Ode to a Bi-Polar Cousin

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Mourning Doves among the Trees

Earth no longer hears bellowing laughs and
Anguished shrieks from the yo-yoed hand
That yanked him up to ecstatic heights and
Dropped him low as dirt, rebounding and
Recoiling in cycling rounds of joy and dread.

His earthy songs and shrieks are quiet now
In air we breathe where once with dog his feet
Did walk the woods alone in search of deer
Or trout or own real self among the trees and
Streams where fawn and fish were found.

Between the poles of rapture and lament
He in momentary pride would stride and
Just as quickly in despair would sullen weep,
his smile widen with hope and flatten in
Despairing search of light he could not see.

And we his kith and kin left upon the field
Of ashes on the ground lift up the torch
He left for friend and foe alike whose yo-yo
Minds and meds cannot raise hope to life or
Hear coos of mourning doves among the trees.

In memory of first cousin Dennis Smith (b. 02/03/1942 in South Paris, Maine; d. Norway, Maine 02/09/2017).

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 28, 2017

The larks still bravely sing

The unexpected news of my cousin Dennis’ death came as a surprise but it was not a shock.

Late last spring Dennis “went dark”, disappearing except for occasional appearances at the grocery story in the his childhood hometown to which he had returned in hopes of going home again, forgetting Thomas Wolfe’s wisdom.

May 29 – days before his bipolar disorder led him to lock out the world – he wrote on FaceBook. “Today the choir at South Paris Congregational Church will sing an arrangement of the poem ‘In Flanders Field’. It is a very moving arrangement of this well known poem. So proud to be a member of this talented choir.”

Here’s the text of the poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

  • John McCrae, Canadian physician and poet.

It was at the South Paris Congregational Church that Dennis’ father, my Uncle Bob, had dropped dead of a cerebral hemorrhage while moderating an annual congregational meeting. Dennis and I were in our 30s when it happened; we flew back to South Paris for the funeral. First in his class at Harvard College and Harvard Law and a direct descendent of John Smith of the Mayflower, Bob Smith was also the Choirmaster-Organist at the church when we wasn’t on the bench or discretely institutionalized out of public view for what we now call bipolar disorder.

Dennis had more than his share of tragedy in his life. Dennis’s older brother Alan, locked inside the body by cerebral palsy, was entirely dependent on the family for the most basic needs, although we knew from his eyes and his moans how attuned he was to those he loved. After Dennis and Sandy began their own family, their one-year old son Christopher was found dead in his crib. Many years later their son Sean died in a car accident after Sean’s sophomore year at Colorado College. Death, grief, and sorrow were woven into the warp and woof of the Smith family’s life. But so were faith and hope – the larks, still bravely singing, flying overhead, scarce heard amid the guns below.

Rest in Peace, Dennis.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, six-month younger first cousin, kindred flesh and spirit of Dennis Smith of South Paris, Maine, in Memoriam, Feb.13, 2017. Prayers for my all the Smith family – Gwen, Kelly, Stacy, and Sandy, among others – and the dear people of the South Paris Congregational Church and Choir.

Prayer for the New Year

I invite you to consider lighting a candle and offer a prayer this New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in the quiet style of the Friends (Quakers) or by using a format such as the one below, slightly adapted from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Prayer For The New Year

On New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, the household gathers at the table or at the Christmas tree or manger scene. Many people make New Year’s Day a day of prayer for peace.

Leader: Let us praise the Lord of days and seasons and years, saying:
Glory to God in the highest!
Response: And peace to his people on earth!

The leader may use these or similar words to introduce the blessing:

Our lives are made of days and nights, of seasons and years,
for we are part of a universe of suns and moons and planets.
We mark ends and we make beginnings and, in all, we
praise God for the grace and mercy that fill our days.

Then read the the Scripture from the Book of Genesis 1:14-19:

God said: “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.” And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed—the fourth day.

(The family’s Bible may be used for an alternate reading such as Psalm 90:1-4.)

Reader: The Word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

After a time of silence, members of the household offer prayers of thanksgiving for the past year, and of intercession for the year to come …. In conclusion, all join hands for the Lord’s Prayer.

Then the leader continues: “Let us now pray for God’s blessing in the new year.”

After a short silence, parents may place their hands on their children in blessing as the leader says:

Remember us, O God;
from age to age be our comforter.
You have given us the wonder of time,
blessings in days and nights, seasons and years.
Bless your children at the turning of the year
and fill the months ahead with the bright hope
that is ours in the coming of Christ.
You are our God, living and reigning, forever and ever.
R/. Amen.

Another prayer for peace may be said:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Response: Amen.

—Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Leader: Let us bless the Lord.

All respond: Thanks be to God.

The prayer may conclude with the singing of a Christmas carol.

Whether or not you choose to light a candle and no matter how you do it, if you do, my old friend Steve Shoemaker and his surviving Views from the Edge seminary friend wish you peace of heart and mind as we enter the storm tossed-sea of 2017.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 30, 2016.

