A Rare Question, A Flight To Freedom, A Symbolic Ending

This past week there was a Mass said for Liz. It’s been six months since she passed away. Were they six short months or six long months? I can’t say for sure. She passed away on Valentine’s Day, which was also Ash Wednesday. I immediately recognized the sad poetry in her timing. We were together 49 years, Married for over 46 of them. We are the greatest of sweethearts. Valentine’s Day was symbolic.

Valentine’s Day this year was on Ash Wednesday. It’s the day that Catholics are asked to consider their own mortality. We are reminded on this day that we come from dust and are destined to return to the earth. Ash Wednesday was symbolic.

This was, needless to say, my worst Lenten season ever. I marked the end of Lent by getting a tattoo on Good Friday. It’s made from a photograph that I took of us holding hands while she was on life support.

Liz wasn’t Catholic. We went through RCIA together while moving toward conversion. I completed that path and was received into the Church. She decided not to pursue conversion but, instead, received the Church into herself. She accepted most Church teaching. She read about the saints. She loved Bishop Robert Baron. She lived the holiest of lives, something that she had done for forty years. She made a decision to follow Christ in 1976 and never did I know her to waver.

The Mass was arranged for by our RCIA facilitator, a man we’ve come to respect deeply. The Mass was at a parish we’d never attended, but the Pastor of that parish was the priest who’d presided over our RCIA program while he was at a different parish. Liz loved him. It was symbolic.

It’s very rare that someone I know from my Evangelical past asks me why I converted to Catholicism. They often tell me that they would like to sit and discuss my curious conversion, but that time never comes. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s troubling to them. Perhaps it makes them nervous. I think they are afraid to hear the reasons.

I spent 38 years as an Evangelical Protestant. Most of that time was spent in a church that viewed the Catholic Church as a cult, as pagan, as deceived. I co-founded a Crisis Pregnancy Center in 1983 with my anti-catholic friend. we had a few Catholics wanting to volunteer but we were forced to turn them down because they were Catholic.

I served as a deacon in three separate protestant churches. I mention that in order to make it clear that I was a “serious” Christian, always supporting my church and pastor. I wasn’t a malcontent, miscreant, or troublemaker of any kind.

My issues in the church I attended arose shortly after my wife was asked to be the worship team leader. She was asked by the music minister but, before she could accept or reject, the pastor stepped in and blocked it. He told the music minister that Liz had issues to work through regarding a church we’d been members of ten years prior.

I set up a meeting with the pastor to get to the bottom of things. There were no lingering issues related to that previous church and I wanted to know why he thought there was. I also wanted to know why he felt the freedom to tell someone that my wife had issues with a previous church.

The pastor was very forthcoming when we met. He didn’t deny that he’d gossiped.  He told me that, despite Biblical prohibitions against gossip, pastors were exempt. After all, he reasoned, they had a duty to protect their flock from miscreants.

I asked him what he’d heard about Liz as well as who he’d heard it from. It became very clear, first to me, then to both of us, that he was remembering the gossip wrong. He had listened to gossip about a different woman but remembered it as being about Liz. It was not. Because he listened to gossip and did not go to Liz, he believed something for years that simply was not true.

If you are waiting to hear about his apology or about how he made things right, don’t bother. It never happened. Apparently, he felt that apologizing for wronging someone was also an area where pastors were exempt. That was just for the laity, I assume.

In recounting his story to me, this pastor named three pastors I was friendly with. He said he’d spoken to them about Liz and that they all regularly reviewed their congregation among each other. Now, we were presented with the daunting challenge of going to church on Sundays in any of our local churches and listening to a sermon by a man who very possibly had been talking about us behind our backs.

That was something we could not do. Where would we feel safe? Liz came up with the idea of attending a Catholic church. There would be no interaction with evangelical pastors there. We drove around our neighborhood and saw the Church of the Sacred Heart. Liz said that she loved that the big red door was always open. It was an invitation to come visit. We took the church up on that invitation.

