Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Soul Work of Poetry

Celebrating National Poetry Month

For National Poetry Month, you could do no better than to find any book by Mary Oliver. On this the last day of National Poetry month, here is an essay from The Tennessean, by Ray Waddel:

Poetry provides ancient, unfettered spiritual solace

When poet Mary Oliver comes out with a new book, I stop and take a look, not only because her poems are often rewarding but because her popularity says something about today’s shifting state of religion.

That is, I know people who read Oliver and other poets for spiritual solace they don’t quite find in church.

In her new book of poems, “A Thousand Mornings,” Oliver hears prayer in a wren’s song. She dreams of spinning like a Sufi dancer. She finds God everywhere.

In an earlier book, “Swan,” she says:

Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it …

Her words look mortality in the eye. They find wisdom in the experience of aging. They urge the reader to claim a rightful measure of joy. They do all this without reference to creedal doctrine. I know people who want to honor the religious quest but not the unsolicited professionalism of the pulpit. They’d rather read poetry...

To read the rest of Waddel’s essay, go here.

To hear an interview with poet Mary Oliver, go here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Music: Everybody Knows (Leonard Cohen)

                "Everybody knows the deal is rotten
                Old black Joe’s still pickin' cotton
                For your ribbons and bows
                And everybody knows."

The best version of "Everybody Knows" that I've heard is from a live performance in London. I was dismayed to see that the video of that performance has been removed from You Tube. I was able to find the same video on the Chinese version of You Tube, Youku, but then I noticed difficulties in playback -- the video kept freezing up. Fortunately, I found the video yet again, this time with a server in Turkey. Watch it today, it may be gone tomorrow! (We may have to keep bouncing around the globe to keep Cohen online!)

Everybody Knows
By Leonard Cohen

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you've been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that it's now or never
Everybody knows that it's me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you've done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black Joe’s still pickin' cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this sacred heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Oh everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows


Friday, April 26, 2013

New Poem: The Incense Rises and Gathers

Celebrating National Poetry Month

I went back to my notebook this week. I mentioned previously that I have a notebook in which I will jot down ideas to come back to later. Usually it's an idea for a poem, sometimes it's an idea for an essay.  I’ve been using National Poetry Month as an impetus to go back to those notes and work on those ideas that have been lying dormant on the page.  I clearly remember the Sunday almost a year ago when I came home and wrote “The incense rises and gathers” at the top of the page. My project this week has been to fill out the rest of the page, using that one phrase as the launching point, attempting to capture what I felt on that day.

The Incense Rises and Gathers

There comes a time
When the heart is drawn
To that sacred space
Where all thoughts and pretensions
Fall away like yesterday’s garments.

To a place made sacred
By the gathering of pilgrims over time
Who come with purpose and by habit
Bringing their notions and desires.
Some come with ideas,
Some come with agendas,
But the space is made holy
By the unadorned longing
Of many souls
On their separate journeys.
Their paths converge
Into sacred space.

Candles, bells,
Hymns and ritual words
Mark the paths of past souls.
Yet in that sacred moment
Even these trappings fall away.

The incense rises and gathers
Forming a misty tier –
Suspended in the moment
Yet constantly moving and changing.
In that moment
The sacred space unfolds.
No sound
No thought
No movement
Only the incense rising and gathering.
A brief rest from all endeavor
Welcoming the soul,
Giving meaning to the music,
Giving purpose to the work that follows.

In a brief moment of quiet
With all souls gathered  
The sacred space opens,
Potent as that rest in Handel’s Messiah.
A silent moment before the Hallelujah.

                               ~ Charles Kinnaird


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why Poetry Matters

 (and what will your verse be?)

Celebrating National Poetry Month

Here's a great scene about why poetry is important: 

"Dead Poets Society is a wonderful film, obviously filled with a lot of references to English and American poetry. In this scene, John Keating (Robin Williams) teaches his pupils the reason for reading and writing poetry, quoting Whitman's Leaves of Grass."

