Does anybody remember near the end of the movie Steel Magnolias when Dolly Parton’s character Truvy opens her second beauty parlor and she proclaims, “I’m a chain!” Does anybody remember the joy in that moment? Well these past couple of weeks since my new book (with a wiro cover) Relying on the Moon has been printed and for sale, I’ve felt the same way. It’s somehow exciting and proud and a little bit scary all wrapped up together. It’s incredible.
Never really thinking I’d write a book, I’ve stumbled in and through most of this past year. Except for the writing of the stories it’s been baby, baby, baby steps. Not always two steps forward and then one back, but sometimes close to that.
Last summer we were visiting our friend Susie at her (beautiful, lush, spoiling your bare-feet with those plush white carpets) house on Skid-Away Island. On a long walk I started thinking about all the words that seem to be in so many of the books on grief. It was frustrating because I knew from my experience, that when I am grieving, my attention span is short and I don’t have much energy. And so I started dreaming a book in my head.
For a long time I’ve thought of the moon being a strong metaphor for ways of grieving. Both are always changing. Both seem to be always coming ‘round again. Predictable and not ~ both. A part of daily life. So many ways one can speak for the other. And on that walk I started thinking about writing my book. This notion seemed easy enough: 28 meditations (it turns out I’d need 29, but I digress), beautiful pictures and White Horse questions to engage the readers in the meditations. So after asking Susie to be the photographer, and her (and her muse) agreeing we were off and running.
Getting time-off is not an easy thing. PTO days are few and precious. But Linda and I agreed that I could take off the week before Labor Day (always reserved Thursday – Monday for reunions with our Candler sisters). I would have the first 3 days for writing and we'd see what would happen.
Susie was as excited as I was (and for that I will forever be thankful). She invited me to come, stay at her house and write to my heart’s content. I came in late Saturday afternoon and after one thing leading to another, began in earnest writing Sunday afternoon.
Writing this book was one of the most energizing times of my life. Susie would head off to work and I would sit at her dining room table looking out over the lagoons and put words to paper. I’d write 2 or 3 meditations and then Susie’s dog, Zeke and I would go for a long walk. And as we walked I would mentally envision the next 2 or 3 pieces. We’d head home, I'd open another Diet Coke and begin typing. All day long. And then when Susie came home, I would read her what I’d written. Incredible. Fun. Amazingly restorative.
Linda came through Savannah to pick me on Thursday, and I just smiled and smiled when I saw her. I’d written the book. Susie was already working on the pictures to match. 3 ½ days. It was nothing short of Godsend.
Here’s one of the meditations, a piece about Stories:
Our lives are filled with stories moving from moment to moment, from day to day. Our story, what was and is and what will be, is continually unfolding. The lessons that we have learned inform us and protect so that we don’t have to stumble and bumble along the way.
Grief doesn’t happen in isolation. Grief is interconnected to the stories within the stories throughout our lives. There is always a greater context. In my work with folks who were HIV+, I learned that there was not time to truly grieve the loss of one friend before another’s death. The image of a great tapestry sewn one colored thread at a time is helpful for me. In the picture created, there is a sense that one thread picks up where another ends.
Part of the preciousness of being human is the privilege of sharing our stories. Many of us shy away from the telling of our stories because we are afraid of overburdening someone else. As I move through this life, I am continually gifted by the privilege of carrying another’s story. I know that I’m carrying them for just a time. It is in this carrying of another’s story that I remember that I am not alone. Often in this act for another we are able to see our story in a new light. And in doing this, some part of our story can find healing as we hold one another for just a bit.
Last Sunday Linda and Gamma hosted a Book-Signing party here at the house. My heart was truly filled to overflowing with all the love in the house. Bets brought a gazillion drinks. Claudie was patiently sitting beside me helping me keep track of who had purchased which book and how to address the inscription. Susie, of course was taking pictures of everybody who came and all that was going on. Ray and Randy drove all the way from Savannah to celebrate. And the house was filled with friends who gathered to bless it. I will long cherish the circle that stretched all the way around the kitchen and dining room when we held hands to pray. I will long treasure the prayers offered as a blessing for this book. I guess I should have been surprised when 2-year Avery told Grandma Laura and Aunt Erin on the drive home that he’d seen my folks. Driving home Avery said, "Did you know Lesley's Mom and Dad were there? They said `hi' to me and they were very nice." I guess that should surprise me. But to be honest it doesn’t at all. Mom and Dad have been with me every step of the way through this past year.
3 ½ days to write it, 13 months to proof it and get it in print. That sounds about right. What a gift of time. What a joy to write. Wonder what the next chapter will bring?
Thanks to everybody for believing it could be and for supporting me in these past weeks. I am forever grateful.
