Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We Buried Francis' Bones and Planted Francis' Tree

Dear Family and Friends,
Francis didn't hesitate to call things by their names. Because he was cremated, and since "cremains" include many bone shards, it was literally Francis' bones that we buried at the Notre Dame Cemetery in Springvale on Saturday.
Twenty-one of us family and friends gathered there on the Goulet-McGillicuddy plot with our nephew, Rev. Terence Curry, S.J. who had driven from Holy Cross College in Worcester, MA, to lead Francis' internment service. Francis' siblings, Jo (of Houlton) and Lou (of Cape Elizabeth) were there along with Jo's husband Lou Curry. My 90 + year old aunt, my mother's last sibling, was there with my cousin George and another cousin Lillian. All the rest were dear friends.

We sang two hymns both fitting for Francis:
YOU ARE MINE by David Haas
Refrain: Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me, I will bring you home: I love you and you are mine.
Verses :
I will come to you in the silence, I will lift you from all your fear. You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice, be still and know I am here.
I am hope for all who are hopeless, I am eyes for all who long to see. In the shadows of the night, I will be your light, come and rest in me.
I am strength for all the despairing, healing for the ones who dwell in shame. All the blind will see, the lame will all run free, and all will know my name. I...
am the Word that leads all to freedom, I...
am the peace the world cannot give. I will call your name, embracing all your pain, stand up, now walk, and live!
Terry then recited some prayers, including antiphonal prayer (call and response) and I proclaimed this passage which I've always found very compelling from

St.Paul's Letter to the Romans 8:35-36; 37-9:1:
Who shall separate us from the Love of God?
Will anguish or distress, or persecution or hunger?
Or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?
No, in all these things we overcome overwhelmingly
through Him who loved us.
For I am certain of this:
that neither death nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature
will be able to separate us
from the Love of God
made visible in Christ Jesus.

This was our final hymn:
WE ARE CALLED by David Hass
We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly, we are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.
Come! Live in the light! Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord! We are called to be light for the kingdom, to live in the freedom of the city of God!
Come! Open your heart! Show your mercy to all those in fear! We are called to be hope for hopeless so all hatred and blindness will be no more!
Sing! Sing a new song! Sing of that great day when all will be one! God will reign, and we'll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!

Lynn, Lee and Rowan's presence with us (both Sat and Sun) meant a lot to me. I was heartened to see Rowan singing along with her dad crouched on the grass for her to see the words as he pointed them out. And I was glad the words of the hymn might reassure her. And us.
A good friend called our committal service "suitably simple and completely reflective of the one we were there to honor." Well put. For me there was also a kind of unreality in the reality we were going through. Actually I felt the whole weekend took on this tone.
But both on Saturday when we afterwards moved on to the Oak Street Bistro in Alfred to share a tasty meal, and on Sunday after our tree planting ceremony when we moved on to our joyous community potluck, there was this blending of tears and laughter. I thought it was good, good for us, and good for a child to learn this balance.

The Planting of Our Be-Loved Francis' Tree on Sunday, took place on the front lawn under sunny blue skies. Lynn, Lee and Rowan stood next to me facing our house while a large group of friends fanned out along the lawn, with one on the porch, facing us and the street. Abigail our neighbor's grandchild and Rowan's playmate stood next to her, close to the Rowan Tree behind us (That's literally its name) which for the first time since it was planted in 2007 displayed a large white blossom at its crown! Shawn, our arborist had already dug the hole, and a pile of rich humus sat waiting for the final internment of our living tree which stood as our centerpiece -- Francis' Japanese Stewartia Psudocamellia tree. Now 20' tall, it will slowly but eventually grow to 40' in height and 20' in width.
Before sharing a few details about what Rowan calls the "pepere tree" I reviewed for everyone our simple agenda:
A A few remarks about the tree itself and the intention of the planting;
B My reading of the Roman 8 passage I had read on Saturday;
C Sharing of two poems, one very personal, the second inviting deep thought from all of us;
D Reading of several of many comments about Francis which I will email to everyone.
E Finally, (I told those gathered,) they would have time to speak about what Francis means to them.
F We would then plant our tree and
G Share our potluck on the other side of the house, near the chicken coop and grape trellis. (Tiny little grape clusters are already visible!)

