Somebody has my ashes!

Views from the Edge

It’s Ash Wednesday. I put on my ministerial robe 15 minutes before the traditional Service that marks the beginning of Lent with the imposition of ashes and go the drawer of the credenza.

Ash Wednesday“They’re missing! Where are the ashes?!” 

Every year I store the ashes in the credenza in my office. I’ve forgotten that we’d moved the credenza from my office last fall. I rush downstairs to look for it. No credenza anywhere. Then…I remember. We sold it at the Annual Fall Festival!

“Somebody has our ashes!”

What to do with no ashes? Burn some newspapers? Smoke a cigar and use the ashes? No time.

I grab a pitcher and pour water into the baptism font.

We begin the Service with the story of the missing ashes. Smiles break out everywhere. Maybe even with signs of relief. “Instead of the imposition of ashes this year, we will go to the…

View original post 245 more words

Somebody has my ashes!

It’s Ash Wednesday. I put on my ministerial robe 15 minutes before the traditional Service that marks the beginning of Lent with the imposition of ashes and go the drawer of the credenza.

Ash Wednesday“They’re missing! Where are the ashes?!” 

Every year I store the ashes in the credenza in my office. I’ve forgotten that we’d moved the credenza from my office last fall. I rush downstairs to look for it. No credenza anywhere. Then…I remember. We sold it at the Annual Fall Festival!

“Somebody has our ashes!”

What to do with no ashes? Burn some newspapers? Smoke a cigar and use the ashes? No time.

I grab a pitcher and pour water into the baptism font.

We begin the Service with the story of the missing ashes. Smiles break out everywhere. Maybe even with signs of relief. “Instead of the imposition of ashes this year, we will go to the font for the waters of baptism, the waters of the renewal of life.”

We have some fun justifying the change in the Service, focusing on the that part of the Gospel text for the day – the words of Jesus himself. “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen my others….But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret…”(Mt. 6:16-18).

People come to the font, one-by-one, for “the Imposition of … [Water]”. I dip my hand into the font. “Pat, (making the sign of the cross on her forehead), “Dust to dust; ashes to ashes. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. You are a child of God. Live in this peace.”

After the Service is over, one of the worshipers asks whether anyone has done the same for me. She reaches her hand into the font. “Gordon, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Remember…You are a child of God…..”

I’ll never forget it. Neither will they. And somewhere in this world a stranger has a credenza with a sack full of ashes. Whoever you are, feel free to keep them. They’re all yours.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 10, 2016 – a memoir from 2012 at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN

 

She mowed the lawn in high heels!

Joan Copeland in Cubs

Joan Copeland in Cuba

We LOVE interesting people!

Joan Copeland was one of a kind. She was a complete stranger to Views from the Edge before Steve Shoemaker read the unique obituary the led us to post The Foster Child who Succeeded at Fostering.  Family members caught eye of the posting and sent comments worth sharing.  The bolded print is added for those who don’t read entire blog posts! -:)

First family comment: I’m her granddaughter…. She was amazing… Growing up she kept me smiling and giggling…she was a free soul… Cubans and Martinis…when I would stay the night she used to pour me ginger ale in a fancy glass cup so we could have woman time lol she never let her past define her…And her family was her life…Sophie her cat lol…meanest thang ever…but she loved her….I’m glad you all enjoyed reading the smallest excerpt of her life…if only you knew the stories of Cuba…her first tattoo at age 75….her passion for dancing…how dolled up she loved to get…my granny was a true diva…an amazing woman….inside and out…- Seylon

Views from the Edge replies: Seylon, WHAT AN UNEXPECTED TREAT to hear from you. I never know who reads the blog, so to hear from you means a lot. Please say more about the Cuban references. Was she Cuban? Had she spent time in Cuba? Smoked Cuban cigars, drank Cuban rum?

At the helm on suitor's boat on the way to Cuba..

At the helm on suitor’s boat on the way to Cuba..

Seylon responds: I googled her name just to see if old real estate photos would pop up and stumbled across your blog. I called my mom she thought it was pretty cool. My grandma was Romanian….but she loved Cuba…she traveled there twice on a friend’s sailboat….I believe ’92 was either her first trip or second…I told her if they ever dropped the embargo and allow all the US citizens not being able to travel there I would take her there on vacation again. 🙂 I wish I could post pictures for you. I have plenty of them from when she was there. [NOTE: the photos on this page were sent later.]