Steve Shoemaker “Last” verse

“The Man Who Loved the Graves”

– Steve Shoemaker, April 24, 2012

When I was just a young and naive pastor,

an old man in the congregation

would always arrive long before the rest

of the people at the grave site. He’d shun

the funeral, but haunt the cemetery…

Standing by the open grave, he’d state

his opinion of the deceased and share

with me the type, style and brand of casket

he’d told his wife he wanted when he died.

As the morticians say, he “predeceased”

his spouse, and when we met to plan, she tried

to grant his wishes to the very last

She blessed their common gravestone with her tears,

but smiled through life for many happy years…

NOTE: Steve predeceased Nadja, the love of his life all the way back to high school.

Tonight at 7:00 p.m. CST, Nadja and a host of Shoemaker relatives and friends will gather at First Presbyterian Church of Champaign, Illinois for Steve’s memorial service followed by a dessert potluck to smile “for many happy years.”

Blessed are the dead who die in the LORD, for they rest from their labors, and their works follow them: A Sin a Week: Fifty-two Sins Are Described Here in Loving Detail for Folks With the Inclination and Ability to Do Wrong, but Who Have Run Out of Bad Ideas  Order a copy in honor of Steve and for some good ideas!

-Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 15, 2016

 

 

 

Steve Shoemaker at Peace

With deep sadness but with great thanksgiving for his life and friendship, we share Steve’s CaringBridge post for readers of Views from the Edge:

Daddy died last night on October 10th, the anniversary of his own father’s death.

He is survived by his wonderful wife of 51 years, Nadja, two marvelous children, Daniel and Marla (as well as their spouses, Rachael and Craig), and two fabulous grandchildren, Carter and Grace.

Born and raised in Urbana, he played trombone and basketball at Urbana High School, while also wooing his future wife, Nadja. He then attended Wheaton college, where he participated in pranks, such as padlocking the chapel doors before a service. After becoming more serious about his studies (and receiving an ultimatum from his wife), he received a Master of Divinity Degree and Master of Sacred Theology Degree in 1969 from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. In a further pursuit of education, he then earned a PhD in Religion from Duke University in 1979.

Steve Shoemaker served as pastor at Pittsboro and Mount Vernon Springs Presbyterian churches in Pittsboro, NC, as well as campus pastor at North Carolina State University and McKinley Presbyterian Church in Champaign. He finished his career as Director of the University YMCA at the University of Illinois. For many years, Steve also taught one course a semester in Religious Studies at either Parkland College or The University of Illinois.

Devoted to his community, Steve served as Chair of the Committee for the Homeless, Co-Chair of the Men’s Emergency Shelter Steering Committee, member of the Dr. Martin Luther King Committee, member of the Muslim Committee, and served on the Champaign County Board, the United Way Board, and the local ACLU Board. He was also an active Urbana Rotary Club member since 1982 and acted as president in 2013.

With a passion for writing, particularly poetry, Steve was nominated for Illinois Poet Laureate in 2003 and has been published in a plethora of journals ranging from Christian Ministry to Judaism. After his cancer diagnosis, he published his first book titled “A Sin A Week.” He has also received thousands of Likes for poems posted through social media. In addition to the printed word, Steve reached out to the community through his weekly radio program, Keepin’ The Faith on WILL AM 580, which provided interviews and discussions highlighting relevant social topics.

Steve donated his rich bass voice to various choirs and was a member of the Real Fire band. He also donated his time to be an integral part in the lives of others as he joined couples in marriage, performed funerals, and provided counseling and support (while never accepting payment).

However, to this writer, Steven Robert Shoemaker’s greatest accomplishment was his role within his family. In over 50 years of blissful marriage, he modeled how to sincerely love and respect another. He gave corsages, coached soccer, and cooked Cheese Surprise. He took his children out of school to see baseball games and go to museums. And although his children did not always recognize it in the moment (as they were dragged to organ concerts or tours of Frank Lloyd Wright houses), Steve Shoemaker demonstrated how to embrace life (Fly kites! Eat dessert first!) and how to make the world a better place.

Despite a host of shortcomings, including but not limited to leaving used toothpicks around the house and eating other people’s chocolate bars, Steve was an accomplished author, compassionate pastor, devoted leader, and loving husband and father. He is greatly missed.

Memorial gifts may be made to the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright Street, Champaign, IL 61801.

Services will be arranged and announced as soon as possible.

There is a deep stillness in the Stewart household this morning. Even when I know death is coming, it still stops me in my tracks. The world is a smaller today.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2016

When Things Go Bump in the Night

Children feel safer when a parent reads them a story and tucks them into bed. The things that go bump in the night are not quite so scary. Mommy or Daddy says not to worry. They’re right there to make sure everything will be alright.

In some ways we are children till the day we die. We feel anxious about our security. Fear still grips us when the sirens blare in the night.

Sometimes children are exposed all day long to the threats to their well-being. They need a parent’s or grandparent’s reassurance. They need the security of knowing that Mommy or Daddy is stronger than whatever might go bump in the night.

As we grow older we learn the difference between real and false reassurance. We know that there is no one to tuck us into bed anymore. But nostalgia for fairy tales and for the parent who will make us safe lingers on. And the candidate who both scares us during the day with stories of the boogieman and tucks us into bed with a fairy tale about himself as the hero gathers the children to himself.

