Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sometimes our instincts tell us more...

than our minds. Coming home on Thursday instead of today was an act of instinct. I couldn't explain exactly why I felt I had to come home: muscle spasms? yes, sort of. Malcolm's impending death? yes, but he is still hanging in there. tired of camping? okay, but so tired as to miss Cape Lookout? None of it really clicked.

And then, yesterday afternoon, I got a call from the Island County Sheriff's deputy. Could I please come over to the home of a member of the congregation who had just died unexpectedly. The deputy didn't want to leave the daughter home alone without company, waiting for the mortuary to come.

These are the calls that ministers hope never come, but they always do. The member lives very close to me---walking distance even---but I dashed the quarter-mile or so in the car, not wanting to spend an extra moment in transit and not sure what I might need. Two sheriff's cars in the driveway and a shocked-into-numbness daughter, who had found her mother on the bedroom floor.

By the time the mortuary guy arrived an hour or so later, we had notified family members, church leadership and close friends, and other sisters had arrived to be with their sister and to say goodbye to their mother. All the preliminary legalities had been satisfied----no signs of foul play, a case number with the sheriff, no autopsy needed because of her age. Just shocked and suddenly bereaved adult children and friends...and me, their minister who they turned to immediately.

What an honor, to be in this position. An honor as well as a horrible, heavy duty. One of the joys---and sorrows----of ministry is to be of service in these kinds of moments, to provide the container for grieving, to perform the rituals which allow for healing, to be present at the holy time when life ends, to break the news gently and lovingly to those who are most affected by the death. And to do all this non-anxiously, calmly, without losing self-control---that's where one great sorrow lies, that my love for this person and my grief at losing her must take second place until the needs of her family and our congregation can be properly addressed.

So I grieve to friends outside the congregation, to colleagues on the ministers' chat line. I ask for help from those who can think more clearly than I this morning---and they provide that steady calm, that steady hand, that steady voice that I need to hear, helping me know once again that my presence is my most valued gift at this time. Nothing I can say or do will make it easier, but just being there is enough to help them get through this sad experience.

We will soon send out an email to the congregation advising them of this sudden death and inviting them to come to the church, for we will have a time of silence and candles of honor, to share our grief and be together after the service, in honor and memory of Peggy Bardarson, longtime member and beloved pillar of our community.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Back early...

from my self-imposed electronic fast. Actually, I cheated a bit, as we have a parishioner who is in his last days of life, and I needed to stay slightly in touch. The iPhone let me get email and phone messages without too much trouble, so I'd check in periodically to see if there was any news.

It was an interesting and revelatory trip. I'd thought I'd spend tons of time reflecting away in my cute little heron-bedecked notebook and I did spend a lot of time writing, but not as much as I'd hoped about "who I am at my core, without the trappings and stereotypes of a vocation".

Along about the second day, after recording my daily happenings, I did manage to write this:

Who am I?:
--female, early elderhood, healthy, few aches and pains, self-sufficient at present.
--pleasant looking, a few scars and warts, well-cared-for, good smile (good teeth), kempt
--smart, curious, many interests but few hobbies, lots of general knowledge but not well-informed enough to argue with anyone who knows more.
--religious AND spiritual, a pray-er, grateful, loving, cheerful, helpful, gracious
--competent: ministry, counseling, teaching, singing, modest, shy about too much fanfare
--musician: read music, love harmony, sing loudly on key, alto

Dislikes (in self as well as in others): whining or being whined at, complainers (self included), arrogance, know-it-alls, illogical or unkind conservatism, bossiness, short-sightedness, unfounded anger, monologuists, nonsense in the service of politics

Likes: openness, clarity, good grammar and spelling, stories, laughing, funny (but kind) people, kindness, thoughtfulness, beauty, friendship, good conversation, eccentricity--to a point.

Is that helpful? I haven't decided. At least these will be the qualities I retain once I shed the robe and stole. Also, I'm not sure the list is finished.

