Why did I come? | Dear Diane, . . .

by Elouise

Diane’s life with ALS flew by way too fast.  My Houston journals remind me just how difficult it was to live within each moment.  Sometimes it seems I was stuck, holding my breath, waiting for Diane to die.

More often, though, I was sorting out what I could/could not reasonably do during my visits to Houston almost four times a year.  Here are a few things I struggled with during my November 1997 visit.

  • If I stubbornly hang onto my plan for this 5 minutes or that half hour of time I have alone with Diane, I won’t be present to what’s right in front of me—Diane.
  • If I can’t let go of my guilt over lost opportunities, I won’t relish the present opportunity I have with Diane.
  • If I don’t stop fretting about how many words I can’t understand when she speaks, I won’t appreciate what I do understand.
  • If I want to know what Diane’s life is like now, I can’t spend my time being irritated about all the sometimes lengthy ‘interruptions.’ They are, in fact, exactly what Diane’s life is about now.
  • If there’s something important I want to tell Diane ‘someday,’ I need to tell her now.  If it isn’t that important, I don’t need to tell her at all.  First things first!

This is the spirit in which Diane wrote her Words for the Ones I Love—intense focus on the present moment, especially to what’s going on inside of her.  Here’s her fourth piece, followed by my reflections.

Why did I come?

I find myself in a particularly cynical mood at church today.  No usher helps us with the heavy door.  No greeter hands us an Order of Worship.  (I’m certain it’s full of errors anyway.)  The burned out bulbs still aren’t changed, and the special offering envelopes from several weeks ago are still in the pew racks.

The “special” music would be more special on pitch.  Don’t these people know that sometimes applause detracts from powerful music?  The worship leaders aren’t very smooth.  Now look at that!  Half the choir needs more sleep.  And wouldn’t you know, this is beginning to sound like another “throw down” sermon.

I recognize that my thoughts betray more about me than they reveal about the state of the church. I remind myself that I know quite well God chooses defective, inadequate people.  He chose me and still wants me.  He is waiting to meet me today at church.  I really don’t want to sink into cynicism and despair.  I need to feel the warmth of his love.

October 1997

Dear Diane,
The first time I ever read this piece I chuckled through the first two paragraphs.  So like me.  Painful recognition.  Your laundry list of observations about church also reminded me of things I heard routinely from our parents when we were growing up.

Then I got to your third paragraph and went all teary.  Still do.  So…to take them in order, first a few observations about your laundry list of things that were wrong.  The ‘funny’ part.

To be honest, your list is much funnier than anything I ever heard at home.  Sometimes it seemed few people in this world were as responsible, good, right or righteous as our family.  Or at least our parents.

No trash talk.  Just regular comments about the little things—especially, but not only, in each of us girls.  The Yes + But Syndrome.   As in:  ‘Elouise, you played that piece beautifully in the recital.  I did notice a little mistake, though, right near the end.  Did you notice that, too?  But you still did very well.’   Can you believe it was Dad who said that to me most often? Not Mother, the gifted pianist.

I remember shriveling up inside.  It felt like being stuck in defective mode.  Always being reminded of what I didn’t get quite right, and how with just a little more practice or a little more forethought I could get it right the next time!  Playing the piano, washing the dishes, folding the clothes, setting the table. . . .  The standard always seemed to be just beyond my current imperfect reach.  BUT I could get there if I kept at it!

I also remember overhearing comments our parents made about people they knew or saw in church.

  • Yes, I did see her in church today.  She looked lovely.  I understand she’s been divorced.  Too bad.
  • Yes, he’s a fine man, though I just heard he can’t seem to hold down a job.
  • Did you know the so-and-sos are having trouble with their oldest child?  It’s a shame.
  • Yes, she has a lovely singing voice, but did you notice she doesn’t always sing on key? 

Bottom line:  It seemed we were supposed to make sure everyone else’s problems or deficiencies were duly noted.  Never mind that this could be called gossip.  Or that we were a human family trying to make it just like other human families.

I don’t remember ever talking about problems we had in our family, or what to do about them.  Of course each of us girls was a problem to solve and straighten out.  But we clearly had that under control.  Didn’t we?

Your piece also brings tears to my eyes–especially the third paragraph.  If I don’t stop my inner critic, I absolutely won’t get what I need from God and from other people.  I need the warmth of their love and God’s–not the harsh judgment of my inner critic.  Lord knows, sometimes showing up is all a body can do.

My inner critic loves to pick things and people apart—including myself.  ‘It’ (definitely not human!) diverts my attention, energy and emotions away from spiritual exercises (my term) to which I need to attend.  Things like remaining present in the moment, being curious about what might rise to the surface in me, and open to other people.  I need other people and they need me.  I need the warmth of God’s love, and God needs mine.

It’s not as bad as it used to be.  If you don’t believe me, just stroll through our house on any given day.  You’ll see immediately that my inner critic isn’t my housekeeper!  A big change for me.  Sometimes I almost don’t care what people think.

I’ll never forget Mother’s comment when I was in my 50s.  Pointing at the ceilings in my living room, she said it doesn’t take any work at all to keep those cobwebs off the ceiling!  All I need is any old towel pinned around the straw on the end of a broom.

Back then I was angry and offended by her comment.  She’s come all this way to visit me and can’t find anything to notice or talk about but the cobwebs on the living room ceiling?  I wonder.  Maybe her inner critic was so loud that she couldn’t be present in the moment, or curious about what might rise to the surface if she let her heart listen and speak.

Life is short.  Relationships are here, now, including my relationship with God and this world God loves so much.  No promises about tomorrow.  I’m beginning to get it.

In fact, David and I are going to take the day off and go to Longwood Gardens!  What are you going to do?  Sing and dance and shout hallelujah with everybody else?  I hope so.

Love and hugs,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2014