Back to the Birds

birding 1As my friends know from FB, I have become hopelessly addicted to the barred owl nest webcam.  The owls nested at the beginning of March in a box kindly provided for their use and outfitted with lighting and camera designed not to disturb them, but to permit the rest of us to watch.  Mama is the only one who can brood, so that’s her main activity, with the occasional flyabout tossed in for a distraction and some exercise.  Papa keeps her well supplied with rodents and crayfish.

A couple of nights ago she disappeared for an hour, much to my frantic concern.  The two owlets are due to make their appearance any day now; what if something had happened to her?  Such relief when she returned!

That blurry snapshot of me was taken in 1982!  Based on others in the same photo album, it’s  from a fall trip to watch hawks in Canada; I’m not sure whether it was taken in northwestern Ohio or on the southern tip of Ontario.  I had become starstruck by raptors, and then by all birds, a few years earlier, and in pre-children days had time to chase them all over the place.  The close friendships I formed a few years later when the kids were small did not include anyone with my passion for nature and the outdoors, so I did other things for a long time.  One of the things I most look forward to in retirement is getting back out in the field on a regular basis.

At the moment, “the field” is my laptop.  I can hardly wait for the emergence of the little owls!


Nana ~2, part ii

Nan did lead a life of privilege, but it was not a life without pain and sorrow.

Her mother suffered from bipolar disorder.  Nan said little about that, other than an occasional reference to having accompanied her mother to Baltimore many times, where she had entrusted her care to a college classmate who had become a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins.  My dad had memories of seeing them off at the train station.  Her mother ensured that her daughter had the college education that her own parents had denied her, and maintained a gracious Victorian home on a shady street, but her illness cast a pall over the lives of her family, especially after she was widowed in her fifties.

My own grandfather suffered some sort of mental breakdown that prevented him from returning to college for his senior year, and another one less than a decade later, during the Depression.  I believe that that experience was the catalyst for annual trips to Florida.  Nan packed her family up, put what cash they had into a suitcase, and directed their travel southward, hoping that the warmth and waves would have a soothing effect.

As a young grandmother of fifty-four, my grandmother would stand in her picture window with a cup of coffee one morning and watch our car head down the hill, only to hear a thundering crash a few moments later.  Calling for an ambulance and racing down the hill and up the road in her dressing gown, she would be the one to discover the head-on collision that had already ended my mother’s life and would, a few hours later, claim my baby brother’s.  Living nearly five more decades, she would see my father widowed again, divorced, and widowed a third time, and her eldest son widowed and divorced as well.

Her presence next door (and since we lived in the country, “next door” meant that a gravel lane separated our houses on top of a hill, ours behind hers) was the saving grace in our lives in a family marred by repeated experiences of sudden loss.  We seldom spoke of what had befallen us all, but she and my grandfather were the rocks of fortitude who ensured that we all survived.

Grey’s Ministry (Spoilers Abound)


Last night’s Grey’s Anatomy was, indeed, the powerful episode that had been promoted all week.  As Dr. Jo Karev begins to come to terms with the discovery that her biological father had date-raped her birth mother (news which she has not been able to bring herself to share with anyone, including her husband), she is drawn into the case of a woman who has been brutally raped and beaten in a dark alley.  The woman requires considerable counseling from her three women physicians before she will permit a rape kit to be performed, which is accomplished in a somewhat graphic scene, itself profound in the dignity and compassion afforded the patient by her doctors.  The real viewer tears come a few minutes later, when the patient, who has been shaking uncontrollably at the thought of leaving the confines of the examining room, is rolled down a long hallway lined on both sides by the women of the hospital, silently focusing their respectful and supportive gazes upon her in a way that causes her visibly to regain a sense of power and selfhood.

That said . . . one of my quarrels with medical shows (and Grey’s is the only one I watch these days) is the near complete absence of chaplains or other religious characters.  In real life in a large and busy hospital such as that featured in Grey’s, it would be far more likely for the chaplain to provide the many hours of support offered by three busy fictional surgeons, and far more probable that a chaplain would have organized some sort of ritual to empower a physically and emotionally battered patient.