About the Japanese Stewartia Pseudocamellia:
Once its trunk attains a diameter of 2 - 3 inches it features stunning bark that exfoliates in strips of gray, orange, and reddish brown. The serrated foliage changes with the seasons: bronzy purple in spring, dark green by summer and red or orange in the fall. In midsummer its gorgeous white camellia-like flowers open in random succession. Someone said it looks like Francis! -- tall and graceful.

The Intention of this Tree Planting, I explained, is not just to honor Francis' memory. From the beginning I've wanted it to symbolize and express and celebrate love that keeps on growing, -- Francis' love and mine, and the love of all of us. I'm convinced that Francis' love did not stop or get fixated at a certain level when he died, and that he did not pass into a different remote universe from the one in which we live. This ONE mysterious universe in which we all live encompasses both the living and those we call dead. I say "those we call dead" because, as the Catholic liturgy says about people who die: "Life is changed, not taken away."

I then read this Rilke poem and Letter after sharing the Romans 8 reading:

To the Beloved
Extinguish my eyes, I'll go on seeing you.
Seal my ears, I'll go on hearing you.
And without feet I can make my way to you., without a mouth I can swear your name.
Break off my arms, I'll take hold of you
with my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.
And if you consume my brain with fire,
I'll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.
From The Book of Hours II,7

Life's Other Half
"I am not saying that we should love death, but rather that we should love life so generously, without picking and choosing, that we automatically include it (life's other half) in our love. This is what actually happens in the great expansiveness of love, which cannot be stopped or constricted. It is only because we exclude it that death becomes more and more foreign to us and, ultimately, our enemy.
It is conceivable that death is infinitely closer to us than life itself....
What do we know of it?"From Rilke's Letter to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Crouy, Epiphany, 1923

The Personal Part
When all this unfolded there were tears and laughter as I was moved to spontaneously share a few "unpublished" personal stories not included here. At one point, when the tears came strong out of my heart, wanting to reassure Rowan that tears are okay, and even healing, I used the expression "agony and ecstasy" and tried to explain in child's language, in the presence of everyone, what these words mean.
But later at the end of the tree planting day, that night when everything had been picked up, sitting in the rich silence in Francis' usual place on our futon, I realized that "ecstasy" is not the apt word. It's not ecstasy but soul satisfaction I get, just sitting. Twice daily. That's where my treasure is. That's where I find the strength to go on.
One of the personal yet "unpublished" things I shared during our tree planting fest, and which I sort of hesitate to share online, is my prayer to Francis. But why not? It's actually a partial list of Francis' unique qualities, those I need to internalize. Since I no longer have access to them through Francis' physical presence, -- a sort of external access, -- I must now access them internally by bringing those qualities into my own self. That way I won't be bereft of the ways in which he balanced me. I will be able to become more fully myself, in Francis. Or, Francis lives in me, as someone wrote she hoped would happen. "Une vie a deux," is the expression that came to me weeks ago.

This is my prayer to Francis so far. It's "a take" on the ancient prayer, "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your Love."
"Come darling Francis, fill me with your spirit,
your level headedness and gentle wit,
the wisdom of your patience and presence to the world,
your poetic soul and surrender to Mystery.
Give me courage, and the will to live."
I explained that "presence to the world" refers to Francis' interest in what's going on in the world by his reading The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly etc, etc He also enjoyed going to Starbucks for a cup of coffee to read The Boston Globe. I plan to try doing just that some time.

People's Sharing their comments about Francis
Jaynie Schiff-Verre's explanation -- how Quakers listen and then wait a few breaths before another speaks, to honor what was said and the person who shared it, created a thoughtful atmosphere. But I can't adequately reproduce here now what people shared standing together around our Francis Tree. There was the speaker with her/his emotions and the intonation and the heart. I couldn't do it justice. So I will share the quotes about Francis which I've been gathering together, soon.


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