don’t think I have that attitude as an American, but perhaps some of it is engrained in me).

I did come to appreciate the virtues of toilet tissue and having a commode seat (we ate in a few restaurants in Sevilla where these “amenities” were not available). I was also glad I took along a purse-size package of Kleenex.

Well, I am getting distracted now because my family is in the kitchen, so I will close. No really deep thoughts here, just appreciation for our country and its freedoms and the right to express my opinion and the right for others to disagree with me and the prayer that we will learn to appreciate the differences of others and embrace diversity and learn to practice compassion, listen more and talk less, and be a little more tolerant and forgiving of those who “push our buttons.” That is all.

Like many Americans, I am grappling with the tragic shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this week. I heard President Obama making yet another comment about a mass shooting, the 12th one he’s had to make since he’s been in office. I’ve briefly watched news reports of the senseless murder in, all of places, a church sanctuary where people were gathered for Bible study and prayer.

Yesterday I was shocked to hear the news media report that Dylann Storm Roof, age 21, had almost changed his mind about killing the 9 people inside this African American church because they were so nice and welcoming to him. Almost changed his mind.

And meanwhile the city of Charleston and this lovely African Methodist Episcopal Church and our nation are reeling.

“We are not African Americans, we are not black Americans, we are Americans across the board,” Edward Johnson, pastor of New Vision Cathedral in Lincolnville, South Carolina, said. “We have to address what race is because what we are calling race now is a lie. It is evil.”

As a white person who has grown up in the South, I’m not sure I am even qualified to speak to this issue. I do not know the pain of my black brothers and sisters, nor can I really relate to all they have been through in their history and its aftermath.

As a Christian, I am so, so sad to witness yet another senseless shooting, and this one so racially motivated…and motivated by hate. I don’t have words to describe my feelings. Maybe my feelings are not that important.

But I do know it is high time we start to address the underlying issues that have caused this tragedy. I want to have dialogue with people of color whose experience is so different from my own. I want to understand where they are coming from. I want to do my part to end the hatred and racism that continually rears its ugly head. I want to do something positive, uplifting. But right now all I can do is grieve and pray … and look at the people of Emanuel AME Church and admire their brave, forgiving response in the aftermath of such a senseless, horrific event. The families of the victims have expressed forgiveness. Would that I could do the same, show the same grace that they have, if something like this happened to one of my family members.

This church has lost its pastor and three other pastors. Six of the nine who were killed were women. The dead include a librarian, a high school coach and speech therapist, a college enrollment counselor, a recent college graduate, and a government employee. Meanwhile the city of Charleston and others are looking for ways to “move beyond” this tragedy and help prevent recurrence of similar incidents.

How does one move beyond such an event as took place this past Wednesday? Many of us try to rush on, try to fast-forward through the news, not wanting to dwell on a dark, dark situation.

May each of us examine ourselves, our own prejudices, and rouse ourselves to action. But may that action be preceded by much thought, prayer, and conversation with others who have radically different life experiences and points of view.

May we all be humble enough to let others be our teachers.

God, help us all.