Don’t Give Up on Love
I’m not much of a pop music fan, but Spotify occasionally floats a tune by me that I like. The most recent of these is “Orpheus“, a song by singer/songwriter, Sara Bareillis. It’s one of the most beautiful, touching songs I’ve heard since…two weeks ago (when I heard “In This Heart” by Girl Named Tom…)
The song starts rather blandly, with Sara singing in a low octave for several bars, but then she slips into higher notes accompanied by a harmony and my heart lifts with the tune. The lyrics tell of a lover who is struggling with some hardship in life and the singer’s encouragement to lay the struggles aside and not give up on love’s ability to overcome the struggles. Who among us can’t relate to that song?
Being lazy, I resisted looking up Orpheus to find out who he was, but I’m glad I overcame my inertia. In case your Greek mythology is dusty, according to Brittanica, Orpheus was a legendary hero endowed with superhuman musical gifts. After traveling with Jason and the Argonauts (saving them from the Sirens by playing his powerful music), he married Eurydice. After a snakebite killed her, Orpheus, overcome by grief, traveled to the underworld to retrieve her. Hades, the king of the underworld, was moved by Orpheus’s music and grief and allowed him to take Eurydice with him. Hades imposed one condition: after leaving the underworld, they must not look back. As they were climbing out of the land of the dead, Orpheus was so touched by seeing the sun, he looked back to Eurydice to share his joy and she disappeared.
I met my wife and quickly fell in love back in the 1970s when we were both involved in an odd religious group that had a strong emphasis on “headship”. Each person in the group was assigned to a spiritual director, none of whom had qualifications for that role. The “heads” would sometimes poke their noses where it didn’t belong and as a young man of little life experience, that caused all kinds of conflict in me. As some other group leaders cautioned against our relationship, I broke up and reunited with my then-girlfriend a few times before finally ending it “for good” in September 1977.
Even though I initiated the breakup, I was crushed. I was attending two colleges and working as a grocery stocker. As I stocked the shelves, I would tell God that I’d wait seven years, and another seven years (see the story of Jacob and Rachel) to be able to marry my love. Within in a year, we married (to the approval of everyone!)
It almost reads as a storybook tale, but real life is so much more complicated and difficult. A high stress job, young children, my mother’s suicide, bouts of depression, the brain-altering effects of antidepressants and my own sinfulness disrupted our romance and could have ruined it. Through it all, we never gave up prayer (though we did escape the goofy religious group). My wife has been a rock, standing against the crashing waves, forgiving, refusing to surrender to the forces arrayed against love.
Seven years ago, one of my sons accused me of sexually molesting his children. That accusation (false of course) shattered what we thought had been a strong family. After an investigation by police and child protection services determined that the accusation was invalid, my son moved his wife and our four precious grandchildren a thousand miles away, having no contact with us. It took a good three years for me to quit praying that I would not wake up in the mornings.
It’s hard to see the good that comes out of tragic situations, but in my case there were two significant goods. My deep sadness and God’s grace led me to reject those sins that I’d kept in my grip most of my life. And as the tide of pain and sorrow receded, my wife, the rock, still stood. I love her more than ever and am grateful that we will mark 45 years together in May.
Orpheus no more, but as the song says, “We did not give up on love today.” Thanks, Sara.
P.S. Today is the 13th birthday of my oldest grandson and March 25th is his younger brother’s birthday. Happy birthday, Liam and Peter – we love you and miss you dearly.
Sticking my neck out
I’ve been dorking around with some recording equipment. It keeps me off the streets and it’s fun. I thought I was recording myself in the video but some old guy keeps showing up and I can’t get rid of him…
The Ache for Beauty
This movement into old age is really getting to me. My back problems have gotten much worse, especially when I lie down. When I arise, sometimes I have a difficult time standing up from the bed. I’ve placed a chair next to it so I can help pull myself up. The last few nights I awaken at 1:00 or 2:00 and can’t go back to sleep. I wonder if that’s the result of the increased dosage of Mirapex, which helps calm my leg spasms but can induce insomnia.
