Thursday, March 30, 2017

27. NOBODY

I married a nobody.
I was young, still a teenager, and I mistakenly thought he was a somebody. He was accomplished, and brilliant, and handsome and kind, and he loved God, and he loved me! He spoke Italian and whispered sweet Italian nothings in my ear and I just thought to myself,
“Wow! It cannot possibly be true that this AMAZING SOMEBODY likes an invisible like me!”
So I married him.
At first he kinda was a somebody, and I wore make-up and worried about cleaning up the family room before he got home, and fluffed the pillows on the bed … stuff that you’d do for somebody you wanted to impress. You know what I mean.
For over forty years I have really, really liked this guy and he’s done some pretty amazing things. Lots of people look at him like he’s somebody. Especially people on the other side of the bench, where he sits in his black dress every work day.
But to me he is nobody.

A few days ago we had a rare Saturday when neither of us had any obligations that took us away from home. Late Friday night, after prayers and before we turned out the light, he asked “So, what do we have going tomorrow?”
“Not a single thing!”
“Really? You mean we have a free day?”
Since it was at that moment pouring rain I knew that golfing was not an option. So I said:
“I was thinking of tackling the Christmas closet.”
You have to know that this is a big deal for me. That Christmas closet is big! Seriously, most people would covet our Christmas closet. Except that this particular Christmas closet is stuffed full! Between my penchant for all things sentimental and festive, and twenty-five years of decorating stages for Christmas concerts, we have a serious abundance of holiday cheer!
So, there we were, all day Saturday, walking in and out of that closet, carrying box after box of treasures. I would sort through them, filling boxes and bags to give away to charity, and Dave carried them downstairs to the garage. He made so many trips up and down the stairs he was in Fitbit heaven!
At one point in the day I looked in the mirror and realized that I had washed my hair and let it air dry with no attempt at control, I had thrown on grubby undersized comfort clothes, and the fine light hairs of my advancing years had formed a lovely moustache on my upper lip, quite noticeable when the sunlight hit it just right. I commented out loud that I was quite the beauty! I walked out into the hallway, which appeared like a hurricane had hit our whole house, and Dave came bounding up the stairs and planted a kiss on that furry lip of mine. I shooed him down the stairs with a box full of painted wood Christmas trees and plastic holly garland. Later, back in the closet, I belted out a Christmas carol. I mean, full voiced, with a forced and lengthy vibrato, Joy to the World! Dave was standing right behind me. I wiggled my hips in time to the song, my arms raised above my head to retrieve a box of lights, the water balloons of flesh on my underarms flapping as I sang. I turned to him and looked him straight in the eye, singing “Reeeee-joice, Reee-joice!”
Almost immediately I stopped. Like I was stunned by someone, or something. And I WAS stunned. I suddenly realized that I could sing, and dance, and carry on with full abandon, like Nobody was watching.
I’m not exactly sure when Dave turned into a nobody for me. A beautiful, safe nobody. It likely happened so gradually we didn’t notice. He has always treated me like I am the only person on the earth, like nothing else existed when I entered the room. He has greeted me with love and kindness, so repeatedly and so sincerely for so long that my opinion of myself began to rise from invisible to…well, to thinking of myself as…somebody. The more he made me into somebody, the more he evolved into the perfect nobody.
Nobody loves me.
And I love him.
Today is his birthday. He’s not all that comfortable with years that keep creeping up on him. One day both he and I will be gone from this earth, this house, this Christmas closet moment of our lives. But even when my mister has no body, I will love him like nobody else.

Happy Birthday, Mister Nobody.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

26. STEEPLE

Driving along the concrete ribbon of the beltway, winding through walls of dense woodlands, interrupted now and then by man-made structures, I learned to keep my eyes on the road in order to avoid motion sickness. I can feel my body shifting side to side, rising and falling with the fluid flow of the freeway. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the steepled arms of the Mormon temple rise up from a bed of green, as if a small cluster of worshipers, overcome by the spirit, stood and shouted Halleluiah in the Garden of Eden. To one who does not know, it appears like a castle, sort of Disney-ish and mysterious. I’ve thought for years that someone should simply plant a road sign at that point, when the steeples come into view. “That there is the Washington D.C. Mormon Temple. Go check it out!” (It’s been so long since I’ve taken that road, there may be such a sign nowadays.)


