Sometimes you can’t be Switzerland

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying not to take sides. Most of the time I find that both sides have their own interior logic, whether I agree or not. In that spirit I try to approach things.

It’s a tightrope walk, but it mostly works for me.

Sometimes, however, when issues and behaviors come to light, I can no longer fly a neutral flag and must take sides.

I’m horrified to find that I have to do this again. I’ve been hoping to be a bridge between two warring parties, only to find out that one party has been hiding things from me. Lying, lets be honest.

I pride myself on being able to read people. Yes, pride is one of my besetting sins. Turns out the signs have been there, but I didn’t want to see them.

The betrayal is huge. My heart is broken. Again. I trusted, admired, believed, followed, and defended the wrong side. I’m not ashamed of that. I was hoodwinked by a professional.

This person has caused so much pain. And my pain is not just for myself, but for the others who have been hurt, betrayed, slandered, and deceived.

Friends against friends.

Taking sides that should not have to be taken. Psalms 101 (100 in the Orthodox Bible) 6&7 says: Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.

These verses helped me figure out which side I’m on. I’ve observed my friends, and seen them walk uprightly. I’ve never known them to lie, hide, or prevaricate. When they spoke truth, I recognized it, despite my deep wish that it not be true.

Betrayal hurts. And we all get sucked into it.

My friend Charlie said “when someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Wise advice.

Despite what I want to be true, believe the evidence of your own eyes.

And no, my husband is not who I’m speaking about.

The pain is real, however.

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Discovery

I tried to understand my part in the difficult relationship my dad and I had, I really did. Only recently have I begun to see my own sin in that relationship.

I didn’t act in the most loving way. I nursed my pain. I acted superior. I lacked respect. Even when I was respectful on the outside, I was arrogant on the inside. I tried to forgive, but held onto my pain, wielding it ineffectively, but refusing to set it down.

Perhaps, had I been humble, kind, and truly loving and forgiving, he could have softened and let the sweet guy, the one on the inside, out. Perhaps not, but I would have, could have had fewer regrets.

Darling Girl

When a friend dies, it’s hard. When they are young, it’s harder. When they kill themselves…

I can’t find the words.

There are moments, hours, days, even when the disbelief is something I wish for. The weight of this certainty is crushing. There is a hole in my heart. I’ve cried so many tears I think I’m dehydrated.

Striving for equilibrium. I feel like I’m falling and am surprised when I don’t hit the floor. I feel my insides screaming a primal sound that no one hears.

Ah, Lord have mercy.

Put Your hand over my mouth. Let me be kind to those around me.

A True Account

How to tell the story? Born an only child of parents who did not want children, he was leashed to a clothesline to keep him from falling in the creek when he played outside. From a very early age he was shipped off to his grandparent’s farm where he would spend his summers working, returning home for the school year.

Left largely to his own devices, he became an avid outdoorsman, skier, fly fisherman, and trumpet player. He lettered in baseball and football. He worked as a logger, an active job that kept his Type I diabetes unnoticed until he went to college.

He met and married my mother days before his twentieth birthday. Neither set of parents was thrilled.

He studied math and computers, and engineering. He was good enough to be hired on to program large military radar systems without completing his degree. He was brilliant, but never believed it.

He became a Christian and changed the course of all our lives. He gave up playing in dance bands and afterwards devoted his extraordinarily fine playing to God.

He attended Western Conservative Bible Seminary in Portland, OR, where his fourth and final child was born. Unable to support his family and finish, he returned to his previous line of work, maintaining friendships with professors which lasted throughout his life.

He became an itinerant preacher, finally realizing his dream of a full pastorate in a small country church. His brief tenure there was difficult and costly for the family, but also reaped rewards for some who sat under his teaching in their formative years.

He was a difficult man, frustrated by his work, where he was berated by a superior who would, nonetheless, present Dad’s work as his own. His longing for a full-time pastorate, together with his health problems, and the difficulties relating to others added to his frustration. Friends and family speculated that he may have had some high- functioning form of autism or adult detachment disorder, but no formal evaluation was ever made.

He could be abrupt with people who disagreed with him, made jokes in such a dry, dead-pan way that even those who knew him best would not realize he was joking.

