Have you ever experienced life as walking a path and being caught in a Tulle fog? Guest speaker Becky Leyser will be exploring this at her service.
(Click here to listen to the Sermon)
It is last year in December. I am at Nutcracker weekend with my daughter, Sara. She performs yearly in this professional grade ballet. It is a whole weekend of intense dancing for her and so it is the one weekend of the year when she gets to be a diva. And I get to let my theater geek out for the weekend – I am a backstage mom. I steam the costumes so they look crisp and bright to the audience. I help the dancers transform quickly from one character to another. And I am a grounding source for the kids – reminding them to walk, not run; breathe and let go of their fear; and reminding them regularly that they KNOW what to do. Truthfully it is one of my favorite weekends of the year.
It is just after the first show on Saturday. I am sitting in the green room sewing on a costume that has lost a snap due to the pressures of quick changes and hard dancing. It is about an hour and a half before top of show. In a half hour the dancers will converge on this room to get notes from the director. In the meantime the pre-professional dancers, who range in age from to 7 to 18, are scattered throughout the building. The littlest dancers are corralled into their room watching movies. The 12-14 year olds are downstairs in their dressing room playing secret Santa to each other and prepping for the upcoming show. And the oldest girls are ignoring the 12-14 year olds as best they can while talking about boys and music and calmly retouching makeup and donning the correct costume. The 10-12 year olds are too excited to be in a dressing room. They are already dressed for top of Act 1 and are strewn across the seats of the green room like so many animated costumes. They chatter away, reliving the highlights from the first show. Things are humming along as they should be.
But in a minute that all shatters and changes – for me. I get the phone call – you know the one you dread and know that it will come some day – a family member reporting the death of another family member. My sister, Ruth, calls to tell me that my dad contracted pneumonia. He was having difficulty breathing so his wife and stepson took him to the emergency room. The ER staff got him stabilized and gave him some medicine to try to dry out his lungs. The doctors told Dola, my stepmom, that it would be a while. So her son took her back home. The house is about 45 minutes away from the hospital. While she was gone Dad’s heart slowed down. His breathing got more labored. They offered to intubate him but Dad wasn’t having it. You see the last time his body stopped working correctly because he had a heart attack – they revived him. He woke up to kidneys that refused to work properly. He felt like he should have died with the heart attack. But instead he had to claw his way back – learn how to walk again, get dialysis every few days. So this farmer – this active, albeit overweight, older man, went from living a hard but fulfilling life to working hard to live in the flash of an eye. He wasn’t doing that again. So he refused the intubation. The doctors called his wife. She was clear that intubation was NOT what he would want. Within an hour he was dead. My sister assures me that even though Dola couldn’t make it back before he was gone, he wasn’t alone. A nurse and doctor sat with him, holding his hand.
As I talk quietly with my sister the green room is abuzz with activity. I need to finish the sewing so I can’t easily get up and leave. No one notices me anyway. They are all caught up in their own experience. I notice the juxtaposition of the topic of conversation and the activity in the room, makes the whole experience seem very surreal.
Over the next few days I feel as if I am in a fog. I am struck by how life has shifted. It seems like I was meandering down the pathway of my life, understanding where I was at. And, then, in the blink of an eye it all shifted. I haven’t fallen down some kind of rabbit hole. I am clear I am still on my own pathway. I just feel like the tulle fog has come up strong and thick. And all of a sudden, I can’t see where my next step will take me.
I have experienced this kind of fog at other times in my life. Those moments when I don’t know what to do. Most often it has a similar although perhaps less intense feeling for me than hearing of the death of a loved one. But I still have that feeling like I don’t know where to step… like I can’t see the pathway of my life anymore.
My guess is that you wouldn’t have to look too far to come up with your own scenario where the world starts to fade. And it may or may not involve death. It could be the loneliness you feel at a party. It could be missing family members. It could be reflecting on where your life has gotten you to or wondering how you have reached this age already.
I have been pondering what gets us through this kind of time frame. Especially when the fog is so thick you can’t see the next step and so you feel like you don’t know what to do. What is best for us to do? I have arrived at the conclusion that we have to step into the fog.
It isn’t my first inclination. I can’t see what is in there and so I tend to want to be careful. I want to put my hands out. I want to stop in my tracks and wait. I want to find something that will cut through the fog – a light, a knife, anything. But I think what is called for in these moments is surrender.