Almost forty years ago I took that ride with my mother, my brother, and sisters. I entered the golden doors of that edifice, leaving my sisters at the front, and took the deeper route into the heart of the place with the woman who gave me my earthly body. Together we made covenants with our Lord that remain in place to this day. The next morning I knelt at a holy altar within, and pledged my heart and soul to God and to the man I loved, both of whom I love to this day. Those sparkling, piercing steeples will always hold a sacred place in my mind and in my heart, even when my faith rises and falls like the Washington DC beltway. I remind myself to look up, for fear of spiritual motion sickness, and keep my focus on those spires.

Two years later, after Dave graduated from law school, we would move to Pittsford NY while Dave fulfilled a federal Circuit Court clerkship. Twenty minutes from our new home was the little town of Palmyra, NY, the birthplace of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, commonly known as Mormonism. It was sacred soil, quite literally, and much of what I am was planted, took root and grew in that place. 

At the intersection in the center of the town of Palmyra there is a church on every corner. Four steeples shoot up to the heavens, rising from the trees and the town. It reminds me of schoolchildren waving their hands to be called upon: Pick me! Pick me! I know the answer! 

The whole thing started with steeples, calling out to the masses. A boy of inquisitive mind and yearning heart stood in the center of that intersection, wanting to know which one to join, rotating in circles, facing one doorway then the other, choirs and church bells and preachers calling him in. The options confused him. Finally, in the blessed silence of his own room he whispered a prayer and let it rise up through the pointed roof of his parents’ farmhouse. His future became history, and his history is mine. His name was Joseph.

Today, the area where I live is dotted with churches. Most of them, in this place I now call home, are of the same denomination, though I cherish the diversity of other religions that welcome our neighbors. Our good friends, the Oshiro’s, who lived in the house where Libby lives now, were Seventh Day Adventists. They are among the most holy and Christian people I have ever known and I revere them. They lived happily and peacefully among us Mormons in Davis County, Utah. I often thought that what they experienced had to be similar to my own experience as a child, being Mormon in a predominantly Catholic and Presbyterian community in south western PA.

The church where we worship now is roughly 500 steps away from our home, just around the corner and down Summerset Road. We know how many steps because our Fitbits tell us, and when Libby and Dave need another 1000 steps before midnight, they take Libby’s dog, Rags, for a walk to the church and back. It’s a lovely little rock structure, built a couple decades ago. In many ways it’s like a second home. I know every nook and cranny, even the men’s bathroom, because we take turns cleaning it every Saturday morning. We have laughed and cried and sung and spoken and ached and rejoiced in that place, with other people we love and have loved. 
Not all that long ago our church building might have been perceived as an office building, or a school, or library, because there wasn’t much that told a passer-by that it was a church, unless they found the plaque welcoming visitors. Then, one summer day, as I rounded the corner on my drive home, I saw a crane lifting a steeple up above the roof of the chapel. I hit my brakes and put the car in reverse; pulled up to the curb and got out, asking my neighbors what was going on. “Looks like we’re getting a steeple.” We watched in delight as they lowered that white triangle onto the top of our church. It still brings me joy to see that steeple there on the corner of my neighborhood. It says, without apology:
“We worship here. This is where we gather; where we sing and where we pray. There is safety here. Come, join us!”
I imagine our songs, our testimonies, and our prayers rising up, filtering out the unimportant cultural stuff Mormons deal with, and lifting into that steeple. I imagine all that important gospel teaching swirling like syrup in an upside-down funnel, the steeple filtering it out before it reaches God, so that the only thing that finally escapes from the tippy top of that point, is Love.


25. ASHES

Tomorrow, in the sandy soil of Santa Barbara CA, by friend Annick will bury the ashes of her mother.

