Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On my mother dying, tonight.

When a parent dies, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that you expected it, or even that the parent wanted it, longed for the release of death, railing against the too strong hold of life with a body that would not surrender when called to. It doesn’t matter that you ought to have accepted it as inevitable long ago, or that maybe you did, on a surface level. It hits hard, and real, and long, and convulsively, like dry heaves at the end of a long illness. What matters in those first hours, come days, looking forward into weeks, after you find out, when the pain finds you and curls around your belly and makes itself at home. What matters is the black and red empty psychic whine that reverberates with long empty echoes off the walls of the canyons of your insides. What matters is that empty roller coaster feeling that rises and falls, making you believe that echoing twinge is the last, until another joins it, and another, and then another, and then you realize you’ve been awake for hours and it feels like the night is never going to end.

It doesn’t matter that you’re not a baby. You feel like one, as the slow, sinking realization grabs hold that you are no longer the child of anyone living. It hits you that someone who was there at your entry into this plane—whatever you want to believe this world is, a place between other places or an existential place unto itself—is gone. Someone who witnessed your entry here, and maybe the only person present there to whom that entry was significant, is no more. One last barrier between you and mortality is removed. And you feel like that baby, again; alone, and cold, and crying against the encroaching isolation.

It doesn’t matter that you’re an adult, because each adult is also someone’s child, as much as someone’s parent. It doesn’t matter that you’re supposed to understand how this whole cycle of life thing works, and that nobody makes it out alive. None of it matters, toward making you feel any better about it.

It’s because she wanted to go, I think, that I don’t feel bad that she’s dead. Or maybe it’s just innate selfishness. She wanted, and was ready, to die. And so I don’t feel sad that she got what she wanted. I just feel sad at being left behind. And that’s just silly. As silly as the tug of regret at not having said goodbye tonight. My last words to her were “I love you.” But that was over a week ago. It should have been last night.

At this point, I’m tired of crying, tired of searching for sleep that won’t come, and past a point of exhaustion that makes anything understandable. Or seem to matter.

Goodbye, Mom. I love you.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Big T's Triumph (Part 1 of 2)

In my church we have a yearly tradition of lay people coming up and giving their version of a personal “Faith Journey” this time of year. But it’s a small congregation-really a small town-and we’re pretty much at the end of people willing to do so. But we have one more resource; the kids. So the 3 oldest kids have been asked for consecutive Sundays in church to give their own version of a faith journey. It can be a talk about what God means to him or her, or what they think of the church or the world and their place in either.

This past Sunday was Big T’s turn. He was at first excited about it, then nervous, then downright tearfully fearful. On the Saturday before, we went for a walk amidst the fresh fallen snow that blanketed our rural road, and we got it all out, and he talked about what was bothering him. The thing I’ve realized is that, at 10 years old, this kid has a lot going on in his head. I don’t want to seem to be bragging, but I think—and in a sense I hope—it’s more than other 10 year olds. Certainly more than I had going on in there at his age. Chaos and depth, fear and hopes, all jumbled in odd contexts of popular culture and fantasy fiction.

The gist of his concern was that he felt I was asking him—no, requiring him—to stand up in front of the church and bear his soul, telling them his most personal thoughts that he never even necessarily told me or his Mom. This came out in a dribble, then a flood of anger and resentfulness that caught me by surprise. But that’s the opportunity of parenting, isn’t it? The chance to explain our actions, what we would and would not ever require of our kids, and the hope that if those lines ever get blurred, that the child would have the strength and willingness to call us on it.
Of course he doesn’t have to say anything he doesn’t want to, or do anything in that context that he wouldn’t want to. That’s what I communicated. That’s what he heard. It’s a chance to say what he thought, and opportunity to share a story or two and reveal what he wanted to and nothing more. Not an inch more than he wanted to give, or to show, or to reveal. It’s an opportunity, not a punishment. It’s a chance, not a requirement.

After that, we went back, and he was able to, relatively quickly, put down into words what he is willing to say about God, and his belief. After a week of his really being terrified of the act, its completion (the writing at least) went so quickly as to almost be funny. He finished in about an hour.

And the thing is, he was quite proud of what he’d done. And that was the opportunity I really wanted for him.

Later this week, with his permission, I will post what he had to say.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Don't Give Up

Okay, so I'm home sick today and yesterday, and since my fever broke, hopefully not tomorrow. But being sick brings you down, for sure. I've been listening to this video all afternoon, and it helps. It helps.

Cultcha Culcha, culcha.

Massachusetts is great for the arts. The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) was established in 1979 to provide access to cultural activities for all segments of the Commonwealth's population. The Local Cultural Council (LCC) Program, the second largest grant program of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, is a grassroots complement to the agency's centralized grant programs. Allocations are made to all of Massachusetts' 351 cities and towns to support community cultural activities. The LCC Program is the most extensive system of its kind in the nation to support arts, sciences and humanities.

It’s a unique program. No other state in the country has as many local councils as Massachusetts. Over 2,500 volunteers serve on the 329 local cultural councils that reach every city and town in the state.

I recently (okay, not so recently-more like in the last quarter of last year…but I haven’t blogged in a while, sosueme) joined the Conway Cultural Council (CCC), as one of three newbies. We had to take an online test in which we learned about LCCs and their responsibilities, and then participate in a session where we reviewed grants.

Grant funds are assigned to each local cultural council each year, divvied up by the MCC (Massachusetts Cultural Council). These are then in tern divided amongst appropriate grant applications that demonstrate a local public benefit, are not part of any town budget, and are (in the case of programs that request funds for sequential years) moving toward self-sustaining status. The program is essentially a boost for a one time cultural event, or a (short-term) helping hand for a new self-sustaining public-benefiting program. All in all, it’s a very good thing.

We met on cold wintry morning, to find the town hall closed. After waiting about twenty minutes, we finally located the keys, but found the inside not much warmer than the outside. What was warm was the reception from the other members, and their willingness to walk the newbies through the process. Also as warm was the discussion of the grant proposals that we had received several weeks earlier to review and comment on at the meeting. As a result of having reviewed these in advance, we went through the list pretty quickly.

The problem with a finite pot, however, is that you have to make hard choices at the end. If we had double the allocated budget, we could have let fly all the applications we wanted. Not having the budget though, we had to re-evaluate of the basis of greatest impact and public benefit. These hard choices were eased just a bit by problems with some of the applications, which (unfortunately) caused some programs that would otherwise have been strong contenders, to be eliminated. Yes, as they taught you in school, reading the instruction and crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s does count.