Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lenten pondering

This being Holy Week and all, I thought it was a fine idea to see how I was doing with things. As with the last few Lents, I wanted to forego sugar. I wasn’t as successful this year as I’ve been past years, and I can justify it, I suppose. How at my weekly knitting group, hosted by an 89-year-old sweetheart who’s sometimes a little confused and tremendously hurt if we don’t take a slice of cake or whatever sweets she’s gotten ready for us, it’s easier to eat the piece of cake and say thank you rather than remind her that once again for Lent I’ve given up sweets. Or when on the long drive to and from Ruth’s funeral, it was easier at a few rest stops to get a diet soda than a cuppa black tea (not only meaning black as opposed to green tea, but also to find some unsweetened. If it was prebottled for iced tea was impossible.) Yes, technically, diet soda doesn’t contain sugar, but I was more interested in carrying out the spirit of my sugar-free intention, which was no sweets or sweeteners, not saying “no sugar” while saying yes to every item labelled sugar-free and loaded with excitotoxins. And, there were few occasions where I had taken some food to eat and could taste the sugar in it, but I didn’t stop eating it after the first bite. I didn’t go back for seconds, mind you, but still.

As I’ve mentioned before, what I really like about Lent is that it provides an opportunity to try out a new habit or to try and abolish an old one. And in looking at my only partial success this Lenten period, I was reminded once again how so much of my life I’ve looked at things only in an all or nothing way. Black or white. Right or wrong. I seem loathe to give partial credit but only too glad to award full blame.

At SFB’s FIL’s funeral, I thought a lot about my dad. He believed that if he criticized your efforts, you would want to do whatever it took to correct those faults and hone excellence. And although I understood that logically, just as I do now, emotionally, it was processed very differently. It delivered the message of “You’ll never be good enough,” and as he demanded perfection, I found myself not trying some new things if I knew there was no way in hell I’d be able to be any good right from the get-go. It took me many years after his death to make peace about that, and to give myself permission to try new things. Even if I wasn’t very good at them and even if inordinate practice wouldn’t render me excellent. It took a bit longer to allow myself to enjoy the process, and I found that if I were going to enjoy the process, I had to change my self-talk.

I could hear my inner voice chiding myself those times during Lent where I ate sugar willingly (at knitting, or realising after the first bite that what I was eating had sugar in it), or point out all the things I could be doing rather than take some time to rent a movie I wanted to see, or like this past weekend, take a nap.

But the whole self-talk analysis didn’t really come to the forefront until a few days ago when someone online mentioned how she always saw herself as the fat girl in the mirror. I had to get a passport photo taken recently, and while I felt quite dapper in what I was wearing and happy, the photo showed a middle aged, fat-faced woman. Not the me I picture in my mind at all. I’ve mentioned before how I hate having my picture taken, but for this trip in front of the camera, I felt happy and thought somehow the lens would capture that. But no. It captured that fat girl in the mirror, and that’s when I realized that those years of not being happy how I looked weren’t really purged. There were still a few layers where that chiding voice was embedded, that size 2 finger pointing at me, not wanting to besmirch herself poking the Pillsbury dough boy’s sister, and memories of the plump nurse at a doctor’s visit over 10 years ago now who was fine with me until I stood on the scale, and then ranted about how I needed to lose some of my heft.

If she had asked me if I had any sort of exercise programme, if she mentioned wanting to conduct a fat percentage ratio, I don’t think it would have been so hurtful, but to see her look change from benign acceptance of the patient to one of horror because of a number on a bloody scale gutted me. When I answered that I played ice hockey, this was my first season, and would she want to join us Sunday afternoons, as we were always glad to swell our ranks, she screwed up her face even more.

A younger me would have been more flippant and mentioned HER size and demand that she step on the scale so we could compare numbers and see how we measured up, but a younger me would have been thinner. The me who stood on the scale that day had only recently changed jobs from one I hated with an arduous commute to one I loved with a far shorter ride, but the three years’ arduous commute had done its damage. I had had little time to exercise, and was eating a diet that although touted by experts as “perfect” was perfectly wrong for me. My metabolism had been really damaged, and it would be another year or so after that for me to understand and accept that and make whole scale changes to my diet to repair things.

And here I was, years, yes YEARS later, carrying that around. Dead weight. Unnecessary baggage. One offhand comment and look still hurting me, and I’m sure the nurse herself would have no recall of the event.

I thought about Holy Week and for Christians, the importance of Jesus dying on the cross. Willing to take on the sins of all of us. Willing to forgive.

