December 25, 2015
Dear Family and Friends,
Dear Family and Friends,
Can you believe it’s close to six years since Francis died? (on January 3, 2010)
What I intuited and expressed in the “Postscript” of my first book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – The Poems, published in the spring of 2012, has turned out to be prophetic. I admitted there that it was the first time I was publicly using the expression “largely monastic” to characterize my lifestyle.
By now, I can confirm that this lifestyle does suit me, and on different fronts too.
Since monasticism is characterized by “work and recreation,” as well as by “prayer and study,” I am not deprived. Certain activities are staple diet for me, such as regularly going to Portland Symphony, attending plays, and participating in a wide variety of other activities, like demonstrations for peace and justice. (My days of organizing these, however, are past.) But, simultaneously with cultivating friendships which I cherish, I need and thrive on silence, and living at a slower pace. (I think my background of being an only child and of having spent15 ½ years in the convent underpins all this.) Even my long, daily yoga practice (which keeps me pain free) and being one of the leaders (but no longer the organizer of monthly gatherings for) the Dances of Universal Peace – accords with this “largely monastic” picture.
My lifestyle also goes hand in glove with the considerable work of maintaining the permaculture-demonstration site garden and orchard which Francis and I created around this little bungalow we bought in 1972. I couldn’t live in a more mutually supportive neighborhood, I believe, than this modest one, bounded by two dead end streets. We look out for one another, and I, in particular, experience how my neighbors watch out for me. For example, they help me with shoveling, and one of those neighbors also mows the lawn path around my house. On my part, it’s satisfying to be able to reciprocate with vegetables and fruits from these gardens, e.g. strawberries, blueberries, plums, and – did you know there are edible dogwood tree berries? (Cornus Mas): They’re delicious! And, listen to this: A person I hired to wash my windows this fall insisted that all he wanted as payment would be concord grapes next summer.
In the same Postscript to my first book, I went on to say that my own poems, “given me to work with,” would guide me. I compared them to “custom-made maps” and to “bells ringing out my truth.” Well, having become aware of it, multiple times since then – I can affirm that that prediction also was prophetic. My poems actually do, still, apply to my life as it evolves – for example, these lines from a poem (PAIN’S SHARP EDGE) in my first book: “Heart’s remembering sharpens / sense to touch / new you, now, any when.”
Here’s one example of my heart’s naturally “remembering”: Every now and then I go onto my website www.elainemcgillicuddy.com where the elaineandfrancis.blogspot.com is “parked,” to see what was going on, on the same day, . . . and now, it’s six years ago. When I did that last week, I was so moved by Francis’ immediate response to Anne Underwood’s comment then, I sent her an email entitled: “Thank you six years later.”
Here’s my note to her: “Anne, you made such a significant remark in response to my letter, “A Turn in the Road,” six years ago – look here at what it elicited from Francis: To your saying – "Everything happens as you are ready for it," (as I expressed it then) – “He shot right back: ‘I'm ready!’"
And I signed off my email to Anne: “At peace, / Elaine,/ and Francis too”
And I signed off my email to Anne: “At peace, / Elaine,/ and Francis too”
At this point, it’s difficult to convey the depth of my gratitude and joy that the three books I felt compelled to write after Francis’ death, have been completed. But this recent little poem tries to do that. It came as they all do – because a certain feeling or train of thought so moves me, it begs for expression:
THE HARVEST IS IN
Why am I crying
“Joy and thanksgiving!”?
It’s my lot
to leave our legacy of love –
(Francis’s and mine)
in poems and prose:
three books in five years,
since he died.
Joy and thanksgiving!
It was my publisher, David Gawlik’s idea to have his graphic designer create a 4x6 postcard depicting the covers of my three books – a trilogy, really. He ordered 1,000 cards, so I’ve been liberally giving them to whoever is interested. It’s attached in this email, but also on my website, here: http://www.elainemcgillicuddy.com/book-readings/ What motivates me to hand them out is joy from the fact that “It’s my lot / to leave our legacy of love . . .” But my eagerness also comes from wanting to share with whomever it might help – a certain unexpected development to which Providence or Synchronicity has given a boost.
This is what happened: First, my former doctor, Dr. Daniel C. Bryant, now retired, and a publisher poet and writer too, wrote me a long letter in response to my second book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – A Love Story. He ended with this: “Finally, that last section when Francis is dying, and your conversations are recorded, is not only moving, but invaluable. Nowhere else, in any of the “death and dying” books and conferences, have I seen such documentation of the final stages, the final farewells, of a long, close relationship. That last section should be required reading for medical students and chaplains, if not for everybody.”
Then, in July (just when SING . . . A Love Story was published) I made friends with new neighbors, just moved from Vermont – Rabbi Joshua Chasan and his wife Cathy. So of course, Joshua and I swapped books.
When Joshua heard about Dr. Bryant’s comment, he immediately offered to connect me with two doctors who do exactly what Dr. Bryant was talking about – bring books to the attention of medical students.
After email correspondences, I mailed a package of all three books to each of them, since they both work at the University of Vermont, College of Medicine. So, what Dr. Bryant proposed, has already started happening!