Please take one minute and 19 seconds of your time to be inspired!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Poetry that is in the Moment

Celebrating National Poetry Month

This weekend (April 26 & 27) in Linn Park is the 30th annual Magic City Art Connection. Part of that event is the Imagination Festival which is a workshop in the park featuring a multitude of opportunities for children to get involved in artistic expression. It is an exciting event that offers things for the whole family. In thinking of this annual event, I am reminded of a past festival which makes for a good story for National Poetry Month.

Many years ago on one of our visits to the festival, I roamed about the booths and displays while my wife was occupied in one of the venues and our daughter was taking part in art workshops. One of the evolving displays at the festival was being done by a young high school teacher. He had hundreds of little slips of paper and was asking passersby to stop and write a short poem. The poems were being collected and pinned to a long cord that was strung along the walkway in the park. I stopped to write a poem for the young man’s project. I sat for a moment, taking in all my surroundings and then composed a brief poem to describe what I was seeing. When I was finished, I handed my poem to the man who pinned it to the line where is became a flag flying in the breeze along with many other poetry flags fluttering in the air.

It was a poem along with many others, born in the moment and reflecting the moment. It flew for a moment on display in the park that day. When I got home, I jotted it down again so I would remember the moment.

In the Park

Sitting on the roots
   of an old oak tree
In the park;
Watching children
Dance and pop bubbles
Being blown by a clown –
This is the reason
For civilization.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Music: The Earth is Our Mother

For Earth Day, here is something from the women's choral group, Libana. "The Earth is Our Mother" comes from their CD, A Circle Is Cast. This is another one that I discovered at the public library and have very much enjoyed. Libana is described on their Facebook page as "an internationally renowned global music ensemble that leads its audiences on a profound and scintillating journey through the music and dance of Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South America, Asia, and beyond."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Writing Haiku

Celebrating National Poetry Month

As we celebrate National Poetry Month, it occurs to me that writing a haiku is one way that many who have never written a poem can begin to write. I remember back in junior high school English class when our teacher taught haiku. We actually spent most of the class time writing haiku and getting up to read our compositions. Some students who were not particularly known for their academic acumen were having a great time with the exercise. Below is a brief video lesson on writing haiku, or if you prefer written guidelines you can find a tutorial at Sophia.org here.  

 I read the Sophia tutorial and then wrote the following haiku:

The flowing waters

       of the tiny mountain stream

       speak of springtime peace.

Take a look at either one of the tutorials and try your hand at it. Haiku is a wonderful way to begin writing your own poetry.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Remembering Dorothy One Year Later

An Epilogue to Wednesdays with Dorothy

"A Year to the Day"

There may not be a specific time needed to complete grief work, but we often think in terms of one year to come to terms with our loss.  Within that year, of course, there is an initial time of intense grief followed by the ebb and flow of varying degrees of emotion. There are periods of intentional remembering and then there are moments in which a memory may be evoked by an event, a place, a conversation, or a simple object such as a cup of coffee.  Sometimes it is a seemingly coincidental encounter.

Just this week I was in a meeting at the hospital where I work. One of the supervisors at the hospital approached me and asked, “Didn’t you have a friend that you visited on our unit in Palliative Care?”

“Yes,” I answered, and then told him a little bit about Dorothy.

“Now I remember,” he said to me, “I read her story when she was on the unit. I was so moved by what that dear lady had been through. I remember she had a lot of friends from her church who came to visit. How was it that you knew her?”

I recounted to him how I had been with the St. Andrew’s Foundation for 12 years before I moved into the nursing field, and how it was during those years that I came to know Dorothy. I went on to tell him of my regular meetings with Dorothy to record her life story. That conversation and that chance encounter took place on April 16, exactly one year after Dorothy’s death.