I needed to forgive that nurse for her thoughtless remark. Or maybe it wasn’t so thoughtless. In any case, it was still hurting me, because I was still hanging onto it. I needed to release it, and allow it to separate from me. I looked around the house and felt overwhelmed by all the things I felt I needed to do. Too much stuff, and things not put away. So, I cleared off most of the kitchen counters, put away what I could, and sorted a wardrobe and most of a closet, purging what I didn’t need. I thought that some of the nicer items might be good candidates for a nearby consignment shop, and stopped by there. It’s not a large place, and the proprietress said she’s picky due to space restrictions. She didn’t want any of the clothing items, but the one houseware item might sell, so I let her take that. I dropped off the other items at Goodwill.

When I returned, my gleaming and much less cluttered kitchen counters greeted me. Later that day, I opened the wardrobe door without having to worry about anything falling out and smiled as I could see everything at a glance.

The kitties were glad to see I had returned so quickly after leaving with bags and a box. The last time I had left with clothes in a bag or other container, I had been gone a few days.

So, I’ve not been completely successful with my goal of a sugar-free Lent, but I was able to release an old hurt, extend forgiveness, and tell that woman in the mirror that I really do love her, no matter what the camera lens may have picked up. Then again, it could be that the lens truly shows what I look like right now, and it may be only my mind that sees “fat girl.” A second look at that photo might be in order.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Another Friday, Another Funeral

Two weeks ago, we attended Ruth's memorial service. It meant a long car ride the day before, and a contingent of us who had sailed with her wanted to attend. It ended up that two couldn't make it, and among three cars, the rest of us from the upper Northeast made our way to the MidAtlantic. A sailing couple drove out from the Midwest to be there, too, and for the first time, we all met inland.

Ruth's husband was happy to see us, and his sister, D, and her longtime boyfriend, who have also sailed with us, greeted us warmly.

Ruth grew up in a religious family in a religious community. Her sisters kept with their faith, but Ruth questioned hers somewhere around college and was disappointed with God for years, wondering how He could let so much injustice prevail. Towards the end of her life, Ruth re-examined her faith and found herself returning to it. She told me she felt like a hypocrite, questioning, denouncing to a degree even, only to reconsider later on. She didn't want it to be just the cancer talking. I told her i'd tell her what a priest once told me, "There's always room for one more hypocrite in the church. You'll be among good company!"

I went on to talk a bit about my faith. How i had questioned, wondered, tried on others for size. In the end, when i found myself in a place where it was only me and knowing i needed more than just me, myself, and i, did i really give God a chance. Perhaps if i weren't so hardheaded i wouldn't have had to be in that situation. But if i weren't so hardheaded, i wouldn't be me, i'd be somebody else.

And here she laughed and agreed. But the injustice of things, and how can He let this happen? I told her it bothered me, too, and later on i wrote her a note saying that at some level i think it's a reap what we sow situation. Yes, i know there are people who are innocent who get fragged, but i think that's the double-edged sword of free will. I never liked the idea of predestination so kicked that to the curb early on, and i've no doubt God has foreknowledge of what we'll do, but we can exercise our will freely. Like a parent who gives his kid free rein, the parent knows the kid won't always get it right. But the kid has to try, and live with his success or if need be, his failure. Feel the consequences of both. And sometimes that means that lots of people who don't have it coming will pay dearly; or, and this seems to happen much, much less often, lots of people may get a free ride. Some of those folks who flex their free will with little regard for others should definitely know better, and i think of those Bible verses where they talk about some of the punishments being meted out to those who were meant to lead and instead led astray. There are times where i want God to pick me so i can go punch out their lights, and then there are other times where i leave it to Him and figure He's got it covered. I expected to hear back from Ruth about it, as she had mentioned that she wanted to reply to it, but she never did. From the sounds of it at her memorial service, i gathered that she had made peace with God.

The service was held at a Protestant church that didn't want anything too papal. Plain pews, simple altar. It was about 45 minutes away from her house, and i wondered why it was so far from her home. Maybe this was her family church at one point? In his talk, the preacher mentioned that Ruth's sisters considered this their church home. Besides the preacher a few others spoke, a few family members and a member from her book club. The one family member referred to Aunt Ruth and her sisters as "the army of aunts." This is a part of the country where the words "aunt" and "ant" are pronounced alike, so it was a play on words. Ruth had often mentioned her sisters to me. They seemed an indomitable, loving bunch. This was borne out by the family members who spoke. The women in her book club stood collectively at the lectern pulpit as their appointed spokeswoman gave her heartfelt talk. They, too seemed an indomitable, loving bunch.

