It's that time of the year again. It caught me by surprise. Most of our autumn beauty is past, though in Knoxville, down off the Plateau, it's still lovely. I'm finishing up this church season of Ordinary Time, and making preparations for Advent, which begins on the 28th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We'll be purple at church for a while then, and "preparatory" -- making ready for the birth of God's dream among us, and the final coming, when God wins, once and for all, and goodness and mercy will reign forever.
I've been enjoying another week of mild weather -- the nights are cold, as they should be in the mountains in November, but the days are a warm embrace of sunshine.
But I've been out of sorts. I'm gaining weight again. My will to be active, eat right, abstain from alcohol, read and write daily, do yoga -- all the things that keep me feeling really good, has lagged. The will just isn't there. And I've been beating myself up severely. Scold, scold, scold. Many mental finger-shakes. Finally a colleague said to me, "What would happen if you moved from a position of disappointment and discouragement with yourself, to a position of curiosity?" Well, that got my attention!
So I asked myself: what is going on here? I asked "why," which is sometimes helpful, sometimes not. This time, it was. I realized that I am in a time of transition. My beloved Bishop (who is my boss -- not the parish where I minister, but the Bishop, is the one that I work for directly) is retiring, and we're about to elect another. I don't know any of the candidates, and must go forward on trust -- that people I know and love have screened these candidates. And of course, now I must also do my homework, and find out all I can about the nominees. But losing my +Charlie is a great blow -- he has nurtured and encouraged me as a priest in the eight years since I've been here. He knows my parish, and the growth we've experienced since I came here. A newcomer won't know any of this -- we'll just be that little parish out on the edge of things.
I've also begun the very slow process of seeking another call. Leaving this parish. I'm in no hurry; I'm very happy here. But I have many years yet until I officially retire from the active priesthood, and I will serve at least one more parish in that time. So I've very gently and tentatively put my toes into the waters of looking around -- and that is a scary process of stepping into the unknown. There are times here when I feel as though (after 8 years!) my ministry has just begun, just taken up steam. But the decision to begin the journey into the unknown is always scary.
So with those conclusions, I felt a little better. Of course I feel a little unsettled; my comfortable and enjoyable routines are naturally being shaken up a bit.
And then I watched Oprah on Thursday. I watched Marie Osmond, 8 months after the suicide of her 18-month-old son. She looks good. She looks better.
When I say better, I mean more real. I can look at her face now and see what she's living. I can see who she is as a person right now.
I've followed Donny & Marie since my daughter was a fan, back in the 1970s and 80s. I didn't really become a fan, but their faces "registered" with me as cultural icons of a sort. My daughter had some sort of "head" that she got from her father and stepmother -- a "styling head," that was Marie, I think. There was a knob with which you could make hair longer or shorter, and a set of "makeup" paints to apply to the face. I don't recall her using it, and it was always a little macabre to me, this disembodied "Marie head." I thought the two of them, Donny & Marie, far too happy, far too "pretty," and I thought their teeth were way too big and straight. I didn't know Marie eventually had 8 kids. And I certainly didn't know that her son committed suicide by jumping from his apartment window. Oh, my. I watched her weep on Thursday. Eight months is nothing, when grieving the death of a child. It hurts more at eight months than it did at 8 days -- a lot more. The shock and denial have broken open into a deep pool of loss, a pool so deep you fear you might never surface again. It shows on her face. I love her for that.
I watched her rub her hand over the cover of a scrapbook her son made. I know that gesture. It's as though you might feel a bit of the person who owned it. I watched her say, quietly, "My Baby." I wept. And I learned. I realized, through the truth in her face, her gestures, her words, that I've been there. I'm still there, sometimes.
And I realized that tomorrow is Eleanor's birthday. Tomorrow, 42 years ago, I gave birth to my own walking miracle.
Isn't that little bald baby cute? Yep, 42 years ago I was giving birth, and then 27 years ago, when she was 14 years old, I was turning loose, I was grieving, I was stroking her things and saying, "My Baby." She was struck down by a car and killed in the springtime, but forever in the autumn I'll remember her birth.
And my "disorder," my "upset," all became clear to me. Yes, there is instability in my life right now. There's a lot I don't know. But tomorrow is her birthday. Okay; no wonder. I guess the rest of my life her birthday and death day will be not-so-great days for me, at least days when I give myself permission to be not-so-great. It was a great relief to realize this, actually. Now I can be sad, I can be lenient with myself, I can stop beating myself up and just be sad. My darling child.
This is how she looked the fall before she died. Not a "finished product," not the polished and beautiful image she might be at 25 or 30. She was a kid, with too-long bangs and a blemish on her chin. But look at that hair, look at those features, and especially at the life in those eyes. She hated this picture; didn't even show me the proofs when the school pictures were taken. After she died, I wrote to the company and they sent me these.
Within weeks after she died, I dreamed of her. This is how she looked. We met on this beach and hugged, and I said to her, "So you're not dead, after all!" And she nodded, and I awoke knowing she was okay. I believe it. I know it. It's a huge comfort to me. Someday, I'll see her again.
So OK. I don't mean this to be a downer, but a source of hope and joy. I came to understand myself better, and feel compassion for myself. I came to honor and remember my baby. After tomorrow, things will feel much better again, and I can adjust to the other uncertainties in my life. I'm grateful for this person who enriched my life, who gave me so much. Thank you, God. Thank you, Eleanor. Happy Birthday.