In a sermon from March 2011, Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, a venerated UU preacher talks about how he told his Dad that he thought surrender was an important part of spiritual maturity. His dad discounts the idea right away having grown up watching Hitler round people up for mass execution. Rev. Eller-Isaacs says, “The problem is that in response to their completely understandable fear of mind control, previous generations of religious liberals cut themselves off from the sustaining power that spiritual surrender can provide. This church (speaking of his home church in St. Paul, MN) and others like it have enshrined that fear by removing both the concept and practice of surrender from our spiritual vocabulary. But surrender or submission is an essential aspect of effective spiritual practice. Spiritual maturity requires that we come to understand and to experience that there is a power far beyond our own, a power on which we have no choice but to rely. The only way to come to understand it is to experience it. Though our hesitance and suspicion of surrender is well founded we hunger for the replenishment and strengthening of faith that only surrender can bring.”
I would ask you to try this on for size. You see it fits for me. It fits for me in dealing with grief. It fits for me at other times when I lose my way. It is my lived experience of what happens when I reach a space where I just have to trust life and the love that is far bigger than me… When I just have to surrender to the experience.
Please notice I am not saying capitulate to someone else. I am not asking any of us to give over to any other person’s truth. Rather I have to surrender to that still, small voice within me.
What I notice when I do this work, is that I transform. My faith deepens as Rev. Eller-Isaacs says and I feel replenished. I notice this in others as well. I do women’s empowerment work where I have sat circle with women as they do deep grief work. MY job in the circle is to hold a woman who is grieving. The kind of grief that results in wailing. The kind that comes from the depths of one’s soul. What I notice when I hold these women is that they are surrendering to a process. That they are dancing with grief. And as they empty themselves to this experience they are transformed.
Rev. Peter Friedrichs says, “Letting go is an affirmative act. It’s a choice we make to stop beating our heads against the wall and open ourselves up to another way. It’s a point of departure which means that it’s also the moment when something new can begin.
I know for me, that in the first year after my dad died I danced with grief. There were moments when I couldn’t move and then there were moments when I could not only move but absolutely rejoice for all the gifts my father bestowed upon me. And in that dance when I could surrender to the process I uncovered some amazing gifts. I could let go of what I thought I knew. This letting go allowed me to step forward into a new kind of relationship with Dad. It allowed me to feel him in my very bones. And it allowed me to recognize the places where we didn’t agree that helped me to become a better version of myself. It allowed me to be grateful for these things too.
Dear ones, when you find the tulle fog coming upon you thick, such that you can’t find the next step on your path – step into the fog. Be open to what the fog can give you. Surrender to your own heart’s knowing.
Blessings upon your journey.
I Want My Grief
By Peg Runnels
I want my grief
To be brilliant, fast and gone.
Like Mozart. Or Stevie ray.
Like fireworks. Boom! Flash!
Ooh, ahhh. Ok, done. Let’s go.
I want my grief to be brave.
Hurts more now, heals faster,
Grandma said, pouring salt
On a skinned knee.
I want to stand up to grief,
Stand it down, like the
Tiny man, big tank
In Tiananmen Square.
Because, because if I am brave,
Bold, salty, open enough
The tank, the bleeding, the tears
Will stop sooner. I tell myself.
But grief laughs: Humbles me.
I lose keys, break cups, get lost.
Asked at CarMax Why are you
Selling this car? I burst
Into an embarrassment of tears.
A friend says, One doesn’t have grief.
Grief has you.
We wrestle, to the mat. I’m pinned.
But sometimes I break free.
Break patterns instead of dishes.
Start to write myself a new story,
To fling myself toward yes.
Begin to say, Oh. Now this……Observe
What life brings. Reframe. Say,
I’m not wrestling grief,
So, I put my right foot in….
And turn myself about.
We Need One Another
By George E. Odell
We need one another when we mourn and would be comforted.
We need one another when we are in trouble and afraid.
We need one another when we are in despair, in temptation and need to be recalled to our best selves again.
We need one another when we would accomplish some great purpose, and cannot do it alone.
We need one another in the hour of success, when we look for someone to share our triumphs.
We need one another in the hour of defeat, when with encouragement we might endure, and stand again.
We need one another when we come to die, and would have gentle hands prepare us for the journey.
All our lives we are in need, and others are in need of us.