I was sailing the week i turned 50, with many of the Old Salts with whom i sailed before. They had decided that each would create a page for me, and Ruth would assemble each page in a binder and present it to me. I had no idea they had planned this and was deeply touched. Ruth put a couple photos on her page to me, one with her and her sisters juxtaposed with another with her and her book club. She captioned them this way, "My sisters, all of them God-fearing Republicans," and "My book club, all of them liberal Democrats." I noticed that Ruth was in the middle of each group, and at her service, we sailing folks happened to sit behind "the army of aunts." We took most of the pew: two atheists, one Jew, two occasional church attenders, one regular church attender, then Himself and me, lapsed church attenders. We all love and miss her, and our pew was, i think, representative of those who knew Ruth. No matter where she went, she was in the middle of things, was accepted, and loved. Her sisters, of course were family in the sense one often uses the word. Her book club, that circle of women who'd been meeting for 40 years, was also her family. Her sailing friends were another part of her tribe.

After the service, there was a luncheon in the church's annex. One of the women in the book club was wearing a lovely red boa, and i wanted to tell her how much i liked it. "Oh, you must be Meg," another of the book club ladies said after i said how much i liked the boa. I nodded and was surprised. "Ruthie told us so much about you, " to which i found myself replying, "And, i'm sure all of it was true." We laughed, and i wondered if they'd come sailing. Some wanted to, so maybe we'll meet again on the waves.

Ruth's sisters visited with us at the sailing table. They welcomed us warmly, said how our friendship meant a great deal to both Ruth and her husband. I could see why Ruth loved her sisters so. Love radiated from them in everything they did.

After the luncheon we met back at a hotel where D had secured two suites. Some had stayed there the night before, and there was more food and vast quantities of alcohol. I had a dram of absinthe, something i haven't drunk in over 30 years. Given that i hadn't slept well for a few nights prior to the long drive, i knew it wouldn't take much alcohol to affect me, so nursed the drink for our entire visit. It was good to visit with the others, swap stories, change out of our mourning clothes into comfy jeans and tee shirts, and let loose a bit.

I was glad that we'd chosen to stay elsewhere, because, as typically happens with me for things like this, i craved quiet after a bit, and was called upon to drive most of the way back to our lodging. After a dreamless sleep, i awoke early next day, and we started the long ride back. SFB drove most of the way, i drove for some. We didn't hit snow until the last 40 minutes to his house, which was our meet-up point. We chatted with SFB's wife for a bit, and then drove the last 45 minutes home in a snow squall.

Earlier this week, SFB said that his FIL wasn't doing too well. The tide had been going out for a while, so this wasn't a complete surprise, and just before midweek, the tide went all the way out. He called yesterday to say that the service would occur today at 11 a.m. and was sorry for the last-minute notice. There'd been so many calls to make. This service was a far shorter drive, and i was able to attend. The hospice carer spoke a few words of his own, then read something SFB's wife had written about her dad. I was sorry i didn't get chance to meet him. Many of the attributes she mentioned were ones my dad had, too. Not demonstrative, didn't express feelings, could fix anything, wanted to support his family.

It was clear from her words that she dearly loved her dad, and i was glad for her and sad for me. At the time my father died, i couldn't have written something so heartfelt. My relationship with my father had been strained for many years, and we were on the verge of its improving when he died.

I hugged SFB, SFB's wife was surprised and glad i came and hugged me. I met SFB's MIL where i shook hands and explained i was one of SFB's sailing friends. "And that's really all you have to say, " SFB's wife said with a genuine smile. Yes, she was right. I didn't have to say more, her mother was probably already overwhelmed, and i was there for the two people i knew to lend my support however i was able. SFB's sister-in-law was on the other side of her mom, and she hugged me, too.

On the way home, i got to thinking more about what a loving daughter had written about her dad. Words i might have said had my dad and i had chance to see the improved rapport grow. And like other funerals i've attended where i wasn't close to the decedent, i had chance to mourn those departed from my life, a chance for a little more healing to take place, a chance for wisps of love to glimmer. I recalled my family's funerals and how much it meant to me when others attended out of respect or love, or who just wanted to show their support.

I don't like funerals or memorial services, but i do appreciate the genuine love and concern they can bear out, given a chance. That opportunity for a person's tribe to collect, meet, mourn, and support each other. That reminder to make the most of each day, let those you care about know you do, and to say good-bye to one who, depending on one's faith you think you may not or perhaps will or hope to see again in a happier space.