She used to talk about the dolphins that would swim along the sailboat. Her first tattoo the family took her to get was of Dolphins and the word Cuba 🙂 She was 75. She would talk about how she brought a roll of shiny new pennies to give out to the kids there because she knew the country was poor and she thought it would be a cool gift to them. I guess a little boy she had met was not thrilled with the pennies…she used to say he expected more money then her little pennies.

Joan Coleman cigar

Joan Copeland smoking Cuban something or other

But she also loved cigars and used to smoke them. I am in the military and tried getting her cigars made from every place I’ve been…my last trip I got her a while box of Cubans…I told her we could crack the box open once I had my baby. She laughed, she said she didn’t even know if she could smoke one anymore. She mostly collected the boxes…. she collected a lot of stuff… antiques, paintings, everything 🙂 It’s crazy that her obituary got all the way to Minnesota. It’s pretty neat how someone who means so much to you can be a small part of a stranger’s life.

Another granddaugher responds: Hi, I am her oldest granddaughter, Summer. My gran would have loved this!! My gran never left her house without looking like a movie star from her big up-do to her fur coats. She went to the top of a mountain on a dirt bike and mowed the yard in heals. Always had a cocktail and ready for some fun. We always had a project to do together from making jewelry, beading necklaces, sorting jewelry or gemstones. We even made picture frames with jewelry. My mom and I took her to get her tattoo. All three of us got one that day. Three generations getting a tattoo coolest thing ever.

Great grandma singing "Itsy bits spider" to Seylon's newborn child.

Great grandma singing “Itsy bits spider” to Seylon’s newborn child.

She loved her family more than anything else. She wrote notes on everything she ever gave me. She made a tote box for all her grandkids and when I opened mine it has every Christmas card, valentine , letter, picture I drew and my baby clothes. She kept everything I ever gave her my whole life was in this box. She treasured me as much as I did her. Thank you for taking the time to write about my amazing grandma.

Joan’s oldest daughter comments: Hi Gordon. This is Joan’s oldest daughter, Rebecca. My niece, Seylon, called her mother from Germany this afternoon just as my sis and I were sorting thru “the goods.” (There’s a packed house.) I cried as she read your column to us. I’ll have you know that I went all out when writing the obituary because my mother did not want a funeral. She said, “I don’t want a bunch of people strolling by my dead body pretending that they liked me. I know who my friends are.” To be led to your column was an amazing stroke of synchronicity, and I’m sure my mother would think you did right by her. My mother was not Cuban. Her father was a Romanian immigrant who came here as a child. Her mother was from Illinois, and we don’t know much more because the family split up when Joan was young.

Joan Copeland on suitor's yacht sailing illegally to Cuba.

Joan Copeland on suitor’s yacht sailing illegally to Cuba.

Her sailing trips to Cuba were with one of the prospects she finally told to go away. She was in her mid-60’s at the time, and wouldn’t hesitate to smoke a good cigar w/ you.

Here’s just one more little tidbit I thought you might like. My mother enjoyed her martinis and for years she collected antique pewter. At my sister’s suggestion, we had her ashes put into a pewter cocktail shaker from her collection. When Seylon gets to come home on leave in July, we will scatter Joan’s ashes over her mother’s grave as per her wishes. – Rebecca.

I wish we were all that interesting!

The Most Honest Day

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words of Ash Wednesday jar us to a sudden stop.

It may be the most honest day of the Christian liturgical calendar, the day our daily denial of death is called out from the shadows of species-illusion and self-delusion that tells us, “You will not die.”

Who is the ‘you’ that is dust (of the earth) and will return to dust?

We think the body will die. But not the “I”. Not the “you”. Only matter, not spirit, not my soul. The imposition of ashes says differently. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are “imposed” on the forehead in the sign of the cross. In those few seconds I stand before the mirror of my mortal reality more humbly, jarred, but somehow strangely comforted, that I – and all things natural, human and otherwise – are dust, and that it is as it should be, if only we understood and gave thanks for today.

Someone really died?

Verse – “We All Used to be Equal Under the Shroud”

About half way through my life
(I am now 3-score and 10)
funerals became the new
thing, “Celebrations of Life,”
with friends (no enemies would come)
saying fine or funny things
about the very special one
who sadly couldn’t be there then
because the ashes were still stored
at the crematorium
and might not ever be picked up,
or buried (unless family had
a plot already bought and paid for,
then a private internment
might for seven very short
minutes remind a few folks
that someone was dead.)

