Friday, October 26, 2012

Dealing With Death

Dealing With Death

“How do I deal with this?  a friend asked the other day, as we talked about the death of his friend, at a very young age.

And, I don’t know.  I’ve lost friends, relatives, people I work with, neighbors, people I’ve admired, so many people in my life.  After all that loss, you think I would have figured it out, and knew the answer to his question.

But, I don’t.  I explore my relationship with God, I contemplate the Universe, I search for my place in the world, who I am, where I am going, my own death.  I sometimes I think I have answers, but I also still have questions, big questions.

The questions nag me in the middle of the night, or when I have a thought reminding me of a loved one who has died.  The other day, when my friend asked me this question, his eyes tearing up with his pain and his loss, and his quest for the answer to his question. My usual full bag of advice and counsel didn’t produce a ready answer.  

Great poets, great writers, great artists, great theologians, and me and my friend keep coming back to the pain, the questions, the wondering.   

Some say there is a plan.  Yet, the work of the angel of Death seems chaotic, haphazard, completely random.  

I can have a rich, yet fleeting, conversation with someone close to me, and then next thing I know, I’m sobbing because they are suddenly gone from my life.  Or, I know they are dying, but I am still not ready for that phone call, telling me their time has come now, and not when we had thought.  What I want to be rational and reasonable is never that, not when I’m trying to understand Death.  

Death always screws up my plans.

I’m never ready for it, never ready for the news, the loss, the stumbling around that I do when someone close to me departs this world.  I’d like to think I can manage death, but I can’t.  Oh, I’m practiced in helping to plan funerals, and even saying comforting words, and helping others out.  I’ve mastered the legalities, and sometimes, I think I know the spiritual “final answer”, but not really.  

I’m really not very good at all this, and the dark void in the pit of my soul still aches, and I still cry out my laments.  

Sure, I move on.  I go forward.  That is, after all, what we have to do in this life.  And, I like to think that part of that person’s goodness and spirit lives on as a spark in my own self, and that their love and their goodness is part of the tapestry that is my life and my work in this world.  And, yes, all that is comforting.

Yet, I still don’t really know what to do, how to “handle this”, and to move on.  

I can sit with my friend, who mourns and weeps, and let him know there is love and kindness and compassion left in this world.  I can offer that and let him take what he needs now, to ease the bleeding of his own heart, and the void of his own emptiness.  

Perhaps that is enough, that empathy and compassion.  Perhaps that is the humanity I can offer, and how we can all try to deal with Death and loss, and our own sense of righteous abandonment and anger.  

I can live my own life well, with few regrets, and with passion and zeal.  Then, when it is my time to leave here, those who are left behind will have seen all that in me, and find some strange form of comfort in that, knowing I lived well and full, and that love remained strong in my heart, for all to see.

---Neal Lemery 10/26/2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Local Beauty Secrets Revealed

Local Beauty Secrets Revealed

I’ve always wondered why the farm women in my small rural town are so beautiful.  I’ve speculated that it was the hundred inches of annual rainfall, or the mist from the large cow manure sprayers that perfume our air, even the faintly salty breeze off the ocean.  

But, now the holy mysteries have been revealed.  

On our way back from the weekly grocery store pilgrimage, we were commenting on my choice of shampoo I bought today.  

“I’m just ready for something different,” I said. “Time for a change.”

My wife agreed, saying that a friend of hers, a dairy wife, recently gave her some new shampoo for her birthday.

She purchased it at the local feed store, apparently the local rival to Paul Mitchell, Revlon, and other boutique beauty supplies.

“It’s ‘Mane ‘n Tail Shampoo’,” my wife said.  “They use it on horses, and it makes the horses’ manes and tails shiny and voluminous.”

“Yes, I could see why one would want one’s horses to have shiny and voluminous manes and tails,” I said.

“The dairy wives, too,” my wife replied.  “They use it themselves.  And, you can buy it in bulk at the feed store.  

“I’ve used it, too.  It does a great job,” she said, adding a loud horse snort and neigh.

