In Requiem

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Les fleurs dans Le Jardin des Tuileries

On Saturday I joined a group of 24 singers to sing for the memorial service of an elderly friend. I didn’t expect to cry as much as I did – I hadn’t put any kleenex in the pocket of my vestments, and had to ask for some from a fellow singer. I hadn’t expected to cry that much because the service was indeed a celebration of a life that had been joyfully and fully lived.

My friend had led a life filled with service to others, and he found some of his greatest pleasure in listening thoughtfully and unhurriedly to people as they worked through both their tangles and their celebrations. He was so present when you talked to him, and his children attested to the fact that he was that way at home as well, both during their childhood and after they became adults. He deeply believed that God was revealed in each of us, and he thought it a privilege to sit in the presence of someone as they talked to him. He was fond of quoting St. Irenaeus using inclusive language; “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

Fully alive. It is what the French mean by the phrase Joie de vivre, although a lot of the meaning is lost in the translation into English. It doesn’t just mean the joy of life. A closer translation would be “the joy of being fully alive.” Being embodied, grounded, delighting in each moment as it comes, whenever that is possible. And when it’s not, whether due to health conditions, pain, trauma or grief, to do our best to still find some beauty or kindness in the world, despite all. Or even more so, perhaps, in the midst of all.

My friend didn’t have a perfect life. None of us do. But he had a way of living fully and delighting in other people’s joy. I met him in his elder years. I wish I had been able to know him when he was younger as well.

I think I cried as much as I did during the service because even though he was at peace and was ready to “cross over the river,” as he phrased it, a beautiful soul has departed this life, and I shall miss him.

Giving (Things Away)

I’m sorry guys. I thought I had this post set up to automatically publish at 6:00 AM Monday morning, and discovered today that it never posted. My apologies. Apparently I still need to do some work on writing posts ahead of time setting them up to publish later. It’s now Tuesday afternoon, but here is Monday’s post:

The weather is cooler, so I feel better.  Plus crashing in bed for a few days definitely helped. As a result, I’ve picked up a little steam in clearing things off my bathroom counter.  The items are going into 4 categories: Put Away, Throw Away, Give Away, and Give Away. Let me explain.

The Put Away is often more complicated than it sounds. My cupboards and drawers under the bathroom sick are pretty full. Organized, but full. So when I need a new bottle of cough syrup, I’ve often filled up the empty space where the former bottle of cough syrup used to reside. Thus putting the new bottle away often requires that I get rid of something that I shoved into that empty space. Deciding what to get rid of takes energy, so I side-step the whole process and just leave the new cough syrup on the counter.

I have a real problem throwing things away. (More about that some other time.) Sometimes I find something in a drawer that I’ve completely forgotten about. I think I might still use, but I’m not sure, so I put it out where I will notice it. It will be something that would be totally useless to someone else. Or I find a product that I had almost used up, and then gotten tired of, and I feel guilty about not finishing it, so I put it on the counter trying to force myself to finish it up. But I don’t. Or I leave out an empty bottle of something I need to replace so I will remember to replace it. Then when I do, I don’t throw the empty one away because it seems to take just that little bit of extra effort that I don’t have. All of these things obviously go into the Throw Away pile. O more specifically, the Throw Away Waste Basket.

Next, there are the products that I’ve bought, and decided that I don’t like, or have gotten tired of. But there’s plenty left in the bottle. They are things that I can’t give to a women’s shelter, because they have been used, and thus do not meet the health code rules governing items that can be donated to an organization. These I sanitize as best I can, and give to a friend who knows other women who could use them. These are obviously Give Away items.

Then there are the items that are new that have never been used: toiletries  from a hotel (have you noticed they sometimes give you new ones every day whether you need them or not?), or small gifts I have been given, or samples of makeup I have collected. These go into the Give Away To A Women’s Shelter pile. I don’t have the energy to deliver them, but I give them to the same friend, and she generously gets them where they need to go for me.

