“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” ~ Mother Teresa.
Today is the 101st anniversary of my father’s birth. My mother very cleverly gave birth to their first child on his birthday the year after they got married. I’m sure he loved sharing his birthday with his daughter. I am not so sure how Rachel felt about it! But a tradition was started: she gave birth to her first son on the 18th (E for Effort!) and his first daughter was born on the 11th (yes, 9/11, but the year before the infamous one).
Last weekend, for the first time in over 20 years, I did not have a fund-raising weekend to keep me in Miami. Every year (pre COVID) from the late 1990’s, we would be entertaining past students and friends from far and wide who would come into town to have fun together and raise funds for our alma mater. Even though education is free, students who attend our high school in Jamaica have many expenses which are not covered. And for many of them whose parents may have strained sources of income, even finding money for travel, for lunch, and for textbooks may place a heavy burden.
So on the Labor Day weekend, since the Delta variant numbers in South Florida had dissuaded us from holding even an outdoor event, I was free to wander further afield. It is amazing how restful and refreshing it can be to remove yourself from your normal environment, from your usual routine. Despite everything we know, despite the importance of self-care, of maintaining balance in your life, we often neglect to do those things we advise others to do. And because we live in a society of demands and expectations, we then feel guilty when we take that step back. But the story of the bucket of water comes to mind. Scoop out a cupful and see how quickly the water fills in, hiding any evidence that your cupful was ever there.
This week I came across a book I did not remember that I had. It was an old school hymn book that had belonged to my father. As school chaplain he was responsible for devotions in our Christian based school, and led them every Friday morning. Slipped inside the book were a few strips of paper, with cryptic numbers referring to the hymns, or a Bible verse, probably his reminders of his message for that day. One slip of paper marked one of his favorite hymns, which would be sang with gusto at the end of each term: “Lord dismiss us with Thy blessing…” Our school at the time had both boarders and day students, and the Senior Boarder Boys (Davy Men, not boys!), delighted in harmonizing, their bass and tenor voices dominating the huge school hall. Of course, in their irreverent way, they had to rearrange the words to their own liking, changing the line: “Those returning, those returning…” to ‘Those come-backing, those come-backing”. That guaranteed shocked and appalled faces on the part of the staff in the hall, and disruptive laughter from the assembled students, but apparently gave my father joy, and he would sometimes request that the last verse be repeated.
We humans are a superstitious bunch. We find significance in patterns, in numbers and dates, forgetting that we were the ones who created these arbitrary systems in the first place. In a similar way we can look for deep meaning in our dreams, forgetting that it is our own brain that creates the thought patterns that give rise to our interesting and possibly disturbing stories while we sleep. But the appearance of that old hymn book, and the memories it generated, seemed to have come with a special message. Another slip of paper marked a hymn that was completely new to me, a hymn about prayer, written by James Montgomery in the 19th century. It begins: “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire…” and the simple set of verses are as lyrical a description of prayer as I have ever read. It seemed to me to be a message, and I knew immediately who needed to hear that message.
My father was a man of eloquence, he was descended from the Welsh, a culture of poem and song carved into his DNA. His prayers were healing, they brought people together, they brought calm to a troubled world. Once, when he was visiting me, I asked him to go to the bedside of the daughter of a friend of mine, she was recovering from brain surgery. I can still recall the sound of his voice, soft and confident, reassuring and loving, as he prayed over a family he had only just met.
This week, he gifted me with a reminder of his life’s work, a gift which keeps on giving. I heard the word ‘tethering’ on a radio show, one of those old words that has been given a new life in our modern, tech filled world. But it made me think how we are tethered to each other, and to those loved ones who have gone before us. We are tethered to our history, both personal and cultural, and it can strengthen us when we are feeling down.
When we see these connections, and recognize how much we need each other, it becomes easier to move forward together. MLK Jr. spoke of choosing love, because hate was too heavy a burden to carry every day. It is time for us once more to choose love, to recognize that no matter how self-sufficient we may feel, we need each other.
On this Friday morning, approaching the 20th anniversary of 9/11, may you feel love for your fellow man (yes, even those who make you crazy!), and may you find time to enjoy the patterns in your life that help to make it memorable. May you have friends to dance and laugh with, and may you make time to rest and restore, to replenish your reserves. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!