I did do some exploring down the Oregon coast and have pretty well settled on Astoria as my next home, whenever I am ready. It's a lovely little town, right at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.

I spent two nights at Ft. Stevens State Park, which is immense, and my favorite spot was the South Jetty observation tower, from which the Columbia River bar is visible. This crossing is dubbed "the graveyard of the Pacific" because it has drowned so many people and ships. It's such a challenge that large cargo ships are required to have a specially-trained Astoria bar pilot guide them across the bar; you can see the helicopters shuttling pilots back and forth between ship and harbor.

I stood on the tower deck and the words of an old song came to me, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

I remembered a little bit of the tune, so I sang as much of the words as I could remember, tears in my eyes, thinking of Malcolm who is dying, Gil and Janis who have died recently, and my mother and father who liked this old hymn. And I sang on pitch. Alto.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

An electronic fast...

starts tomorrow, as I take off for a week-long road trip during the last stretch of my vacation. Things here on the island are calm, nobody is actively dying (I assume), and (unlike last year) there is no apparent reason for me to abort this mission.

I'm planning to catch the Keystone ferry at 8:45 tomorrow morning and head for Olympic National Park and the Makah reservation at Neah Bay. Once at Neah Bay, I intend to take the trail that runs from a tribe-maintained parking lot out to the farthest tip of land of Cape Flattery, overlooking Tatoosh Island and the Pacific. It's about 3/4 of a mile and I've never walked it before. It's been on my "bucket list" for a long time and I'd hoped to do it last year but had to cancel at the last minute.

I've been slowly packing for a week, surreptitiously gathering items in the spare bedroom, keeping the door shut so the cats don't worry too much. Yesterday morning when Max wandered in for a nap, I swept him up and hustled him off to the kennel before he knew what was happening. I hate worrying about whether I'll be able to catch him and get him there in plenty of time, so I often take him over a day early.

I'll look for a good camping spot around Neah Bay or Kalaloch for that evening and head for Astoria OR the next morning. I've rented a RoadTrek camping van from my friends MK and Eileen and will be camping out six of the seven nights of the trip, with the final night in Manzanita OR with friends June and Ralph.

People are often aghast at my eagerness to camp by myself. Frankly, I love doing that. It's a special kind of solitude, with a campfire and early morning coffee at a picnic table and a long walk on the shoreline in the dawn. It's a time of peace that can't be attained at home with newspapers and TV and internet and phone. I'm not planning to take my laptop, so I won't be seeking out free wifi cafes on the trip. I'll have my cell phone, just in case, and can check my home voice mail, but those who email me will have to wait.

I won't be strictly doing my WW food routines, but I will be careful enough to maintain what I've lost (19.6 lbs so far). I will indulge with a Tillamook ice cream cone and a breakfast burrito while I'm in that area. If I eat out, it'll be fishy stuff primarily. I don't want to feel food-guilty while I'm detoxing from stress.

Other stops on the road will be Ft. Stevens State Park outside Astoria, for two nights, and at Cape Lookout State Park, outside Tillamook. I'm not going any farther south than Tillamook, as I'll be doing some scouting around for possible retirement locales in the future. Anywhere up and down the North Oregon coast is where I want to be, and these two small cities are lovely places.

I've promised my Aunt Sigrid that I will visit her in Portland before I come home and I'll make every effort to do that, though I discovered that I'll only be in Portland on Sunday, when she's apt to be in church. So I may have to make do with a phone call. I did visit her earlier in the month when I was at the Mensa AG. My sister and I worry about her a little bit, since she lives alone and has had some health issues. Our cousins are attentive but can't do everything and she's our last elder on my mother's side of the family.

I've been thinking about retirement some more and have made some decisions about when and how, but one of the things I want to do some reflecting and journaling about is what my identity will be when I no longer am in a vocation that has been so defining. I've always been in a profession that had "moral weight"----welfare caseworker, missionary, teacher, guidance counselor, minister---and those professions have such an impact on how others relate to me that I'm wondering what it will be like not to have those roles attached to me, especially when I move to an area where no one knows much about me.

