I am reflecting this Lent on the practice of Presence; and I am practicing being more fully present where I am, with whoever I am, with whatever they and I are feeling.
I am practicing keeping my body, mind and spirit aligned and integrated: keeping my mind where my body is, and keeping my spirit and my heart there, too.
Sometimes, it’s easier to do than others.
Last night, as many of us sat in the church and listened to Professor Richard Bell speak about the reverse railroad, and adults kidnapping children, and slave owners favoring 14-year- old, light-skinned enslaved girls because they had just the right-sized fingers to pick cotton for 12 hours straight, I had to fight to be fully present in that room. I had to breathe, and walk, and pace, and breathe and walk, some more.
Sometimes, being fully Present is easier to do than others.
In the Gospel lesson this weekend, we will hear and see how Jesus practices being fully present with the woman at the well, and how she does the same, with him. He doesn’t run away, nor does she. He stays present enough to see her, to really see her. And what transpires is transforming and transformative.
Being present, showing up fully with all of who we are, and not rushing to fix or solve or analyze or understand or judge or say or do anything, but rather, to simply Be – Be With – can be especially difficult when the person we are with is someone we love who is dying.
I recently had the opportunity to write about how my mother’s passing provided me with an opportunity to try and be as fully present as I could be, beside her. I thought I’d share what I wrote with you.
Thank you for the gift of your presence as we walk the Way together at Redeemer.
I am eating pistachios – unroasted, unsalted – and thinking about you, Mom.
I don’t remember when I first became aware that you enjoyed eating them.
I don’t remember you eating them when I was a child growing up, or when I came home from college, or when Grace and I came to live with you and Dad that summer I had to start my life all over and begin again, in Timonium.
No, it must have been later: your pistachio-kick must have been a “late-in-life” thing.
Or maybe, could it be, that I just never noticed before?
Noticed the great big jar of pistachios on your kitchen counter, to the left of the fridge?
Noticed the Ziploc bag of pistachios that you had already freed from their shells, so you could enjoy eating them liberally whenever you wanted to, without having to bother with the shells?
Noticed you cracking them open, one by one, sitting in your pink, rolling chair at the kitchen table, surrounded by projects and cards and notes and lists and your reading glasses, somewhere in the mix, with your mirror and makeup bag close by?
I remember that week leading up to just after midnight on the 4th of May, that night you finally surrendered your strong spirit, allowing it – allowing You – to let go and Let Be.
I remember how Nerissa and I took turns by your bedside in the upstairs room that had once been Lola’s room, then my room, then Nerissa’s room, then Grace’s and my room, then Nerissa’s room again, before becoming your room, and finally, your hospice room.
I remember how Nerissa and I cleared it out to prepare it for you, like first-time parents preparing a nursery, only different.
We filled up brown paper grocery bags and cardboard boxes with old books and a textbook or two, from high school and college, that had settled in side by side on the rickety bamboo bookcase, along with some dust and some papers and some other happy residents.
“Time to clear out,” was the message they all received that week, “It’s time.”
In their place, we put a wash basin and your favorite house dresses, easy to pull on and off; some no-rinse soap and shampoo; a package of Depends; and other essential items.
Like a nursery, only different.
And we brought up the flowers from the living room, those luxurious arrangements of silk flowers you assembled when you still felt well: the glorious one of yellow roses, another one with white lilies, a third with red roses.
As your range of life and living became smaller and smaller, and you settled more and more into your hospital bed, it became important to place objects in your line of vision that would bring you joy: your flowers, and photos of you and Dad (that one from a cruise, with both of you in matching Hawaiian shirts and a flower behind your ear), your daughters, your grandchildren, and of course, Olmsted, our green-eyed, snow white cat (whose regal bearing you adored).
On those last sit-ins by your bedside, I found myself eating pistachios.
I found it soothing, comforting, somehow, to eat them while sitting and keeping watch beside you, as the life and spirit that were yours slowly but surely found their way Home: the feeling and rhythm of taking a small nut between my fingers (fingers that more and more remind me of yours) and my thumbs in just the right way, applying just the right amount of pressure, slightly different for each and every nut, to free it from its case.
I’d place each newly freed jewel in my mouth and chew and swallow … and then repeat … over and over and over again … release, chew, swallow … release, chew, swallow … release, chew, swallow …. pausing every once in awhile to gaze at your beautiful, familiar face as it lost its glow but never its character … pausing every once in awhile to place my hand in yours ….
“I release you,” small jewel.
“I release you,” Mama.
“I release you.”