A Therapeutic Endeavor

When I first began “Wednesdays with Dorothy” my purpose was to share her story in her own words. I knew I would share a little bit each week. Beyond that, I had no plan as to how long the series would take. I would simply share a little each week for as long as it took to tell her whole story. I had no idea at the time that I would bring the series to a close right on the heels of the anniversary of her death.

It was like an inner prompting. I knew that it was time to start sharing her story on my blog and so it was that on August 15, 2012, “Wednesdays with Dorothy” was launched. Being able to wrap it all up exactly a year after her memorial service (April 18, 2012) is an added confirmation that it all fell into place just as it was supposed to.

A Witness to the Realities of Social Services

It has certainly been therapeutic for me to recount Dorothy’s life on these pages. I hope it has been meaningful to those who have followed along each week.  My first intention was to share the voice of one who had witnessed an important time in our history so that others could hear from a different perspective.  Dorothy’s testimony gives us a view of how our society has handled mental health treatment over the years.  There were the years in which the mentally ill and the handicapped were warehoused behind the closed doors of institutions. We were able to hear, for example, Dorothy’s eye-witness account of what life was like inside Partlow State School and Hospital. Her account was much different from the glowing reports that Dr. William Partlow gave in public during the very time that Dorothy was institutionalized.

Dorothy’s life also coincided with the move toward de-institutionalization brought about by the Wyatt vs. Stickney decision in the federal courts. We were able to hear what she thought of the process of moving from the institution to the community. We heard what she liked and what she did not like about that transition. Above all, we were left with no doubt about the fact that Dorothy herself longed to be free from institutional life and loved her experience of having her own apartment in the community.

There were times when “the system” failed her. First there was the institutional life that took advantage of her higher functioning abilities within that population and kept her confined without the opportunity to realize other possibilities. There was the brief jubilation of freedom from institutional life as the State Mental Health Department was forced to comply with the federal court order to move residents to greater levels of independence. There was also the reality, in some ways as harsh as institutional life, that there were simply not enough resources in the community to serve everyone with mental health needs.  If Dorothy had had to rely solely on mental health services where case workers are stretched with incredible case loads, her life in the community would not have been so successful. 

Dorothy managed to keep an informal support group of friends in the community and at her church who helped her as she patched together her own system of services. The latter part of her life further symbolized the shortages of social services offered.  She was moved out of the division of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities with the State Mental Health Department when she “tested out” of the mental retardation classification. The good news was that she had some case management services that allowed her to continue to live in her apartment. The bad news was that when it looked as though she would need more services, it meant getting onto a waiting list at a time when she needed immediate help. Fortunately for Dorothy, she had her network of friends to see her through during her final days.  Any parent of an adult child with disabilities can tell you that waiting lists are long, and services offered are few. We have gone from neglecting the needs of patients warehoused in the institution to unfortunate shortages of services in the community.

A Personal Milestone

My remembrances of Dorothy have also given me opportunity to recall my own life-changing encounters. When I began my work at the St. Andrew’s Foundation, it was a definite turning point in my life. My work in the group homes was a time to re-focus and to see things from an entirely different perspective. It enabled me to get off of a dissonant vocational track and to spend some time at a slower pace. I was able to learn some important lessons about life from people who live with disabilities.

I have told people that my job as Program Director at the St. Andrew’s Foundation was the best job I ever had – it was the best job in the world as far as I was concerned. I was in the middle of the life of St. Andrew’s parish, I was involved in meaningful social ministry, and I was working with people with whom there is no “putting on airs” – you have to be totally real and down-to-earth.  I grieved when the time came for me to move on with a nursing career, but I knew at the time that I needed to make the move into another field in healthcare.  Times change and the job that I saw as the best in the world does not even exist today since the the supervision of the group homes has been passed to the ARC of Jefferson County.   The St. Andrew’s Foundation served its purpose in its time, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

With my continuing friendship with Dorothy, I was able to stay in touch with that life that I had learned at the St. Andrew’s Foundation.  Dorothy and I shared that memory of life at the group homes, and we shared an on-going friendship.