An interesting challenge!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mensa Annual Gathering Redux

As it turned out, several Whidbey Island Mensans went to the AG in Portland. It was fun spending time with Penelope; our trip down was one long meaty conversation. She has a way of asking questions and responding to the answers that inspires me to talk (a lot). I noticed this as I launched into yet another extended answer to one of her questions and dimly realized that I was talking far more than she.

It's funny----you'd think a preacher would have a hard time shutting up when given an opportunity to talk, but I am more comfortable listening to somebody else. I am uneasy talking about myself unless specifically assigned to do so. Like in a sermon, for example. And here I was, rattling on about whatever she asked, words flowing steadily in a more or less coherent stream. Heavens! It was lovely and I didn't feel the least bit self-conscious. She had asked, after all, so I considered it permission to spiel on and on (and on).

She and Richard and I attended a couple of lectures together, most notably one by Richard Lederer entitled "Conan the Grammarian" and were gratified to learn that it is NOT ungrammatical to end a sentence with a preposition (graceful speech trumps awkward construction) NOR is it ungrammatical to split infinitives (again, graceful construction is more important). And he should know. He is a well-known linguistic and language expert, also a Mensan, and writes for the Mensa Bulletin. He's also very funny. We came away feeling quite smug about our own grammar knowledge but also learning a few new things (none of which I can remember at the moment).

This AG was much more about such sessions than about seeing old friends, though I did see a few familiar faces. I attended a session about aging well and making sure one's living quarters were appropriate to one's abilities. Nothing too new there. But my retirement ponderings made it an appropriate session for me.

I also attended a session on dating outside one's demographic. Aka, are "cougars" really drunken older women who feel trapped by their life's circumstances (think Mrs. Robinson) and trying to seduce innocent younger men or are they women who prefer to date men (or, I guess, women) who are more their speed and inclination? The speaker for that lecture was Miss International Cougar, a beautiful woman of about 45 who nearly always dates men who are many years younger and finds them more to her liking than men older than she who can't keep up with her or have expectations that are unattractive.

Another session was the nightly "fishbowl" in which a group of men and women ask gender and sex questions of each other in a setting which allows for confidentiality and honesty. In my group, the women far outnumbered the men, but we did get to hear some pretty straightforward questions and answers: Viagra---what's it like to take it? what can a man do to be the most appealing to a woman? (one answer: the dishes) where is the G spot? what is a total turnoff for a man, sexually? etc. There were some pretty spicy questions and answers, but, as one participant said, "hell, I don't know anybody here----here's what I think".

One thing about a large gathering of Mensans: we tend to let our most outrageous selves hang out at these functions. The Eccentrics were out in full force, with beanies and nerdy slogans on t-shirts stretched tight over large bellies, bellicosity on both ends of the political spectrum, wild outfits, and the like. It was somewhat disturbing to see how many members of the upper 2% IQ scores are hugely obese, to the point of needing electric scooters to navigate. When one mostly uses one's brain instead of one's body, the outcome is inevitable. It was not a pretty sight. And yet, the brains inside those immense bodies are working just fine---except in the area of health.

Richard and I were scheduled to perform at the Sunday night cabaret and we had practiced quite a lot to get ready. We were planning to offer a few of our songs from our former group Trilogy, old Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Berlin stuff from the 20's and 30's. I was pretty dubious about my staying power---we were scheduled for an 11:30 p.m. slot---but, despite a few glitches and a few less-than-happy exchanges with the organizer, it turned out fine and I felt we gave a good show. Unfortunately, we didn't start till midnight and by then most of the audience was gone. But those remaining were enthusiastic and appreciative.

Will I go back to a national Mensa gathering? Probably not. It's expensive to stay in a hotel for four nights and adding air fare and meals to the package ups the cost. Next year's gathering is in Reno, where the FS lives, but I'm going there for his graduation in December and don't particularly want to go back in the hot summertime. I'll stick to local gatherings like our monthly TGIF on the island and an occasional foray into Seattle events.