Sunday, February 20, 2011
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
A few minutes later, in another of the crazy contrasts that is such a part of our life here in Glasgow, as I ran up the path toward Half-penny Bridge, I came upon a gaggle of fisherman, fishing poles held high…. And a piper arrayed in kilt and all. I stopped to watch, and 30 seconds later, the piper began to play “Scotland the Brave”, the unofficial national anthem of Scotland. He processed over the bridge, followed by about 10 fishermen and various fellow onlookers. On the other side, he stopped, and the fisherman gathered by the rail, while two of them climbed over. A quaich and a bottle of Famous Grouse whiskey appeared. One of the men held the quaich, while the other poured the whiskey into it, then passed the bottle back over the rail where is was used to fill a lot of plastic cups. There was brief ceremony, to mark the opening of fishing season on the River Kelvin, “and may be it be a good a last year’s!”, followed by cheers and toasts and around.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
I first met Margaret in 1964 when she sat next to me in high school Latin 1 class. I was just back from a trip to Europe with my Grandmother, and was just starting to come out of my shell. I don’t remember how she did in the class, but it was a real struggle for me. We were both pretty shy at the time and only developed a friendship over time. I was just starting a spiritual journey that, over the next 8 years, would take me away from the Episcopalianism I’d been raised in, on a long, looping orbit through Quakerism, atheism, Buddhism, Christian Fundamentalism, Roman Catholicism, and eventually back to the Episcopal Church. Margaret was an essential part of the journey for me, drawing me back when I was in danger of flying off into interstellar space, helping me ground myself in the Bible as I accompanied her and her family to the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Stockton (and later to one of the Baptist Churches in Lodi), where I was able to experience and to appreciate the importance of a deep grounding in a personal faith and the Bible.
Yesterday, on the 5th of February, 2011, Margaret died of cancer, aged 60. From my point of view, 60 is too young for her to die, but I don’t think it’s how Margaret saw it. Four months ago, as I was recovering from my surgery for prostate cancer, Margaret’s cancer was discovered, already at the metastatic stage. After Gail, her sister-in-law and a long-time friend (whom we’d just seen on her way through Glasgow on a North Atlantic cruise with Margaret's brother Hugh), emailed us in early October about Margaret’s cancer, I was in periodic contact with Margaret by email, as each of us followed our different cancer trajectories. We exchanged stories about our granddaughters and their metaphoric resonance with our situation, and wrote about how our illness was highlighting what was most important to us. I prayed for Margaret; she prayed for me. Through this time, she continued to inspire me, as she always has, with her spiritual, moral and personal witness, even as she grew too weak to respond to me herself and had to have her husband Rich write for her.
This morning, before church, I woke to find Gail’s email saying that Margaret had died. We’d been expecting this, but it was still a shock, as if some part of me had died also. All day I’ve carried this sense of mourning with me.
I heard her voice in today’s lessons: Isaiah 58: 1 -9 and 2 Corinthians 2: 1 - 12. I remembered how she read and quoted the Bible from memory, the excitement and energy and joy in her voice. And I realized that ever since then, whenever I had to get up in church to read a lesson, it was Margaret’s voice speaking through me, echoing the ecstatic cry of the creatures in Revelation, untangling Paul’s sometimes twisted syntax to pull out the meaning.
I remembered also how she “found me” in the Letter to the Hebrews, as, like Jesus, a priest not of the Levites (the Jewish priestly tribe) but “of the order of Melchizedek”, a perfect metaphor that found a place for and validated my restless searching that sometimes seemed to place me outside conventional spirituality.
But most of all, I remembered Margaret’s absolute faith in God, so solid compared to my doubts and waverings. Once, late in high school or more likely early in our university years during a holiday, someone led us through a guided meditation. Margaret visualized herself as a speck of dust, almost insubstantial. “How awful!”, the rest of us said. “No,” Margaret said, “I don’t need to be any more than that, because God is there: He is more real and more solid than I am, and He is all I need. He is the only thing I am sure of, that I know with certainty.” I have never forgotten this vision of hers, and of her ability to be absolutely certain of God. It is this certainty that God was holding her through the cancer that I have carried with me these past months, imagining her surrounded by God’s Light and Love.
After the service I went up to St Anne’s Chapel and put up a prayer request for Margaret; then I went to the back of the Nave and lit a candle for her. It was only then that a huge wave of sadness hit me, and I went and sat down and cried for a few minutes. As I cried, a bit of her certainty suddenly came over me, saying, “Margaret is OK,” and I felt something ease in my body. I said to myself, “It is the rest of us who are hurting. But really, the truth is, she is in all of us still, and she’s not going away.”
I have more to say about Margaret and may do so at another time, but this is enough for now, to mark her passing: For most of my life, even without her knowing it, she has been a personal saint for me, on my sometimes wandering or wavering spiritual journey. I am now experiencing her absence in my outer life, but the deeper truth is that she is still very much part of my inner landscape, and will be for the rest of my life and even, I hope, following her example, in how I approach my own death.
9-12 Feb 2011: Afterword: The Missing Story of the Mother Cat:
Apparently what I wrote above was not enough, because a couple of days later, and after I had sent along the Remembrance piece above to Rich, Hugh and Gail, I had an extremely vivid and complex sequence of dreams. I may share these dreams at a later time, but on reflection it became clear to me that the dreams were telling me that I had left outa very important and timely story of what I wrote above:
When I was about 19, I was home one summer, driving down a country road south of Lodi, when I came around a curve too fast to avoid running over a mother cat leading her kittens across the road. I hesitated, tempted to simply drive on, but then stopped my car and went back to house in front of which I had run over the mother cat. Getting out of my car, I went up to the woman in the front yard and told her I was very sorry but I had just over her mother cat. Now I don’t remember anything else, but later that day or perhaps the next day, I told Margaret about this incident. Pleased with myself for having had the courage to stop, and trying to reassure myself, I said, “But it’s OK because I told the woman who owned the cat.” Margaret paused and said something, calmly and with great conviction, that I have never forgotten: “No, it’s not OK; the mother cat is still dead.” In that moment I felt confronted by my own naïve, moral carelessness. The lesson for me was that although I didn’t intend to harm the mother cat or her owner or her kittens, and although I did take responsibility for my actions, several someones were still damaged by what I had done and it was very important not to lose sight of that.
It’s clear to me now that I previously put off telling this story because it was too emotionally resonant with Margaret’s death. My sense of her deep moral integrity is such that I can only imagine that she would apply the same principle to her own situation even now, in death. But I want to say this to her now: "Although your death causes me pain and leaves me feeling very sad, it is a pain and a sadness that I gladly bear, because it marks how important you have been and will continue to be to me. The sadness I feel at your passing tells me not to pull away but instead to connect with those I love and who love me."