"All Things Must Pass"

I don’t like the term “closure.” I’m not sure we do ourselves any good with the notion that we can close one chapter or event in our lives and keep it in some kind of box while we move on. I believe we widen our circle as we go along, dispensing with nothing, affirming everything that has occurred.  At the same time, I realize that everything changes. There is an impermanence to things that we must learn to accept. By telling the story of Dorothy Faye Burdette in “Wednesdays with Dorothy,” I have been able to let some other people know about her life and the things she endured as a person with disabilities. I have been able to celebrate the ministry of the St. Andrew’s Foundation. I have also been able to affirm a period in my own life that saw a restructuring in my personal philosophy of living. I will not close the lid on any of that, I will just acknowledge the passing of an era and look forward to what lies ahead. Though a life has come to an end, the ministry of St. Andrew's Foundation has passed the baton to others, a personal career has long since gone and new experiences have come into the field; I will try to hold the memories dear while I continue to widen the circle.  


For Further Reading:


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Are We Becoming a Nation of Day Laborers?

From college profs to the loading docks, we're seeing changes in the workplace

It happened this past Sunday. I was reminded once again by three different news articles of how our political and economic climate favors industry at the expense of the worker. There was a time when unions could see that a worker was justly compensated and given a pension to ensure that he was not just tossed aside when his productive years were over.  There was also a time when laws created safe work environments and protected workers against exploitation. Though those laws have some lingering benefit, there is a rising sentiment on the part of some that regulation is an infraction upon our liberty. Furthermore, industry is always figuring out loopholes and other ways to work around having to treat its workers with the dignity and worth that they deserve.

The first reminder was in the “In Depth” section of the Sunday edition of The Birmingham News. On page 19A there was an article by Alena Semuels that first appeared in The Los Angeles Times describing how workers are sacrificing more as employers push for “more efficiency.” The article gives an example of a worker whose full time job unloading trucks went to a temporary one, in which he does not know from week to week how many hours he will work. The company, I am sure saves money by not having to pay benefits that would go to a full time employee. The article further describes the growing workplace harshness that is being brought about as employers make sure that not a minute of time is wasted on the job. “Businesses are asking employees to work harder without providing the kinds of rewards, financial and psychological, that were once routine.”

After reading that article, I turned to the “Business” section. There on page 1C, above the fold, was the headline, “Belle Foods to reduce full-time workforce.” The local supermarket chain will be hiring 300 part-time workers “in effort to get ‘in line’ with industry standards.”  This trend has been happening for years in every sector as the drive has been to increase profits with each quarterly report. It should have been obvious throughout the first decade of this century as Wall Street profits steadily soared while personal wages remained stagnant.  In fact, many had to work two jobs just to maintain a living wage. All of that was before the economic crisis of 2008 in which thousands of jobs left and will probably not come back. Yet even in the economic downturn, Wall Street investments have continued to show profits.

Even in the non-profit sector, cost cutting measures are being taken that affect the frontline worker more than the executives.  Hospitals are using more part-time employees and schools are using more part-time faculty – which brings me to the third article that was posted by a friend on Facebook.  “The Ever-Shrinking Role of Tenured College Professors” is an article from The Atlantic  which outlines how universities have been decreasing the number of tenured faculty while hiring more adjunct professors. There again, the school can pay someone to teach a class without having to undergo the expense of providing benefits. The author of the article, Jordan Weissmann, closes with these words:

Why should you care? For one, it's damn tough making a living as a freelance professor (full disclosure: my mother was one for many years). The AAUP reports that the median pay for teaching a single course was $3,200 at a public research university, and just $2,250 at a community college. But more broadly, it's a reminder that rising college costs aren't necessarily paying for a better quality (or better compensated) faculty. Moreover, unless the burgeoning ed-tech industry finds ways to remake at least parts of college teaching, this chart shows us how schools will attempt to do more with less resources over time. It's not a particularly pretty picture. 
We live in an era in which too many workers feel that they should just shut up and be thankful for what they have.  Corporate leadership has us under their thumb. “We are the job creators,” they tell us, “and if you vote for anything that raises our taxes or cuts into our nice profits, we just might have to eliminate your job.”  All too often we are even too timid to speak of the common good, a great American democratic ideal which nowadays is spurned by many as sounding too much like “socialism.”  Yet we are seeing an ever-widening gap between the rich and everyone else. It is time we called upon that ideal of the common good.

