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Saturday, May 05, 2012

growing older in one day...

most days, I'm not really conscious of growing older--sure, there are days when I feel my knees creak, and times that my physical body reminds me that I'm no longer 21, the almost whiteness of my beard, the takeover of the salt in my hair, the victory of hair growing in places I never thought possible, and the loss of hair in the places I hoped would win--the periodic lapse in memory, the more frequent "you kids get off my lawn" moments, a stronger distaste for hip-hop:  yeah, I know the signs, but, today, I had a conversation with my mom, Jo.  I call her every weekend, usually on Sunday afternoons, when she has been to Sunday School and church, had lunch with her friend Sarah, and is about midway through her afternoon nap/reading.  Sometimes I call her on a Saturday, when she isn't as lonely, and doesn't list all the relatives who never call, and who never visit (always starting with my brother and his wife, my nephews, her brothers, her in-laws.)  She has not aged with grace, but, she has become more angry with each passing year: angry that she is left more and more alone, angry that her own body is failing her, angry that she often feels abandoned by my brother, my nephews, and I guess, me.  Probably like any mother of adults--particularly adult sons, who are grandfathers themselves: we do not call enough, visit enough, care enough.  Jo will be 80 in August, and she is not looking forward to the hallmark experience.  She tells me that she prays "for the Lord to just take me home."  Not what this son wants to hear: and I remind myself that the phone conversations are not about me, not about how I feel, not about what I want to hear--they are about the woman who birthed me and raised me, who supported me, who loves me.  Yet, I feel guilty for feeling impatient with her melancholy. 
Up until this past year, she has been in relatively good health.  Some gall bladder trouble, a broken ankle (from falling down the bank while fishing), some TMJ--but, nothing major.  She was the champion care-giver for my father and his long arduous months following his stroke, and then the caregiver again for her boyfriend, Dan Magness, following his heart attack and other illnesses.  She knows her way around a hospital and nursing home.  She can communicate with nurses, doctors and therapists: she will do battle with business offices and billing companies.  Jo knows how to fight, and that is one of her most admirable and irritating qualities. 
Today, I asked if she had been to the dentist, as she had planned, on last Monday. "no," she said, "do you want to know what I did instead?"  Of course: she began the saga of last Sunday afternoon--post nap, when she didn't feel well, and went to the kitchen, there, she fell, and hit her head.  She hit her head hard enough that it caused her to bleed, and she woke up on the kitchen floor, with blood all around her. 
She had been passing out over the past few months.  He legs get weak, he stomach 'does flips" and she lands on the floor, the ground, against the wall.  She passed out once while she was babysitting her great-grand daughter, Haylee, and fell against Haylee, then, soon woke up very upset and frightened.  My nephew and his wife made the wise decision to find another caregiver for Haylee, and Jo was sad, lonely, and upset with the realization that she could not care for her great-grand daughter as she had cared for her grandchildren and other great granddaughters, Tesa and Cheyenne.  With my nephew and his wife expecting Haylee's little sister, my mom knew that she could not babysit for the new baby, and was deeply sad about missing the baby's first few months, and the special bonding she had with all the others.  Aubrey Kay arrived over one month ago, and Jo has seen her only twice, and she is in pain over that. 
When Jo woke up on the floor and saw and felt the blood, she crawled to the phone and did not call 911, but, called my brother.  She was surprised that he answered the phone--she is convinced that he ignores her calls, and that he is too busy to talk to her--(and, she has to relay that thought to me in each phone call.) 
He and my sister-in-law immediately went to her house, helped her up, cleaned her up, and sat with her until she was feeling better.  They suggested that she see a dr., and the next morning, bright and early, she called her dr., who could see her in the afternoon. 
About the time she was telling me this saga: I began to feel myself getting older.  I was hearing my almost 80 mother tell me about the series of doctors and tests and medications and...I was hearing my older adulthood announcing itself as a town crier.  "Hear ye, Hear ye: you are OFFICIALLY old. Both of your parents will soon be gone, your original family will no longer exist, and, you will be...old." 
Jo kept talking, doctors, appointments, rides to the appointments.  No one called me, no one sent an email, no one let me know.  "I don't want to worry you."  I told her that I would appreciate being "updated on her condition, and then I can decide if I want to worry or not."  She told me that probably would not happen. 
She has always told me what to think, what to worry about, what NOT to worry about.  I know that is how she communicates, but, I would like the privilege of deciding how I will respond to my mother's illness. 
And there: in that moment, I knew the shift was taking place.  I told her that she could not protect me from feeling a certain way about her situation, that it was my decision, not hers.  In reply, she said, "well." 
We finished the conversation: she asked me about my little garden, about the dog, about my work--all I could say was, "fine."  I was already crying, but, could not let her hear it, or know it.  I gave her a cheery, "talk to you next week," and told her I loved her. 
Then, I hung up, and wept.  I needed to cry for a bit, to grieve for the family that I will never have again, to miss my Dad--to wish I could tell him how I felt about Mom, and I missed my Mom, already. 
Life stages, passages, circle of life, aging...I know all of the verses to those songs, but, today, on a beautiful Cinco de Mayo, sitting on my front porch swing, I grew older. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Lessons in progress in the neighborhood..