It was our intention to worship there privately. We were not going to get sucked in. We’d been strongly warned about bad Catholic doctrine by our gossipy pastor friends. Yet, as we attended week after week, we began to see the truth about Catholicism. We were drawn to the beauty. We were seduced by the history. We fell in love with the Church. We were home!

Of course, not every pastor on our tiny island was a gossip. We were fortunate that a grace filled pastor helped us through this topsy turvy time. And, in the end, We were blessed  to have that great friend, Glenn Blossom to send Liz on her home going. He’s been a constant example of grace before us and he has taught us so much about being kind. For him to preach at her memorial service was a blessing. It was symbolic.

When Liz suffered her cardiac episode, we’d been watching Robert Baron videos together on the couch. Symbolic. At the hospital my priest came and gave her Last Rites. And, on Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, all the loose ends were tied. She went home with Ash Wednesday ashes on her forehead.

It was symbolic.

 

Dudley’s Perch, Watching a Video, A Run in the Park

My wife passed away on Valentine’s Day. We had been sitting together on our couch six days earlier. Spanky, our beloved Chihuahua wedged himself lengthwise between us and we rested our clasped hands on him. We were watching videos on YouTube when she straightened up suddenly. Her head tilted back and her eyes went dull. My first impulse was to call out to her. She didn’t respond. Seconds passed before I began CPR. My grandson, living upstairs, called 911. The paramedics arrived in four minutes. They worked on her furiously, trying to restore her heartbeat. Time expands at moments like these, but I’m sure she was without a heartbeat for a minimum of fifteen minutes. They got her heart beating, it stopped again, and they restored it a second time. I rode to the hospital while the ambulance driver tried to give me hope. She held my hand. She did her very best. But, I knew there was no hope. I knew my wife was gone.

I take care of my late father-in-law’s cockatiel. It isn’t something I’m obsessed with. Unlike how I relate to my chihuahua, I don’t assign much human emotions to the bird. He must have some thoughts, though. Maybe he doesn’t think them. Maybe he feels his thoughts instead.

When my father-in-law was alive he would take Dudley out of the cage every day. Dudley had a tabletop playground. He would climb the ladders, ring the bell and flirt with the gorgeous bird in the metal mirror. It was a great, fulfilling life for the little guy.

I never take him out of his cage. I say all the time that I want to but I never take him out. I feed him. I keep his water bowl full. I give him spray millet every other day. But, I don’t relate to him in the way that he needs. I don’t take him out to play. That’s all in the past now, a memory perhaps. Some sort of physical familiarity for sure. His body must remember even if his mine cannot.

Running is that for me. Running is my tabletop playground. I used to run quite a lot. I often strung together 80 mile weeks. It was exhilarating. There was a time when I would change from my business suit on the ferry after a full day of work and run the 14.5 miles home from the ferry. It was effortless. It was freeing. It gave me wings. It allowed me to flirt with the runner I saw in the metal mirror.

Today, I almost tried some slow motion version of running. I’m looking for a way to be free. I need to fly again. But, I can’t. Age, weight gain and an artificial hip have made running a memory for me. I live so close to the beautiful Clove Lake Park that I find myself looking at all the runners passing by. I hear their chatter. I want to join them but I’m stuck on my perch.

I need to run again and feel the emotional release that running gives. I need to escape the cage of despair and depression that has closed its wire doors on me. I want more than just the flight. I want to hurt myself. I want to put down stride after stride and run deeper into pain. I want to run hills so hard that my breath is stolen from me and I have to gasp to breathe. I want to taste the bloody taste of adrenalin in my mouth. The copper penny beneath my tongue taste. I want to flop face first onto the Clove Lake lawn and sweat into the grass. I want to nourish the grass with the pain that drips out as I perspire. I want to sweat the sweat of pain.

I want to forget my sadness and listen to my footfalls as I run deeper into the park, farther from my home. I want to run to some place. I want to run to that place that allowed me to hope and believe. I want to escape to that place I’ve been before. Before death consumed my life.  Before unanswered prayer made me a cynic.