Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day, 2018

Michelle texted me a Father's Day greeting this morning, "Kris gets to share Father's Day with Lon today. How wonderful that must be!" I smiled and texted back a little later. But meanwhile, I tried to picture what that might mean, Kris and Lon together in heaven. What that might look like.

Just a few minutes earlier I'd run a computer search on "Lon," looking for a photo to post on Facebook. I got distracted from the photo project, but not before noting that much of what turned up in the search for files with "Lon" in the name were notes I had made about his behavior in the early days of his dementia, when something was going on but nobody seemed to know what. I was trying to document what that something was, so there are a lot of these little files. Perhaps I'll do something with them someday. But today, I thought, I'll open just one, just one and that's it.

So I did, and it was a paragraph about a tricky situation, a parent-teen softball game at church. Kris was planning to go, but he did not want Lon there, for fear of a scene. Lon, however, had read about it in the church bulletin and was making plans--because, hey, he loved softball, he was a great softball player. He was walking around with Kurt's glove and Eliza tried to take it from him. He threatened her with a fist, she had a meltdown, and then he turned into a kind parent explaining condescendingly to her that she should do what big people tell her. She was ten or eleven, and she knew that she was right and he was wrong, but she had not yet learned sometimes we had to let Dad be. And poor Kris, trying to figure out how to manage all this, appealing to me for help. He did not want Lon to be around his friends and their parents, with his craziness and misreadings exposed to others. He was afraid Lon would get angry, would look stupid, that everyone would end up deeply embarrassed.

I remember the day, but I don't remember what finally happened. Whether we outsmarted Lon and kept him from the game (which sounds mean and cowardly, but trust me, you do what you gotta do when you can't reason with people). Or if he actually went and the worst didn't happen--I'm thinking maybe he just watched the game, choosing to sit on the sidelines, aware and afraid that it was all too complicated, too bewildering. Better he should fake it on the sidelines.

So when it came time to imagine Kris and Lon together on the other side--wow. I could picture a six-year-old Kris "wrestling" with Lon on the bed. Or the 12-year-old baseball player whom Lon was so proud of. And then a lot of hard times, a lot of stuff to be angry about, to grieve, and a lot of responsibility that should have been a father's that was shouldered by the oldest son.

Eliza is celebrating Father's Day by watching the Barney tapes that Dad brought home for her when they arrived as preview tapes at the paper in the days when he was a TV critic. Barney and The Brady Bunch are concrete things her dad gave her. Kurt is moving into a new place today, where he will live as he studies to become a physician.

Me? I fled the Barney tapes and tried reading in the back yard. But it's too hot. Came back in and I'm playing music in the living room, louder than "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain" that's playing in Eliza's room. I'm listening to Van Morrison--Lon's favorite artist, but a 2018 album.

Past, present, future for Eliza, me and Kurt. And Lon and Kris living in God's new creation, loved and reconciled and healed.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Mr. Rasmussen

I went upstairs thinking I'd find my high school yearbook from senior year on the shelf on the landing by the attic. It's not there. One of the annual shiftings and migrations of the household book collection must have moved it to a box in the attic. I'm sure it's there — but too many layers down to look for in the fading daylight.

I wanted the yearbook so that I could read the dedication page again--the one where we dedicated the book to Mr. Rasmussen—Wayne Rasmussen, who died on Sunday after a long career as teacher, coach, pastor and general all-around inspirational figure.

The photo on that page (which I remember well, because as editor I exerted a strong voice in its selection) is a photo of him in the front of his classroom, a man in action, knees bent, arms extended--more like the alert, defensive stance of a basketball player than the posture of a world history lecturer. But that was the thing — you never knew when the ball — er, the question — was coming to you. Whether it was the date for William the Conqueror's conquest of England (1066) or the Glorious Revolution (1688) or the democratic uprisings in Europe (1848), he made sure that you left his class knowing these important events, and not just the dates, but what they meant for western Christendom. Maybe even what you thought about them. And certainly something about how power works in the world — a lesson reinforced by several class periods spent building armies and attacking across frontiers in games of Risk. (Please know, that while these dates are indeed engraved upon my memory, I did Google them all just now, just to be sure, so as not to disrespect Mr. Rasmussen's memory.)

Mr. Rasmussen taught world history, Latin and religion at Walther High School in Melrose Park during the years I was there (1968-72) and several years before and after. People took Latin just to have him as a teacher (though not me--destined as a musician to study German). I think I also had him for comparative religion, a subject that would also have been steeped in world history. I had a sense that he was thoroughly, probably conservatively, grounded in Lutheran theology, but what I remember most was being asked to think. Something stronger than just being asked--jolted, startled, awakened. The kind of thinking that makes growing up exciting.

