Although the recent storms that have come barreling through Atlanta I know don’t come close to the one that slammed through Oklahoma this past week. It's as though nature is angry, the air is angry.
I was heading off to work today, driving through the village that is Oakhurst.
I saw a teenage girl with both hands burdened down, carrying something, backpack weighing on her back. She was running toward school. I didn't recognize her, didn't know her. I couldn't tell if she was running toward the middle school or the high school ~ either one was going to be uphill for her. I circled back to offer her a ride. And then I stopped. And after watching her run past, I continued on my way watching her in my rearview mirror. I was a stranger. She didn't know me and I didn't know her. I didn't want to (literally) brake her stride. I didn't want to cause her any more anxiety than she was already experiencing. Her plate was full for this day. I just wanted to offer her a kindness, but feared it would only add to her stress.
Not sure what it means about our days and about us, that we sometimes find ourselves turning away from doing a kindness. We don't want to make it harder for somebody else. In these days when we thirst for a kind word shared in the moment of weariness or hardship, it's hard to know how to convey it. The temptation is to keep our heads down and do what is in front of us, to take care of "me and mine." And especially in these days of natural and human-made violence, it feels as if kindness is what will get us through.
I said a prayer for this young, burdened-down girl ~ that she would make it to school in time and at some point be able to catch her breath. My watching her pass by on the street and then turn at the corner stays in my heart.
And so I will be intentional about "paying it forward." St. Francis' words are speaking down through the years ~ to us:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
We are participating in this world. Together. Connections and interconnections that reach beyond our immediate understandings. When I got to work this morning my hands were full, and a gentle man came from out of no where to open the door for me. A kindness given. To a stranger. (The opening of a door, a change in the air, a shift in what was toward what could be....)
I grew up in Mattoon, Illinois, a farm community halfway between St. Louis and Indianapolis. You only had to ride your bike a mile in just about any direction to be out on blacktop roads. And straight…you could go for miles and miles and never adjust your course. And they were hot in the summer. Depending on whether you were riding by corn or beans, there might not be even a whisper of a breeze as you pedaled on your way.
Backroads were the best way to get up to Champaign or over to Terre Haute ~ or when I was going to college, ways to get around the police traps going up to Bloomington-Normal.
Backroads memories allow my heart to open-up more. When I think about those drives back to Na-Wa-Kwa over in Indiana, I think about all the windows open and the music blaring. It was singing Jim Croce or Jimmy Buffett as loud as I could sing. Everything felt wide-open, from how far you could see to how fast you could drive. Somehow time was suspended on those roads.
You could mark your trip by barns or curves or that one big oak tree by the road. The sunsets painted the entire – and I mean the entire western sky in shades of colors that took your breath away. You could drive and drive and drive and only pass a tractor on the road.
Driving an hour commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the beginning and ending of the day is a true bummer. Trust me, I have learned the closest thing I can find to a backroad in this daily routine. I go through Tucker from Chamblee to get home to Decatur (and Atlantans know that geographically, it makes no sense at all). But when the “cars are aligned” I can still catch a glimpse of the sky for a sunset that reminds me of home. And seeing the sky's shades of God takes my heart back.
Maybe I’m just missing blacktop roads and the way it felt to drive them. Those roads provided my favorite ways of getting from here to there without having to navigate. Instead you could travel without others dictating your pace; you could make your way and watch the world going by without it passing you by. I miss seeing the horizon just out there and knowing I could find my way, I would always find my way home.
I know it’s not the intention of the day, but Mother’s Day is tough for me.
Barbara Ann Hashbarger Brogan died in 2005 from lung cancer. She was 76 years old. Death took her years too soon. And I feel this most everyday.
My sisters and I carry much of her with us and in us. Although quiet in a group of folks, there was a mighty presence about Barbara Ann. She was an artist, a painter. Oils were her favorite, but her watercolors were gently powerful. And that woman could rip montaging paper with the best of them.