When I read "The Wisdom of Stability" recently, the key concept that stuck with me was "Stay put. Pay attention. Learn from where you ARE." I paired that thought with the native American writer, Terry Tempest-Williams who wrote, "stay in one place long enough to know the sound of the bird in the morning, the call of the coyote near your window, the arc of the tree, bending near your door..." (from, "The Radical Act of Staying at Home.") I've been thinking about this for quite a while--and these writings have been helping me to crystallize my thoughts--of my home, my neighborhood, why I live here, why I stay here. Yes, I can go elsewhere-I have opportunity and the means, and the relationships to move to another place: Savannah, Charleston, Georgetown, New Orleans, Dallas, Memphis, Providence, back to LA, SF or OC--or, if I were to dream with my wallet, Monterey, Big Sur, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs.
I choose Fresno, I choose Lowell, I choose 1440 E. Divisadero, my little lot next to the law office and the Galvan's, near Miguel, Teresa and the kids. Behind Marjoree Mason, across from YFC and the day care.
I stay here because I need to learn more about the world from here. I need to explore my own world here- interior, exterior. This place makes me think about race, class, communication, giving and mercy every day. My neighbors and I talk about trees--our trees. We are excited about our meager crops of eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, plums, figs, pomegranates and onions. None of us have much, but some have more than others--and we learn to share with those who have less. Each day adds to our accounts of trust and trustworthiness. We look at each other with eyes of care and trust. We turn over our keys, our work, our lives to each other.
We celebrate good fortune, good deals, good fireworks, good food.
We have "stayed put" long enough to know the comings and goings of our kids and their friends. We know the names of the dogs and cars. Sally, Fred, Snowball, Muffin, Boots, Taffy.
We speak English and Spanish and 'hood.
There is an interconnectedness that is inexplicable. In the most practical of ways, we depend on one another, and I am the primary recipient.
I learn to ask for help, to receive, to give, to share, to open, to extend my open hand.
This place has changed the way I view my life, and I don't think it would have happened had I not been here, home.
"Learn to love the people around you, see them with the eyes of God, and accept them as God does." -Sr. Aquinata Bockmann
"In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it." Abba Antony
"stability helps us to do the necessary foundation work so that we can pay close attention to what is going on around us, and adapt to changing conditions without losing our sense of place....It does not limit us but encloses us within God's love, so that with the psalmist we can say: "the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage." Ps. 16:6 Kathleen Norris

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bill Reese is Dead.

This past week, for the first time in a long time, I thought about Bill Reese, or "Preacher Bill, " as he liked to be called. It was a fleeting thought, along the lines of "I wonder if he is still living." I knew that his wife, "Miss Fanny," had Alzheimer's and was being cared for by her daughters, and that their 3 daughters had experienced great amounts of pain and tragedy in their lives-from divorces to the death of husbands in various accidents. I grew up with 2 of the girls--they were as close as sisters to me, staying with us when their parents traveled to revivals and other church meetings. My mother sewed their clothes for them for most of their childhood, and Miss Fanny taught piano to my brother and me sometimes (but, we learned mostly from Mrs. Stiles, a saint.)

