In pajamas, I slipped downstairs for a breakfast of champions.
I passed my father’s bedroom. He was awake, lying in bed with his hands behind his head. “Good morning, Jennifer!” he called out, as I paused in the door. “When did you get here?” he asked.
“Last night,” I answered, so as not to upset him.
“We’re so glad you’re here,” he said, and in his voice was all the love and truth and joy a voice can hold.
“I am too,” I said. (I’ve been in Raleigh, with my parents, for two weeks now. Each day he awakens without memory of the last. Each moment leaves the last moment forgotten.)
In these weeks of anguish, sorrow, hope, acceptance, gratitude, and everything else, three books have kept me company. I’ll be sharing passages and poems in the coming days, along with a few photos from a lovely Spring in Raleigh and Chapel Hill…
I’d like to begin with When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Directions for Life’s Sacred Questions, by Sue Monk Kidd, which my friend Karlen Garrard sent to me. Published in 1990, this is Kidd’s book about her mid-life crisis, when her life “had curled up into the frightening mark of a question”. I am not having a mid-life crisis, and a lot of her concerns are not my concerns. Also: we’re a long way from 1990! And yet I find myself reading this book every night. I go slowly because I don’t want it to end. It guides my prayers right now.
The fundamental truth it offers is this: waiting can be one of the most important parts of seeking.
Let’s begin here, with Kidd’s thoughts on “Shortcut Religion”…
A woman who used to work at a fast-food restaurant once commented that the people who lined up at her register sometimes reminded her of people lining up in church on Sunday morning. They seemed to be looking for the same thing – a quick and easy way to reduce the hunger inside. “Mac-faith,” she called it.
…[T]hat need for a quick fix glared at me from my own life. Wasn’t I craving formulaic answers and swift solutions to deep problems? I yearned for an express spirituality that would work at the same speed as my computer, providing a ready transformation and answers to my prayers. Frankly, I resented the fact that God didn’t work that way when everything else in my world did.
What has happened to our ability to dwell in unknowing, to live inside a question and coexist with the tensions of uncertainty? Where is our willingness to incubate pain and let it birth something new? What has happened to patient unfolding, to endurance? These things are what form of the ground of waiting. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that they’re also the seedbed of creativity and growth – what allows us to do the daring and to break through to newness. As Thomas Merton observed, “The imagination should be allowed a certain amount of time to browse around.”
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More to follow in the days to come.
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The azaleas in Raleigh have been on fire while the dogwoods quietly fade…
How beautiful that your dad greets you with warmth and joy and hospitality and love – even as you feel him slipping away. You are reaching for the light despite the darkness. You are holding love and loss together. If this is not the whole of life I’m not sure what is. Hugs to you.
Oh, Jennifer, what a treat to find your post this morning! Sara Lee Coffee Cake was always on my grandmother’s breakfast table, and I fondly remember having it when visiting her in Albemarle, North Carolina. I, too, am facing the failing memory of a parent. Just thankful that I can still hear my name called by that beloved soul…I am a fan of Sue Monk Kidd and will put this book on my list. Thank you so much for sharing this and the lovely garden photography!
Hello Jennifer. I found your blog via a deep dive into Mary Oliver (the post you wrote a few years ago turned up in a simple google search!).
I came here to see what you’re all about in 2021 (and am now following).
End of life and elder care is a paradox: at one and the same time it is a joy and a privilege yet grievous and demanding.
You will never regret these times spent even if you feel inadequate to the tasks/acts of love.
Thank you Laura. Yes it is a privilege. A joy. An ache. Xoxo
There is no stronger love than a parent for a child, and you gave your father such a gift of love and grace. Even though his memory may struggle there is never any doubt of the tremendous joy you bring to him and how much he loves you.
Love you. Xoxo
Jennifer, this landed in my inbox this morning with unbelievable timing. I have been in Alabama for the past two weeks taking care of my ailing/failing 92 year old mother. The books you have suggest will be most needed and helpful! I hope you are doing okay and sorry to hear about your father. xoxo to you, Mary Laurie
Order. These. Books. Thank you for being in touch ML. Xoxo
Oh Jennifer. It’s so hard to wait–surely for all of us. Even in the stillness, you can feel the rush of time like wind on your face, scary and thrilling. On a happier note, I’m eager to read your thoughts about Dusk Night Dawn, which I finished last week. Loved the sloppy casualness of Anne Lamott’s love and spirituality. Dying for more from you while you are doing exactly what you need to do–loving your family in the sweetest ways.
Anne Lamott is my favorite Cranky Christian!! Yes sloppy. Yes casual. And I love her writing so. Xoxo
Thank you for sharing your heart where love and sorrow met over your father, it is a season like no others… sending you love and hugs.
Thank you, dear Marina… xoxo