Monday, July 23, 2012

Life, Death, Family, and Friends

This past week, culminating in a very busy weekend has been an emotional rollercoaster as I, my family and friends, navigated so much around life and death.  I kept hearing that wonderful Peter Yarrow lyric from the Great Mandala--"Take your place on the great Mandala as it moves through your brief moment of time."

It actually began before the weekend, when a good friend of mine came to visit.

Michele is transitioning to a new time in her life, a time of being single again, a time of post-retirement, and preparing to enter a new career of service.  She is one of those friends that I may not see for years and then when we get together, the same level of depth and sharing still exists as easily as it did 15 years ago when we met--maybe more so as we've matured. Michele left midweek to spend three or four days rafting on the Rogue River.

Next, an author I've known for about 8 years was admitted to the hospital on Friday with emergency surgery.  Chris had to be transported from the Oregon coast to Portland (about a two hour ride by car).  Though the surgery ended up to be a fairly common one -- gall bladder and multiple hernias--it could have been life threatening if not performed.  She is still in the hospital because of the complicated surgery and her recovery is not as quick as it would be with only one procedure. Her husband has been living in a hotel nearby.  Often it is even more difficult for the spouse who worries, wants to help, and feels completely out of control.

On Saturday, an Uncle of my step-sons was hit by a car while on vacation in Indiana. He did not survive his injuries. Fortunately, his 18 year old son sustained only minor injuries. Though anytime one is in an accident and is the only one who survives, the mental toll is difficult. Cy was a year younger than me, leaving behind a son who had just graduated from High School this year, and a wife, sisters, brothers, parents, nieces and nephews, and an extended family of friends around the world.  He is a man I have admired as being kind and always a good teacher and listener. His Academic career took him around the world to serve in places like Africa, Egypt and, most recently, Bulgaria. He made it a part of his service to help build local schools and be sure education was implemented for the poor--the first one in Ghana in the 1970's with Crossroads Africa,  It is always hard when someone younger than me dies, and as I get older it happens more often.  It was too soon for him to go and I pray for all those who will miss him so dearly.

Also this weekend I was looking forward to a once a decade family reunion with my mother's side of the family, which is strong and has always had plenty of children.  In 2001 we had people come, cousins I've never met before. This side of my family originates in Germany and Norway, and we've been fortunate to have a historian in the family who has traced the tree back to the 1400's. I am one of nine children, so this event is also a time when I can be guaranteed to see all my alive siblings at once.  I think we had more people in 2001. This year it was more difficult for some to travel, and others have passed away. Yet others were working and couldn't get off. But still we had nearly 50 people there.

Even this celebration, of family and life through many generations, brought us a scare as my mother suffered her third heart event and ended up getting taken by ambulance to the hospital.  It was a medication change over the past week that induced this heart attack and it is now again under control.  She was released after 48 hours of monitoring and getting her medication settled once again.  Fortunately, there were people around to care for her and get her the help she needed. Then the sad news about the random killing in Colorado at the Batman film opening.  If one ever thought they had control over life and death, this is another reminder of how little control we have and how much living each day as if it's our last is so important.  I don't mean by partying as if there is no tomorrow, but by making every day choices that on your death bed you can be proud of.  Again, retuning to the Peter Yarrow lyrics:
Take your place on The Great Mandala
As it moves through your brief moment of time.
Win or lose now you must choose now
And if you lose you're only losing your life.

You might be thinking about now that this post is soooooo depressing.  Actually, its not. It is scary to realize how fleeting life is. It is scary to know that a car accident, a heart attack, a random shooting can end the life of someone I love--or take my own life. I'm fortunate in some ways because I lost two younger brothers early in life--one at age five and the other at age fifteen.  From those early experiences, I came to a peace about life and death and the brief moment of time that we each inhabit.  In the end, despite the anger and grief and seeming unfairness of it all, I always find the outpouring of love and prayer to also be life affirming.

People reached out to Uncle Cy with thoughts and prayers for his family, many people around the world they'd never met.  People reached out to my writer friend, Chris, as well. Other writers she has met across the country and around the world sent flowers, cards, gifts, and messages of support. Many supported her husband through a tough time of being here in Portland. When my mother had her heart attack, she was at the family reunion with plenty of people to tend to her, call 911, and care for her until the ambulance arrived.  They then visited her in the hospital, and those who are still camping here in Oregon have visited her at home. And the people of Colorado are, once again, experiencing the outpouring of love and prayers from those they know and people around the world they will never meet.

In the end, life is affirmed. We care because we are human. We support each other because we share a common experience, no matter where in the world we live and who our family and friends may be.  We share the experience of life and death, and of knowing that our time is brief and must be tended. Ten years from now, when the next family reunion happens, it is likely my parents won't be there or that some of my aunts, uncles, or cousins will have passed from this life. But there will be remembrances of each of them and their brief moment of time with us.  There will also be more children, grandchildren, and a continuation of good people doing the right thing. People making choices--choices that are ultimately life affirming. Thank God.  In the end, I really am blessed.



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