The Last Warm Day of the Year?

Like an episode of Seinfeld, this post isn’t about anything. Just some musings as I sit on the front porch in the middle of October, wearing a t-shirt and shorts, with a temperature in the 80’s at 9 o’clock. When Tate and I returned home with our pizza (another gourmet dinner), the digital gauge in the SUV of the external temperature read 88°. Global warming, I suppose. A cynical person might say the planet has been warming since the last ice age. Guess it’s a good thing I don’t know any cynical people.

Whatever the reason, I’m enjoying the evening here in famous Ferguson. The katydids, crickets and tree frogs are in fine form, serenading me as I’m enjoying what may be the last warm day of the year. The forecast is calling for a low of 44° tomorrow, that’s quite a drop.

There is slight smell of ash in our 1890 house. I don’t know for sure, but I’m wondering if because the outside temperature is warmer  than the inside that  the air is not flowing down through the three chimneys on the first floor rather than up. Having said that, the entire summer would fit that description, so that doesn’t explain it. The smell is not so unpleasant as to spend any more time contemplating the cause and it is a reminder of fires to come. If winter has any redeeming value, it is the joy of a warm fire on a cold evening.

I know all to well, that it won’t be long before I step out on the front porch, and there will be silence. The tree-top musicians that are still providing the soundtrack of summer, tuned into the temperature rather than the calendar date will be dormant. Until then, I will enjoy their symphony.

Mrs. G, our semi-feral cat has decided to join me on the front porch. How we came by Mrs G is a whole different blog post, but I should at least explain the name. We simply tired of calling her, “that grey cat” and she became Mrs. G.

I spent most of the day working outside, rebuilding the fence around the pool, yes I know, a first world problem if there ever was one, but Mrs. G enjoyed the company. Like most cats she wants some attention, but not too much. A brave man would draw parallels to women about now. Guess it’s a good thing I don’t know any brave men.

Poppy

Funerals, Faith and Fog

The sun rose before Mrs. Poppy and myself. By the time we left Sikeston, Missouri the sun had been up an hour or more. We woke to a foggy landscape that would stay with us through most of the day. The fog was not so dense that it made driving dangerous. We had at least a half-mile of visibility down the road. At that point cars traveling in our direction, would abruptly disappear into the mist. On the opposite side of the highway, cars would suddenly appear as if emerging from an other-worldly portal.

Even knowing we were headed north, I could not locate the sun that bathed the landscape in a warm glow, softening the edges of everything it touched. The vista outside our windshield became an impressionistic painting as the fog settled into the valleys and low-lands that we passed, creating lakes and rivers of swirling grey mist.

I wrapped my fingers around a paper cup filled with hot coffee, courtesy of the motel we had stayed at the night before. It was better than expected for a complimentary cup of coffee, but mostly I appreciated its warmth.

The atmosphere outside the SUV fit the mood inside. Mrs. Poppy and I sat in a comfortable silence, each with our own introspective thoughts that required no conversation. The music of Leonard Cohen would have achieved the right level of melancholy for our frame of minds, but the situation required a level of purity that Leonard could not have provided. Perhaps a fugue by J.S. Bach would have been in order, as he slowly and mathematically created a musical world and then brought it crashing down, but that was not to be had, so we rolled on through the mist in silence.


We were returning home from a funeral. Funerals are always tough, but this one was particularly difficult. Dying is as much a part of life as being born. Intellectually  we know this, emotionally when it happens unexpectedly and at what we think is the wrong time, it’s a struggle.

This service was for a family friend, taken shortly after her 60th birthday and just a few weeks after her retirement. She had just started the next phase of life, devoting herself to her family, her art, her hobbies, and then unexpectedly in her sleep, she is gone. Her family and friends are left reeling and this huge question hangs over everyone’s head, … WHY?

I know there are people who think it’s wrong to question God. Personally, I think it’s a healthy thing to do. It is better to voice your concerns to God than to ignore him. He is not so fragile as to be wounded by our questions or diminished by our doubt. The Bible is littered with heroes of the faith, who have questioned God.