Last fall I posted an essay which looked back to a surprising progressive advocate for the worker back in the 1950s. That progressive voice was coming from Bishop Fulton Sheen over the airwaves of the still new medium of television.  That essay was titled, “Economics as if People Mattered.” You can see that post here.  I am not sure what the way out of our current quagmire is, but I think that holding on to the common good, and doing business as if people mattered will need to be part of the equation.

A view of Wall Street


Sunday, April 14, 2013

New Poem: Marginal Bunting

Celebrating National Poetry Month

Have you written a poem this week? If you could pick one moment from the past week to write a poem about, what would it be? Why not sit down and write a short poem about it? 

Here is another one of my first drafts -- or maybe it would be more accurate to say second draft writing, first draft poem. I have a notebook where I jot down ideas for poems to come back to later. Often it is just a title, or just one phrase. In this case, just a few weeks ago while we were in the last stubborn throes of winter, I was delighted by the rare sight of an indigo bunting outside the kitchen window. He was near the bird feeder, but not at the feeder. The experience was so delightful, I wanted to write about it. To make sure I didn't forget the moment, I jotted down some prose descriptions of the moment. Today I returned to my notes to use as a source for a new poem. As stated before, a first draft poem will change later, but this is how it looks today. 

Marginal Bunting

An Indigo Bunting stopped by today.
Glancing up at the window
From his perch near the ground,
We both gave a knowing nod.

While others crowded the feeder
He opted instead to forage about
Amongst old flower pots
Examining grasses
Brown and withered by winter.

He hopped about
Casting the occasional glance my way.
We communed for a moment –
Two souls preferring the margins over the center.

Activity increased
As fluttering sparrows,
A wide-eyed grackle,
And an interloping squirrel
Rushed in
To occupy the feeder.

Indigo quietly eased further out
With one last nod my way
As he headed
For the next
Marginal habitat.

                                    ~ Charles Kininaird


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Native American Poets

Celebrating National Poetry Month

From Bill Moyers & Company, here is author Sherman Alexie's Top Ten Native American Poets. Follow the link below: 

Friday, April 12, 2013

What Beverage Goes Best with Poetry?

Celebrating National Poetry Month

What beverage is best enjoyed with poetry? you may ask. It depends upon whether you are reading poetry, writing poetry, or listening to poetry.  Poets have often used words such as “intoxicating,” or “elixir” when speaking of poetry and its inspiration.  If you are setting out to write a poem, however, I find that it is best to refrain from alcohol until after the poem is completed.  Celebrate a poem afterwards with champagne, if you will, but a bit of the bubbly taken before the task is done will more likely prompt you to nap rather than write. You can commune with a friend over wine, but the muse has no patience for the winebibber.

My personal preference is to be wide awake in the presence of poetry. Therefore, coffee or tea is better suited for the occasion. When writing poetry, however, you must realize that once you begin to write, any hot beverage will become cold before you know it. You see, time is of no consequence to the muse. She knows how to stretch time so that a moment inhabits the same space as an hour.  She can also do the reverse – she can wad time up into a ball, toss it around and wave it in front of you until you can hold eternity in an hour, as William Blake said. By then, your coffee is quite cold, but that doesn’t matter, because you forgot all about it. Your mind was quickened to the point that stimulants became passé. 

