Pelicans are more fascinating because they are large birds — seagulls are small — also pelican’s primordial look that calls up pterodactyls of our Cove School days. For those of us who were there, the wonderful dinosaur display we created in our classroom that year, memory floods back.
Ship arriving, two tugs standing by
So, what am I learning, what did I learn this week. Over the past month, in fact, since August 22. Something about mortality, that we are mortal, when we are gone we’re gone and there’s no way back except in the memories of those who love us.
Q. Why do we pray for the dead?
A. We pray for them, because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God's presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.
My earliest awareness, told here before, I'm standing at the back screen door, it would have been 1938 and I’m three years old, standing beside as my mother cries softly, watching my father and “Old Dave” lift Patsy, our German shepherd, and carry her up toward the upper part of the backyard to bury her. Green saliva drools from her open mouth. I ask my mother “Why?” Mama says, “She’s dead.” I ask, “When will she be alive again?” Along with just a few other vivid mental pictures, an earliest memory.
Screen door, tiny back porch that some call a “stoop.” Brick steps. There by the porch, the black water pump with its huge black wheel and belt like a car radiator belt that breaks from time to time, five foot high water tank. Rapid thump thump thump thump sound as the pump motor clicks on, goes and the wheel turns thump thump thump thump thump until the tank is refilled with fresh, cold water from deep underground. Inside, brown on the inside, white on the outside, wooden back door with three vertical lights swung back against the hot water heater with its smaller, narrow tank in the kitchen corner: a little kerosene tank that’s turned right-side-up to refill then seated upside down to feed into the heater and fuel the flame that I watch my mother light with a match before bath time. Mama feels the tank to see how high the warm water is, then … Years later we had an electric water heater and city water.
Mama said, “She never will.”
April 1945 next door in the Guy’s back yard with Bill Guy as Nannie, his grandmother who is raising him, comes out to tell us President Roosevelt has died. To the month a year younger than me, Bill is eight, I’m nine. Nannie, Mrs. Burgin to me, born and bred Alabama, a Tuscaloosa native. When she summons Bill and he’s slow to respond, which is always, Nannie repeats sharply, “Make haste,” but which I hear “maykase” and wonder what it means. I don’t know where Mary Burgin is buried, Tuscaloosa maybe, but now and then visiting Bill and then Norm, I stop by and visit William Burgin Guy 1st LT, U. S. Army Sep 26 1936 May 11, 1997, his mother Mary Burgin Guy (1910 - 1949) and his father William A. Guy. Stirring my feelings at hearing of FDR’s death: impossible, the man was as eternal as the king, president all my life until that day, Who Truman? Aching feeling of impossibility returned last month, August 22 when Ray Wishart died.
Tied to my vocation though it be, every time death comes, it hurts, pain comes. Incredulous numbness, then the pain.
Our personal mortality is generally out of mind, my own just so until October 2010, when a cardiologist said “inoperable” and “two to five months,” and moments later when we called her I heard my daughter sobbing on the phone. Alone in my hospital room late that evening I did the mental exercise: “Been through this with many people, always wondering what it was like. Now I find out. I’ll journal how I feel as I go along these final weeks, and I’m going to enjoy learning what it’s like, the experience of dying” that didn’t happen. Stoppage Time in Cleveland and next month I’m six years into Extra Time dubbed +Time. By generosity of the Ref, a grace. During which I’ve learned and relearned much, including patience, love, making haste to be kind.
During that, my October 2010 hospital stay, Ray Wishart kept tabs on me day by day, hour by hour, and was my door sentry updating friends by email and telling them I was exhausted, do not visit, let me rest. We were mentoring three full EfM classes together: when I had to drop out, Ray continued and finished all three classes as mentor and then I watched proudly as he went on. A successful mentor is one who is no longer needed, and that was me. Ache subsides in Time.
Second ship coming in, two tugs for the first ship, no tug for this one, must be a Progresso R/T regular. Ship now growing shorter, indicating she’s at the hairpin and turning to port, swings round into the near channel. Dead bow on now, now starting to lengthen and heading my way, starboard side to.
Life goes on, the pelicans have no idea that the work week is over
and we haven’t much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So I’m quickening to love, making haste to be kind.
Continuous lightning in western clouds, I’m facing east; but facing west, Linda sees an enormous horizontal streak between clouds followed simultaneously with a wide bolt into the Gulf of Mexico.
Wondering what time it is in Eternity as +Time+ lightens into Saturday.
This is not a maudlin blogpost: when life looks you hard in the face, you are compelled to pause and attend.