I want to create something beautiful, something that touches people. I’m trying to record videos of me singing and playing guitar, but there are two problems (really three): (1) I look horrible in the video. The camera is too good and every wrinkle shows up and my sagging, lined jowls are “enhanced”. (2) I can’t sing. Well, I can sing but not very well. I’m pretty good being 1 of 50 choir members, but solo, well…have you heard the joke “Can you sing so low I can’t hear you?” Get it – “so low”, not “solo”? I might be wrong, but I think I have an okay singing voice, but when I replay songs I’ve recorded, there are so many times my notes are flat. (3) I’m only a passable guitar player.
I have a new love interest, Bekah. Don’t tell my wife, she already knows. Spotify introduced her to me via an a cappella rendition of “In This Heart” that she recorded with her two brothers. Such a clear beautiful voice, with a youthful sound, but hitting every note. I discovered that she and her brothers were the winners of season 21 of “The Voice”, which I’ve never watched. I’ve been able to watch their performances of season 21 on YouTube. That’s when I fell in love. Of course the producers really glammed her up, having her wear form fitting dresses that flattered her lithe figure, or wearing above the knee boots with short skirts. But it was the group’s performance of Joni Mitchell’s “River” that broke me.
There is a line in the song where the melody starts high and cascades down – “I made my baby cry.” Bekah sings it perfectly and I break into tears when I hear it. A similar line appears later in the song – “I made my baby say goodbye” – and it evokes tears from me. In that performance, Bekah is wearing a sparkling black floor length, form fitting dress. Her blond highlighted hair parted down the middle, the long straight tresses framing her face. She is absolutely feminine, gorgeous, the epitome of sensual youthful beauty. She moves her arms with grace and it appears that her hands flow with the words, as if she’s shaping the song not only with her voice but her whole body. Her poise on stage belies her inexperience. At one point in the performance, one brother sings solo and Bekah steps to the grand piano, smiling at the other brother who’s playing it. It’s as if there is no audience and they mystically join their gifts in producing this beautiful, haunting music.
Watching that performance creates a deep ache within me. The unattainable beauty of Bekah, her clear, innocent yet mature voice – it stirs a longing that’s resided in me since I was ten and fell in love with a girl, a blond Cuban refugee who was a “new kid” at my school. I know that in 20 years or so, Bekah’s physical beauty will begin to slowly fade. Eventually her voice will give out, becoming dry and strained, unable to sing the falsetto she so easily reaches now. And hopefully she will have married a man who feels the tremendous blessing of their 45 years of marriage. Forty-five years of trials, hardship, love, anger prosperity and near poverty, discovering the strength of their love. And in her husband’s eyes, she’ll be even more beautiful than she was when first they met.
A Mortal and a Sinner
God has “spoken” to me in some rather dramatic ways this week. (You know I hate it when people say God spoke to them – as if they have some pipeline to Him.) But while I prepared to leave the house for daily Mass at the cathedral, I was seriously fretting over my leg spasms and back pain. I saw myself crippled and unable to walk steadily, spending the next 20 years as an invalid. Then I recalled a scripture verse: “Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in him and he will act.” I repeated that verse all the way to church. When my wife arrived home from work, I told her about my fear and the verse.
When attending Mass the next day, that same verse was part of the responsorial psalm. I had been looking at the stained glass window depicting children with an angel and the quote from Matthew: “Their angels always behold the face of God.” (Or something similar.). When I heard the “Commit…” quote, it jolted me and my eyes brimmed with tears. I don’t know if that verse is read often or not because I have a hard time listening and paying attention during Mass. Anyway, it felt like God had heard my repeated prayer of the previous day and was letting me know that and to trust him.
These chronic health conditions have caused a serious struggle with my mortality. I don’t want to lose my youth, either in appearance or health, but there’s no stopping the decline. I’ve spent my entire life wrestling with the meaning of life. I know the end goal is eternal life in heaven, and I just want to get to that goal ASAP. As I’ve attended Mass at the cathedral chapel (named for St. Michael the Archangel) this week, the windows depicting various scenes with angels have captured my thoughts and I’ve longed to be with them or at least see some sign of them around me. (I know – “blessed are they who have not seen, yet believe”.)
