Amid the Flood

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Days before reading and re-publishing Linn Ullman’s lines about memory and the loss of it (“You just can’t think too deeply about it”), one of the four remaining classmates of what we’ve called The Chicago Seven, The Gathering, and now The Old Dogs, sent the rest of us an article on Alzheimer’s our latest deceased brother, Wayne, had published years ago.

Chicago Seven Gathering L to R: Wayne Boulton, Harry Strong, Gordon, Steve Shoemaker, Dale Hartwig, Don Dempsey, Bob Young@ McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL, 2004.

As Wayne had imagined his ship going over the far horizon, his worst thought was not death. It was that he would live on, like his father had, without remembering how to tie his shoelaces and without recognizing Vicki, the love of his life, his sons Matt and Chris, daughters-in-law Liz and Libby, and the grandchildren who brought him such joy.

That nightmare didn’t happen. He went out with his mind in tact, as much as a hospice patient’s mind is ever fully there. Aside from his last few days, Wayne’s mind was clear and his heart was full. The article Harry sent the three other surviving Dogs is a reflection on Psalm 90:10, 12 (RSV):

The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away. teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

When he died in 1989, the sum of Dad’s years came closer to fourscore than to threescore and ten. With the psalmist, I attribute this number to his strength, but I would not wish the manner of his death on anyone. He died of complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.

It was my first experience with the death of an immediate family member, so I was no veteran. I found myself up against a more complicated reality than I had anticipated. I remember thinking at the time that some portion of this is just plain death: nasty, sad, the way death always is. But it is not natural death. It is something else. In the words of Martin Luther’s signature hymn, the disease threw every member of Dad’s little nuclear family—his wife, daughter-in-law, and myself—into a “flood of mortal ills prevailing.”

Amid the Flood,” Wayne G. Boulton, Reformed Review, Western Theological Seminary, December 1, 2000.

Wayne died the way he lived and lived the way he died. Faithful son, husband, grandfather, and friend. Wise. Compassionate. Pastoral. Realistic. Hopeful. Consoler. Prayerful. Private. Counselor. Social critic. Political wonk. Brilliant Christian theologian-ethicist. Follower of truth wherever it led him. All of that and so much more. But, if I had the pen to engrave his epitaph on the simple grave stone in the cemetery of the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, if might read,

A sheep of Your own fold, a lamb of Your own flock, a sinner of Your own redeeming, humble servant his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ amid the flood of mortal ills.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 5, 2019.

Elijah’s Advises Grandpa on Happiness

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Elijah, you seem really happy this morning.

I am, Bumpa! It’s a great day!

I wish I could be that happy!

You can, Bumpa. It’s easy.

Easy for you to say. It’s not easy

Uh-huh! Stop watching How to Get Away with Murder,” Bumpa!

You mean Ray Donovan?

Ray, too. Ray and Annalise aren’t good for you. They’re making you grumpy like Oscar!

I know. Those shows are pretty depressing, Elijah. What do recommend?

Like I said, it’s easy, Just do what we do in day care.

I’m too old for day care, Elijah. Way too old. Look at me!!!

Do I have to? You have hairs sticking’ out of your nose and stuff! And you need a haircut!

Let’s get back to happiness. What do you recommend for Grandpa?

Like I said, stop watching those bad shows. They’re making you sad.

Okay, so I’ll stop watching Annalise and Ray. What do I do now?

Go to day care, Bumpa. Day care’s not just for kids. They have day care for grumpy old men. It’s called adult day care.

What do they do at adult day care?!

Don’t you know? They watch Sesame Street and get happy with Big Bird!

Sesame Street‘s for kids!

AND, for old guys with hairs sticking out of their nose and stuff. They accept anybody! Check in at 123 Sesame Street and get happy with Big Bird.

— Grandpa (Bumpa) Gordon, Chaska, MN, Feb. 23, 2019

Elijah for President

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Bumpa!!! Did you see that?

See what, Elijah?

Someone wants us to run in 2020!

Run for what?

President and Vice President!

Aha! Someones pulling your leg.

Uh-uh. Someone is serious, Bumpa.

Who’s Someone? Give me a name.

SomeoneIS the name.

I see. Where’d you hear Someone say that, Elijah?

On your blog!

Ah! So you saw Someone’s comment on the missing children post!

Yeah, Grandma showed it to me.

What do you mean “showed” it to you? You can’t read yet.

Yes I can. A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-3-4-5 . . .

I’m so proud of you, Elijah! You’re only 21 months old.

Yeah. When I turn 35 we can run as a ticket! We’ll make Someone happy!

Who’ll be at the top of the ticket?

Grandma said you got a ticket. You have a record.

No, this is a different kind of ticket. It’s not a speeding ticket.

Phew!!!

So, who does Someone think should be President?

You don’t pay attention to anyone, Bumpa.