He signed my yearbook —- on that dedication page, sending me off from high school breathless with an affirmation of my abilities and of God's goodness and power in my life — in Gwen's very specific life. And I am but one of many who he encouraged and fired up. Their names have been showing up in Facebook comments all day.

The Facebook page for the church Rasmussen served reports:
Pastor Rasmussen selected Ephesians 2:9 - 10 as the verses he wished to be used for his funeral: "For by grace you have been saved not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (ESV)
Grace. Of course. That explains everything.

Monday, May 21, 2018


Yesterday was a long, teary day. I'm not sure what set it off--though oddly, perhaps, it may have been urged along by having not quite enough to do, moment to moment on a busy Sunday. There was a lot of emotion on display, here, there, and everywhere, and insufficient distraction.

Or maybe it was something I read and thought and talked over with myself before leaving for church. I'm reading "Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light," by Rachel Marie Stone, and inevitably it's led me back to retelling birth stories--stories of my children's births--sometimes to others, more often, to the couch and the easy chair across the living room.

I won't start in on the stories here, though they are stories worth telling--well-crafted by this point, inflected to serve as prophecies for the people those babies have become, or became: Kris, the longed-for, with the long labor; Eliza, the smart and beautiful daughter, diagnosed with Down syndrome; Kurt, the thoughtful and self-contained philosopher, even at birth.

What I was remembering, I think, early yesterday was the dark place one goes to in labor, the powerful rushes of contractions, the painful sensations of the uterus opening, the powerful mechanics of a baby moving down the birth canal and under the pelvic bone and out onto the breasts of a delirious mother.

Probably I should not go to church in that state. Every little thing that follows can hurt when you're in a state like that, and Western liturgy was not designed to affirm female life experience. I don't wish to debate that right now, because debating in and of itself is part of the problem.

Skip to the end of my church day--which was the Carl Schalk descant to "O Day Full of Grace." Vowels and consonants, I told myself, my strategy-of-choice for emotional spots in music. Just sing the sounds, not the words. But my mind snapped back to my son Kris's death last summer already as  I sang "When we on that final journey go," and the gut-it-out low notes that followed for "We'll gather in song, our hearts aglow," were the end of me.

Powerful feelings. Powerlessness. Was the Spirit present?

I pray she was.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

May evening

I'm sitting in my backyard typing up a cheat sheet for junior high students performing Finian's Rainbow. It's a cool show, with singable, stylish songs originally from 1947, but it's not one of those shows where the story is thoroughly integrated into the songs. So it takes a little studying to know what comes next. The kids won't know it, but putting together the cheat sheet about who has to be where is as much for my benefit (I'm the director) as for theirs.

It's almost dark and the birds are singing good night. It's only my second night outside this spring. People walk their dogs. Just watched a man in a dress shirt use the flashlight on his phone to help pick up dog poop. High tech, low tech--we're all these things these days. If this were a fancier, newly remodeled backyard, I'd probably have a charging station coming up out of the ground underneath my patio umbrella. Alas, I don't, so this will be a short post.

I think I hear a rotary, push mower going a couple yards over, speaking of low tech, or low-tech nostalgia. I tried one of those for a summer, then bought a new electric mower.

It's good to be out in the spring air. With sounds. the occasional neighbor walking by, soft, quiet darkness.

It was a long winter. It is a much-longed-for spring.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

No words?

It seems to be a thing these days to say, "There are no words" and then to trail off, or shake one's head, mouth slightly open, but with nothing to say.

If it is a thing, a catch-all polite phrase from the second decade of the 21st century, I reject it. And yet a few days ago I found myself starting to type "There are no words ... " in a Facebook message, replying to someone telling me about a mother and father who had recently joined the "I've Lost a Child" club--the club of which I, too, am a member. (No officers, no seniority rankings, no membership records, no secret handshake. Just this one awful shared fact.)

"There are no words," I typed, slowly and deliberately. I had no useful advice about getting through life's dark moments, no sure-fire scripture that comforts me. And I don't like rants about grieving, or truisms about carrying love for this child in your heart for the rest of your life.

But "no words" was not a satisfactory choice either. And a Facebook message was too small a box in which to draft an alternative. I clicked on the bookmark for The Perverse Lutheran and the link to start a new post and faced a much bigger space with no words.  The trouble was not so much with finding them, but with liking the ones I found and leaving them alone once I had typed them on the screen. This post sat as a draft for more than a week.

There must be words. What are we without them? What else can we balance on, walk with, reach toward, but explanations that use words?

Words help. Years ago when my husband wandered off into dementia, my kids and I talked about Dad's delusions and about how we felt--angry, helpless, sad, frustrated, resigned, spooked. We put words to things as best we could. Words made uncomfortable feelings into things of substance.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Random on a Tuesday, #1–7

Random thoughts in search of perverse (Lutheran) connections.