Then I read that my favorite blogger, Gerard Vanderleun, had entered hospice and wasn’t expected to survive the week. I’ve never met the man, but had recently started supporting him through a small donation. His writing was so honest and heartfelt and judging by commenters regarding his illness, many people felt like they were losing a close friend. My wife arrived home from the gym to find me sobbing over the news. I cried a few other times that day as I prayed for Gerard and pondered his life and impending death. Gerard died on Friday.
At Mass on Friday, the priest announced the memorial Mass to be held Saturday morning for a parishioner, Klara, that had died the previous week. He said there would likely be few people in attendance. Burying the dead is considered a “corporal work of mercy” and I decided to go to the Mass, both to pray for the deceased’s soul and for the soul of Gerard.
About fifty people attended the memorial Mass for Klara, a woman of 92 years who had fled Communist Hungary with her husband during the revolt of 1956. The presiding priest gave a rather long historical background of Hungary and the two world wars it endured. I had closed my eyes and in an instant saw an image of me clawing my way up a vertical shaft with walls of stone. Several feet up was a large glass panel and I could see dark clouds or mist swirling behind the panel. I leaned toward the panel and started pounding it with both fists. “Let me in! Let me in!” I yelled. My thought was that heaven and God and the angels and saints were behind that panel.
As my attention returned to the homily, father was speaking of the funeral of the last surviving ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Otto von Habsburg, in 2011. He described the custom where the leader of the funeral procession accompanying the body pounded on the door of the church. The Capuchin monk inside called out “who is it?” (Or something similar, probably more eloquent.) The leader then took several minutes to read out all of the royal titles of Habsburg. The monk replied, “I don’t know him!” The leader pounded on the door again, and again the monk asked, “who is it?” The leader then read out all of Habsburg’s civic titles and the charities that he had supported. The monk replied, “I don’t know him!” And again, the leader pounded on the door, and the monk cried out, “who is it?”. This time, the leader said, “A mortal and a sinner”. The monk opens the door and let the funeral procession enter.
Father continued, “Today, we pray for Klara…” I don’t remember enough of what he said even to paraphrase it, but I know that he meant she, too, was a mortal and a sinner – as is each one of us. I choked back tears as I recalled my pounding on the glass, shouting “Let me in!”, and the story of the Habsburg funeral. When I arrived home and told my wife about my image and the story, I could not stop a flood of tears.
I have a few strengths – compassion, tenderness, perseverance. I have many weaknesses that, to me, seem to vastly outweigh the strengths, and if my death occurs at the wrong time, my place in the afterlife could be in question. In the end, I, too, am just a mortal and a sinner, relying on the mercy of God.
They buried Susan’s mother yesterday. She was 100 years old and had suffered a number of maladies over the years.
I visited Gene this week. He’s 85. His forehead was bruised and scabbed, a purple bruise wrapped around his left eye socket. Chunks of flesh were missing from his knees. He had fallen in the street during a nighttime walk. On the bright side, he didn’t break his hip.
Gene told me Ron walks hunched over. I think Ron is older than Gene.
Saw pics of my dad when he was in college in 1948, handsome, thin, long hair, full of youth, not even an inkling of the nightmare that was to be his life. He had survived the occupation of Japan, neighboring ships being blown up by mines in Tokyo Bay. Ahead of him lay decades of grinding work in the world of finance, mental illness, a most unhappy marriage and ultimately a lonely death. (In the picture below, he’s sitting in the back of the jeep, not wearing a cap.)
Doctors issuing pharmaceuticals to avoid patients’ catastrophes and pay for their BMWs. Redefining normal so that no one is normal. Reducing one threat while creating another. Bastards.
Forced march into the land of the elderly where suffering is assured and we have no choice but to accept it the best we can. Kind of like being conscripted and being sent off to war that ends in certain death.
(Title Photo by Ricardas Brogys on Unsplash)
Threats in the Dark
Many of us city folk have developed a heightened sense of awareness as a first line of self defense against physical attacks. When getting out of my car at the grocery store, I always do a quick scan around me to see if anyone is lingering between other cars, and casually survey my surroundings until I enter the store. When I return to my car, I always lock the doors as soon as I get in rather than wait for automatic locks to kick in once I start driving. I always keep my doors locked when I’m at home.