That’s not true, Elijah. You hurt my feelings.

Just start by listening to Someone! One person at a time.

Okay, what did Someone say?

Someone said, “Elijah for President! Bumpa for Vice President! I vote for this team!!!”

And it all started with Someone.

Jimmy Durante, “Make Someone Happy”

— Grandpa (“Bumpa”) with Grandson Elijah, Chaska, MN, Feb. 22, 2019.

Elijah and the Missing Children

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Bumpa, you’re mean! Why do you keep saying that?

Say what, Elijah?

That there’s no national emergency?

Because there isn’t.

Yes there is.

No, there isn’t. How would you know? You’re only 21.

You’re cruel, Bumpa! POTUS is kinder than you!

What’s gotten into your little head?

My head’s not little! My head’s bigger than 96 percent. Doctor said so! I’m in the top four percent!

I know. That’s good. But you shouldn’t get a big head about that! So, tell me, why do you think there’s a real national emergency? 

POTUS declared it. I saw it on PBS!

On Sesame Street? Did Big Bird tell you?

No. It came on after Sesame Street. I saw it!

What did you see, Elijah?

MISSING children, Bumpa! Don’t you know? 1,475 kidnapped children, Bumpa! That’s a national emergency! We need to help rescue all those kidnapped children!

I hear you. We do. But the kidnappers didn’t come from south of the border. The kidnappers are not here illegally.

Uh-huh!

No, they aren’t. They’re legal. Homeland Security took them!

I like security. So there’s no national energency? The children are safe?

Well, no, Elijah. Homeland Security took them away from their parents, and then Homeland Security lost them

So the President called a national emergency to find them, right?

No, Elijah. POTUS hasn’t said one word about the missing children.

Why, Bumpa? Why? That’s not right! Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, right?

Right! It’s not right! 

Right, I told you! You’re wrong! There is a national emergency.

— Bumpa and Elijah, Chaska, MN, Feb. 18, 2019

Elijah and Grumpy Old Bumpa

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Bumpa, can I be president… or do I have to be a lawyer?

Yes, you can, and no, you don’t. Why would you ask that, Elijah?

‘Cause they’re the only people who count.

Oh, my, Elijah! You were born in a strange time!

Uh-uh! I was nine when I was born. Mom says it was past time. Mom was miserable before I got borned.

She was, Elijah. She sure was.

You’re miserable, Bumpa! Are you pregnant?

No, only young women get pregnant and miserable. Old men just get miserable and grumpy.

Yeah, we’re Minnesotans. When can we go ice fishing?

fish houses of ice fishermen in Minnesota

Grandpa doesn’t do ice fishing. Maybe Uncle Andrew will take you and Calvin together.

Does Uncle Andrew have a fish house?

No. You don’t have to have a fish house to go ice fishing.

But you have to have a big house if you want to be president or a lawyer, right?

Well, no. You don’t have to have a big house to be a lawyer. Some lawyers are street lawyers and public defenders. All lawyers take an oath to protect the constitution.

But some lawyers are bad, right? Like Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani. Grandma says they’re walkin on thin ice. It’s a national emergency!

Yes and no, Elijah. Mr. Cohen and Mr. Giuliani represented or represent the president. The president’s about to fall through the ice for making stuff up.

Yeah, the president’s a national emergency and his lawyers pretend he’s not!

Yes, that’s our opinion.

Right! I changed my mind. I don’t want to be president, Bumpa, and I’m glad I don’t have to be like Michael and Rudy.

Like I said, Elijah, you could be either president or a lawyer, but you don’t have to be. You can be anything you want.

OK! I wanna to be like Uncle Andrew! I can be a ice fisherman right here in Minnesota and grow up to be a grumpy old man. I wanna be like you, Bumpa.

— Grandpa (“Bumpa”) Stewart and Elijah (21 months old), Chaska, MN, February 17, 2019

Elijah tells Grandpa “Pickle is good!”

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We’re in a real pickle this morning, Elijah. I don’t know how we’re ever going to get out it!

dill pickle

I like pickles! Pickles are good. You’re getting senile, Bumpa. You can’t get in a pickle!

No, no, we’re not inside a pickle. It’s is an idiom.

You said a bad word, Bumpa! I’m telling Mom! Mom says we’re not supposed to use that word.

I didn’t say idiot, Elijah. I said idiom. It’s a figure of speech, like “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

It’s raining cats and dogs? You must be senile, Bumpa. I’m little, but I’ve never seen it rain cats and dogs, and I know we can’t fit inside a pickle! You’re freaking me out!

I like pickles, too. Well, most kinds of pickles. Especially sweet pickles, like bread-and-butter pickles. I also like Jewish deli pickles. But this morning’s pickle is a real pickle that makes me sick.

Yeah, I hate that. I was sick last week. I hate throwing up.