1. Things I learned by going to Adult Ed on Sunday morning. Who was the first person in the Bible to name God? Not Adam, not Abraham. It was Hagar, the slave who was made pregnant by Abraham and then treated harshly by Sarah. She ran away and encountered God who told her to go back and submit to her mistress, but who also promised that her offspring would become a great nation.
She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."Genesis 16:13
Had I ever heard that before? I suspect it has come up in one biblical feminist context or another, but it was heard anew last Sunday, and with pleased surprise. It's way simpler than all the floundering around I do on my own. It's a resting point. Where is God? Looking at me.

2. My day began with reading The Ethical Case for Having a Baby With Down Syndrome in the NY Times. I liked the simplicity of its conclusion:
If you value acceptance, empathy and unconditional love, you, too, should welcome a child with Down syndrome into your life.
Then I scanned the comment section and came away horrified. One person after another stated, more or less, that they should not be expected to cope with what life throws at them--that there was no value in this. This isn't exactly what they said. Their disapproval was couched in statements about it being "unethical to bring a child into the world who wouldn't have a happy life." Smug able-ist bastards--so certain they can define a happy, worthwhile life in terms of intellect and physical appearance. Of course, I'm a deluded (and aging) (and angry) parent.

3. Another heavy topic: I ran into a blog post from someone who runs a network of parents of children who have died, at any age. It was a long, long thing, explaining how a parent never gets over the loss of a child. I don't disagree, but it was not helpful to read. Besides, it's not the loss of a child you never get over. It's the loss of this child, this person, this young man, my Kris.

4. Here's my answer to #3--or at least an ideal answer I hope to live into. I have loved "Lucinda Matlock" from Spoon River Anthology since long before I had any claim to living a long life, but now I hear her upbraiding me:
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you —
It takes life to love Life. 
5.  Kris would agree with the sentiment of #4, and probably like the plain-spoken poem, too.

6. My goal was seven random thoughts, and in a list of seven, somewhere around #5 or #6 should be something amazing. But what I'm remembering right now is how the sewer backed up in the basement this morning--the sewer drain that was rodded out in November and again in January. The only amazing thing here is the size of the check that I will write to the plumber tomorrow morning for cleaning out the drain and sending a camera in there to see what's going on. I am trying not to be anxious or angry about this. Can't choose home ownership and expect nothing but contentment and happiness.

7. "You are the God who sees me." Who smells the stinky basement, breathes with me doing yoga, tastes my tears, softens the air around me, and hears the singing coming from my daughter with Down syndrome's bedroom.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Still winter

In C. S. Lewis's land of Narnia it's always winter and never Christmas. Here in northern Illinois we've already had Easter, but it's still winter.

Is this a weather report? Or a metaphor?

Whichever it is, there's a new, wet layer of it this morning. The evergreens outside my front windows  look like someone has plopped sodden balls of synthetic fluff on every upward-facing surface. The snow is mostly not sticking to streets and sidewalks, but it's covering every bit of anything that has been making an effort to turn green since Easter Sunday. You could call the snow pretty, except that it's April and I'm darn sick of snow. I want to see the daffodils I planted last fall. I want the kind of warm spring sun that makes the early tulips grow two inches from morning to night. I want color in the landscape. I want to sit outside in the backyard after supper.

But it's still winter.

I'm finishing up work on a warm, cabled sweater, the kind that would have been great to wear on St. Patrick's Day a few weeks back.

Macoun at Twist Collective

I still need to sew on the buttons and block the collar. Blocking involves soaking or washing the sweater in water and then pulling and poking, bunching and stretching until the knitted fabric is the shape you want it to be. Then you leave it on the dining room table to dry, which takes less than a day in dry winter weather.

Wool is malleable. When you block your knitting the stitches open up and even out. The fabric becomes softer and more cohesive as the little scales on the sides of the wool fibers make friends with their neighbors. The pieces to this sweater have already been blocked, but the shawl collar needs shaping. It will be stretched out horizontally and shaped around a folded towel to hold it in place. After it's dry, the wool will remember where to roll, where to fold over, following the knitted-in shape.

There is a lot of knitting in that collar--and it's knit 2, purl 2 ribbing, which is a bit tedious. (Knit 1, purl 1 ribbing is worse.) My carpal-tunnel-compromised fingers are tingly this morning after last night's determination to finish. But the collar makes the sweater and you do what you have to do, because, well, craft.

Still winter.

I take to the couch when it feels wintry in my soul, with knitting in my lap or a book, or both. Awaiting a passive sort of healing. The broken and sad parts inside knit themselves back together somehow, with bits and pieces from all over--the wisdom of authors, friends, family, my own past--brushing up against each other, making a new coherent whole.

Under the surface, under the snow--Easter's there, somewhere.