More of the Sweet in my Bitter-Sweet Christmas – even Zenith
Dear Family and Friends, December 23, 2012
Christmas, like my birthday, is likely to be, for the rest of my life, bitter-sweet. The news of Francis’ cancer came the day before the first, and during the second, he was dying.
With the dignity of a saint, three years ago, Francis started walking to meet his death. That didn’t preclude his also grappling with some dread, fear of the unknown which he overcame in the very admission of it. I was privileged to witness how, with courage and surrender he did, as he told me was his task - “Let go, let God.” Who would not want to die like that?
So you can see how sweet this is for me to remember - even if also, bitter. In fact, by now, it’s more sweet than bitter.
In rereading, day by day, what I wrote then about what happened in this room, one of the 50 poems that have come since publication of Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Poems “came” today. I experience joy, needless to say, whenever this happens. New poems come, sometimes, from the story I’m telling in prose for the next book, Sing to Me and I Will Hear You – The Memoir: A Love Story. For example, this one was written this summer:Your Pleasure If you read / what I wrote / about you, / today - / you would be pleased. / But the feeling’s / so strong, that you / are . . . / pleased, / how can I say that / “you would . . .”?
The writing, moreover, is more than a vehicle to share Francis’ and my love story. It helps me grow through my grief. It took me close to a month, this fall, to work through the poem A Widow’s Way. I was shocked to discover that I, who thought I was indeed going through rather than around my grief, had numbed myself unconsciously. What a relief to see and feel I could now face a deeper truth. It’s still bitter, but it’s also heartening to realize it’s only when we’re ready for more that more comes.
My journey also helps me understand, in a way I never could before, others’ grief, any and all, but especially grief at premature and unnecessary loss of life. It’s not only the loss in Sandy Nook that should compel our sympathies, but also the loss of life in Israel-Palestine and in all war torn countries. I pray this latest tragedy will help those who depend on guns as well as armaments to realize that war is hell and that we should do what we can to bring into our world the peace and justice which Jesus came to bring. As the bumper sticker reads: “Who would Jesus bomb?”
In addition to my “imperative,” writing, my life has a rhythm which I appreciate. Weekly babysitting my goddaughter Rowan is at the head of the list. Resuming teaching English to Africans after Sunday mass, a practice I had dropped after Francis died, is also life-giving. Francis used to sit in on those informal, small classes. Participating in Taize chanting in Portland is also an important weekly practice. I am planning to return to Taize, France for a week of chanting (3 x a day) with my friend, Sue Ewing, in May. http://www.taize.fr/en I’m not planning to go every year as she likes to do, but I feel drawn to return with her, this, my second time. I gain more working in the Food Pantry once a month than I give, as a volunteer. Last winter I joined the Maine Poets Society and enjoyed going to two of their three annual meetings. It’s encouraging to see how long poetry has been promoted in Maine. For example, this society was founded in 1936.
Sue, whose late husband Bob used to accompany her to the same CTA/USA annual national conferences Francis and I attended, makes a good travel partner. Believe it or not, though seven years my senior, she can outwalk me! We attended two conferences together this past year, and I went by myself to the CORPUS Conference (married priests and wives) in Texas this past June, after which I met my editor in person for the first time in his home state of Washington in the Pacific Northwest. Then in August I drove by myself to the McGillicuddy family reunion in Woodstock, Canada. I already wrote about the Shrine we visited on Sunday in my September 7 letter to family and friends, posted on www.elaineandfrancis.blogspot.com But I copy here the link I provided there about this Shrine which was built and dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi (Francis’ patron saint) after Francis’ great grandfather donated land to the church close to 90 years ago. http://www.ofsnational.ca/EasternCanada/skifflake.html
Praying for good health and peace of heart to all of you this Christmas and for 2013 as you follow your own Christmas star.
Long PS - December 24, 2012
After completing this holiday letter last night, I remembered, this morning, a poem I struggled to write in September, when the news of Francis’ cancer shocked us. I called the poem The Blow of the 24th, because that day – September 24, 2009 - was a bitter day indeed.
But remembering the other 24th when Francis and I had what I called “Our Precious Dialogue” on Christmas Eve, - a Part II for the poem “came.”
So I renamed it Nadir and Zenith. I want to include it with this letter (below) since it adds what would be missing without it. Though September was my "Nadir," today is "very sweet" since it's the anniversary of my "Zenith."
If you make the time to read that special dialogue between Francis and me that inspired Part II, The Kiss, eight days before he died, I think you will be as re-inspired as I am too, every time I read it. Here’s the link for it right here on this blog:
Nadir and Zenith
The 24th is a sacred date,
both nadir and zenith for me.
Our birthdays were joyous affairs
that came in September:
yours on the 6th – mine, the 25th.
But my body remembers now
the shock of the 24th,
the day we learned
you soon would die.
After just three months
they took away your body.
three years later,
I’ve been forewarned:
may be dyed purple.
It’s Christmas Eve, the 24th,
ten days before your death.
A festive tray sits on your lap
on your hospice bed at home.
Like a monk, you share your thoughts -
how to face your death.
But your mien, in altered state,
includes the humor of a
saint, when you joke comparing
a soft and a crisp
brought by separate friends,
like the gourmet meal,
yet a third friend’s gift.
Shifting your mood again,
in the midst of this talk,
you surprise me.
Looking into my eyes,
“Your presence, always,
is deeply drawn
into my soul.”
The 24th delivered me
an unforgettable shock – a blow.
The second one crowned our married life
with a kiss – of the gods’.