For Simon

Did you ever hear the one about the parish priest and the Jew?  Gotcha – there’s no punchline..

Simon (simonmarsh.org) is a parish priest in NW England.  I’m – well you know me by now.  We’ve never met, and yet I can assure you he is as much a part of my heart as any beloved friend.  I don’t remember what prompted us to start emailing each other, but shortly after we did, Simon became ill.  His voice was failing him,  a diagnosis proved elusive and his fatigue was almost taunting him.  I fretted – asking all these questions that you would expect – was he able to eat?  Had he tried chicken soup?  Was he getting enough rest?  How was the quality of the medical care?  He would respond when he was able – without complaint.  His tiredness was teaching him patience, he wrote, his hoarseness provided him time to listen to silence.  He was most frustrated that his responsibilities to his parish were being compromised.  And he worried about his wife Jilly.  Simon apologized for not writing more,  reassuring me through this ordeal.  Thanking me for being a worried Jewish mom across the pond (forget that we are close in age, I’ve always had a strong maternal streak).

Simon has improved, his posts are more frequent and I can’t begin to suggest that I understand all that he writes.  What I feel though is palpable – the love of his religion, the celebration of family, the delight in a flower’s budding.  I suppose one can argue that at core, this is what spirituality is predicated upon in its purest sense, and when I read his words from that perspective, I rejoice.

Simon sent an email over the weekend to some of his friends.  It is no exaggeration when I write that I get a visceral reaction whenever I see his name in my inbox.  My friend – he is well, he is in my orbit and I am grateful.  We hope to meet one day – sitting in some coffee shop somewhere.  Perhaps Andy and I will return to England one day; maybe Simon and Jilly will visit the States.  Who knows what fate has in store.  But there was a reason that Simon came into my life – he has taught me that the heart can hold an unimagineable amount of love, that there are people in the world who see us as far, far better than we really are and that perception impels us to try and fit that image.   Simon makes me a better Mimi.  Because he is convinced that I already am.  What do I offer in return?  I have no idea – for whatever it is, it pales in comparison.

Simon and Jilly are off on holiday.  He will likely not even read this anytime soon, but that’s ok.  I wrote this more for me than for him, a meager attempt at acknowledging the power of a friendship that came from the universe and travels with continued enthusiasm across the pond.

Recently Simon posted Mary Oliver‘s “Wild Geese” and though it came from a different place in his thoughts, it is offered here for him.  For Simon, my friend.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers  itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Wild_Geese_by_Nigel_Kell

When There Are No Answers

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all” — Emily Dickinson

Some days need to be subdued.  In the silence you can hear your thoughts – jumbled though they may be, scatological and spontaneous, making sense maybe, perhaps not.  Maybe it’s the mind’s way of trying to integrate contradictory stimuli.

Is it the phases of the moon or just the stages of life that bring four of my cherished friends to the ragged edge of loss this weekend?  Remarkable people who have never met, marking anniversaries of loss, experiencing the passing of a beloved family member, and/or finding themselves staring straight into the sea of frightening inevitability which we deny for as long as we can?  And why does life’s corollary have to be so untenable?  I have no idea.

I don’t know if there’s a heaven; I have a hard time conceiving of hell.  I think I’m very faithful, for I believe in many things that I can’t see – and for me, it is the simplest way to embrace something as indescribably huge as faith.  And love.  And hope.  I know that when we have to let go, we never really do.  One of my friends was relating the conversation she and her brother had with their dad, telling him that they were okay, that they would be okay…My sister and I had similar discussions with our parents when they were arguably between two worlds.  And yesterday I thought to myself that sometimes the idea of leaving is untenable because we don’t want to leave our children with no barrier against mortality.  The thought that they have to assume a different and arguably scarier position when we are no longer physically here.  The mere thought is anathema to me.  Life – that is all that we want our loved ones to embrace.  How dissonant to suggest that our abdication requires their assumption of a new place in line?  Perhaps one of the greatest acts of love is hanging in there if one can, with the invisible, powerful hope that we are still protecting those we love beyond measure.

I believe that some souls come into our life for a brief time, and leave indelible imprints on our hearts, our approach to each day, etc.  Some remind us that we are loved, when we doubt it; others nurture us when we have forgotten how to do this for ourselves; defiantly protect us when we are emotionally over-exposed.  Are they angels?  Their miraculous arrival and elusive departure suggest they could be.  Is there a better way to define a lifeline when it is provided and holds you together with unshakeable confidence and purpose?

I know the canned answer is that the experience of sorrow somehow makes the moments of joy all the lovelier.  Loss underscores our appreciation of that which we have.  It sounds good enough to become a cliché, though like most trite comments, it doesn’t necessarily resonate in the heart.  Hope however, has wings.  Hope that forever is a place, that love remembered is a blessing and love extended is a gift.  I wish it didn’t have to hurt so damn much.  I wish that tears weren’t necessary.  The daffodil shoots are stubbornly insisting on breaking through the frozen ground – indifferent to the reality that greets them when they appear.  They persist – with faith.  They will flourish in the spring – with hope.

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