Struggling to keep the car on the road, our laughter filling the car, I barely made it home and rushed to my computer.  With a quick Google search, I found myself on the Mane ‘n Tail website, looking at all their equine beauty aids and glorious testimonials.  

Nothing from Mr. Ed, or this year’s winner of the Kentucky Derby, but lots of rave reviews from satisfied customers, all apparently now displaying voluminous hair.

And, then, I discovered another product, one my wife now also wants to try -- Mane ‘n Tail’s Hoofmaker.    A happy customer wrote:

“My nails were in very bad shape.  I started using Mane ‘n Tail Hoofmaker and saw a difference in one week.  I’ve been using it for a month now and love it.  My nails are no longer brittle and breaking.

“--M.R., Fresno, California.”

No endorsements yet for any oats or hay, or the Triple Crown Diet on the website.   But, I bet they are working on a special nutritional supplement to keep one’s coat shiny, and heal saddle sores.  I’d be interested in that.

Monday, October 8, 2012

In the Listening

I should never assume I’m in charge of the agenda.

The other day, I had a visit with one of my young friends at the local prison.  I’ve been mentoring him, and he’d been teaching me, for quite a while.  Visiting day was turning out to be the best day of the week for me, on a lot of different levels.  

I had our time all planned out. I brought food, some of his favorites, and coffee.  I brought my guitar, and planned to play a game.  I even laid out, in my mind, what we’d talk about, as we ate, and played the game.  Silly me, thinking I’d be in charge of our time.

Yet, when I arrived, he didn’t even open the bag from the restaurant.  He barely sipped the special chocolate frappe I’d brought in.  My guitar stayed in its case, and it was obvious he had a lot on his mind.  His first words pushed me into the nearest chair and he took command of our time, his eyes sparkling with determination to speak his mind.  

He talked, and told stories about his life, his family, and his fears.  I heard about his grandma, and his most challenging wrestling meet, and how his coach believed in him.  The coach was the first man who ever thought he could do anything in his life.  

The restaurant food grew cold; there was a different hunger in the room today.  It wouldn’t be satisfied by the burgers and fries.  

I heard about his best friend shooting someone at school, and what it was like to watch that, and hear the gunshots in his high school hallway, what it was like to turn around and see his friend firing the gun and the other guy falling, and bleeding.  And how he helped get the gun away, when the magazine was finally empty, and how it fell, clanging, on the hard linoleum floor, by the blood.    

I had to remember to breathe, as his words quietly tumbled out, words without emotion, just relating the events, him being a reporter of what went on, as he watched a murder.

He took me there, his words painting a picture of his fear, and his empathy for his friend, and why his friend’s anger boiled over into gunfire.  He didn’t cry, he just spoke, his voice firm, the sentences turning into page long paragraphs.  I wondered if anyone had ever heard this story, even after the cops arrived a few minutes later, and took his friend to jail, leaving him in that long, cold hallway, next to the bullet riddled body,  the empty magazine, and the blood.  

His eyes told me it was not my time to ask, only to listen.  

I could only nod, later occasionally offering a full sentence of empathy and understanding.  His words tumbled out, keeping a steady pace, as the hand on the clock on the wall spun around, once, twice, and half again. 

Finally, he took a deep breath.  

“I guess our time’s up now.  Can you come next week?” he said quietly, unfazed by his two and a half hour monologue, his story of murder, and loneliness, and losing a friend.  

“Sure,” I said, nodding and giving him a hug.  He hugged back, bear like, taking the sack of cold burgers with him.

“I’ll heat these up in the microwave.  Thanks.”  

When I got home, I took a walk, in the autumn afternoon sunshine, and looked at the colors of the leaves falling from the trees, and the last of the summer flowers, ones that had survived the first few nights of frost.   The air was still, the rays of the setting sun still warm on my skin.  

There were no birds, no insects, not even a breeze in the dying yellow leaves on the maple tree, as if the world knew I’d had enough listening for a while, and needed to let all that settle in, to find a place for what I’d heard that afternoon.  

I heard his stories, again, in that silence, and let his tales sink deep into my soul.   And, in all that, I realized I’d been given the gift of knowing him better, and in letting him finally be free to tell his stories and find his own way.