All this is by way of saying two things. First, I’m doing some picture documenting and I’m a little embarrassed at how much stuff I’ve accumulated. I mean, for goodness sake, I’ve saved some makeup that I bought 15 years ago and was afraid to throw away because I might want to go back to it one day. And secondly, it’s much easier to give things away if I actually know someone will use it. So giving items to my friend who knows other women who are in need makes it not only easier to pass things on, but makes me feel good as well. And that, as research has shown, gives our immune system a much needed boost!

So here’s to giving and boosting!

Take care,

Hannah

Hopefully A Mitzvah Part 2

The last week of school I taught three days.  On Monday I went down to the first grade classroom of the little boy who wore the bifocals.  I had brought three things to show him.  His teacher quietly called him up and then told him to go sit with me on the small classroom couch.  In a few seconds she joined us. He looked pleased to be getting some individual attention, which is what I had hoped.

Me:  I brought some things to show you.

Him:  He looked pleased.

Me:  Remember I told you that my younger daughter is a scientist?

Him:  Nods.

Me:  I brought you a picture of her when she was just about your age so that you could see her in bifocals.  Can you see the line of her bifocals right there?  (I trace the faint line in the picture.)

Him:  Shakes his head.

Me:  I know it’s hard to see, but it’s right there.  (I trace the line again.)  I also brought a picture of her graduating from college.  (I show him a picture frame holding three pictures, and point to the first one.)  Here she is walking back from getting her college diploma.  See how happy she is? (My daughter has an absolutely huge, ecstatic grin on her face in the picture.)

Him:  Nods.

Me: She studied both chemistry and biology in college.  Those are both sciences.  And this second picture is later in the day and there is my younger daughter, me, my husband, and my older daughter.  My daughters are 26 and 30 years old now.  And then this last picture is of both of my daughters together when we were out at dinner that night.

Him:  Looking at the picture with interest.  (Or at least he looks like he is interested.)

Me:  When I was teaching here in your room two weeks ago, I noticed something about you.  You like to keep your things tidy and in order.

Him:  Nods.

Me:  In your special Pirates of the Caribbean pencil pouch that holds your pencils and crayons and markers, I noticed that everything is exactly lined up.  And I noticed that you only keep one piece of work out on your desk at a time, and that everything has a place.  You like to keep everything in order.

Him:  Nods vigorously.

Me:  The big word for that is meticulous.  Can you say that?

Him:  Meticulous.

Me:  Can you say it again?

Him.  Meticulous.

Me:  That means that everything is kept carefully in order.  So I brought you one more thing. (I pull out a PeriodicTable I had printed for him and point to the top.)  See, it says “Periodic Table” here at the top.  (I knew that he would recognize the word “table”.)  You will learn about this in 5th grade, which is the grade I normally teach.  You see how the different sections of squares are different colors?

Him:  Nods.

Me:  That’s because the periodic table keeps the different elements in order.  Elements are things in the earth. (A slight simplification, but close enough.)  See, this is hydrogen, and it’s symbol is this capital H right here.  Hydrogen is in the air.  And here is carbon, and here is its symbol, a capital C.  Carbon is in every living thing.  Do you know what oxygen is?

Him:  Nods.

Me:  Can you find a capital O on the Periodic Table?  (I see his small finger hovering above Os, osmium.)  Just an O, no other letter.  (His finger searches for awhile, and then he finds oxygen, pointing to it on the paper, rather triumphantly.)  Right!  That’s oxygen. There’s all kinds of things you can find out from the Periodic Table.  You can search for it online, and you will find sites that are print and tell you about it, and you will find sites that will show you this same Periodic Table with all the colors.  Do you know how to google things?

Him:  Very emphatic nod.

Me:  Do you have a color printer at home?

Him: Thinks for a minute, then smiles and nods.

Me:  So you can always go online and print this up again if you want.  But here.  (I had him the Periodic Table.)  This is for you.  You may keep it.

Him:  (Eyes wide and very surprised.)  Thank you!

I left the room, hoping that the Periodic Table’s bright colors and orderliness had kindled a spark.