Today, in the process of attempting to organize our Christmas closet, I found a plastic bag with Christmas cards received nearly three decades ago.  One of those cards was from Annick:
Dear Cory (sic)... a friend I
need to get to know better.
Love, Annick
In the years between the day she wrote that card and this morning when she sent me a text saying “Are you surviving the stress of the day?” I have come to know her and love her like no other.
Annick was raised mostly in New England, the daughter of immigrant parents with a delicious mixture of French, Swedish and Maltese running through her veins. Her father was a professor at MIT. She has fond memories of their holiday dinner tables being surrounded by students from all walks of life, who lived too far from their homelands to travel for the Christmas break. Brilliant minds with flavorful opinions caught in discussions well past the consumption of food. She sat there, her long dark hair gathered in a thick braid, tucked beside her father, listening to the cacophony of accents. She adored her father. I wept with her when he died.

Once Annick’s mother, Inger, came to Utah for a visit and my mother had them over for a luncheon at her condo. This was decades ago, before Annick’s mother deepened her animosity toward the religion her daughter chose to adopt, before she wrote Annick out of the will, before she left a gaping wound in my friend’s tender heart. Inger was friendly and engaging and full of stories. We spent a lovely afternoon together. A week after Inger returned to Santa Barbara, where she lived, my mother received a thank you card in the mail. Inside, written in her lovely Swedish handwriting, Inger said:
Thank you for a delightful lunch and wonderful company. Since I have returned home, I am afraid an enormous fatigue has finally settled in. 
For decades now our family has embraced the concept of enormous fatigues.

Inger liked fine things. A collector of art and other treasures of the world, she took particular pride in her possessions. She once purchased a set of bed sheets designed by Princess Grace of Monaco. Annick remembers them always sitting in the linen closet, folded neatly in their ribboned packaging. Inger would not use them for fear they would wear out and lose their color

After raising her two daughters in England, Boston and Santa Barbara, Inger finally moved to Salt Lake City. Annick was sometimes welcome to visit her, sometimes not. Inger was quite a conundrum in the mother category. Annick is an example of a modern pioneer saint; one who sacrificed her homelands and family for her religious convictions. Her mother could not forgive her for joining the Mormon church and made no bones about it, coming right up to the edge of disowning her daughter for her faith. Her mom was atheist.
In the last few years Annick’s mom took up residence in one of the finer retirement facilities in Salt Lake City, one where people coiffed their hair in the beauty shop once a week and wore heels to dinner. Inger took pride in her living space, displaying her refined taste in decor. Set in a place of honor was a lovely porcelain urn she had selected years before. When guests visited, she would draw their attention to her urn, indicating that this would be her final resting place when she was dead. Her designated funeral urn was a notable treasure to her.
When it became necessary to move Inger to a place where she could have more medical assistance, Annick’s sister Clair, the golden child, was invited to go help transfer her mother’s belongings to the new facility. Somehow, in the process of moving her things, Clair accidentally dropped the prized urn and it shattered in pieces. Fortunately, Inger was not present. Clair spent the next week searching funeral urns on the internet, deliberately taking her time unpacking the boxes of her mother’s things. Finally, she found one that was close enough, and purchased it with express shipping. Whether it was failing eyesight, or the effects of a stroke on her memory, Inger never did catch on to the fact that her prized urn was fake.
As it became apparent that Inger was not long for this world, Clair decided to put the Princess Grace sheets on her mother’s bed. When the moment came that Inger’s spirit fled her body, Clair decided she didn’t want to be there. Annick, the “lost child” was the only one present. She sat with her mother until her dying breath. And when the others had come and said their goodbye’s, then left to live their lives, Annick stayed beside her mother’s lifeless body until it was placed in the oven. It was hours, there in the basement of the mortuary, where she sat in silence beside the woman who had all but disowned her. For a while, her compassionate nephew joined her, but in the end it was just Annick and her mother, as it was the day she was born. Her brother-in-law called at one point, asking how long she intended to stay there. “This is costing me money to have you there,” he said.
“I will be here until I can no longer see her.” And she was.

Before they placed her mother’s empty body in the oven, Annick switched out the Grace Kelley sheet for an old non-descript one.
“My mother would never have wanted those sheets to burn!” Annick may not have the inheritance that was taken from her, but by golly she has those Princess Grace sheets.



Tomorrow, in the warm breezes of Santa Barbara, they will place that fake prized urn full of Inger’s ashes in the earth, next to her husband. I pray for Inger to be able to see, with fresh new eyes, the daughter she shunned. I pray for her to see the unique beauty in her oldest child, who loved her, and who also loved the Lord.