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 8, 2013

Katherine Slaikeu Nolan

Katie and Chris at Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Katie and Chris at Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Today we inter Katherine’s (“Katie’s”) ashes – three years to the day after she left her cancer behind at the age of 33.

It takes awhile sometimes. The stages of grief don’t come in standard sequence like the innings of a baseball game.

In “The Final Time” in Max Coots’ collection of poetic prose, Seasons of the Self (Abington Press, 1971), he wrote:

It takes a little while to know how much of life is death and not to dread it so.
To sense the equilibrium of the earth,
To be at home in time, and take the limits of both life and love.

A person’s death is a private thing, like grief, like prayer, like birth.
I know nothing of that final time, except what I know of life,
But I know I live and in my life I have so many opportunities to die,
For death is many things and times,
Before the days are gone,
But I have, yet, a while, and things to be, and much to do.

Max Coots is a poet and Minister Emeritus of the Canton Unitarian-Universalist Church in Canton, NY. His words still echo today as the family gathers to lay Katie’s ashes to rest. Special prayers today for Katherine’s husband Chris, her mother Kay, her father Steve, and her siblings Kristin and Andrew.

It’s the little deaths before the final time I fear.
The blasé shrug that quietly replaces excited curiosity,
The cynic-sneer that takes the place of innocence,
The soft sweet odor of success that overcomes the sense of sympathy,
The self-betrayals that rob us of our will to trust,
The ridicule of vision, the barren blindness to what was once our sense of beauty –
These are deaths that come on so quietly we do not know when it was we died.

Precious Lord, deliver us from these, and grant us peace within the limits of life and love.

Space to Breathe and Grow

Verse – “Pruning”

Even under insulating cones,
roses in the Midwest winter die
back and turn brown from the tips of canes
almost to the ground. It’s time for my
pruning shears to clip away the dead
wood and give the living plant some air–
space to breathe and grow. The thorns are red,
black or brown, but still sharp so I wear
gloves of thick cowhide to carry all
cuttings to the backyard burn pile. Fire
turns them all to ashes which I pile
at the foot of every rose bush. There
fertilizer, water, and bonemeal
grow the blooms that make it all worthwhile.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 15, 2013

A Visit with Mary

Mary with Maggie

Mary with my dog Maggie

Visiting with a 91-year-old friend with terminal cancer, the discussion turns to her final wishes.  Mary is a child psychologist by profession, a retired professor whose pioneering work with children at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis’ Children’s Hospital is a legacy that will remain long after she is gone.

Raised in a strict Calvinist Christian tradition in Michigan, her soul long ago had come to drink from gentler wells – the quiet gatherings of the “Quakers,” the naturalist spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi and of American indigenous spiritualities that saw the sacred in the cirrus clouds, the fluttering of a leaf, a chickadee at the bird-feeder on the deck, or the circling of an eagle overhead.

When her husband died three years before, the family gathered privately to inter Doug’s ashes in a small opening in the woods on their farm near Wabasha. Doug, like Mary, is legendary in Minnesota…in a different sort of way…the street lawyer with the pony tail who started and led the Legal Rights Center with leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the chosen intermediary between the federal troops and the AIM members at the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973 – Dennis and Russell Means, Clyde Bellecourt, Leonard Peltier, et. al..

The family marked the spot with four stones pointing North, East, South and West – the “four directions of the four corners of the earth.”  Early the next morning, the day of the public celebration of Doug’s life, one of Doug and Mary’s daughters had walked out to that tiny clearing in the woods. A bald eagle was sitting very still in the center of the four stones above Doug’s ashes.

I asked Mary at the time what she made of that.  With great respect, she paused…and said she didn’t know, and something to the effect that native peoples seem to be in touch with mysteries that elude the rest of us.  er statement struck me at the time because in our talks about death and dying, she had always indicated that she believed that life is lived between the boundaries of birth and death.  The eagle sitting on Doug’s ashes in that tiny opening in the woods didn’t seem to convince her of something beyond the grave, but she held a kind of sacred openness to the possibility, a respectful not-knowing about human destiny, the universe, and our place in it.

Now, three years after Doug’s death, we sit together, as we often have, over a lunch of shrimp, salad and fresh bread at the table that looks out at the bird feeders in the old converted mill on the farm up the hill from Wabasha.  Three of her five children are there.

