17 June 2014

How do I mourn? I garden and read...

My newly planted roses and gardenias which are thriving.
For the past couple of months before the weather heated up and forced me indoors, I have been focused on my backyard, designing a landscape plan, digging in the dirt, planting,  remembering my farmer Daddy and thinking of the quote my friend and spiritual mentor sent me while I sat at his bedside and which we used at his funeral: "...never let us forget how soul-filling the feel of warm earth trickling through our fingers can be--how sacred it is to be a child of the land."  I have been filling my hands with dirt to fill an empty place, knowing all the time that the work was less about "planting potatoes" and more trying about spinning "a thread... strong enough to hang a bridge on"  as Marge Piercy describes in a poem sent to me by another friend. http://www.tear.com/poems/piercy/bridging.html
Another friend sends me his sermon on comfort, the Hebrew word nechamah  נֶחָמַת, and the older meanings of the English word "comfort" to cheer and strengthen me.

Poetry, words, reading are now, as they always have been, a comfort and strength to me.

I came across a second copy of this book going through books that David's mother was discarding. Rereading several sections were a great comfort to me. I passed the second copy to my sister, grateful for her presence through this journey.  Kathleen Fischer: Autumn Gospel. Women in the Second Half of Life.  Paulist Press, 1995. I read this book several years ago, probably a decade or more ago, when I could still claim to be middle aged. Fischer associates the "spirituality" of the aging woman with  "a renewed sense of the power of the imagination, a focus on community and connectedness, increased awareness of our embeddedness in the rest of natural world, the recovery of female symbols for the sacred, and of biblical and traditional stories of women." Many highlights and annotations remind me that this book was important to me in my midlife transition--I think I was approx. 49 years old when I first read it; I'm 65 now.
I often plan to reread a book but this rereading was coincidental--it happened that my mother-in-law was discarding a pristine copy--and I checked my library to see if I had one on my shelves. I did! I noted several highlights which seemed to be relevant to this current season of grief: "Gardening is a contemplative path through which we enter into the rhythms of death and rebirth..." page 92 explains the focus and energy I have expended in my landscaping. So I brewed a cup of tea and started to read and was comforted:
"When we have done all that we can to resist such suffering, when we find that the disease is incurable, the situation hopeless, practical efforts useless, then we can still do all in our power to prevent the circumstances from destroying or degrading our humanity and that of others. We do this by offering all the comfort, all the empowerment, and support possible in the given circumstances. This is the meaning of incarnation.
"It is incarnation that sustains us, the sacrament of God's loved found in the love and support of others....
"One source of comfort is the knowledge that a compassionate God is with us in the suffering, that God does not send it to us, but struggles with us against it and works with us to bring all possible good out of tragedy."
"Faith is a deep wellspring... deeper than the darkness of evil there is a vision of the compassion of God... Finally, we leave to God all that we can do nothing about." p. 112 - 113
I think the first reading was the source of part of the wisdom that has led me through a decade or more of difficult decisions as my parents' age and now Daddy's death. I know the second reading offered solace.

Recently, I have read Madeleine L'Engle's Two-Part Invention. The Story of a Marriage. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1988. This book is currently in print as book 4 of The Crosswicks Journals.  L'Engle would make the short list of my favorite authors and would also make the short list of my favorite theologians. I ordered a couple of her books from Better World Books. Good prices on wonderful books with profits going to a good cause, literacy, and thus my new library bookshelves are already starting to overflow. A few quotations: "...living far too much in an interior dream world. But that interior dream world has stood me in good stead many times when the exterior world seemed to be collapsing around me." p.5 "I had neither the money nor the inclination to meet friends at nightclubs or bars, and spend hours in what seemed a terrible waste of time." p. 31  "...life is a mixture of mutually contradictory feelings." p. 37 " Bach is for me the composer of my heart. The structure of a fugue is far more nourishing to me than the emotionalism of the romantics, but Tchaikovsky..." p.49 "I do not want to be indifferent to the joys and beauties of this life. For through these, as through pain, we are enabled to see purpose in randomness, pattern in chaos. We do not have to understand in order to believe that behind the mystery and the fascination there is love. In the midst of what we are going through this summer I have to hold on to this, to return to the eternal questions without demanding an answer. The questions worth asking are not answerable." p. 125 "I have slowly learned a lot about grief, and the right and proper expression of it. Wearing mourning in the old days was not such a bad idea, because it took into visible account the fact of death, which we now try to hide, so that it won't embarrass others.... We pull ourselves together when we need to. We do the things that have to be done. But we need to give ourselves times and places in which to mourn. This is strength, not weakness." p. 184  "...my own rootedness must be expressed in and through symbol and sacrament or it is not rootedness at all." p. 203

My gardenias have begun the scattered rebloom and will breathe fragrance into the fall. My roses are setting their third set of blossoms. The magnolia tree is growing and claiming her position as queen of the back yard. Figs will ripen in a few weeks.  The hollies are setting the berries that will feed the birds that winter in my garden.  I try to "leave comfort root- room."  (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Still, I find my "reality... takes leave" and  "my soul... dependent upon [his] nurture now shrink[s]... reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves."

Gardening, reading, and hoping
".... after a period peace blooms, slowly and always  irregularly.Maya Angelou from her poem When Great Trees Die.