Cold beverages are suitable, but in a similar manner, ice melts in the presence of poetry leaving a lukewarm glass in front of you, and if you live in the humid South, there will also be condensation all over the glass which will soon be flowing in small eddies across the table. All of this could result in a wet manuscript if you still work with paper and pen. I suppose it could also short out your keyboard if you are not careful.  So if you are planning to write poetry, I would not recommend Coke, Pepsi, ice tea, or any other cold beverage.

So far we have ruled out alcoholic beverages, hot beverages, and all iced drinks.  If you must drink and write, tap water may be the best solution (pun not intended, but it works well now that I think of it).  That way you have libation at hand when you need it, it will not dull the senses nor will its essence be affected by room temperature.

If you are reading poetry, then any beverage will do, but here again there are a couple of mitigating factors. If you are reading quietly to yourself, then make your own choice and drink whatever you will. If you are reading aloud and in public, then there are some constraints.  Alcohol, at least in excess will not do you any good before an audience. I had a friend who was invited to read some of his poetry to a college class. He was a dedicated poet, but he had never had the opportunity to read his poems in public. He was excited about it, but the more he thought about it, the more nervous he became.  He decided to have a few drinks ahead of time to calm his nerves. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find the classroom until everyone had already gone – which turned out to be a good thing, because he was too sauced to manage a public reading at that point. I’m sorry, but as intoxicating as poetry can be, it should never require a designated driver.

When reading in public, you certainly may have a little water beforehand to moisten your lips so that you can enunciate clearly. You may even have a bit of water on hand if you think you will get nervous and dry-mouthed, just be careful how you manage it. After all, Senator Marco Rubio went from presidential hopeful to fodder for late night comedians the way he chugged water during a televised political speech. Poetry is much more important than politics, so don’t do that in a poetry reading – unless you are reading limericks and want to add some physical comedy.

Finally, if you are listening to poetry, by all means drink whatever you please (but please drink responsibly). In fact, often at public poetry readings there will be a variety of beverages and even some crackers and cheese available. Poets like for their audience to enjoy the evening even if attendees forget to listen and must resort to clapping politely and saying afterward, “What a gift you have!”

So there you have it. It is not as simple as one might imagine, planning what beverage to have with poetry. Just remember the distinctions between reading, listening and writing. And please, always keep the door open for the muse. Without her, you are just drinking for the sake of drinking.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Last Wednesday with Dorothy

< Previous post              (This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)                

Dorothy had no relatives to take care of funeral arrangements, she only had family. The family she had was the one that she had gathered around her in the friendships made among neighbors and the connections she had made in her church.  Her friends at Glen Iris Baptist Church had been faithful throughout her illness to visit in the hospital. They began right away under Rev. Lamb’s leadership to prepare for her funeral.  The pastor had been reading from Dorothy’s little book, “The Story of my Life” which she and I had worked on together over many months.  As she lay in her hospital bed on the Palliative Care Unit, he knew that he would be sharing her own words when the time came to give her eulogy.

Funerals are expensive. In most cases, insurance and family pay the funeral expenses.  In Dorothy’s case, her Glen Iris Baptist Church family did not think twice about incurring the expense.  They decided to have the funeral service during the normal midweek prayer meeting which is always held on Wednesday night.  So it was that April 18, 2012, was my last Wednesday with Dorothy.

A Gathering of Friends and Neighbors

When I parked down the street and walked toward the church, people had already begun to file into Glen Iris Baptist Church on Birmingham’s Southside. I took a seat near the back and watched as others began to arrive. Her friends who had been with her throughout her final illness walked in to take their seats. There was Lona and Nioka who had maintained close friendships with Dorothy in recent years. There were other church members who had visited in the hospital and who had sung some of her favorite hymns while she was on the Palliative Care Unit.  There was Cliff, who was one of Dorothy’s old friends from back in the day. He had been her Occupational Rehabilitation teacher during the days when she was at the St. Andrew’s Foundation Group Homes. Cliff had remained a friend throughout the years and there he was with his wife, Ann, to remember her in death. 