Ten weeks ago we were in the food court at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. We’d gotten chicken sandwiches and pizza. Daddy John was giving us suggestions and setting some parameters for Bargaining at the Maasai Market (located on the roof of the parking deck). How many dollars to shillings? How does one bargain, REALLY? Seven of us ~ Gamma, two boys 11 and 14, two moms and two dads ~ all sharing lunch on a Tuesday afternoon.
Ten weeks ago we’d shopped in the Market and gotten several treasures. Some better at this whole bargaining idea than others (OK, everybody better than me). We’d been outside in the sunshine bargaining for a couple hours with the vendors and gotten gifts for the folks back home.
Ten weeks ago Linda had taken Sam shopping in a shoe store ~ looking for Desert Shoes while I stood outside the store close to a cart filled with chocolates, trying not to spend more money (and calories) than I needed to.
Ten weeks ago Linda, Gamma and I had gone up to the restrooms on the third floor next to the theaters.
Ten weeks ago Brogan and I had gotten tea and played a game of cribbage at the tables by the coffee shop.
Ten weeks ago there were old ones and young ones, ones with light skin and dark skin, mothers and grandmothers, professionals and students walking around and shopping. If you listened you could overhear bits and pieces of conversations about parties and school, about travels and futures, about buying this and that, about “mall things”…ten weeks ago.
The world has again been turned upside-down and inside-out by random violence. Old ones and young ones, daughters and fathers, security keepers and ones who believed they could be kept safe…Minutes into hours into days…one breath holding a lifetime…
My world is not very big. I have traveled internationally twice ~ once to Israel and recently to Kenya. And both trips have broken my heart wide-open. In Israel when I first saw the Palestinian Wall, I experienced despair in ways that I’d never before seen. That wall left me with no words to describe how I felt. Nine weeks ago my heart was full of the vastness and beauty of Kenya’s Maasai Mara. And now ten weeks later my heart breaks each time I see pictures and hear the sounds of those hours in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.
I am praying for the ones who came in with guns instead of hope or words or anything, anything, anything else. I am praying for the vendors and the merchants who have lost their ways of supporting themselves and their families. I am praying for the soldiers who had to fire weapons on this building that was not a war zone, but a shopping mall. I am praying for the victims and their families whose lives are forever changed. I am praying for all of us who have watched from afar and wept in the night.
Days around Friday, October 4th are known as the time to celebrate St. Francis of Assisi. I find myself praying words attributed to him when I’m not sure what or how to pray:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And 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.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned…
Light a candle when you can ~ for sisters and brothers in Nairobi. May they somehow know that we are holding them in our hearts this day and throughout the days and nights to come. And may we live our lives so that we may become instruments of peace.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
“Well, I / we made it through another week.”
Lord, save me from myself. And forgive me.
Forgive me for cluttering up my life so that all I seem to feel is tired. Forgive me when I shut out the world because my spirit just can’t hear one more story. Forgive me for being so focused on what’s next that I miss what’s now. Forgive me for missing out on so much of what is so beautifully surrounding me. Moonrises. Wispy clouds. The color purple. Laughter. Beautiful melodies. Harmony. Forgive me for missing the Alleluia’s and the Amen’s.
Words from Psalm 46 lead into the words from Psalm 118: 24 when we are reminded: “This is the day that the Lord has made. WE will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Perhaps one lesson from this week of “making it through” is to lean into the message of collectively rejoicing. There is much to be said for our communal giving thanks. There is hope in the reminder of the greater connection.
Even after this week of prayerful news from the Navy Yard, from the ongoing stories from Syria and from the times of uncertainty with healthcare and immigration….even in these tender days there is a time for looking to a greater hope, for recognizing God’s presence. There is a peace that comes when I can be still long enough and remember to lean into the wisdom and comfort of the communion of saints. There is strength from communal prayers that speak words of faith when my voice feels too timid or too weary. It is the power of a prayer prayed and a song sung that is greater than mine could ever be ~ it is in this collective rejoicing that I have the renewed energy to begin to find my way. It is in the recognition that THIS IS THE DAY, this is the moment and the time for us _ it is in this place that my weariness begins to fall away and I can turn and return to a balanced and truer place.
Be stiller and knowing better that you are our Creator God and the you are creating still is my beginning (again) place. Opening up to the “I am” of what was, is and will be.
Thanks to John or Rande or Sam or Brogan who took the picture at the top. It’s a picture of a Massai Mara Sunrise. It wasn’t that long ago we were there in the midst of a vast beauty of God’s re-creating. For that beauty and for what’s now all around here THIS DAY ~ thank you.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that Dad has died. Next month will be three years since his death. And he lived for 19 years with Alzheimer’s before that. And the truth is his strong, wise, generous, loving, funny spirit is alive and well in my heart.
