Today was a good day in most respects.  Mary Ann got up, ate, took pills and got dressed in anticipation of Volunteer Jan’s arrival.  Jan did her hair and nails, a real treat.  Mary Ann had eaten a good breakfast with some help.  Around noon she ate a half sandwich, chips, Pepsi, and large and tasty chocolate chip cookie that Jan had brought.

Mary Ann was up all day, watching football — her choice.  The Chief’s won!!! She was awake and mobile enough for us to go to the Evening Service at 6pm.  She ate a little supper before church and headed to bed shortly after church.

This was pretty much a normal day even by pre-hospital standards.  So far it appears that our new normal will include a little less mobility.  Eating by herself was a challenge before the hospital stay.  She now needs help much more often than before.  Walking unaided seems to be less of an option now.  It seems as if in most other areas, we are back to pre-hospital stay levels.  That is pretty encouraging.  I won’t deny that the last couple of weeks have been scary and stressful, with lots of fears about the possibility of not regaining any of what had been lost.

Maybe it was the barometer change today, but my time away this morning was not so refreshing as usual.  The rain did not allow the long walk that releases the mood-lifting endorphins.  I sat in the car enjoying the peacefulness of the rain at the lake, listening to a CD.  The Taizé Music seemed to open a certain vulnerability to thoughts and feelings that usually don’t have the time or space for attention with the moment by moment demands of the caregiving.

I am embarrassed at the self-centeredness of the thinking, but I have never pretended to be perfect — far from it.  I began thinking of who I am as an individual, separate from my role.  I thought of all sorts of things I have not yet experienced in life, things that most likely will never come to be.  I am not absolutely sure that I would really do some of them even if I had the chance.  That is why I titled this post “imagined Possibilities.”

Imagined Possibilities:

  • Singing with an Early Music vocal ensemble.
  • Spending a week of study and reflection at Holden Village.
  • Hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail.
  • Birding in New Zealand, hiking to see some of the waterfalls.
  • Seeing the Snowy Mountain region of Australia, visiting each part of that huge country.
  • Visiting Cornwall England and searching out my Father’s ancestral home there.
  • Visiting County Cork Ireland, from which my Paternal Grandmother came.
  • Heading off to Poland and Germany to see where my Mother was born (a German settlement in what is now Poland).
  • Spending time at the Taizé Community in France and singing the music, having a chance to serve as a Cantor.
  • Seeing some of the National Parks with my own eyes.
  • Going on Spiritual Formation retreats at various places in the US.
  • Probing with great minds the intersection of theology and Quantum Physics (at least listening and questioning).
  • Attending organ recitals and hearing great choirs and orchestras.

What is so selfish about all this, is that Mary Ann has lost the freedom to do so much more than have I.  This morning just opened a bit of sadness about what I might have imagined for myself.  I don’t know all the things that Mary Ann would like to have done.  Once I was asked where I would like to go if I could, and when I mentioned Australia, Mary Ann said she would like to do that too.  We have both talked about never having seen even the Grand Canyon.  We talked about going across Canada on a train, traveling to see the fall colors in New England.  We got to visit England and Northern Europe forty three years ago, and had talked about wanting to go back, especially to England.

I know intellectually, and most often viscerally, that life is lived wherever each of us is.  There is no need to be in some special, exotic place to live life to the full.  The grass certainly is not greener on the other side of the fence, as they say.  It was just a moment of imagined possibilities and some sadness at what will not be.  No matter what any of our circumstances are, all of us have things that are beyond our reach, things we cannot have or experience.  We can either face the loss of those imagined possibilities, grieve their loss and get on with life, or spend our precious moments stuck in self-pity.

I have the privilege of caring for someone I love.  There are so very many who would give anything to have that privilege.  I guess part of living this life to the full is allowing a moment of sadness into it.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Charlie was the sort of person most of us want to be.  He seemed to be a gentle soul, able to enjoy life and the people with whom he shared it.  He was only sixty-one.  The diagnosis was a shock.  By the time is was discovered, the Cancer had progressed to an extent that was just too far along to be stopped.  The end came so fast there was hardly time to come to terms with the diagnosis, let alone prepare for today, Charlie’s funeral.

The words spoken at the service were healing, powerful, just what was needed in the face of such a tragedy.  The death was real, no pretense about that, but its power to destroy was stolen from it by words of hope in the Someone who took some water and some dirt (see chapters One and Two of this series), made Charlie, and has not allowed him to cease even though the dirt and water will return to their source.

As I said in chapters One and Two. I know who and what I am at the core of my being.  Whether framed in spiritual or non-spiritual language, I am dirt and water sparked into a living breathing, self-aware someone, for reasons ultimately unknown.  I am left to celebrate who I am.

