Today I had the privilege and duty to be a part of the memorial service for my father. It’s been surreal the last few days. So many errands to run, items to check off on a list, places to go, people to see. There’s been a sense of urgency, a nervous energy, a controlled chaos, riding a wave of sorrow and speed. Because of the hectic pace of the last several days, I stood on the stage behind the pulpit at the service this afternoon with no notes, and no structure to the stories and experiences I wanted to share.
Words, they’ve flooded my mind and soul since Dad passed. Words from family and friends who care and are sorry for our loss. Words that go into an obituary, on a card for flowers, in a service program and used in phone calls, emails, and texts. So many words used to describe the love a family has for one who is, was, the central fixed, point.
Now, standing behind the pulpit at the memorial service today, I had no notes, no words written, no solid ideas, memories swarming in my head but none coming in for a landing. How do you choose the right words to convey the meaning of a life which impacted many people? In the pantheon of phrases, how do you pick out those which will express the purpose of a life lived well?
A deep breath, a small prayer, and … share my heart, open my lips, loosen my tongue and let the words come. No, they will not be adequate. No, they will not be perfect. Yes, there will be second-guessing and memories that are forgotten to be shared.
Words. They are not, and cannot contain the heart’s cry of longing and loneliness or succinctly express the fondness, the love, the good of being apart from a person you love. This is okay. Living, being, existing, is more than words, deeper than condolences, greater than expressions of sympathy and sadness.
Living should be beyond our ability to communicate it easily if it is done well.
At a health council meeting today a speaker gave a presentation on going the extra mile. She asked; “Where did this saying come from?” I thought for sure someone would answer but no one did so finally I replied; “Jesus.” She smiled and moved on with her talk. She explained in the time of the Roman Empire there was a rule that if a soldier or other important dignitary asked you to help carry some of their weaponry or baggage you were obligated to carry it one mile. Jesus, however, in Matthew chapter 5, said; “If someone has you carry their stuff one mile go ahead and make it two.” The speaker continued; “The first mile is obligation the second mile is voluntary. It’s the second-mile people remember. When you move beyond your comfort zone, when you give more than what you can afford to, do more than you were asked or expected, offer kindness, grace, and love abundantly, extravagantly.”
As I reflected on her presentation it was a good reminder that what the world expects and usually gets is the minimum, the essentials. When someone digs deeper, cares greatly, meets the greatest of needs, it matters and stays with the one helped and the one helping.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” #MayaAngelou
I just came in from a long day of working outside. I am trying to build an extension of our front door porch to connect with porch on the north side. It took its toll today. The weather was hot, around 90 degrees, with humidity.
Part of getting started was leveling the ground. I began to dig with a shovel, cut roots with a pick and fill up my lawn tractor trailer with the debris. There were several times when I uncovered an Earthworm. It’s always interesting the reaction to their world being turned upside down, foundations being taken away, an unknown force destabilizing what, moments before, seemed solid and dependable. If it was a spider, a mouse, or a snake, most often the reaction is to run away, find another place of safety and solace. Not the Earthworm. The Earthworm immediately starts burrowing deeper. It doesn’t abandon its home, instead it intuitively digs further down.
Wisdom teaches us to be like the Earthworm. Trust your foundations. When life comes and turns everything upside down, strips away what we hold dear. Instead of panicking, looking for something else to put our faith in, allowing the forces of this world to bring its chaos into our very hearts, dig deeper and know you can’t reach the bottom of grace and love.
Yesterday evening I spoke to a group of men about going deeper, past the surface and digging down to find our true selves. Anger, for most men, is our default reaction, emotion, the feeling we express most often. Part of this comes from a culture which teaches us that we are to; “cowboy up!”, “man up!”, and “shake it off!” when it comes to pain, loss, fear, rejection. It’s not manly to cry, pour out hearts out, lean on another, admit weakness and hurt. So, eventually, all the angst builds up and we explode in anger and rage. We yell, throw things, hurt ourselves and others. “The problem,’ I said, ‘is that we’ve buried all the emotion which we’ve been taught not to feel. Layer upon layer of unexpressed feelings are buried. Until we dig down, feel it, come face to face with it and figure out what to do with it we’ll be ticking time bombs waiting for the next frustration, anxiety inducing event to go off.‘”
Wisdom tells us, however, that this isn’t just a male problem. We all struggle to go deeper, past the surface to find out what’s below. Our past haunts us, memories of pain and rejection strangle us from within. We struggle to feel and express our true selves because we’ve lost touch with who and what we are down deep, at our core.
Our neighbor across the road is doing some excavating. He has removed several large trees, some unsightly hedges and leveled a few large mounds of dirt. He’s also expanding, what could generously be called a waterhole, where his cows like to hangout on long hot summer days.
To do this expansion he’s using a bulldozer and a large backhoe. The workers he hired start early and stop late. The bulldozer isn’t too bad; a steady hum as it pushes the dirt around. The backhoe, however, is a different story. The workers are using it to dig deeper and most of what the large yellow machine scoops up is mud and muck.
After the driver fills the scooper he swings the cab around and empties his load. Because the goop is sticky, the driver uses the controls to force the scooper to shake violently to loosen the gunk. When he does this the large metal contraption makes an awful and annoying amount of noise. Last night they worked past sundown and my nerves were worn threadbare.
This morning, as I looked at the ever expanding waterhole, I was reflecting upon the truth that going deeper in our minds, emotions and spirits, isn’t easy, clean or fun either. It’s hard work, shakes us to our core, wears us out and we wonder how long until it’s finished. Unfortunately, the only answer is; when it’s deep enough.
I’ve been thinking about my friend who I wrote an article on last week. The cute little varmint who’s been tearing up my lawn with his sharp claws and pointy snout. I haven’t seen him in a few days but if my dog’s constant sniffing is any indication he’s been in the area excavating for more grubs.
As I reflect upon the armadillo and his keen awareness of what he’s searching for I wonder if we can be so invested in what we want that we miss other things? Can we be so completely focused on what we’re doing, fully invested in the need of the moment, that we are left vulnerable?
The day I spied the prehistoric bug and worm eater I made several noises to try to get him to stop digging but he never heard me. I honked my truck horn and slammed the door several times before he became antsy and eventually sauntered away. Could I have snuck up on him? Could I have hurt or captured him if so desired? Was he so engrossed in the task he was oblivious to all else?
What is the difference in being mindful, fully in the present and being so focused on what we’re doing that we become unmindful?
Perhaps the difference is all the difference. When our attention is our appetite, needs and wants, what we believe is required to be happy, content, satisfied, we are only capable of scratching the surface.
It is when we dig deeper, past the exterior and into the seldom explored interior that we feed body, mind and spirit. When these three are nurtured all we do, each moment, will be infused with greater significance and we become mindfully aware of all that surrounds us.