The nightmare is just a few winks away.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 22, 2016

 

 

Which song for today?

Steve Shoemaker is hospitalized in Illinois.  CaringBridge and FaceBook, which have kept us up-to-date on his journey with terminal cancer, have been silent since Thursday. Steve’s last post on FB read “another set-back, fall-back, back-slide,” posted with a photo of his book “A Sin for Each Kind of Day.”

Waiting for news, Steve’s verse “A Song for Each Kind of Day” (posted on Views from the Edge on On April 12, 2012) came to memory.

One Hebrew word for “god” was “jah.”

(It was a time of many words

for god–and many gods.) To say

“hallel” was for all to sing praise,

so HALLELUJAH meant “Praise God!”

(or “Thanks to you, oh God!”– for some

words could be truly translated

more than one way.

And so, a Psalm, or Song, that offered thanks or praise

might well be paired with a lament:

a cry of pain from one who prays

for help, relief, from gods who sent

disaster. (But, of course, some Psalms

wisely acknowledged that some wrongs

were caused by those who sang the songs!)

There is a Psalm for each one of our days…

[Steve Shoemaker, April 12, 2012]

Today Kay and I are far away in Minnesota, but our hearts are in Illinois. Your prayers are invited. Just close your eyes. Sit quietly. Speak the name “Steve”. . . .[be still]. . . . Then “Nadja” . . . .[be still] . . . . Then “Shoemaker family”. . .  [be still] . . . .Then “Jah”. . . and leave the rest there.

There is a psalm for each kind of day. Today, it’s Psalm 46.

— Gordon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift and Memory of Snoopy

For the past two weeks an uninvited memory has surfaced during my sleep and during the early morning hours when I’m unsure whether I’m awake or still asleep, that twilight zone when the brain does whatever the brain does to move the soul toward healing the broken pieces of the past.

The memory is of Snoopy, the pet hamster who brought such joy to everyone in the family. He was a special creature — a lovely white tan, like a palomino horse, who very quickly learned to please us all. At dinner I’d bring Snoopy up from my bedroom in the basement and sit him on my shoulder, or my Dad’s, the way Twinkle the parakeet used to do in an earlier iteration of pets we humans thought we owned. Even my mother, who loved birds but was the first one up on a chair whenever a mouse appeared, fell in love with Snoopy and our love for him.

Until the week I moved from the basement bedroom to the one on the second floor after Jeanine moved out of our home. Snoopy stayed in the basement. I have no idea now why I forgot him — or why the family didn’t miss him — but the next time I saw Snoopy he had starved to death. I’d forgotten to feed him. The picture of Snoopy lying on his back with his mouth open has returned repeatedly, a message, perhaps, about paying attention to when and where I am.

I was maybe 14 at the time. The hormones were raging back then. Not so much anymore at 73, but I easily find distractions from responsibility toward the likes of Snoopy — family who in some way deserve or need the sustenance I’m still in position to provide: Kay, John, Doug, Kristin, Andrew, and Christopher, my brothers Don and Bob, and old dogs hanging on to the pack while the clock runs out on us one by one.

And then there is the need for confession, for repentance, and for forgiveness that will never come from those I’ve hurt, ignored, forgotten, betrayed, denied—and animals I’ve killed, like Snoopy.

Then, during the run-up to the week when six seminary friends will gather in Chicago to focus on the Hebrew prophets, I remember a poem of Yuli Daniel, written from a Soviet labor camp published in Rabbi Jonathan Magonet‘s Returning: Exercises in Repentance in the chapter CHESHBON HANEFESH — Self-Judgment.

When your life is tumbling downhill head over heels,
Thrashing and foaming like an epileptic,
Don’ pray and offer up repentance,
Don’t be afraid of jail or ruin.

Study your past with concentration,
Evaluate your days without self-flattery,
Grind the fag* ends of illusion underfoot,
But open up to all that’s bright and clear.

Don’t surrender to impotence and bitterness,
Don’t give in to disbelief and lies,
Not everyone’s a cringing bastard,
Not everyone’s a bigot who informs.

And while you walk along the alien roads
To lands that do not figure on your maps,
Count out the names of all your friends
As you would do with pearls on prayer-beads.

Be on the look-out, cheerful and ferocious
And you’ll manage to stand up, yes, stand up
Under your many-layered load of misery,
Under the burden of your being right.

*i.e., unwelcome work.

Yuli Markovich Daniel was a heroic figure who bore the burden of being right. I bear the burden of being wrong. Yuri stood up. I sat down, or stayed upstairs, ignoring the basement and the attic where the work needs to be done “without self-flattery” at age 73.

My mind isn’t what it used to be. The synapses are shrinking. The short-term memory is fading. But the longer-term memory of the likes of Snoopy is a call from Beyond to pay attention to and give thanks for this moment within the Eternal Now.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 21, 2016

Verse – Teenagers at the State Park, 1959

Chigger_biteThe spring ground no longer was frozen.
We made out on a blanket we’d chosen.
Chiggers bit where elastic
Her Mom thought it fantastic:
“Well, at least you kept some of your clothes on!”

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 29, 2016