The problem is, there does not always seem to be reason to celebrate.  Charlie reminded me of that.  Charlie lived a full life, good relationships, wonderful adventures.  He had a good time and those around him did too.  He lived with integrity, humbly, and seemed genuinely kind and gentle.  Those closest to him may have experienced him differently.  He was not perfect.  No one is.  Those who think they are perfect have the gaping flaw of hypocrisy and denial woven into there thinking.  Today reminded me that I am not altogether who I want to be.  I had better get busy.  I am already five years older than Charlie.

Yes, I know who I am at the most basic level, but juat as is so with the seeds and plants my Dad and I planted and cultivated and the produce we picked, this particular gathering of dirt and water, known as Pete, is in process.  I am growing and changing.  I am not done yet.

I am living in the gap between who I have been and who I am becoming.  You are living in that same gap.  While brain cells last our lifetime and white blood cells may live only days, the average lifespan of cells in our body is about seven years.  That means not only am I dirt and water sparked into a living being, the dirt and the water are constantly being recycled.  I am not even the same dirt and water I was a year ago or seven years ago.  The spark of life is not just a switch that turns at the beginning of life, it is a process going on moment by moment every day of our lives.

As a full time Caregiver, I am left with the painful truth that I am not always the person I want to be.  I am living in the gap between who I have been and who I am becoming.  I am often frustrated by my own selfishness and impatience and weakness and thoughtlessness, by habits that I wish I could change and the almost daily relapses as I seek to improve.

There are some options available to me when I realize that who I am at a particular moment is not who I want to be.  I can with a chip on my shoulder declare to myself and everyone around me that it is just the way I am and that is that — take it or leave it.  I can melt into a pool of self-loathing that I am not a better person.  I can justify myself and deny that there is actually anything wrong with me.  I can resolve never again to be that person I don’t want to be.  I can claim to be the person I want to be, even though I may be far from it.

In the Journal called Weavings, (March/April 2009 issue) a writer named Parker Palmer calls the place between who we want to be and who we are, the tragic gap.  He frames it in this way: “On the long list of hopes that have driven our ancient and unfinished project called ‘becoming civilized,’ overcoming the tyranny of the primitive brain is surely at or near the top.  No one who aspires to become fully human can let the primitive brain have its way….”

Our task is to learn how to live in the tragic gap between the reactive primitive brain’s rule (fight or flight) and the rule of reason and thoughtfulness and morality, things that are located in the front part of the brain, that which makes us human, at least in physiological terms.

Our task is to live meaningfully in the space between that which we don’t like about ourselves and the person we want to become.  Rather than allowing our worst self to rule, we are called by our humanity, to grow into something more.  It begins with the painful recognition of the truth about ourselves.  Then, instead of callous acceptance or self-loathing, comes hope, expectation, new possibilities.

I am living meaningfully in what Palmer call the tragic gap. I am not the person I want to become.  I am not the Caregiver I long to be.  I am not done yet.  I am still growing and changing and becoming.  There is an odd mechanism for change pointed out by Parker Palmer.  Here is what he says: “There is no way to be human without having one’s heart broken.”  More on that in a future post.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Who am I?  I am dirt and water.  That is no metaphor.  It is a simple fact.  The human body is made of approximately 70percent water and 30percent dirt (carbon and minerals).  That answer may sound silly and irrelevant, but it is exactly what gives me my identity.  It is what allows me to remain a unique self-aware individual who knows who he is separate from the various roles he has had during his lifetime.  It is what allows me not to disappear into any of the roles and identities that are defined by others in my life.

Being clear about who I am at the most basic level, has allowed me to be a better child, parent, husband, Caregiver and whatever else has defined me over the years — and, for that matter, whatever else is to come.

By knowing who I am at the most basic level I can incorporate all that I have learned from the various roles I have had, the various ways I have been identified throughout my lifetime up to now.

By knowing who I am at the most basic level, I can have successes without wrapping my worth in them and I can have failures without losing my sense of value because of them.

Now, what’s with the water and dirt?

When I was growing up, we had a Sunday afternoon tradition.  We went for a ride in the country.  The purpose of that ride was for one thing to enjoy the scenery, see the sights and, in farm country, smell the smells.  I learned to distinguish the smell of pig farms from the smell of the farm on which cattle were raised.  Dad showed me the difference between timothy grass, alfalfa, wheat and oats.

After I was old enough to understand what was going on, I discovered that there was an underlying purpose to our drives in the country.  Dad was looking for property.  He had grown up on a farm, but worked his entire adult life in an office. He wanted to get back to his roots in the country.

I remember when he first described the place they had found.  Before I had seen it, Dad found the place he wanted.  It sounded like a dream.  Twenty-six acres, mostly woods and hills, with a creek separating the larger section from a smaller area of about six acres of flat and fertile land suitable for crops.

