Made in a quiet land
Indiana small town
Knit by seasons of extremes —
Summers you could wring out like a sponge,
Winters that freeze even breath,
That taught her what can grow in dark silence
Torn by war
That took her father of six across the sea
To the ledge of a bomber’s open door
In the clouds over Normandy
She was not yet three
When he jumped, his purple heart
racing with courage and the fear
that occasions it.
Broken, he lived almost a year
Before the car crash on the way home
to an anniversary dinner
Her grandmother shuffling through the kitchen
Inventing dinner for six fatherless kids
While mom worked late at the department store that would hire her
Some nights, Dandelion soup, or whatever
was the in basket the church friends left
on the stoop. Her grandmother stirring, but singing still:
I will cherish the old rugged cross
Till my glory at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it someday for a crown
A theology of suffering. A God not hidden from,
indifferent to pain and need, but in it.
But that heart. That purple heart. Dad’s gift:
Quiet, stubborn, rebel courage
Drove her in a beat-up Ford Pinto
Salvaged from the wreck of a first love
All the unlikely way
She got a room in Laguna
Ran on the beach
Ate bran muffins
Dressed in hemp
Let her hair grow big and frizzy and free
Her legs strong and tan
Rebel hope in her future
Studied at a Fullerton J. C.
Until state residency,
Afforded UC Irvine –
Water microbiology, social ecology
(It was the ‘70’s)
Her senior year, an Oxford fellowship offer
And a night at a bar (she always called a restaurant)
In Huntington Beach
Some bold, afro-ed guy who just wouldn’t take no
To an afternoon on his sailboat.
A rocky few months,
Then each, on their own, freshly awake to God,
To each other. A weekend in San Francisco.
A ring, and a prayer.
Two kids she made her masterpiece.
A home that echoed with her core belief in beauty
And a God of beauty, a God of the body, of the here and now, a God who is here.
Who is a host extraordinare.
Who created bodies, revels in satisfying and surprising all senses,
Who spreads a table to which everyone — everyone — is invited,
and invited again, and again, and again,
Who invites us to set a table.
So she became an extravagant host
Of tea parties
Christmas eve dinners
Tuesday night dinners
One never knew when the good china might appear.
Ceremony. At any and every possible occasion.
Because so much to celebrate.
Because she came from so little. And learned how to make much of it.
So sit up straight.
Know when to use what silverwear.
Cook. With fresh not frozen!
Give a strong hand-shake.
Send thank-you notes.
Care for the luckless.
And If you want to wear jeans to Grandma’s house, you better be ready for that battle.
Act like other people are incandescent, immortal beings. Because they are.
She taught this to second and third graders
For 10 years, once the kids left for college,
Downtown Long Beach. Compton.
The school budget was never big enough
For her creativity. A good part of her paycheck
Bought books, backpacks, ‘desk things’ for kids
Whose parents couldn’t, or didn’t, read
homework, report cards conference requests
Endlessly exasperated. Endlessly recommitted. Ten years.
She loved them, as us, with a launching love.
To let off steam, she started running. At 50.
Seriously. 5 miles a day.
Within a year, winning her age-group in 5K’s
Alzheimer’s at the age of 63 should make anyone rage
With anger, frustration, depression.
She only got sweeter.
Let herself become a child.
Let herself be cared for magnificently, completely, creatively by her own son.
Let her son, Ryan, become her best friend.
She never lost her sass,
Her love of movement,
her identity as a mother — adopting teddy bears and a doll she had bought in France,
Or her sense of the God who is here,
Worthy of awe, but in the thick of pain and brokenness.
Still, because she believed in BOTH/AND,
both joy and grief,
Both suffering and celebration —
to the God whose promise to her now is kept:
I am the resurrection. And the life.