But, for all the difficulties, I adored him. I think that’s why I could get so angry with him. When he didn’t act like the person he could be, it hurt me deeply. It wounded me when he was sharply critical of me or of others. I knew he could be better than that. He would pick up strangers on the road. He took in strangers, feeding them, giving them a place to sleep, and assisting with practical needs. He brought food to those in need, and sometimes paid tuition for other students in our private school.

After we were sent to bed, Dad, accompanied by Mom on the piano, would play his trumpet. He never attempted to play quietly, as far as I can recall. My lullabies were trumpet solos. Not just any trumpet, but Dad was one of the finest trumpet players I’ve ever heard. It was painful when his health no longer permitted him to play.

Likewise, he was an artist with a fishing pole. I loved to scramble along the riverbank following him. Words fail me. The music of the river, the wind stirring the cottonwoods, the rustle of the shrubs all faded when hearing the singing of the line, whipping in a serpentine arc before snapping forward and lightly slapping on top of the river. It was physical poetry.

Who will tell the campfire stories now? Who will tell the fate of Nate? Who will sing the silly songs? Who will blaze the trails?

Ah, Dad. This is just a small part of your story. Love you forever.

Stop That!

I told her how angry I was with some family members in the wake of Dad’s death. I didn’t recognize this anger, hostility, and desire to lash out.

“Stop that!” She said it firmly and sternly. “You need to say the Jesus Prayer 200 times a day.”

Moments later she apologized for being so abrupt with me, but she had no need. She said what I needed to hear in the way I needed to hear it.

Understand, she was not telling me not to grieve, but instructing me how to do it without damaging my soul and my relationships.

I have been surprised to have a few people provide me with a game plan for my Dad’s passing and for afterward. These things are helpful at a time when you are floundering and your thoughts are scattered.

Read the Psaltry aloud. Hold his hand. Tell him you love him. Read the prayers for the dying. Keep talking to him and praying, reading the Psalms, after his heart stops, as the person may live on for 8-9 minutes afterward.

These instructions guided me. Otherwise, my guidebook would have been a mush-mash of tv and movie scripts.

I’ve heard some say that Orthodoxy is a bunch of empty rituals. We may have rituals, but empty? I’ve found them rich, meaningful, and full of life.

Surprised by Grief

“Are you surprised by how hard you are taking this?” She asks the question as I sit at her kitchen table. I think I’m doing well, considering that Dad has been gone less than a week.

What surprises me isn’t that I am grieving, but that grief makes me feel tired, slow, sore, and forgetful. My body feels like I have a low-grade flu. My brain isn’t processing quickly.

Having no funeral feels wrong. It is an occasion without commemorating. It’s Easter without Church, Thanksgiving with no meal, 9-11 without a moment of silence, moving without a goodbye meal, an inauguration held in the kitchen, not on the steps of the Capital. Certain events, both happy and sad, cry out for ceremony.

I feel like I’m waiting for the event.

But I don’t think I’m taking this too hard. My Dad died. I would be surprised if it was easy.

A back itch has me in tears. The last time I was at Mom and Dad’s (now it’s just Mom’s) Dad was rubbing his back on a corner to deal with persistent itching. I asked which uncle used to do that. “Ward,” he answered.

I found myself at Salvation Army this afternoon looking for the clothes we donated. Where are his suspenders? His shoes? I didn’t see one familiar thing and couldn’t decide if that was good or bad.

I feel substantially older.

What do people expect of me? I went to work today. One week after Dad died. I went to work. Yes, I cried. But I was there. I made two mistakes and fixed them. I was relieved when the day was over.

My hair has been clean almost every day. This is a good sign. I can’t seem to remember to take my meds and vitamins, but that will come.

How easy was this supposed to be?

In His Shoes

At some point in the 70’s, my dad bought a pair of shoes. “How much were they?” To Moms horror and disbelief, they cost $400. According to Bureau of Labor, that means these shark-skin shoes would cost about $1,200 in today’s dollars.

He walked a lot of miles in these shoes. They are beautiful shoes, even today. They carried him for nearly 50 years. They have been re-soles once. Yesterday they found a new wearer–my son. They will see many more miles on this earth.

It feels good to know these shoes will carry a new generation and Dad’s investment will carry on. Go handsomely and stylishly into the world, carrying a piece of your grandfather (and my heart) with you.