When Dad and Mom bought what we called the Farm, my life changed dramatically.  Almost every night of the week during the growing season when school was out Dad and I headed out to the Farm to work in the garden.  All day long on Saturday and Sunday afternoons after church we planted, cultivated, weeded, gathered and destroyed potato bugs and tomato worms, fought against cabbage worms, we picked strawberries, rhubarb, corn, tomatoes, and dug potatoes.

From where did the all that produce come?  It came from the combination of dirt and water.  How did it happen?  How did the dirt and water become transformed into tomatoes and potatoes, green beans and corn?  Yes, the sun was added to the mix, but the sun can shine on dirt and water all day long and produce nothing but warm dirt and warm water.  There was added to the dirt and water a spark of life.

That spark of life was contained somewhere in the germ of the seeds that were planted.  They were also made of dirt and water that had been formed into a seed containing a germ containing a detailed plan wound into a genetic code.  Something triggered the code that sparked the plan into motion.  Molecules of dirt and water were drawn together to build a factory powered by the sun, using a manufacturing process called photosynthesis.

The reason that the dirt and water became the plants that produced fruit made of the same stuff is that the spark of life was added somehow to the mix.  How and why did that happen?

Who am I?  I am 115 pounds of water and 50 pounds of dirt combined with the spark of life.  The result, a sensient being.  I am a somebody separate from every other somebody in the universe.  I am self-aware.  I can ponder from where I came and why.  I can wonder about who I am and seek to discover the root of my being.

That may all sound very remote and esoteric, words having no relationship with ordinary life.  I beg to differ.  What I do hour by hour, day by day, no matter what it is and with whom, happens because this puddle of water and pile of dirt has been sparked to be someone.  It is who I am.  I find it very reassuring to know the truth about who and what I am.  No one can take that away from me.  I may change what I do or how others perceive me, but I am who I am.

Now comes the inevitable question: Why?  For me, the reason I am a self-aware somebody rather than a pile of dirt and a puddle of water is that there is a Someone who has chosen to spark the life that grew me out of those basic compounds.  There is a Someone who wants me to exist.  That Someone has revealed the truth about human existence in an account of the history of God’s activity in lives of ordinary folks during a very specific few centuries of human existence.  The account of that history reveals a truth that cannot be inferred from the physical world we live in or any study of it, no matter how detailed and accurate that study is.  That truth is the unconditional love of the Someone who has sparked in us life, made us human, living beings, self-aware and wired to live in community with one another.  The pinnacle of that revelation came in a person called Jesus, designated the Christ, a real Somebody, who lived in the same stream of history of which we are a part.

Now, what about those of you who do not share my particular understanding of reality as I have described it?  Let’s go back to the dirt and water.  Whatever understanding of reality you have, whether with or without a spiritual dimension, the facts are the same.  Our self-aware humanity has emerged from a spark of life setting off a genetic code forming the molecules into our body and mind, thinking and feeling.  You are a unique somebody, different from every other somebody in the universe.  You have an identity separate from what you have done or do now.  You can draw strength from that.

The question remains, “Why am I who I am?”  If I believe God made me, why did he make me?  The answer to that lies in the mind of God. I cannot know why.  I can think about it, posit answers of one sort or another. I cannot know why God made me.  I am left only to praise and thank God and celebrate the life I have been given.

For those who do not accept the existence of a spiritual dimension to reality, the same is so.  We can postulate our reason for being.  We can recognize that we are simply a part of a process of mysterious origin.  We cannot know for certain why the particular substance of our bodies has been formed and sparked with life.  We are left to celebrate who and what we are.  We can seek to become more fully human.  We can seek to live in community, just as we are constructed to do by that genetic code.

In either case, our identity lies deep within us, beneath the things we have done, are doing and will do.  Knowing that allows us to be effective Caregivers, imperfect, but committed to our Loved Ones.  We retain our identity without despairing that our lives have disappeared into someone else’s needs.  You and I are dirt and water sparked to life.  We are a unique somebody of worth and value, and no one can take that away.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Less than a year ago, I was Pastor Pete. Who am I now?

I liked being Pastor Pete.  In our tradition, as with most religious traditions, when a person is ordained into the ministry, it is for life.  I am still Pastor Pete.  There are a wealth of experiences folded into that identity.  I have been there when people have died, I have been there soon after people were born.  I have accompanied people through marriage problems, family crises.  I have ministered to people through a disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing.  I have done funerals for premature little ones the size of my hand.  I have done funerals for teenagers, young adults in their prime leaving children behind.  I have preached and done liturgies before hundreds.  I have gone through good times and painful times with congregations.  There is not enough space here to describe the variety of challenging and meaningful experiences that have shaped my identity as Pastor Pete.

