Learning to Live

I have been missing from this blog for several weeks. My daughter got married , we moved to Tennessee, the dog had surgery and extended family have been visiting for over two weeks. Mitch is back in Indiana to finish out his job there and the dog and I are making our way in the new place.

In the midst of all of these events, my uncle is dying. He unexpectedly couldn’t come to the wedding and in just a week his energy has waned significantly. Now, with a mass in his liver, his skin is tight and yellowed; movement is barely possible even with his strong sons and a walker to guide his steps. Yet, he sits for hours just to “be” with us, his family and friends, who come to share this precious time.

The realization that today is really all that any of us have seems nearer but not close enough to keep me from lamenting insignificant things. The remote doesn’t work, there are weeds in the flowerbeds and the knotty pine in the den is getting the best of me.

Those aren’t the substance of relationships that were paramount as family gathered at my Uncle’s house last week. We drove all day to spend a few hours with him. My uncle isn’t a religious man. I’ve never heard him speak of God or the church really. Yet the lessons I learned from him are at the core of forgiveness and being present to one another.

Claris is my dad’s youngest brother. For all of my life, I never remember much respectful talk about him. We saw him at family gatherings and as my dad got older he dropped by occasionally after they both had retired. My dad never had any thing good to say about their relationship; if he said anything at all. But that didn’t stop my uncle Claris from checking in; even helping out when needed as my dad unexpectedly suffered a heart attack and at the same time was diagnosed with colon cancer. My uncle took him to the doctor, mowed his three-acre yard and was always available.

Everyday during the last weeks of my father’s life my uncle Claris sat with us, my two sisters and I, daily. He brought us pizza, infamous blue cheese dressing and special salads from our favorite local place. He shared and listened to stories of our own sometimes difficult relationship with our father; never mentioning the ways he had been shunned, belittled and bullied by my dad over the years.

Once or twice we mentioned the strained relationship and asked why he kept coming. “It doesn’t matter” is all he said.

He never talked about forgiving or forgetting. He was present, not avoiding obvious differences, but simply being in this time that mattered.

I see how that is true for many who were at Claris’ house the other day when we visited. All he could do was just sit and listen and watch other people do the yard work that he loved. He reminded me that you do anything you can for others—even when it doesn’t seem logical– you do it anyway, he said. I realized how he had “been there” and kept up with all us all, showing the patient presence that doesn’t keep score or consider why.

It is that paradox of logic and principle. What seems illogical: the brother who never was taken seriously sitting patiently with his perpetrator respectfully and lovingly; driving 2 days to spend one day with my Uncle Claris, in the midst of moving; these are the right thing. As Buechner says,

by all the laws both of logic and arithmetic, to give yourself away in love to another would seem to mean that you end up with less of yourself left than you had to begin with. But the miracle is that just the reverse is true, logic and arithmetic go hang.

 Buechner is talking about marriage here, but it fits the broader context.

To give yourself away in love to somebody else…is to become for the first time yourself fully…But by holding fast to each other in trust, in patience, in hope, and by holding fast also to him who has promised to be present whenever two or three are gathered together as he was present that day in Cana of Galilee. The impossible becomes possible. The water becomes wine. And by grace we become, little by little, human in spite of ourselves, become whole, become truly loving and lovely at last.

My daughter wants me to come help her move and cat sit for a few days before that. What do you have to do there (where I just moved) anyway, she asks. And I think of the weeds and the knotty pine and the disarray of moving that surrounds me.  I have a new office to set up and meetings upcoming in July. It’s logical not to spend too much time helping her; I just moved too and she lives a few states away.   Claris would say to go, to be the patient presence that doesn’t keep score or consider why. It’s not logical but right.