Sunday, January 31, 2010

Where the heart is

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the Big Changes in life recently was moving out of our home of 25 years just before Christmas 2009. This was facilitated by the heroic efforts of our wonderful children, many of whom essentially gave up their own Advent time and Christmas preparations in order to get the new house ready and us moved into it. But that effort is now well over, and though the books need to be put back on the shelves and I've a list of petty tasks to polish off, we've been settled into the new place for over a month now.

Here's the odd thing: I consider myself a sentimental guy, with deep and lasting attachments to people, places, and things that have meant a lot to me. As such, I was bracing for a lot more emotional trauma as we moved out of the old house. It fell to me to make the final visits, to call to shut off the utilities and to be present when the workers arrived, and to make the final walk-through with MDOT agent to sign over the house. I was the last one in the family to see the rooms that were once filled with family life now empty, cold, and littered with debris.

Emotional impact on me thus far? Zero, as far as I can tell. Getting out of the old house, including those last sweeps for anything left behind and the final walk-through, were just items to be checked off the list. It's not like I was callous about the change, but there was so much to do, and closing out of the house meant we could get the ball rolling with MDOT for the moving payments, and I've still got that list of tasks on the new house, and so forth. Closing the door and walking away wasn't difficult in the least.

Oddly, part of me feels like a traitor to admit this. After all these years, and all that house has meant to us, I feel like I should feel more loss at leaving. Ellen hasn't been back, or even past the house, since we left in mid-December. A couple of my daughters have told me they don't want to go back at all, so they can preserve their memories of the house as a home, a live and welcoming abode of love. I can understand why they'd feel that way - I just can't figure why I don't. I've even driven past the old place a couple of times, and haven't felt a twinge of regret or homesickness. It stands empty in the middle of its empty neighbors, awaiting the spring when they will all be leveled. I certainly don't want to be around to watch that happening, but it surprises me that I don't feel more now.

Maybe I'm getting cold- or hard-hearted in my old age. Or maybe I'm maturing. I've always acknowledged that places and things are not as important as people and relationships, yet I've had this almost maudlin connection to things that carry significance from my past. Maybe my emotional responses are finally catching up to my understanding of things, and I'm able to detach from the things I should be detaching from so I can better cling to the things to which I should be clinging. Jesus is still the same at the new house as the old house. Not only is my wonderful family present in the new house, but they had a significant hand in turning it into our new home. At a practical level, the new house is a much better place. My reason recognizes this, and this time it seems my emotions are agreeing.

I don't know what the future will hold. Perhaps times will come when I'm swept with waves of nostalgia for the old place, especially after it is no more. Maybe part of me will yearn to come down the old steps and prepare coffee in the old kitchen just like I did thousands of times across the years. But maybe not - and if that does happen, maybe I'll have the wisdom not to nurture those feelings, wallowing in them as if that were something noble. The old house was a place, given to us for a time by God for His purposes. Now in His grace He's given us a new home. We were thankful for the old one in its time, and we're thankful for this new one as well. I hope that my thanks do not turn back in a perverse clinging to a mere thing after its time has passed.

Now, if I can only remember this lesson when it comes time to let go of the old "house" of my earthly life and move on to the "new home" the Lord has for me - whenever that move may be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

For Amelia, whom I never met

O Happy Interruption, O Beloved Intruder -
was it because you were so tiny that you were able to slip through
the barriers we had erected around our hearts?

How was it that your little hands, with grasp so weak,
were able to grip our hearts so tightly?

How was it that your quiet sighs and gentle laughter
could cut through the clamor of our lives
and bring us to a place of stillness?

How is it that one so small
could leave such a huge void by her departure?

You brought with you obligations and responsibilities,
chaining our lives to yours.
How then is it that your absence weighs so heavily,
and without you our days seem gray and leaden?

Had we known how things would end, would we have welcomed you?
Would we have opened our arms so wide
if we'd known they would be empty again so soon?
Would we have had the courage to love so deeply
if we'd known we would lose so much?

It must have been crucial, what you were sent to teach us,
for you were given so little time to say it;
a lifetime of love packed into three short months.

What can we learn from your brief time in our midst?
What can we learn from the severe lesson of your death?

Can love live again?
Is it worth the risk of loss?
Will we again retreat behind our barriers?
What will come into the vacuum left by your departure?

May love be your legacy, little Amelia.
May we grow in love,
and make you proud,
that you will not be ashamed to say of us:

“Those are the ones who love me.”

Three Deaths

My days since my last post have been incredibly busy and full of responsibilities, so I make no apologies for not posting. The holy days have come and gone, and brought with them much joy and many changes. Another thing the brought was an unusual (for me) number of deaths. These will make them memorable if nothing else does. I'll probably be writing at more length about each of them, but here's an overview.

One “death” was symbolic and sentimental, but a small death nonetheless: we moved out of the house in which we have dwelt for 25 years, the house in which we raised our family. This was not unexpected – in fact, it was so long overdue that we were getting a bit impatient for it to happen – but it was nonetheless a little death to close the door on the empty, emptied home and leave it forlorn, awaiting the crane and bulldozer. A couple of my daughters wrote their own eulogies here and here, and being the sentimental slob that I am, I'll probably have more to say about it in a later post, but for now it's enough to say that the end of 2009 brought with it the end of the Scott Avenue years, the main years of raising our family.

Another death was an acutal one, and though it was somewhat expected it was nonetheless a loss. An old friend and fellow pro-life worker passed away on January 2nd, 2010 and was buried on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. His name was Dan, and he was 90 years old and had suffered from several chronic health troubles over the years to which he finally succumbed. He was a hale and cheerful fellow, and while his health let him was a vigorous member of our Right to Life chapter. Even while his health failed he would still participate in whatever he could - daily Mass, Bible study, pro-life activities. He was a regular attendee at our banquets, and even this summer and fall I would at times see him with his rolling gait ambling along up the sidewalk near his home, getting his exercise. There was plenty of warning before his death, so his family had time to gather around him. His funeral was a true celebration of life - the life of Christian witness that he had lived, and the new life he entered into. My final impression of Dan Bradley is what I want said of me when I draw my last breath: he was found faithful at his post. God bless you, Dan.

But what cast a shadow over the whole holiday was the unexpected and tragic death of my grand-niece Amelia. I received a frantic call from my hysterical sister, Amelia's grandmother, on the morning of December 21st, just after we'd spent a busy and exhausting weekend moving into our new house. My sister had been called by her daughter, Amelia's mother, who'd gone in to get the baby for her morning feeding to find her lifeless in her crib.

Amelia was a precious child, dearly loved by her parents and relatives. Though I never had the chance to meet her, Ellen and I had plans to visit my sister that would have included visiting Amelia and her family. She was born in September and was to be baptized on Christmas day. Apparently the Lord wanted to take care of that personally, but her death left all of us devastated. Our prayers were with my sister and her family as they mourned their loss during the season which is usually full of joy.

So for me, this year's holiday season was marked by these deaths. I did a lot of thinking and praying, and will surely have more to say about them. But I did want to post a tribute to my little grand-niece, which follows: