Susquehanna Morning

Susquehanna Morning

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Top Ten Reasons to Let Him Live

10. Because it costs more to put a person to death than it does to imprison them for life.

9. Because your religion demands it (if you are a Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Orthodox Christian, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, UCC/ Congregationalist, or United Methodist). And because it is consistent with your beliefs (if you are Buddhist or Hindu). And because it is suggested by Torah and Talmud (if you practice Orthodox or Reform Judaism).

8. Yes, I know which religion is missing from the above list. (Well, that was an ignorant statement-- hundreds, thousands of religions are undoubtedly missing. But there is one which will likely provoke comment). So let him live, because then practitioners of religions not listed here will witness another kind of justice, one tempered with mercy.

7. Because, as a bright young college student recently pointed out, killing begets killing, in an endless cycle. Which means, each time the US government kills proponents of radical Islam, we effectively recruit for radical Islam.

6. Because keeping the war with radical Islam going is projected to cost the US $598.5 Billion in 2015, or 54% of all US discretionary spending.

5. Because we regularly kill those who are mentally ill or developmentally disabled and who are supposed to be exempt from such punishment.

4. Because it is a significant punishment to live for 80-plus years with the knowledge of your crime.

3. Because the killing of criminals has not been shown to deter killing.

2. Because, since the above fact is well-known, the only possible reasons for killing criminals are either the exercise of scapegoating or the demonstration of bloodlust, both of which are morally repugnant.

1. Because we apply the death penalty in unequal ways based on race, gender, and poverty.

Let him live. Let us join the vast majority of countries (about 75%) in which the death penalty has either been abolished or is on permanent moratorium, and while we're at it, let's do what we can to prevent our own citizens from exacting this punishment on one another for crimes like listening to music in their cars.

Let's dig down deep and find our humanity again.

Let him live.

The World Unseen

Mother's Day weekend-- a week ago, as I type this-- was a whirlwind and a marathon, all in one. On Friday I found myself driving a hundred-fifty-or-so miles south-ish, in order to attend the wedding of A.'s younger son.
A. and I go back. Way back. We met as college sophomores, and reveled in all the foolish wisdom implied in that moniker. We both loved theater, and we found ourselves part of a small, smart, and intense group that included one who would become a priest, one who would become a minister, and one who would become a rabbi.

I'll wait.

Various people dated various other people. Various people married various other people. Marriages lasted, until early and unexpected death did at least one couple part. Other marriages came to an end. Lives shaped and re-shaped themselves, and, oh my. For some of us, our children are grown, A. and I, having gotten started on Teh Childbearing first, are the ones whose kids are all in their twenties, and almost (short one week) all out of college.

It was A.'s husband who died, a beautiful bear of a man, an artist with a poet's heart, who found his way to the stage too, eventually. The loss of him was the loss of our dungeon-master, and our painter of Christmas cards, and our Tolkien-lover (though a number of us vie for that last honor). The loss of him made me long to somehow inhabit again my identity as half-elven druid priestess so as to be able to give him a Viking's funeral.

It was my deep regret that I could not be with A., right then, right there, and in some enduring way:  so many miles and (beloved) obligations parted us in that terrible moment.

But I sure as hell was going to be there for her son's wedding.

I swapped out my snow-tires for my all-weathers early in the morning, put some fruit and water in the car, plugged the address of a town I'd never heard of in my GPS, and set out, podcasts all lined up to make the time speed by.

Ten miles or so short of my destination, the GPS guided me off the highway to a town well-known to me.

The wedding, the day before Mother's Day, was to take place about 20 miles from my mother's graveside.

The reunion with my dear one A. (who I actually got to see, along with a core of that group, last summer), was so wonderful. She was distracted, and happy, and missing her husband in ways none of us could fully understand, but that we could well-imagine. That he was not there...

(Ellipses are about the only comment that makes sense.)

She was so beautiful and strong. I was so proud of her and heartbroken and happy and excited with her. The Priest was there on the altar, along with a beloved college prof. of the young couple-- the first time he'd both baptized and married someone, the Priest told us. It was all as it should be... no, as it could be. Beautiful. Sad. The whole of life wrapped up in a beautiful celebration that was missing someone essential.

Which brings me to my mother.

The wedding was scheduled for 2 PM. Saturday morning I grabbed some breakfast and then plugged the address of the cemetery into my GPS.

The cemetery exists in a wormhole in the space-time-continuum that is southeastern Pennsylvania. I remember this from the burial, February 2006, at which time the hearse and limousine got lost in exactly the same way I got lost this time, and the way my daughter and I got lost the one other time we traveled to the cemetery a few years ago. What should have been a 30 minute drive took an hour, but finally I found myself there, and the caretaker (who is also the computer-looker-upper) was just as kindly as that job description should require. He walked me there, but I already knew the place.

She is at the crossroads of Saint Patrick and Iona Avenues.

I cannot tell you how much this pleases me.

This is an older part of the cemetery. By which I mean, people who died a while ago-- in mom's case, nearly ten years. Not a lot of activity in this section, though there was a man polishing a tombstone with Windex, and another man clearing away Easter decorations and putting in little flags for Memorial Day.

I stood there, then I knelt there, then I sat there, but no words came. And mom was silent-- as silent as she was on my last visit to see her, when she lay unconscious most of the time due to the drugs that managed the pain.

I took a walk. On my walk I saw several people running through the cemetery. I have to say, good choice of location. Motivating, I should think.

I also saw, as I got to the "newer" section-- i.e., the part where the graves are more recent-- a jeep pull up. Out of it climbed a sailor in dress whites, and he walked to a recently closed grave-- a mound of reddish Pennsylvania dirt, surrounded by dozens of bouquets, stuffed animals, and various other tributes. He proceeded to walk the perimeter of the gravesite. I don't know how many times. I passed while he was still walking.

Further on, a group with a priest burying their dead.  I gave them a wide berth.

Various (numerous) others, bringing flowers, walking slowly down the rows of stones.

The thing that struck me: in that cemetery, in death, so much life.

After walking about a mile in all, I finally circled back to my mother's site. She is buried with her mother and sisters; my father's ashes are buried in New Jersey, in a VA cemetery, at his request.

It's complicated.

When I stood again at the grave, I was ready to talk. First, a few words to my grandmother and aunts; I explained that I was really there to talk to mom.

I miss you every day.

You are, to this day, the definition of strength to me. 

(Then, so unexpectedly (really?), apologies.)

I am so sorry I wasn't with you.

I am so sorry for the ways in which I was so clueless and myopic.

(I am sorry I couldn't fathom doing what I know I should have done: taken a leave, been there for the duration. I don't know why I was unable to do that, but I think it had something to do with how the people would feel if I left my work with an open-ended time frame.)

Watch over us. Watch over your children, and your grandchildren.

Give us some of that legendary strength of yours.

I miss you every day.

I love you.

Happy Mother's Day!

As I moved away from the grave, I turned around for a longer view. I saw that a robin had perched there, and I very much wanted to capture that image. I tried to focus my phone, but only caught the robin as it took flight. In the picture, it looks as if the robin is stuck to the grave by its tailfeathers.

Life in death.

As I drove back to the hotel I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of this unexpected visit to the wormhole in the southeastern PA space-time-continuum. And my iPod, with very little prompting, offered up this most devastating and beautiful song from Rosanne Cash's "Black Cadillac" album, an album written and composed in the aftermath of her father's death.

I'm a sparrow on the roof
I'm a list of everyone I have to lose
I'm the rainbow in the dirt
I am who I was and how much I can hurt

So I will look for you
In stories of the kings
Westward leading, still proceeding
To the world unseen

Death in life, and life in death. Visits to the world unseen, and the embraces of our beloved still among us.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Beautiful Day

My day began with me loading eight tires into my Prius C.

Yes, eight.

I didn't even know eight tires could FIT into a Prius C.

But I have some serious driving to do, today, tomorrow, and Sunday, not to mention next Friday, and I needed to get my snow tires off (now that it's predicted to be in the 80's today...ahem), and my all-weathers on.

Why eight, you ask?

I wasn't sure which tires were mine and which were Joan's.

I pulled one out of each stack out of the garage. I rolled them next to the car.

I just couldn't tell.

So, just shy of 7 AM, all eight were loaded into my car.

After the nice man with the quizzical smile sorted me out, I walked the mile back downtown. As I walked I saw the setting moon, large above the commuters, in the bright morning sky. The consternation of the tires behind me, I started to pay attention to what was before me. That included some of the best cold-brewed iced coffee in town (from a fantastic local roaster). It also included the kinds of errands we all attend to on our day off: bank, prescription, cleaning. Plus packing for an overnight trip to witness the wedding of the son of one of my dearest friends from my college days. Also, what one friend calls "old lady maintenance," but which I prefer to think of as "pampering."

And, of course, my sermon. On a passage from Romans which gives me the opportunity to either plunge into, or studiously avoid, a discussion of atonement theory (-ies). Thinking I'll take the plunge. If I can get it across that there's more than one way of thinking about how Jesus manifests God's love, I think I will count it a victory.

Still thinking about that moon, though.