Some pickles are sweet. Some pickles are sour. It’s the sour ones that sour my stomach.

So, are we in a sweet pickle or a sour pickle? Are we in a little pickle or a big pickle?

A BIG pickle, and it’s really sour.

You should only eat bread and butter pickles, Bumpa, and stop watching Rachel and Ari. Turn off the television and have a bread-and-butter pickle. Pickle is GOOD!

TURN UP THE SOUND and listen carefully as Elijah with his pickle tells his mother “Pickle is good!”

19 month old Elijah, notice the pickle in left hand, tells his Mom, “Pickle is good!”

— Bumpa Gordon, Chaska, Minnesota, January 29, 2019.

Gratitude Doubled

Human_Infant_in_Incubator

Infant in incubator photo by Chris Horry, 2002.

As our way of offering Thanksgiving greetings, we share John Buchanan’s “Gratitude Doubled” reflection on becoming a great-grandfather of new-born twins in an incubator.

This Thanksgiving also marks the 18-month anniversary of grandson Elijah’s birth. Great-grandfather joy will have to wait a few years, but the sense of life as John speaks of it is immediate. Wishing you a grateful Thanksgiving.

Hold to the Good

Yesterday I experienced the most unlikely, most wonderful thing that has ever happened. I carefully extended my sanitized hand through the small, round opening in the incubator and, with my forefinger, gently touched the cheek of my brand new great-granddaughter, just 18 hours old. And then I did it again, reached through the small, round opening and touched the cheek of her identical twin sister, my second great-granddaughter.

I never thought much about great-grandparenthood. No one did. My great-grandparents were long gone when I was born and I have only vague memories of my parents talking about them, their grandparents. They were remote, to say the least.

But now, I am one, a great-grandfather and my new status has set me to ruminating – on, among other things, my own age. Unlike my great-grandparents, I’m still here, alive, well and reasonably active and healthy. And – I have seen and…

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Remember me according to . . .

Opening up the cabin after a month away, the temperature was a bit chilly before we built the fire in the wood-burning stove. What warms me more than the fire is the stillness of the place. I read the Psalms differently here. I take time to ponder them.

Psalm 25 is the one I pondered this morning. At first it struck me as the kind of religion that’s killing us — the prayer of religious pride. A second and third reading took me deeper. 

BCP“Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes. Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me…” (Psalm 25:2-4a, Book of Common Prayer paraphrase). 

Truth and falsehood. The ways of shamelessness and its opposite — treacherous schemes — collide in this psalm. I come to the cabin to get away from the treacherous schemes. I’m for truth and goodness, not treacherous schemes! That’s Trump, not I! Like the psalmist, I claim what no one can honestly claim: “in you have I trusted all the day long” (25:4c) But the psalmist is wiser.

Truth and Falsehood

Truth and Falsehood, Iza Bella [CC BY-SA 2.0 uk (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s as though the psalmist suddenly realizes it’s not true. He shifts his eyes from himself to the One who forgives sin. Maybe s/he’s confused? Maybe he has a split personality? Or maybe just a concrete thinker whose immaturity leaves no room for shades of gray? Or maybe he suddenly remembers something beyond the self and its righteous posturing.

“Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD” (Psalm 25:5-6). 

When you look at me, see me through the eyes of eternal compassion, the eyes of your steadfast love. See me the way a grandfather can’t help but see his 17 month-old grandson, Elijah, after Elijah has opened the kitchen cabinets he’s been told repeatedly not to open. See the look on the grandson’s face when he’s caught and his mother tells him “NO!” Watch Grandpa cover his face with his hand to hide to his smile and giggle as he sees the defiant look on Elijah’s little face. 

Perhaps God is like that. The LORD of life (the Breath) is Mishomis —Ojibwe for ‘Grandfather’! See grandson Elijah playing  peek-a-boo with his Mom from his car seat.

Remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, Mishomis.

  • Grandpa Gordon, in the wilderness with The Book of Common Prayer, October 22, 2018

Elijah plays Peek-a-Boo!

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256px-Kou-Kou_by_Georgios_Iakovidis

BOO! And a good day to you. Sixteen-month-old Elijah’s strapped in his carseat for the drive to day care. Mom initiates some fun. Elijah imitates her babbling. Then, on his own initiative, he suddenly takes off his knit cap to play Peek-a-Boo, like the children in Georgios Jakovides‘s 1895 Peek-a-Boo painting from Germany. Some games are timeless and ubiquitous. Peek-a-Boo!🤗

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 6, 2018

Elijah asks for Bumpa

During a recent visit to our house, Elijah’s mother had taped a moment between grandson and grandpa. Yesterday, Kristin wanted to show Elijah the video. He calls Grandpa Gordon “Bumpa” — take a peek.

 

  • Grandpa Gordon (Bumpa), Chaska, MN, October 4, 2018.