That identity has not been my only identity, however.  Any who reads this post could list all sorts of identities they have had in their lifetime.  I have been a little boy, a son, a little brother, a kid whose identity was shaped by going to school, playing down at the swamp, jumping into piles of raked leaves, catching bugs, heading to the vacant lot for a game of Bounce or Fly, getting penicillin shots and taking those awful red penicillin pills, supposedly avoiding exertion on account of the Rheumatic Fever. That identity has come and gone.  I grew up and got well.

Then there was the identity as a singer.  That began when Mom claimed she heard me singing the melody of “We Three Kings” while I was lying in the crib at eight months of age after my brother had been practicing for singing at the Christmas Program that year.  I took voice lessons, sang in choirs, served as president and student conductor of five choirs from Junior High through graduating from college. I sang in a semi-professional choir earlier in my working years. That identity has come and gone.  I haven’t sung much for years.

I am a father.  We have two children.  There is an odd shift in identity that comes with children.  After children, I may have been Pastor Pete to some, Pete to others, but I became Dad to two, and Lisa and Micah’s Dad to many others.  It happens to most of us.  With children, our identity moves away from who we happen to be as an individual to who we are in relationship to someone else.  From the time the little ones head off for preschool and/or daycare, we become our children’s Dad or Mom.  Whenever we get full of ourselves in any other arena of life, coming home to children, going to school activities, getting them ready for bed or ready for school, feeding them, picking up after them, listening to their arguments with one another, dealing with behavior issues, serving in our role as parent will quickly burst our bubble and bring us back to reality. The role of parent has changed as our children have grown up, but I am still Dad and Mary Ann is still Mom.

There has been a new identity added to our reality in the last decade.  I am Grandpa.  Mary Ann is Grandma.  It is who we are now.  By the way, it is really cool!  That identity will stick with us from now on.

We all have multiple identities during our lifetime. While those identities all help shape us into the somebody we have become, some of them come and go.  Some of them stick.  The kid I was has come and gone but in some sense still lives in me.  My parents are both gone, but having been son to a Mom and a Dad still impacts how I think and feel.  I am still a little brother to four other people even though I am now sixty-six years old.  By the way, when those four are getting out of hand, I just observe that Mom and Dad kept trying until they got it right.  (You can imagine how far that gets me with them.)

Singing is still a part of who I am, even though I seldom do it.  It lives in my insides.  Music stimulates my soul and touches my heart.  I am a parent and take great comfort in the relationships with our two children.  I cherish my identity as Grandpa.

The identity as Pastor has molded and shaped my sense of self profoundly in the forty years of doing ministry.  While I am still by ordination a Pastor, I am not pastor to a congregation of people.  While being a pastor is part of who I am, my identity, it is no longer in a public setting.

There is an identity that became primary for me when Mary Ann and I married.  I am a husband, the husband of Mary Ann.  That identity has defined me for over forty-three years now.  Mary Ann and I have retained our individuality.  We have not disappeared into each other, but our lives are completely intertwined.

There is now a new identity born of necessity and grown into the center of who I am.  I am a Caregiver.  That identity cannot and should not be differentiated from my identity as husband. The Caregiving happens to be what being husband to Mary Ann includes at this time in our lives together.  When we commit to one another in marriage, it is not conditioned on health or wealth.  We marry a person, whatever that brings.  We don’t marry some ideal of what a husband or wife should be.  We marry a real person, who will grow and change with time and experience, as will we.  What comes, comes. I am now a husband and a Caregiver.

Who am I?  Am I what I do?  Am I a kid, a brother, a husband, a father, a Pastor, a Grandfather, a Caregiver, or am I something in addition to those things, something more than those things?  For me this is an exceedingly important matter. What sustains me is that I have an identity beyond what I do.

Let me say it plainly.  Mary Ann and I have no idea how long we will live.  No one does.  What if she dies before I do?  If my identity is solely husband and Caregiver, who will I be then?  Mary Ann has a very strong sense of herself.  She has a strong presence.  If I die before her, she will be Mary Ann.  She has never defined herself solely as a spouse.

My identity is rooted somewhere far beneath my various roles.  I am convinced that all of us need an identity that is not wrapped solely in one of the various roles we have had throughout our lifetime.  I am no longer a kid.  I don’t sing any more.  Our children are grown and on their own,  Our grandchildren do not live with us.  My brothers and sisters live six hundred miles from here.  I am no longer pastor of a congregation. If who I am is solely what I do, I am in a world of hurt.

For now, let me say this: The first answer to the question of who I am is, I am water and dirt.  I, like you, am made up of about 70 percent water and 30 percent dirt (carbon, minerals, etc.).  The final answer (as they say in The Millionaire) to the question who am I, lies in the answer to the question, Why am I a living, breathing, self-aware human somebody, rather than a fifty pound pile of dirt and a hundred and fifteen pound puddle of water?  My answer to that question will come in another post.  Stay tuned.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.