I wondered how Bill Reese lived with himself. He had conned older people out of their possessions, land, cars, antiques, and had built himself a "barn" to house his booty. He was the worst image of stereotypical southern "baptist" fundamentalist blowhard scheister preacher. I began to question his theology as soon as I could read the Bible for myself, and as soon as I had a decent vocabulary, I began to question his sermons and his wife's lessons. To say that he was racist, xenophobic, homophobic, nationalistic, misogynistic and often unintelligible would be kind. He was beyond all of those things, because he preached them with a loud voice, and he proliferated a network of "preachers" and "churches" which reached through the southeast like a flesh-eating bacteria. His words were/are destructive and evil, but, whenever family members mention him, they do so with distaste, but, with a hint of forgiveness for the "good" that he may have done. If he did any "good, " it was to cause many to vow to never be like this man, never think the way he thought, and never treat people with such disrespect as he.
His tool for submission was public humiliation, and the threat of "dis-fellowship" to church members. Along the lines of shunning, this was the worst possible wound for southern small town hearts. He was a master of plotting family members against family members, and my brother's own divorce and remarriage are stained with Reese's imprint.
He founded and lead a cult, loosely based on independent, fundamentalist Bible teaching, very loosely connected to Bob Jones University and the "Bible Baptist Fellowship." He, and others, taught that everyone is doing to hell except those who are a part of HIS church and churches like his. Catholics and Jews especially. Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists. Presbyterians and Lutherans definitely. Episcopalians, no question (they are just like Catholics, often called "the Roman Church that worships the Whore of Babylon.") His cult made him a wealthy man, and he used intimidation and manipulation to gain trust and gather contributions and converts.
He was persuasive, but, more manipulative. A kool aid event or other mass suicide would surprise me, and I have spent my life expecting that result from his influence. For a person or a family to leave the cult, they put themselves at a certain risk-economically, socially, and in their relationships with those still in the cult.
I feared him, and I feared the influence he held over my family.
I escaped when I was 17, and received letters and telephone calls from he and his wife telling me of my impending damnation, how I would burn in endless fire, how God would punish me for the rest of my days, which they prayed would be short. At 17, and 18 I heard words from these 2 people that I have never heard since, and words which should never be spoken to another human being. The scars have taken years to heal, and are continuing to heal.
I do the work that I do, especially with churches, to continually remind myself and those with whom I connect, that the Church should be a place of healing, not hurting. Leaders should be menders and equippers, not tyrants and dictators. Organizations should be held to higher standards, especially when they have a foundation in Faith. Families are more important than institutions, even churches, and words can be weapons, especially when wielded by mad men.

My mother told me that Bill Reese died this week. He died alone in his "barn" of his belongings. He had become paranoid about losing his possessions to theft, and so he had moved into his barn to keep an eye on his things. This is where he died. He was 78.
His wife has lost her mind. She cannot remember her children and grandchildren.
They were mean, selfish, dishonest and evil people.
A forgiving God has his hands full.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Lump.