It’s strange that I didn’t develop that awareness until I moved from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area that had a combined population of almost 5 million to a small metro area in Louisiana with about 250,000 people. In our city, the good and bad neighborhoods have a much closer proximity. Carjackings, robberies and home invasions were not something we heard about in our safe Dallas area suburb, but they are common in our present city. Within a couple of years, I obtained my concealed carry license and learned about situational awareness being the first line of defense.
Now, when I go to stay at my in-laws camp on Cane River in a very rural part of Louisiana, you would think that situational awareness was not that important. And you’d be right, except that it’s a hard habit to break and it takes other forms. Water moccasins, raccoons, armadillos, foxes, bobcats, coyotes and alligators all live here, too, and though most of them don’t show themselves until night time, I always make sure that the fallen branch I’m about to pick up is in fact a branch and not a snake.
Speaking of night time: I’m at the advanced stage of life where sleep becomes difficult. Usually in bed by 9:00 PM, I rarely sleep past 4:30 AM and often arise before then. At Cane River, I ease downstairs, brew the coffee and head for the outdoor kitchen, flashlight in hand. Before opening the glass paned door, I shine the flashlight through it, inspecting right and left to make sure I’m not going to step on any creatures. As I proceed down the steps, I sweep the beam across the yard to warn the armadillos that I’m coming out. Last week I saw one hurtling at a jerky 0.0005 mph from one group of hedges to another. It’s not that I’m afraid of them, I just want to prevent having to change my underwear if I stumble over one in the dark.
Sometimes these precautions have an unintended effect. Yesterday morning, I opened the door and gasped when something scurried across the porch. That scurrying something was my flashlight beam glinting off the glass. Another morning, I walked outside without the benefit of my flashlight and jumped when I saw the shadow of a creature to my right. It was my shadow cast by the full moon. Last week as I walked down the sidewalk connecting the house to the kitchen, something jumped into my path. I leapt straight up and stamped both feet loudly on the concrete to scare a frog away, only to cause the unseen doves perched in the birch tree above me to crash through the branches to escape the giant loon below them. “Nyah!”, I yelled out.
I love the solitude when I’m at the camp alone. With the exception of nightly phone calls with my wife, exchanging waves or an occasional conversation with the neighbors is all the personal contact I have. I feel perfectly at peace and perfectly safe here. I do bring my firearm because I’ve read In Cold Blood, and the sheriff is at least 20 minutes away. I’ve never felt the least bit threatened here, but it’s best to be prepared.
The side of the house facing the river consists of a bank of large windows, affording a beautiful view of pecan trees, lilies, elephant ears and the tranquil water shimmering behind it all. One night a couple of weeks ago, I was seated at the dining table in the house, watching a Breaking Bad episode on my laptop. I noticed a couple of bass boats trolling the bank of the river, their green and red navigation lights signaling their locations.
It’s not uncommon to see night fishermen work the banks after dark, but these two boats didn’t just pass by and move on. They trolled back and forth along the camp’s property, and I had seen one of the boats the night before (a distinctive row of green lights wrapped around its perimeter.). I felt a little uneasy knowing that they could see me in the lighted house from their dark positions so I dimmed the lights while I continued watching the show.
When the episode ended, the next one began playing. Exhausted from a day in the sun, I shut my laptop, made sure all four doors were locked and killed the lights completely. Still seeing the boats, I remembered that my in-laws had told me they felt like any burglary threats would probably arrive by boat since it would be harder for neighbors to spot intruders than if they arrived by the road. With the house secured, I shook off the thought and headed upstairs to bed.
I had been reading in bed for about 15 minutes when I heard a brief loud buzzing noise downstairs. Then a door slammed. I sat up, rigid with alarm. Voices, two or more, speaking casually. Quiet, followed by more talking. 911, call 911. No. The sheriff is at least 20 minutes away. I retrieved my flashlight and my handgun from my kit and, heart pounding, crept to the top of the stairs. I could still hear subdued voices but nothing else. I descended a few steps, flipped on my flashlight and saw no one. No doors busted, no damage. A voice, a familiar voice, within 10 feet of me, but no one was there.
Then I realized that an electronic sprite had awakened my laptop and started playing the next episode of Breaking Bad, the lid still closed. Laughing with relief, I opened the damned thing and closed the browser, ensuring that the threat was terminated.