Then there was her next door neighbor, that “crazy cat lady.”  She was the one who always greeted me kindly, but from whom Dorothy always maintained a comfortable distance. Yet there she was, dressed in her Sunday best, to pay her respects to Dorothy. Before long, the sanctuary was filled. There were even a couple of TV cameras rolling since the church has a presence on local public-access cable TV. I couldn’t help thinking that this was more people than I expect will show up for my funeral (and I am quite sure there will be no television cameras). I was pleased to see such a gathering for my departed friend.

Remembering a Life

The service began with a congregational hymn and a scripture reading. Next there was a solo presentation in song followed by a trio that sang a medley of Dorothy’s favorite gospel songs.  After the music and scripture, Pastor Chris Lamb stepped forward to give the eulogy. Pastor Lamb is an affable, soft-spoken man, who obviously has a love for the church and had shown care and concern for Dorothy. 

During his eulogy, he said that even though they all knew Dorothy as a faithful church member, not everyone really knew of the life she had lived.  He drew upon Dorothy’s life story that she and I had compiled during our conversations.  The congregation heard about Dorothy’s early childhood struggles and tragedies followed by her years spent at Partlow State School.  Rev. Lamb spoke with amazement how Dorothy had recounted her experience in the institution, how she had recalled the teachers who had been able to offer something of value to her in spite of the severe inadequacies and deprivations of institutional life.

The congregation also heard about Dorothy’s own spiritual life and her struggles with anger and impulsiveness. They heard Dorothy’s own testimony that she finally learned that it did no good to get angry, with the pastor adding, “we would all do well to heed that advice.” They heard in Dorothy’s own words what her friends and church community meant to her.  They heard about the struggles Dorothy had endured throughout her life just to find her place in the community.  The people who had worshiped in the same space as Dorothy were hearing of where she came from and what things she held dear. They learned of her joy in being able to live on her own. They heard what Dorothy said about having her own apartment, saying, “There’s no place like home.” 

That sounds kind of like another Dorothy, doesn’t it?”  Pastor Lamb added as the congregation chuckled to think of that other Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

The church family had meant so much to Dorothy in life, and Rev. Lamb gave such a fitting tribute to her in death. I was so moved by his using passages from Dorothy’s book in her eulogy, allowing everyone to hear something of her life in her own words.  The pastor seemed to be one who showed great sensitivity toward people who, like Dorothy, live with limitations and burdens.  Having that sensitivity to realize that everyone is important to God regardless of abilities or limitations is one reason, I am sure, that the church family was so important to Dorothy.

I carried my own memories as I sat listening to the eulogy and watching the gathering of friends and church-goers. I thought of the times Dorothy had walked to the St. Andrew's Foundation office, sometimes for help with the details of living, sometimes just to visit. I thought of the stories she had told me of the hardships and misfortunes of childhood and the chaotic harshness of institutional life. I thought of the life she had come to enjoy in the city after having begun her life during the Great Depression in crushing poverty and ignorance. Was it luck, determination, or Providence that had allowed her to navigate through such circumstances in which the institutional "cure" often seemed as bad as the problem? Though she had endured many frustrations throughout, Dorothy had also learned to rest in the simple delight of sitting on her own front porch and knowing that she was finally home.

As his eulogy drew to a close, Pastor Lamb mentioned that during their Sunday night service, sometimes he would call upon Dorothy to pray the closing prayer.  He had been impressed with her prayers and had asked one of their sound technicians one night to record Dorothy’s prayer.  The pastor then announced that they would play that recording of one of Dorothy’s closing prayers to end the service. 

We all bowed our heads and then heard Dorothy speak one last time as she herself gave the closing prayer at her own memorial service. It was a beautiful prayer. She had obviously learned from her faith community how to reverently offer up petitions and thanksgivings before the Throne of Grace.  So it was that Dorothy gave the final word and the final blessing to the story of her life.  May it be so in our own lives as well, as we each have our own story to tell, however we choose to tell it.


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