Nights at 3120 growing up with Dad always included his three evening rituals: 1) Watching the Sports on WCIA Channel 3 at about 10:20 (pre-ESPN); 2) Followed by a walk with the dog(s); and 3) and then playing piano into the night (sometimes until 2 am or more). Winter, spring, summer and fall. Most every night.
I can remember as if it were yesterday he would put on a hooded sweatshirt (or two or three) and get the dog’s leash off the hook by the back door. They would leash-up and go around to the front of the house to head out. And then Dad would do the most amazing thing: Dad and the dog would walk down the steps, down the front sidewalk and when he got to the bushes he would stop. And he would wait. And here’s the funny thing: it always appeared that Dad would let the dog decide which direction to go on the evening walk. It was as though Dad and his companion would have their own silent question: “left or right?”
I remember several times watching them from the front porch. Sometimes Mr. Chips (our long-time family dog) would stop and sit. It was as though he, like dad, was thinking things over. Then Mr. Chips would get up and head out in the direction of left (east) or right (west). And off they would go. Sometimes I would go along their evening strolls. I soon learned that this practice of “which way would you like to go?” continued throughout the walk. Not at every corner, “that would be silly,” I was told when I asked him. Somehow both human and canine knew which were the “turning corners” that would determine the direction and duration of each night’s walk. We’d get to a corner and Mr. Chips would turn left at 21st Street and Dad would say, “Tonight we’re going on the 2 mile route,” or he’d turn right on Richmond and Dad would just nod, “the 1/2 mile route,” or they sometimes head out toward 33rd street, “the 3 mile route.”
The length of the walk never seemed as important as the companioning of the walk. When I asked him about it he said he was much more interested in where Mr. Chips wanted to go.
There are so many things I loved, appreciated and miss so very much about my father. This evening practice was one of them. There was always a special bond between Dad and our pets. The evening walks were certainly a big part of that bonding. But as I look back now I wonder if Dad wasn’t leaning into them as well. It wasn’t that my father couldn’t make decisions. He could and he did all day long. Maybe that was the point. Dad spent every waking hour making decisions while working at the bank, or participating on committees, or while tending to his community as best he could. These evening walks allowed him to defer to his walking companion. Looking back now I believe there was joy for him in just going along for the ride.
Lord knows (and my family can surely attest) I would benefit from this spirit practice. These evening walks of welcoming possibility, his flexibility, and his sense of being open to the process ~ this practice would be good for me. What would shift for me if I patiently waited for a walking companion (at work or with friends and family) to make the decision for what direction to be next? Do I have the patience? Do I have the trust to let go that much?
I’ve been trying to follow (literally) in his footsteps the past couple of nights when I head out our backdoor to walk our dogs. On the nights I’ve tried it, the three of us will get to end of the driveway and I kid you not….K’bu will head left (south) and Emma will head right (north).
Maybe it’s me… or (wait for it) maybe the truth is: I’ve still got a lot to learn from my Dad.
Not often enough.
I wish I paid better attention to all that’s going on around me. I’m sorry to say that I just don’t seem to do that often enough. I wonder what would change in me and in ways that I’m in the world, if I did. Pay attention. Plug-in. To people and what's around me. To words and what's being said...I wonder.
This past week while writing a card to a daughter of one of our patients who had recently died, I wrote about her mother’s “compassion” for others. And I stopped. There was the word “compass” living right there at the very beginning of the word. I’d never really put those two images together in the same place at the same time. As I continued writing the card, I invited the daughter to use some of those compassionate memories of her mother as a life-compass. For the next little bit anyway, I invited her to set her own life-compass in a way that followed her mother’s path in interacting with folks. And then invited her to pay attention (here I am inviting her to do something I was just waking up to myself, but you know how that goes…) to what happens as she moved through these first months following her mother’s death.
When awake and paying attention, it amazing how many gifts there are to receive. So with that one I started stopping (now there’s another one…) and paying attention to the words I was using and what was being said in and under and around them.
Restaurant. I’ve said over and over again how restful and restorative it is for me most visits at Evans Fine Foods Restaurant. It’s almost as though the word itself sets me up for what’s to come. And how nice that is.
Harmony on the other hand is a pickle. Singing in choirs have been a blessed time of life-giving harmonies. And yet, there right at the beginning of the word is a disconnect: harmony. How is that possible? What does that mean? And what are we to make of that? How can that place of blending and listening out for the other, bring harm? I’m unclear about that one. (Then I start to wonder what my angel-friend, Frances would say about it. A Latin teacher, she'd be the one to check-in with about this very thing...but that's not humanly possible these days. I'll have to live with patience about that...)
So I invite you to dive in and explore. What can you learn about words and language by seeing what’s in them and what words make up words? You might discover some things you’ve been missing or be reminded of things you’ve always known. They might be a compass to bring you back to where you’ve been needing to be all along.
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.