Saturday, October 29, 2011

“We Are Not Saints.”

Frances, my mother, age 18

I live a checkered life. When I got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous, I went back to the church denomination I was born into, which happened to be Lutheran. A wonderful pastor helped me find a “new” God there, one I could sort of understand and sort of not understand but be comfortable with.

The pastor introduced me to Martin Luther, the man, not the author of the catechism I had to memorize as a kid. Luther had an idea that people of faith are a paradox: They are simultaneously both sinner and saint, screw-ups who live in a state of grace. That concept helped me find forgiveness.

I’m thinking about saints, tarnished and otherwise, because this week’s host of Poetry Jam, NanU, wants us to write about the eve of something hallowed. [Poetry Jam, eve of holy somethings] Tuesday is All Saints Day, which actually means something spiritual to me today. I live to Google, and I found a nice little essay by a Methodist pastor, Rev. Dean Snyder, on

“If Easter is when Christianity celebrates the resurrection of Christ [Snyder writes], All Saints' is when Christianity celebrates the resurrection of the rest of us. The focus of Easter is the victory of Jesus over death and the grave. The focus of All Saints' is resurrection and life eternal for the rest of us.

“I think it can be an act of courage to believe in eternal life and to strive to live lives consistent with this belief. It takes courage to live as though our lives matter eternally -- even if they seem to us very ordinary, even frustrating and disappointing. It takes courage to believe that our lives matter beyond this lifetime, or even the earthly memory of it, when so much of what we do seems trivial and even pointless. It takes courage to choose to do the good and just thing in terms of eternity, rather than what is easiest, even when it will cost us something in the short-term and nobody will much notice or care anyway.

“It takes courage to believe that the lives of others are eternal — that each life we intersect and those we don't have eternal meaning and value and that we have a responsibility to each other that transcends the time, place and circumstances of our present lives.”

When I think of the “eve of something holy,” I think of the three nights I sat vigil with my dying mother. Both of us started out scared. Both us found courage. She’s one of those full-blooded saints now, no longer living a checkered life. This is the poem I wrote as she lay dying.

Your Dance of the Final Days

Your chest rises and falls rhythmically, I see
glancing at the narrow bed across the room.
It is anyone’s room, a blue sea of carpet,
a drawn window shade, but here is your
cedar chest, scarred with memories. Here
is your sewing cabinet, made by your father,
its varnish worn. Here am I, in your office
chair, slash of duct tape on its vinyl seat,
its squeaky, rusty wheels. I watch you
sleep, your labored breathing drowned
by the hum and hiss of oxygen, afraid to look
away. The bedclothes might stop rising
and you slip off, me unaware, intolerable
thought. I want to see you should you slide
from the bed and do a jig across the floor.
I never saw you dance in all these years
but there’s no telling what you’ll do.
You have surprised us all before.
You surprise me now with your tenacity,
my skeletal lioness, chomping the neck
of the very last giraffe.


Elisabeth said...

Your mother was beautiful at 18, and no doubt she continued that way in other ways for all her checkered qualities, saintly and otherwise.

TechnoBabe said...

The poem got to me. Gets to me. To have had a relationship with your mom like you did and to be with her as she takes her last breath says so much about you.

Brian Miller said...

your poem took me right back to sitting vigil with my of the hardest days of my life...

Lou said...

Believing that each life we intersect has eternal meaning..yes, very difficult. A daily struggle.

Faith is such an awesome, ethereal feeling. This post, and article, described my feelings so well this morning. The joy of blogging-finding this kind of connection.

Kristin H. said...

The last lines are so powerful. I really like this, Chris.

Monkey Man said...

Very touching.

The Bug said...

I remember when you posted this the first time - and it's still just as powerful today. Those last lines - yowza!

Titus said...

So powerful, so personal. Immense, for me.
The "It is anyone's room" followed by the 4x "your" is so good, and the watching detail, moving to the fantastic, and ending with
"but there’s no telling what you’ll do.
You have surprised us all before."
is a journey of surprise that feels so right.
And then you take it up a notch with that ending. Pitch perfect.

e said...

My rabbis do the same for me that the Lutheran minister did for you...Thanks for visiting my blog. Your mother retained her beauty even as her youth faded.

Syd said...

I am so glad that you were there with that lioness as she breathed her last. She was really something, and you have much of her inside you. I would have liked to have been there for my mother when she still was conscious. I got there but she could not be revived. I believe that she knew I was with her.

RNSANE said...

Oh, Chris, your mama was, indeed, a beauty and, you do look very much like her. I am so fortunate that we did get that chance to meet and have lunch. I wish I could have met your mother, too.
I keep hoping we'll do it again one of these days...after I return to India which will be March 29th. Not sure where I'll be living once I get back. I'll definitely be in the Bay area, in much smaller quarters, though. I leave from LA on the 14th, stopping over for two days in Seoul, arrive Mumbai the 19th.

Lolamouse said...

You captured a very difficult time extremely well.

Gerry Snape said...

what a super name for your mum...lioness...I love mum was also sooo strong that people misunderstood that really she was the rock in our relationships. Wonderful concepts and rolling words. Thankyou!

Nana Jo said...

I am seated before a banquet of fat things! Your post contains such richness and beauty.

All your peom is wonderful, but these words "skeletal lioness, chomping the neck of the very last giraffe" ... capture exactly how I feel these days! Thank you for that.

Thank you, too, for the lovely words you left on my blog. I have missed you, too. I wish we could share a cup of tea together. Figuratively, I am doing that right now!

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