Situational awareness – too much of a good thing?
My wife’s brother and his wife own a camp on Cane River in Louisiana. “Camp” is a misleading word. In Texas we would call it a “lake house”, but “camp” is the common term used in Louisiana. A camp can consist of a trailer squeezed on a sliver of land or it can be a large home (even a mansion) isolated on several acres. And Cane River is not actually a river but a 26 mile long lake, dammed on both ends. It looks like a narrow river, a brackish green ribbon with the gentlest of currents induced by the breeze. The last couple of Augusts, I’ve been making a weekly trek to the camp to mow their 5 acre property while my in-laws visit family in the Northeast U.S..
You might wonder how I was conned into outdoor labor in August when the temperature peaks in the mid- to high 90s intensified by 70% humidity, but I love being able to get out of the city and spend a couple of days each week in complete quiet and solitude, riding the big mowers, and getting caked in red dust kicked up by the spinning blades. The camp lies within a subdivision carved from a pecan orchard, and although there are neighbors within a couple of hundred yards, interaction with them is minimal and not unwelcome. At present I’m sitting in the outdoor kitchen and apart from the whirring ceiling fans overhead, the only sounds I hear are a few birds calling and a detail of cows protesting as they push through a stockade, no doubt against their will.
When I was at the camp to mow last week, I was walking down the stairs, and I saw a picture of “Papa” on the wall, standing in his driveway wearing a short sleeve white sport shirt and pleated trousers. He sported white hair and the soft extra pounds that most older men carry. Although I have seen that picture many times, I burst into tears. Papa was my wife’s maternal grandfather and she had recently told me (as she has several times over the years) that I remind her of Papa. He was tall and quiet and gentle. Since he died in 1970 at age 70, I never had the chance to meet him. I wept because he was dead, his life was over, and he will soon be forgotten.
Those thoughts about Papa are the types of thoughts I have frequently, trying to reconcile this earthly life with heaven (or hell) after our death. It saddens me greatly that we will all be forgotten after a generation or two. I think of all of the suffering most people endure, all of the mistakes and evil we commit, all of the love we have for family and friends. I know that if we make it to heaven, it will be because of Christ’s sacrifice and not because we earned it. Nothing we do on earth can compensate for our many sins. I look forward to death (I think…) and an end to this miserable life (it’s not ALL bad!), but in my thinking, I can’t make the leap of passing from our earthly lives to happiness in heaven. First of all, it’s difficult to imagine everlasting happiness. Second, how we make the transition from our flawed humanity to heavenly dweller is a black box to me.
When I sat down for lunch, I looked up Papa’s grave on findagrave.com and wept when I saw his headstone and read the obituary. Then I looked up my father-in-law’s grave and wept some more. I felt guilt over having been so critical of his alcoholism rather than having compassion for him. I noted the location of the cemetery where he’s buried with the thought that I might visit his grave some day.
Then I looked at some pictures of my wife on my computer. And I wept even more. She just turned 70 (the same age as Papa when he died) and her birthday hit ME kind of hard. Recent pictures of her reveal the effects of aging and I weep for what living has done to her. I think of the young woman I loved and married and see her in my wife. I feel guilt and sadness about the the times when things weren’t going so well between us. And of course I wonder how much longer we have together and who will be the first to die. I’ve resolved to making the best of our remaining years together and to focus on cherishing her as my wife.
Not that my wife acts “elderly”. She’s still working full time as the director of a non-profit organization. She’s active, though I wished she got more exercise, but her health is otherwise excellent. If she’s like her great aunt (who’s 101), she could live a few more decades. But still, we are into those later years when death becomes more likely.
When I visit an art museum, I am struck that artists create paintings that still inspire people centuries later. It seems important to me that I leave something behind that will inspire people, but that’s not going to happen. It won’t be long after my death that I’ll be forgotten.
Is it simply pride that makes me want to leave a visible mark on this earth? Or maybe it’s my inability to make sense of the cycle of life has been repeating for thousands of generations. The funny thing is, after I die — I won’t care!
Catholic Bishops: Is It All About the Money?