But my real question, for those of us pastoring churches, is: Do we do this?  Last Saturday as I conducted a funeral for a woman I had met only three times, and then only after she had suffered the stroke which had transformed her from a vibrant, independent woman headed for a winter in Florida to someone in need of round-the-clock care, I thought to myself, This is something we do well, we in the church.  We make it possible for family and friends and strangers to come together to mourn and to be comforted, knowing that they are held in the arms and prayers of a community greater than themselves and of a God who has already welcomed their loved one into the presence of ultimate love.  And we also create community and ritualistic reminders of God’s love around baptisms and weddings, and we provide joyful blessings for graduates, and quilts, and holiday food and gifts.

But what about the crises in human lives?  Where are we with our rituals and public affirmations then?  Of course, many of these events are guarded as private and personal, and it is not our call to invade those spaces.  But, just I frequently note that people today, whether connected to communities of faith or not, tend to turn to medical doctors and therapists (and rightly so) for matters once exclusively the domain of the priest, so we see in dramatizations such as last night’s that the possibility of a faith dimension to trauma is not even a consideration.  And while people often come to a pastor for comfort and prayer, and sometimes even practical assistance, in connection with personal and family challenges, I don’t recall having ever stepped into the breach with a religious and community ritual for such an occasion.  A return home from a long recovery, a move to assisted living, the commencement of hospice care, a divorce, and yes, a case of assault ~ I’m sure there are countless other occasions where community and prayer could create a new sense of power and connection for a stressed or heartbroken individual.

The closest I have come is something long forgotten, a liturgy for cremation which I wrote after a long four hours at a crematorium, much of it by myself, watching over the final disposition of my son’s remains.  Someone mentioned a couple of weeks ago that her family had just used it, which brought back the memory, and gave me a sense of deep gratitude at having had something to offer out of that terrible morning.  I think that now I will ponder other occasions more carefully, and perhaps find ways to make something our of what might otherwise be nothing.


Nana ~ 2, Part i

Nana ~ my paternal grandmother, “Na-naw” to my brother and me when we were children and then “Nan” by the time we were adults, is my model for nana-hood, and the reason I have always looked forward to that role.  We were exceptionally close, pushed together by physical proximity, life circumstances, interests, and attitudes and, while she was no more perfect than I am, she was an extraordinary woman in her brilliance, her inner strength, and her graciousness.

Nan’s life was structured by privilege.  The only child of a successful businessman in a small city in southern Ohio and of his troubled wife Robin, she attended a private girls’ high school and then a Seven Sisters college, leaving a stream of academic honors in her wake.  She exemplified the tensions between family and career experienced by women long before the 1960s; her decision was to marry my grandfather on the same day on which she became a college graduate, and to return to Ohio and a life as wife of a small town grain dealer and mother to three boys.  In the second half of her life of 100 years, she often sighed over her college alumna journal, taking note of the many of her classmates who had become scientists and physicians.  Her own life was filled with three generations of children, women’s clubs, gardening, volunteering in classrooms and with Girl Scouts, “raising” monarch butterflies, maintaining a few essential friendships, and keeping up with the study of nature, art, and literature.  She made use of the latter by taking all of her grandchildren on a series of elaborate and extravagant trips ~ first within the United States, and then to Europe, Africa, and Australia ~ on which the other travelers she encountered often thought that she was a college professor.

Widowed at about eighty, she had a hip replaced and managed one more international birding trip before retiring to a quiet life, first in her home and then in an assisted living apartment.  As deafness and near blindness descended upon her, she became isolated and profoundly lonely.  Her mind never failed her, but her inability to communicate was devastating.  Like so many older people, she had to endure the gradual constriction of her life to a small circle of people she could barely understand ~ a heartbreaking end to a life always lived with others in mind and consumed by a variety of interests.