On Tuesday I first felt the lump. It was small, about the size of a cherry, and it did not cause me to pause, but, just to think, "um, that's interesting. On Wednesday, the lump had grown some. Again, just an "um." On Thursday, the lump had grown some more. Now, it was beginning to be uncomfortable, and I could tell that there was a lump in my groin, and it began to cause me concern. On Friday, the lump had grown to about the size of a golf ball, and I took a long soak in the tub, hot water, hoping that the size would reduce, that the discomfort would subside. I called Kaiser and made an appointment--took the first spot available, because all of the information on the websites says, "see your doctor." It's not ominous, but, I've read--and heard the tales of "catching it fast," and horror tales of not catching it fast enough--not being diligent enough, and worse. I called Joan. She's had breast cancer--and she knows the fear of "the lump." She was calming and reassuring. If it's bad, it would not grow that fast. It could be a lot of things (the websites offered 38 possibilities.) I will go to the doctor, I will take some tests. I will not freak out. I have been through worse--but, that "worse" was when I was out of it--when I didn't experience the waiting, the fear, the unknown.
It is Saturday, the lump has grown to lemon size--I will soon run out of fruit size analogies, I expect. It is not painful, but, it is uncomfortable. I will not review the WebMD or Men's Health sites, I will go about my day--I will go on our little trip, I will wait....
and, I will be frightened--because faith does not necessarily preclude fear. I have faith that it will "turn out OK," but, I do not expect that the process will be a walk in the park.
The lump continues to grow, and writing about it helps--and I know that no one in my family has read this blog, or will read this blog--so, I will not set off alarms with my mother, who has just experienced the death of her older brother last week.
I do not go through this alone, of that I am certain. My brain hemorrhage forever imprinted on me that I will not experience some of life's worst parts--alone.
So, Lord, I'd rather not have this lump. I would like to be able to take a couple of pills and have it vanish, and call Joan, and Gabe, and Mark...and say, "it was just one of those things that happens to men my age." But, if it isn't, I'll have to adjust to a new way of thinking about the lump.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Call it what it Is

A guy stopped in front of my house to say hello, and he told me that he and his wife were thinking about moving into the neighborhood--that they had found a really good deal on a fixer upper a couple of streets over. No surprise, the surprise would be that he had found a lousy deal on a house that didn't need to be fixed--because our neighborhood has a surplus of houses that need some attention before they deteriorate from neglect. He said that they were considering opening a day care--that they had no experience in day care, didn't have kids, and that they'd have to research it alot--but, he said, "that's our way of getting in and being able to do some evangelism." I think he then waited for my applause, or nod, or an "amen." For a moment, I was just stunned that he had said it out loud. Yes, there are a myriad of reasons to move anywhere--and evangelism is as good a reason as any, I suppose--but, don't be subversive about it. If you are moving here because you care about this neighborhood, and you care about the kids and families here, then, welcome. If you are going to pretend to care (or set up a business that says you care), and you are going to use that as your "tent-maker" cover, then, please go elsewhere.
Here are some of the reasons for moving to the Lowell neighborhood that I have heard:
Great house that I can afford.
Good platform to raise support for my ministry.
There is much need in the neighborhood, and I have much to offer.
No better offers.
I was raised in Lowell, and I want to raise my kids there/here.
My friends are moving there, and we can continue what we started.
God told me.
I did some work on a project there, and fell in love with the people.

Some of those reasons are better than others, some are paternalistic and parochial, and some are selfish, some are selfless--but, to assume that every person who moves to Lowell, especially those who are practicing christians, has the same motivation is incorrect.
Those who are christian cannot be lumped into the same barrel--and there are as many stripes as there are barrels. To assume that we are all evangelical, all evangelistic, all conservative, all republican, all supporters of certain organizations, all affiliated with the same groups, clubs, agencies, is to further exasperate the problems in Lowell. Those assumptions have not been correct for the past 20 years, and they are becoming more and more wrong as time passes. As housing prices decline, and as Lowell improves due to the assistance of City Hall, more and more people will be drawn to live in Lowell: but, if any one group assumes that they have a "lock" on Lowell, that they speak for Lowell, that they are the "heart" of Lowell, then, the "new" Lowell will move further and further away from that mindset: and establish a new mindset, and if it is implied that the "old" way of thinking is evangelical christian, then, when that mindset is rejected, e.c. will be rejected in the same bath water. There is that danger for any faith-based organization working in Lowell, that their "methods" are nothing more than a shill to do what their "mission" demands. To "love your neighbors" in Lowell will demand that you love ALL your neighbors, that you include them in your activities, events, meals, meetings, gatherings and decision-making. You will not agree with them, approve of their lifestyle, believe as they believe, but you ARE their neighbor, and you can't escape the call to love them. The audacity to try to evangelize your neighbors without loving them first, is well, audacious: but not in a good way. People can code it all they want, call if "neighborhood transformation," "community development," or some catchy mnemonic device with the same letter, but, if it's evangelism, and you mean it: then call it what it is. To do less is dishonest and dishonoring to the very message you present.