In a previous post, I wrote about how the Vatican is trying to scuttle plans by U.S. bishops to come up with a formal policy regarding public figures receiving the Eucharist when they actively promote immoral behavior such as abortion. A Vatican official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, laid out a number of steps that must be pursued before any vote on a formal policy, and he said there must be near-unanimous agreement on the policy. The steps and conditions he set forth are so broad that they will likely never be met and a formal policy will never be approved.
Enter Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. I had heard that he recently released a pastoral letter (“Before I Formed You in the Womb, I Knew You“) and that it was a pushback against those bishops who want to delay any action on a formal policy. Recently, Cordileone appeared as a guest on the Crisis Point podcast episode, “Holy Communion and Pro-Abortion Catholic Politicians with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone“, hosted by Eric Sammons, editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. The discussion between Cordileone and Sammons was very informative and I recommend listening to the entire 48 minute podcast.
During their discussion, the archbishop explained that he felt Catholics were confused by the Church’s teaching on reception of the Eucharist as it pertained to what might prohibit any person (not just politicians) from receiving it. He explained the different levels of cooperating with evil, e.g., formal cooperation being when someone publicly supports, encourages and enables an immoral act to take place. Formal cooperation is the most serious form of involvement and the archbishop explained what the lesser degrees were.
Cordileone also explained that there were three phases of pastoral correction that can be taken by a bishop. Step one is talking with the individual involved in the immorality and trying to convince them to stop their participation. In the second step, a bishop can publicly announce that a person is not allowed to receive Communion, thereby notifying all priests in his diocese. If a person is still unrepentant, then the bishop can excommunicate them.
After the discussion of the pastoral letter’s content, Sammons said that the laity, especially listeners of the Crisis Point podcast, were frustrated that no politicians who supported abortion were being denied the Eucharist. It seemed clear that those politicians, particularly Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi were formally cooperating in the evil of abortion since they publicly expressed their support of it and supported laws funding abortion. Sammons respectfully pointed out that Cordileone had been archbishop of San Francisco for nine years, that Pelosi was in his diocese and yet no action had been taken regarding her reception of the Eucharist.
Cordileone’s reply was that they were in the first of the three steps, that some discussion had taken place between Pelosi and him. Out of respect for privacy, he would not elaborate on the discussions, which is understandable. My first thought was he had been her bishop for nine years and they’re still in the discussion phase? Sammons also pointed out that Planned Parenthood had given its highest honor to Pelosi, the Margaret Sanger Award.
Then the archbishop said that Speaker Pelosi had also done things that benefited the Catholic Church, and that he wanted to give her credit for that. For example, she made sure that the Church was included in the COVID relief Payment Protection Plan so that they could receive federal money during the shutdown. BOOM! There it was – the money! It’s always the money! The U.S. bishops are huge supporters of “refugee resettlement” and open borders. Their various charities received hundreds of millions of dollars for those purposes during the Obama years. According to the Millenium Report, Catholic Charities receives about 65% of its budget from the federal government. Fifty-seven government agencies contract with the Catholic Church, for which the Church receives $1.6 billion (per year, I presume).
Did you know that when a charity receives federal funding, they are not allowed to proselytize or even to talk about God to the people they serve? Religious charities have to decide if the funding is more important than being able to share their faith. Catholic Charities fired my son because he tried to encourage a disconsolate immigrant by telling him the story of Job. My son was not trying to convert the man or invite him to Mass. The man had not qualified for the federal assistance that Catholic Charities was administering and he was talking about suicide. After my son shared the story of Job, the man left feeling very encouraged. He had never heard the story before and it gave him faith. (Some time later, my son saw this man at a public park. The man thanked him for his encouragement and could not believe that my son had been fired for simply sharing the story of Job.)
Back to the interview with Cordileone. The archbishop stated that a bishop has to consider several things when deciding to take any action regarding a public figure. He said it’s possible that instituting Church discipline could embolden the other side. I’m trying to think of how much more emboldened the other side could be than it already is. Aren’t the Catholic pro-abortion politicians already flaunting their independence from Church teaching? Aren’t they already pushing full steam for unrestricted abortion?
