Waiting for Tomorrow Are Ya’?

(Originally posted 8/08/2012)

Some day you’re going to apologize to your neighbor (who hates you, by the way) for backing over his cat and blaming it on the mail carrier.

Some day your humdrum existence will magically transform into the fairy tale life you have always dreamed of.

Some day you will hit the lottery and buy your neighbor a new cat. Okay, you won’t do that because you’ll move to a deserted island where you won’t have any neighbors.

If you believe one morning you’ll wake up, and your butt will have fallen off as you slept – that’s right – you’re delusional. (You might want to lay off the chocolate darlin’)

Wanna know where I’m at as I write this and why my thoughts went where they did? I am sitting with a dying hospice patient. I’ll call him Fred. I can’t show you a picture of him for obvious reasons, but I can show you a picture of the wall I’m staring at in his room. It’s 2:30 am, and I have been staring at this wall for two hours.

Fred has little family, and no one visits him. He was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease when I first met him, so we were never able to communicate. I have no idea what he did for a living, but for now, he is my teacher, like all the patients I see.

I know what you’re thinking. How could someone who has lost the ability to respond to their environment or converse with anyone teach you anything? How could they impart words of wisdom like Mahatma Gandhi, shine a light on injustice like Martin Luther King, and inspire Jesus’ call to “serve the least of these” like Mother Theresa? Well, they can’t….

They can sometimes do more – at least for me – at this moment.

When I meet a new patient, I first look at the pictures in their room. Some, like my dear mother-in-law, have their walls and shelves cluttered with family pictures. They make for great conversation. But here’s my buddy Fred with four blank walls.

What am I supposed to do with that? I have discovered that that is the wrong question. The real question is – what is God wanting to teach me here?

It is no coincidence that at this very time, I am reading a most profound book by Kathleen Dowling Singh, “The Grace in Dying”.

So, what am I finally learning at this late stage in my life? What I have grown to believe from Gandhi, King, and Mother Theresa, has been personified by Singh and Fred.

Singh’s book moves from words on a page to experience that reaches the depth of my heart as I sit here with a dying man. I have grown to appreciate that this is Holy Ground and that God is truly present here.

I sense that God is trying to tell me during these times to review my own life. He calls out to anyone with ears to hear, “You’re gonna die too. Maybe even today. So, get your act together!”

Because I have a warped brain (DUH! Surely you know that by now), I had to laugh because that reminder sent me to this cartoon.

At this stage in life, considering priorities is surely in order, don’t you think? Can we stop obsessing over things that don’t…actually, never did...matter? Stop dwelling on old hurts, lost opportunities, and someone else’s expectations? Stop striving for more and more of what someone else will trash before you’re cold in your grave? Stop trying to control everything? Stop shadowboxing? Donate those skinny jeans that will likely NEVER fit you again (geeezzzzz)?

Singh tells us, “When we are deeply aware of our own impermanence, every fleeting moment is recognized as precious. Our desire to be present in each moment amplifies. Meditating on death instantly calls us to question on the deepest of levels. What am I doing? What do I want? What does this all mean? Contemplating our own mortality…our precariously impermanent existence can call us to complete and thorough accountability. It can call us to instant reordering, a rearranging of our priorities and our intentions. It blocks off all of our habitual detours into denial.

The bare walls in Fred’s room don’t tell me anything about Fred, but they signify two realities for me: (1) To ask honestly if my life has been empty and void of significance. (2) God always offers us a clean slate – to begin again if I have failed to fulfill my purpose.

Thank you, Fred. In your dying, you are teaching me how to truly live while there is still breath in me.

Now, go in peace…I pray…into the hands of our loving and merciful God.

Good Grief

Last year, an unwelcome course correction arrived at my doorstep with the sudden passing of my husband. My life came to a screeching halt as I faced the stark reality of being thrust into the unknown and the numbing emptiness that followed.

I unwillingly became a part of a club with no guidelines, rules, or secret handshake. I was signed up without permission, and I can’t “cancel at any time”. 

The blessings that came from a forty-seven-year marriage were overshadowed for most of this past year by regrets over things said or done, the if only’s, and lost opportunities. I thought that dark cloud would not dissipate. It totally sucked.

I needed someone to complain to.  Ahhhhh, God. I could complain to God. I’m so good at that. But the last time I tried, it went something like this:

Me dialing the number I found on the Internet…

The message in response:

                Dial 1 to leave a message of gratitude.

                Dial 2 to leave a complaint. You will be prompted to whine, grovel and beg. (FYI, this box is not monitored.)

How in the world did I fool myself into believing that my life would just keep plugging along with only a few potholes here and bumps in the road there until I drifted unceremoniously into eternity? I was lulled into believing that the way my life was would not change drastically or without some kind of damn warning.

Wrinkles and gray hair warn you. They don’t just show up one fine morning. Instead, they tiptoe in without much fanfare giving you plenty of time to disguise them before your next high school reunion. The aches and pains of aging sneak around your joints like a ninja, which mercifully eases you into the acceptance that your running days are over.

For as long as I can remember, each day of my life seemed to blend into the next. Birthdays piling one on top of another were no more thought-provoking than a trash can filling up. Any thought of purpose or meaning was often left unaddressed until tomorrow, next week, or…. 

I think life’s subtle changes are meant as a wake-up call. But they’re too subtle for me. They need to scream loudly into my failure to act before it’s too late…but…oh yeah…pride helped me ignore the fact that I probably needed a hearing aid. Until now – until this.

Then, just as suddenly as I was knee-jerked into widowhood, the dark cloud lifted to reveal God’s promise to turn my mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11).

Being thrust into the pain of loss must become the catalyst for change, for the hope that there is more to this life. Or why do we even bother? Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light”. Jesus came along and spent his life showing us how to live abundantly in that light despite the darkness.

Then one morning, God spoke into my broken heart, “This is your new reality, Linda. You’re still here. You are surrounded by my love, the love of an amazing family, and supportive, loving friends. Now get up, dust yourself off, and do what you were created to do. Because if you haven’t learned anything else this past year, you surely have realized that this one precious life you have is short. Quit wasting it!  Roll up your pity party mat and GO!”

I will leave you with two of the most powerful quotes that have helped me move beyond my sorrow:

Gian Carlo Menotti wants us to let this sink in, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”

John Shelby Spong tells us, “It is to live not frightened by death, but rather called by the reality of death to go into our humanity so deeply and so passionately that even death is transcended.”