Monday, January 28, 2008

This is so (not) about me.

My aunt will die within the next few hours.

I started a webpage for our family on a non-profit site that allows loved ones to communicate with each other, sign a guestbook, leave loving, thoughtful, supportive words to each other as we all wait these last days.

I did this freely.

I adore my family. At our core, we are very similar and share the same values. But I express mine very differently.

The guestbook is already filled with deeply felt sentiments that have the common thread of the Lord's loving arms, making the final journey to a heavenly home, trusting in the comfort of Jesus.

This is so not about me.

This is about a faith life that my aunt has led and that has been shared by her family and friends--all reflected in these comments.

This is so not about me.

I want to write in the guestbook in big bold letters that this is sad and she is dying and we should all be wailing and there is no heavenly home and this is sad and she is dying and going away and she has suffered and she will have rest and we will miss her and this is sad this is sad this is sad.

I am sad and I don't feel embraced at all by the Lord right now.

This is so not about me.
This is about the life she has led and how she and her family choose to understand this part of her journey.

I want to be selfless.

I want to be gracious.

I want to understand grace.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


My dad and one of his younger brothers, 77 and 75, have spent the last few years trying to piece together the family history. Working off the margin scribblings and tucked in scraps of notes in the family Bible, they've chased a number of metaphorical rabbits down holes, over hills, through hollers, and back again.

Many dead ends.

My great-great grandmother and great-great grandfather, it seems, were married in the home of her parents in Lamp, Arkansas. Trouble is, Lamp no longer exists.

But they got lucky last week, when a distant cousin sent them a collection of old, old maps of the region. And there was Lamp, about 5 miles from our property and on the other side of the churchyard where all the family is buried.

My dad and his brother got up early this morning, loaded up two metal thermoses of coffee and some leftover biscuit and sausage sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, called all the dogs--who leapt into the bed of the truck, howling and dancing--and took off in search of the town that no longer is.

They pulled the truck over onto the shoulder about where they thought the center of town would have been, and lowered the gate on the back of the truck. They spread out the maps on the truck bed and weighted the corners with stones.

There they sat, drinking their coffee, eating their snack, and talking about the kinds of things that brothers can say with few words. The dogs sniffed around in the field next to the truck, and after a while, another truck pulled up behind them. After all, why would two old men choose to have an early-morning picnic in the dead of winter on the side of the road in the foothills of the Ozarks? Were they OK?

Turns out, the couple in the truck knew all about Lamp, since their family had lived on this road for generations. There had been a school, a store, and even a post office at one time, see? right here on this spot on the map...and they knew our family name.

After an exchange of phone numbers, the couple left and Dad and my uncle folded up the maps, gathered up the dogs, and took off, too.

Dad was so excited when he recounted this to me on the phone just now. A ride in an old truck, some simple food, the steam off a metal cup, a beloved brother, a wide place in the road where a part of his life still pulsed, and some new friends...

May I have such Saturday mornings when I'm 77.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ladies Who Lunch

Tomato Roma Soup with a parmesan toast at the Seattle downtown Nordstrom café is the coda to my monthly Saturday haircut. My appointment ends around lunchtime, and I stroll over to the store, wander about through various departments trying to avoid the shoes--I failed today, and have a new pair and a dinged up budget--avail myself of the Women's Lounge, and then round out the ritual with soup.

I love it. It's a perfect match for my knockabout clothes and battered Saucony shoes and no make-up, topped with a killer new coiffure. Soup drives right down the middle between comfy and coiffed.

This particular café features a long leatherette banquette with six two-top tables in the middle of the room. It's a high traffic area, and the only people ever seated there are solo women, who always sit on the banquette side, with their shopping bags serving as mute companions on the facing chairs.

I've never seen a man in this area. It's the Ladies Who Lunch section, period, and the types are the same. There's often one elderly woman who has a paperback book, reading glasses, and wears her knitted cap throughout lunch. This type orders a sandwich and a large cookie with black coffee, and she packs up half of each to take home.

There's the Overdone Type. She will have too much make-up on, have too big hair, too much jewelry, too ostentatious clothes, too much food, and be too demanding of the waitstaff.

My favorite is the Proper Lady type. She's in her 80s, and lives alone, since her husband died many years ago. She still keeps house, still goes to church on Sunday morning with her offering envelope filled out in spidery script, and comes to Nordstrom on Saturday with her pocketbook, her outmoded but well-maintained skirt suit, her pearls, her pumps and nylons, and her handkerchief.

She has a salad, tea, and a fruit tartlet, and she savors every bite. She is the one who engages me in conversation and murmurs "oh, my!" as I answer each of her questions, as if I'm the most interesting and exotic person she has ever encountered in her long life.

I was seated next to a Proper Lady today. She had never seen an iPhone and was completely puzzled and fascinated that I would photograph my soup and then send the picture to a friend.

I liked her. Of the three types, she's the one I want to be when I grow up, although I have nothing in common with her. I don't have a husband, so I can't be a widow. I don't tithe, so my spidery script will have to fill out something besides an offering envelope. And God knows I would sooner stand on my head and spit nickels than willingly don nylons.

But she was curious. She was out in the world, she was her version of All Dolled Up, she was looking around, she was registering and observing, and she was brazen enough to chat up a perfect stranger.

Well done.

She's my hero today.