Every parent has experienced the questioning phase, where every other word from your child is, “why?” We do not disown our children for questioning, we understand this as a phase of learning. Neither does God disown his children for questioning.

Having said that, I have never received a direct answer when I question God and don’t know anyone who has. Instead I get the feeling that he’s saying, “Let’s continue this conversation as we walk along.”

Sometimes after a few miles and a few years, we look back and say, “Oh yeah, I get it now.”

Often though, we never get an answer and this is where faith enters the conversation. Faith enters because it is needed in times where there are tough questions but seemingly no answers.

Everyone understands faith is a virtue. How we come by that faith is a matter of debate. There are those of the belief that faith is something you make a decision to have, that if you concentrate hard enough, clench your jaw and are absolutely determined, than you will have faith. I have a suspicion that those who claim an absolute, unshakable faith are also proud of their humility.

I have a much more pessimistic view of myself and by extension, of humanity. I don’t see a lot of goodness naturally occurring within me. I’m not sure I want the type of faith that I can generate.

I believe faith, like grace, flows from God, measured out as we need it. Faith is not an anesthetic that numbs the pain that we are feeling, rather faith and its sibling, hope, walk with us, guiding us through the darkest times. Faith knows of paths that human logic can’t find.


We have driven an hour and the fog is still with us. I can’t see everything that lies ahead down the road. I can only see a short distance in front of me … but I can make the entire journey like this.

I have just enough faith to know that if I stay on this road, it will take me home.

Poppy

…………………………..

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” – C.S. Lewis

The Sun Also Sets

When Mimsy and I went for our walk tonight, you could tell the season was beginning to change. Sure it was October 1st, you would expect it by that date, but we’ve had a run of very hot days at the end of September. Tonight though you could believe in autumn. For a few moments the breeze picked up and the sound of rustling trees and fallen leaves skittering across the sidewalk drowned out the hum of distant cars and the rhythm of persistent nocturnal insects. Not only could you feel the change in the air, you could hear it.

We had just finished the quintessential Sunday dinner of pot-roast, potatoes, carrots and warm bread. When we returned home, I gave Mimsy the option of staying on the front porch with me as I finished my glass of wine, but the lingering smell of roast and activity inside the house was too much for her so I had the porch to myself.

The sun had set without fanfare, but the sky in the western horizon remained a brilliant blue. It silhouetted the trees and houses along Elizabeth Avenue. As it’s glow slowly faded,  I rewound the events of the previous hours. By any measure, it had been a wonderful day. The weather was perfect, we needed the rain, but today I don’t think anyone was willing to trade the weather we had for a rainy day. My grandson had spent the night before with us and stayed through most of the day. After I took him home, I stopped by to see my mother at the skilled nursing facility where she lives.

When I tell someone that my mother will be 102 in a few months, the usual response is, “Oh that’s wonderful.”

I nod in agreement, but inside I’m thinking, “No it’s not wonderful.”

It’s not that I want to lose my mother, but her quality of life has deteriorated so badly and Alzheimer’s has robbed her of most her memories, that I wish for her the peace she seeks.

As I talk to her, I search for events and places that she can recall. It’s as if her mind is being slowly wiped by a computer virus, starting with the most recent memories and proceeding relentlessly backwards. I speak of a town where she lived as a young girl, and for a moment her eyes will light up and she says, “I haven’t heard that name in a long time.”

After telling her multiple times, it bothers me slightly that she doesn’t know who I am. I console myself with the knowledge that she is grateful for any visitor. But what crushes me, is that she doesn’t remember my dad, her husband, at all.

They were married for 78 years and were inseparable. They set the standard for me of what a married couple should be, always faithful, always loving, and now she doesn’t remember him.

This is when I question God.

I search for answers, for knowledge … is there something I should be learning here?

No answers are forthcoming, so I resolve myself to do this:
I can’t bring back my mother’s memories but I can honor them. I can try to remember everything my parents gave me. Not the material things but the values, the principles, the love that was modeled before me everyday. I can do my best to pass down the memories to my children and grandchildren of the artist and pragmatic businessman who had 78 wonderful years together.

This I can do.

Poppy