So that’s why I carry those 4x6 cards with me. If, prompted by my web address on the card, those to whom I give them go to my website, they will learn about that development, in addition to seeing people’s responses to all three books, including Dr. Bryant’s. And they might find material that could be of help to them; for example, an annotated bibliography of books that helped me after Francis died. I’ve also been told by several people who grieve the loss of loved ones, that my writing helps them.
Tonight I was remembering what Francis said to me, unexpectedly, six years ago, tonight – toward the end of our first of five “Last Supper” conversations: “Your presence was deeply drawn into my soul, and so, I am very happy.” I knew enough at the time, hearing this, what an extraordinary conversation that was – and how those words of his expressed for me the fulfillment of our marriage, the preciousness of which one could not dare expect in a marriage. It was such a “zenith” moment in my life, that later, it drew a poem from me: NADIR AND ZENITH.
Last Christmas I printed and tucked a copy of that poem in some of my Christmas cards. By then, it had not yet been published. But this year, it can be found on page 61 of my third book, SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – New Poems. (As you may remember, since Francis’ doctor, Dr. John Devlin, brought us his recorder to use, the last chapter of SING . . . Love Story entitled “Last Suppers” is a literal transcription of our recorded conversations . . . so even in just reading that chapter – it sounds like Francis! I told my editor and publisher, that even while proofreading this chapter in preparation for publication, I felt I was walking on holy ground. And for me, that impression still holds. So, no wonder Dr. Bryant said that that last chapter should be required reading for medical students and chaplains.
There’s so much more to say, for example, about: how my 80’s birthday party brought in over $2,000 for African refugees in my parish (Thank you!);
how my having been (not the “victim,” but) the object of identity theft has overburdened me (We’re just on alert now, and I’ve learned so much about this kind of thing!); how adopting a Siamese mix cat has been time consuming but so rewarding. I’ve enjoyed taking advice from the excellent book Thinking Like a Cat. Eight pound, 16 months old Bella is, as Lynn said, one of the most beautiful cats she’s ever seen. Indeed, she delights me with her beauty, playfulness, and sweet, loving ways – even when, as the predator she also is, she runs at high speed from one side of the house to the other to hop up onto the bow window sill (one of several perches I’ve set up for her in the house) so she can spot prey. When Bella bit me only a day after she arrived, I didn’t blame her, because I soon learned that the fault was mine for having let her play with my hands.
That bite did, however, inaugurate other trips to Mercy Hospital’s Express Care. After a tetanus shot for that, I had to return in ensuing weeks for two other reasons: a cut lip, and then an infected finger! (See why I’ve been delayed in writing this letter?)
The other big news in my life is this: Lynn accepted a position at Rutgers University where Lee has been teaching for years. This means that Lee no longer has to commute from New Jersey to Portland every weekend! Of course I miss them, but we’re in touch, the way a grandmother is kept in touch. And since they did not sell their home in Portland, they return regularly to keep connections with friends. So, as Rowan’s godmother, my relationship with “my little family” is strong as ever. The timing of the move is also good, since Rowan was due to move up to Middle School anyway. In hearing that she has made friends, and has also made an excellent adjustment to her new school there (where she gets top grades, as ever) I’m so proud of her! Rowan recently wrote a poem, Reverence From Earth to Soul that so moved me, I emailed it to friends of mine – two gifted, beautiful Penobscot Indian women leaders: Sherri Mitchell, an attorney, and Maria Girouard, a historian. (Do look them up online.)
Last night, I had the great privilege again, at our Christmas Eve liturgy, to chant the ancient Christmas proclamation from the Roman Martyrology. It’s something that’s done mostly in monasteries. In 2013, the idea of doing it in our parish came to me spontaneously during a conversation with a friend, when I was recalling my love of the Advent “O Antiphons,” as we sang them during convent days. If you use this link
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cWykjM1k90 you can hear a Benedictine monk chanting it. . . .
I guess the nun part of me is still strong. It’s fitting, then, to close with two poems (both in my third book) since they express where I’m at right now.
THE NUN, THE WIFE, AND THE WIDOW
The nun knew,
on the eve of her departure,
the reason she would leave
She quoted the bride
of the Songs of Songs
in her unconventional
Christmas card –
in alluding to him,
“I found him whom my soul loves,
and I will never
let him go.”
Words declared as wife and widow, too.
* Song of Songs 3:4
“I’ve never had a love
like that!” she cries,
looking at the cover of
my second book –
that look –
between my love and me.
my former student and I.
She loved him too;
had heard he was deceased.
But she weeps for herself
(I can tell)
more than out of sympathy for me –
that she, beautiful and single still –
has not yet found her love.
To hearten her:
“You’re young, it’s not too late!”
She smiles through her tears.
Hearing hers and other women’s tales,
I know the price I pay
– widow aching for his arms –
weighs nothing like the worth of
such a love I’ve known.
A Blessed rest of the Christmas season to each and all of you – culminating in the illuminating Epiphany,
and good health, peace, joy and love in 2016 and beyond,
My love and gratitude,
December 25, 2015