A bit of a break from writing and another round of grieving...
NOTE: Tomorrow we head back to Frederick, MD as my father has reached the conclusion of all his medical options. The time has come for him to enter and embrace the hard blessings of hospice care and we want to be with him for a few more days during this transition. I will be out of the loop re: writing for probably a week. Thank you for the love and prayers you have sent over the past month; I am humbled and grateful. What follows is a slightly modified version of the note I recently shared with my congregation.
As you read this, once again, I will be on my way to Maryland to be with my sisters to help during my father's closing days. While we cannot predict the precise close of his life, it is clear that it is approaching quickly. A wise professor and friend from my first days at college, Martha Baker, recently said it best: We labor to come into this world and we labor to leave. It's hard work. Each person has a part to play in the closing drama, as you well know, but not all the lines are scripted. However, they are all blessed. I believe that to be true. I also believe that while being with my family takes me away from First Church, it is part of ministry: specifically modeling what is most important in hard times, trying to practice what I preach about compassion and giving shape and form to my deepest commitments re: a ministry of presence. As was true when my grandson was born about this time last year, this is one of those times/seasons when tending to the heart is essential.
For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time for silence and a time to speak; a time for love and a time for hat; a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3)
Years ago I read something by the great contemporary prophet, Erma Bombeck, and it has shaped my mature ministry. She noted upon receiving her own diagnoses of inoperable cancer that, "If I had my life to live over again..."
I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day. I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage. I would have talked less and listened more. I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded. I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth. I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband. I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed. I would have sat on the lawn with my grass stains. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life. I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, 'Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.' There would have been more 'I love you's' More 'I'm sorry's.' But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute, look at it and really see it .. live it and never give it back. STOP SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF!!! Don't worry about who doesn't like you, who has more, or who's doing what Instead, let's cherish the relationships we have with those who do love us.
In the spirit of Jesus who scolded some publicly pious and/or pushy people around him that they "knew how to read the signs of the heavens but NOT the signs of the time," I said "ME TOO" when I first read Ms. Bombeck's words and shout it again now as my family embraces my father's approaching death. When I get to the close of MY life, I want to have at least been present for the important times - even if I didn't fully grasp their meaning until much later. So I will be back at week's end to join some of you for a celebration of love and hope at Carlton and Rebecca's wedding on Saturday, October 18th. And then for our worship on Sunday when we learn from Celtic Spirituality about praying with our feet - on pilgrimage - when we take a trip around our own Sanctuary and learn about our Celtic Cross, our windows and more. And then for our CROP Walk to Fight Hunger.
Please note that I am not the only First Church person grieving the loss of a loved one a this time - so be attentive to others who have lost their parents recently or are caring for loved ones who are approaching death. I give thanks for our lay leadership at this time for their loving support and wise counsel. And I rejoice in my small family - my wife, daughters, sons-in-law, sisters and brother - who know how to hold one another in tender love in a tough time without drama or foolishness. That is a deep blessing.
credits: the first picture was taken at my graduation from Union Theological Seminary and includes my dad (looking like Henry Kissinger) and my daughter Michal (at about 3). The second picture is my dad at HIS graduation from the University of Pittsburgh and myself (1952). And the last picture comes from the lst birthday of Louis Edmund Piscitello and Dianne (my little man bears the middle name of both my dad and myself.)