Missy asks Mary whether she has told me her plans for her service when the end comes. There is a long silence as she goes away to some far off inner place – some wooded glen where no one else can go.  Her eyes are distant, dream-like, looking off to some far off place, sorting through her long spiritual journey to fetch the right words out of the forest of 91 years of memory.

Finally she speaks… softly.  Quietly.  Deliberately. “I want you to do the prayer and I want the benediction.”  “What kind of prayer?” I ask.  She looks at me quizzically, as if I should know.  “Something classical with the gravitas of tradition?”  “Yes,” she says.  “And what kind of benediction?” I ask.  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” she says.  “And music. What about music?”  “Oh, yes” she says, “Bach, Mozart, Beethoven…and ‘Let there be peace on Earth’”… and she wanders off again into that most personal space where no one else can go.

Ninety-one years summed up in four-words “Blessed are the peacemakers” from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

She is growing weary now. It’s time for her afternoon nap.  We say good-bye. I leave this sacred place of Mary’s world, get behind the wheel to drive home, turn on the radio, listen to news that is so far removed from Mary’s world and Jesus’ with all the saber-rattling and the name-calling, and I wish we all could have lunch with Mary or take a walk to the wooded glen where the eagle sat still above Doug’s grave at the center of the four corners of the earth.

———————————————-

For eight years Doug and Mary Hall’s farm was a second home. Mary’s pensive spirit and Doug’s activism made them natural parents of the state-wide movement for restorative justice in Minnesota and the Minnesota Restorative Justice Campaign.

Blessed are the peacemakers. RIP.

The List

“You have ca… You have can.. cancer. But we think it’s treatable.”

I read The List early this morning, the day after hearing a doctor tell a wonderful older couple the news. The full bone scan tells a different story. It can be treated with radiation, but at what price for an old man already writhing in unbearable pain? My friend has been on “the list” once before 20 years ago. Now he’s back on it, this time for good. He’s a strong man, but not that strong, not immortal, not invulnerable. The treatment will not stop it this time. Morphine and lots of love will see him through until he’s off the list for good.

My step-daughter, Katherine, was placed on “the list” at age 30. She was exited the list at 34. Her ashes are on the mantel now. Her courage, her buoyancy, her steadfast refusal to let being on “the list” define her, her compassion for the doctors and nurses who “treated” her with surgery, chemo, more surgery, radiation, lasers, and morphine, and for us, the members of the family to whom she brought so much delight, have left us with so much more than what’s left on the mantel.

I’ll post a piece written during the third year of Katherine being on “the list” later today. Look for “It’s raining; it’s pouring.”

For now, share your stories with a comment here, or go to Courteney Bluebird’s blog and comment there. All of her work is remarkable and worth the visit.

“Where are the ashes!!!”

Gordon C. Stewart, February 24, 2012

It happened on Ash Wednesday.

“They’re missing! Where are the ashes?!” It’s fifteen minutes before the Service. “Where are the ashes!”

Every year I put the ashes for the Ash Wednesday Service in the credenza in my office. I never gave it a second thought that we had moved the credenza out of my office last fall. I rush downstairs to look for it. No credenza anywhere. Then…I remember. We sold it at the Annual Fall Festival! Somebody has our ashes!

What to do with no ashes? Burn some newspapers? Smoke a cigar and use the ashes? No time.

I grab a pitcher and pour water into the baptism font.

I begin the Service with the story of the missing ashes. Smiles break out everywhere. Maybe even signs of relief. “Instead of the imposition of ashes this year, we will go to the font for the waters of baptism, the waters of the renewal of life.”

We have some fun justifying the change in the Service, focusing on the that part of the Gospel text for the day – the words of Jesus himself. “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen my others….But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret…”(Mt. 6:16-18).

People come to the font, one-by-one, for “the Imposition of … [Water]”. I dip my hand into the font. “Pat, (making the sign of the cross on her forehead), “Dust to dust; ashes to ashes. You are a child of God. Live in this peace.”

After the Service is over, one of the worshipers asks whether anyone has done the same for me. She reaches her hand into the font. “Gordon, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. You are a child of God…..”

I’ll never forget it. Neither will they. And somewhere in this world someone has a credenza with a sack full of ashes. Whoever you are, feel free to keep them. They’re all yours.