She taught me of family ~ the rootedness and history, the tending to and watching out for. She taught me of music ~ NPR played 24/7 (before that was even a phrase) in our upstairs bathroom at 3120 Prairie. She taught me of the beauty and power of an Illinois storm ~ she would drive out on those black top roads looking out to the south and west watching (not the road, but) the horizon, or she put her arms around the three of us and cuddle on the couch on our screened porch and feel us into its coming. She taught me of faith ~ hers and her mother’s and the generations that lived before us. Church was as much a part of our lives growing up as was school. She taught me…
…and the truth is there’s so much more I need to learn and I want to know from her. So may “moments” that I yearn to spend with her. Paintings I would like to watch her dream onto the canvas. Popcorn to share at movie. Conversations to share, leaning into her wisdom. Hearing her laugh. Stories from her memory that I would like to hear. Watching her watch the boys growing up. Just having time.
I’m a Bereavement Coordinator with a hospice here in Atlanta. My daily work is listening to stories of families who have experienced the loss of a loved one. My best work is helping them integrate their loved one’s story into their own and step out into what is next for them. I try to help them emotionally prepare for anniversary dates and holidays. Like today. To be intentional about marking the day in ways that invites their hearts to be present (and to not take their heart into a corner and spend the whole day sobbing).
But never, ever do I tell them that it’s easy (or even possible sometimes). There’s nothing that allows for sugar-coating when you’re living into the grief of someone you have loved your whole life. But it is what you do: you live into your grief. Recognizing the tenderness, the mightiness, the constantness of your missing them and stepping out into this day. And with some faith and courage into the next. Carrying them and their memory right there inside your heart. And leaning into the love that continues to share (although not in the way you would best have it) all your days.
Praying at night with the boys has come full circle this week.
When Brogan was really little praying every night more often than not involved a guitar and a nightlight. We’d sing goofy camp songs (“I’m in love with a big blue frog”) and then move toward quieter songs (“Christopher Robin” and “Jenny the Flying Girl”). After our spoken prayer (we’d alternate between Now I lay me, The Lord’s Prayer and The 23rd Psalm) we’d always end by singing Taps. Sometimes saying prayers took 20 minutes or so.
Sam joined us when Brogan was 3. Sam got more words than songs. For some reason “Jenny the Flying Girl” made Brogan cry, so Sam seemed to request that one the most ….(reminded me of my growing up).
Prayers shifted about the time Bro was 5 and Sam 2. They were beginning to have lives of their own and I was nosey. (There I said it). It was one of those times when the growing up of children is fine for the kids and hard on the grown-ups. So when the teeth were brushed and all other bathroom duties complete, we added saying our “best thing and hardest thing” of the day to the songs and prayers and Taps.
This as much as anything else became my window into their lives. At the end of the day each of us chose one thing that was our best thing and next vented (just a bit) about our hardest thing. One night must have been particularly tender, because we needed something after the hardest thing ~ so the Hopeful Thing was added. This became an important part of our nightly ritual.
When we completed the addition of our house, the boys moved upstairs and began sleeping in their own rooms. Brogan said he was big enough to say prayers by himself (and I know he was, but still…). So for several years at about 9 or 9:30, Sam would be tucked in and I’d be lying down next to him. We’d talk about his day, share Best/Hardest/Hopeful things, have a song and/or prayer and I’d give him a kiss.
This week Sam, too said he is now big enough to say his prayers on his own (and I know he is, but still…).
And so we’ve come full circle.
Best thing. Hardest thing. Hopeful thing. This has proven to be a helpful ending of the day practice for me and I think for the boys as well. This practice has let us name the celebrations/joys, acknowledge the challenges and it brought us back-round again to what can get us out of bed the next morning.
When folks ask me if I like parenting it’s so easy for me to say how counter-intuitive almost all of it is; how demanding-of-constancy it is; how emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially draining it is and how darn tired I am most days. But the honest truth of what I like about parenting is this: it’s the moments of parenting these two amazing boys. The moments that shift me, remind me, inspire and stretch me. They are the best, the hardest and the most hopeful things. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything else.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.