Friday, January 22, 2010

God Bless Haiti...

The images of the devastation seem to keep coming, each one worse than the one before. The children, the women, the young men screaming in pain..bodies in the streets, people begging for water--and fighting for food. A country with no infrastructure before the earthquake, now, seemingly without hope of ever having any type of infrastructure--even to get the supplies or food, water, medicine, shelter--to the millions in danger of dying.
I, like so many others, are conscious of their plight--and, think about them as I go through my day. In my impatience with the rain showers all week, I think of those who have no shelter from the elements who are old, sick, dying--and the rain doesn't seem to be such an inconvenience.
God loves Haiti, God loves the Haitian people. God will rescue them, God will save them. God will prompt those with gifts, skills, tools, time and energy to go and help--to feed, clothe, care, heal..the God who shakes the earth can now take care of the aftermath of the shaking--this my Hope, God Bless Haiti is my prayer.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Practical Ways to Love Your Neighbor...

If the "greatest commandment" is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and the second is like Love your neighbor has yourself..." then, how do I practically do that second part?
What does Loving My Neighbor look like in MY neighborhood today?
Here are some practical (and somewhat random) ways:
1. Fix up and maintain your house so that you ADD to your property value, and RAISE the property value of your neighbors. Love them with a fresh coat of paint, good, pretty landscaping, onon-obtrusive plantings, complementary colors. Give your house curb appeal, but don't make your neighbor's houses look bad in the process.
2. Keep your music and other noise level down. It's hard to love your neighbor when you're keeping them awake. More true in apartments and condos than houses. Parties and group gatherings at your house send a message (and if your neighbors aren't invited, that doesn't look good)-your small goup parking and noise may be counter-productive to the message you want to send to your neighbors.
3. Mind your pets. Keep the poo and pee off of your neighbor's lawns and yards. Spay and neuter your cats and dogs. Keep the barking and cat-fighting at a minimum.
4. Share the goods! When you buy in bulk at Costco or Sam's Club, ask your neighbors what they need and then share your bounty (literally) with them. Develop a coupon sharing process, discount books, online deals--if you don't need diapers, share the coupons with neighbors who do.
5. Curb your children. If your kids are out of control, why would your neighbors want to be around you? If THEIR kids are out of control, the way that you respond to them is speaking volumes. Know their names, their grades, their hobbies, and contribute to the positive activities in their life. (I've helped build a skateboard ramp, tossed balls back in their yards, helped name dinosaurs, and helped stock a neighborhood library with games, books and toys).
6. Spend time talking to your neighbors. Open your house to hosting neighborhood watch meetings, and other neighborhood groups (if you don't have Neighborhood Watch--Start one!) Give yourself time and space to talk to your neighbors almost every day.
7. Host your neighbors IN your home, on your porch, at your table, at game night, TV parties, movie nights, Bible Studies, potlucks, birthday/anniversary parties. Let your neighbors see you with your friends and family--and let them KNOW you (then, you can KNOW them!)
8. Develop a "neighborhood resource list" of professionals, organizations, helpful services, City departments, that you can call and offer as help. Include AA, plumbers, electricians, garbage pickup, sewage, utilities, crisis hotlines, local law enforcement (that you know by name), City Council staff for your district..YOU should be the person who knows how to find help!
9. Celebrate Holidays AT HOME. Be the best house on the block for Halloween candy, Valentines hearts, fly your flag on Flag Day and 4th of July, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day. Let your neighbors know that you are alive, aware and engaged.
10. Engage. Do NOT isolate yourself from your neighbors, especially if your neighbors are a different color, faith, age, economic status, sexual orientation, language, political party or nationality than you and your family. (except Texans--it's ok to avoid them:)
You can't love 'em if your don't know 'em--and your can't know 'em if you don't OPEN your heart, your gate and your doors...