Nana ~ 1

Ch-ch-changes . . .  I am going to be a grandmother.  A destiny for which I have longed, happening not in the way I had hoped or anticipated, not in the least.  Le plus ca change . . .   .  So some of what I plan to write about is, unsurprisingly, grandmothering.  I’ll start with profiles of my own grandmothers, women who played roles of immense significance in my life.

Dodo, so called by my entire family for decades after her two-year-old first grandchild (that would have been me) mangled Dorothy when trying to imitate the adults who surrounded me, was my maternal grandmother.  Barebones of her life story:  Grew up as Dorothy Stockman in ethnic German Cincinnati.  After high school, she went to work in the five-and-dime, maybe a Woolworth’s, and quickly married the manager, twelve years her senior.  Her two children, Carol and Charlie, followed in short order.

Grandpa Felix was not a consistently stable provider.  When my mother was a teenager, the family lived on a farm outside my small hometown north of Cincinnati; I believe that he was attempting to raise goats.  (Something I myself consider when I am feeling particularly pressed.)  By the time I was small, the farm was gone; I can recall my mother taking me to visit Grandpa’s barbershop in Cincinnati.  A few years later they were back in our town ~  though, with her children grown, Dodo commuted to Cincinnati to work as a secretary.  She was probably the stable financial force in that household. During my teens, they returned to a Cincinnati suburb, where he managed apartments.  He died very suddenly at about 70; out walking their poodle one night, he sat down on a small stone wall and was gone.

Left in her late fifties with nothing but her two-family house in which Uncle Charlie and Aunt Edie lived upstairs, Dodo went to work as a saleswoman and was remarried quickly, to a widowed co-worker in the appliance store. She and her second husband, Kirk, eventually moved to a mobile home park in Clearwater, where she died of cancer in her mid-60s.

That basic outline of a woman’s life does not reflect the anguish of her life: The death of my mother and baby brother when my mother was 28.  My uncle and aunt did not have children, so for Dodo, nana-hood was my younger brother and I ~ with lives complicated by a series of stepmothers; the fact that, since she worked, Dodo was not available to us as our paternal grandmother was; and the distances created by boarding school and summer camp life. She also said little about her deep loss.  These days, having suddenly lost a young adult child myself, I understand much better how she lived the remaining eighteen or so years of her life in a state of mostly concealed interior shock and devastation.

We did spend time together — holiday occasions, week-ends here and there, a short trip to Chicago.  I lived with her and Kirk the summer between high school and college so that I could work at a nearby hotel, spent time with them at his cottage in Kentucky, and visited them in Florida on a couple of short trips.  But we had little in common, and no daughter-mother to mediate our relationship or some of the wide differences in our viewpoints and experiences.

In retrospect, especially given what I have learned the past ten years, I regret having made so little effort to uncover who Dodo really was.  I was in Florida shortly before she died, but her husband refused to tell her the truth about her illness and, being a young early-twenty-something, I had no idea how to navigate the strange adult world of bizarre secrets and words unspoken.   While Dodo was a woman of great importance in my life, she was so mostly as an example of how circumscribed a life can be.   She must have missed her daughter terribly, every day, and I’m afraid that I was a poor substitute.



Writing Again


I think I lost my writing voice for awhile.  Life in a general ~ a bit overwhelming, especially on the ministry front.  Writing projects ~ a series of workshop and publication rejections, leaving me with that what’s the point? feeling.  And the complications of wordpress, which I find unwieldy on my best days.  I never seem to find the time to delve into all that it can do ~ probably because, when I try, I usually don’t understand the lingo.

I know that I’ve said it before, but I am going to try try try again.  There are topics that require writing to explore, at least in my particular way of going about things.  I have no illusions anymore about book publication in any grand way (not that my illusions were all that grand).  I’m going to toil away, try to improve, and continue to delight in the occasional requests that come my way.

Three times a week ~ might I manage that?  And maybe an extra today, as I have taken the morning off and, except for a phone appointment in a little while, my time is my own for a bit.  We’ll see.

Blog at

Up ↑