Cordileone also said we need to build up a momentum, that people need to have a revulsion toward abortion before the Church acts by denying Communion or excommunicating a public figure, otherwise it could backfire. Perhaps the archbishop means there needs to be a groundswell of public opinion, but a newly released poll shows that 74% of regular Mass attendees believe that pro-abortion politicians should not present themselves for Communion. Other findings from the poll show even more support for the Church’s pro-life stances and duties. (The poll apparently did not ask specifically whether or not bishops should ban politicians from Communion.) It would seem that among faithful Catholics, there is the momentum that Cordileone says is required.
I want to give Cordileone the benefit of the doubt and say that he leans toward prohibiting pro-abortion public figures from receiving the Eucharist, but that a desire for unity among the bishops and the Vatican wins out. Or perhaps he’s just afraid of stepping too far out. Who wants to be the first bishop to ban a pro-abortion politician from the Eucharist? Volunteers? Anybody? Cordileone’s arguments against taking action sound weak to me, and I know he’s a lot smarter and more educated than I am, so surely they sound weak to him, too, don’t they? And maybe his example of Pelosi’s financial aid to the Catholic Church was just a poorly chosen example. Perhaps she baked cookies for a bake sale or sold kisses for $1 at the parish bazaar. Unfortunately his example makes it appear that she bought off the Church, whether or not the COVID and similar funding have any influence on whether or not the bishops discipline the politicians.
Suicide is not an option
Saturday evening, September 20, 1986. Two days after my 32nd birthday, my wife and 3 small children sped down Central Expressway in Dallas. We were heading to my parent’s house across town for a belated birthday celebration that evening when one of my sons announced from the back seat that he felt sick to his stomach. Not wanting to risk an upchuck in the back seat, I took the next exit and headed back home. Upon our arrival at home, I punched in my parent’s phone number. Mom answered and when I delivered the news that we’d have to delay the celebration, her demeanor changed from chipper to terse. It puzzled me – why would she be angry that one of my kids was sick? It was my birthday celebration being delayed, not hers.
Around 5 A.M. the next morning, the phone rang and my wife picked it up from her side of the bed. I don’t remember what she said to the person who called, but she hung up and said to me, “It was your Dad. Your mom hung herself.” I bolted out of bed, crying out “No, no, no. Oh God, no!” I hurriedly dressed, got in the car and made the trip down Central Expressway that we had started the evening before. It was just dawn, with few cars on Central or highway 635, the sky colored pastel pink and baby blue. I have no recollection of my thoughts during that drive.
The coroner and police cars were parked in front of my parent’s small pink brick house that they had bought in “Dutch Village” 26 years earlier. I remember being 4 years old when they decided to have a house built there. The sales office was actually a Dutch style windmill and I couldn’t believe we were going to live in a windmill village, just like a fairy tale. I don’t even remember being disappointed when our completed house didn’t resemble a windmill at all.
The single car garage door was open and the city men were in there, so I entered through the front door of the house. Now after 35 years, I only remember Dad being inside and perhaps the police chaplain. I don’t remember much about what was said, except that Dad kept saying he was afraid this would happen. He said she seemed very angry on Saturday night and he got the feeling that she would try to kill herself. Although he tried to stay up all night on a kind of suicide watch, he finally gave in and went to bed. When he awoke and didn’t find her in the house, he opened the garage door to see that she had hung herself.
After Mom’s body was removed, we drove to my younger sister’s house about 15 minutes away. Phone calls were made and my other sister and her family drove in from Houston that afternoon. The next few days were miserable as we not only tried to cope with Mom’s death but also with blaming each other, trying to keep the peace, selecting Mass readings, encouraging each other, making funeral arrangements. One vivid memory I have is hearing that quarterback David Archer led the Atlanta Falcons in victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
We met with the pastor of the Catholic Church that Mom had stopped attending. Normally at Catholic visitations held the evening before the funeral Mass, a rosary is prayed, and I think the rosary is the one prayer that my Mom continued saying with my Dad. Because Mom was a convert and most of her side of the family was Baptist, the priest said to avoid offending the Baptists, we should only pray one decade (10 Hail Marys) of the rosary. We reluctantly agreed to that.
The day of the funeral was a beautiful sunny day. The family limo driver’s last name was Yeager. I sat in the front seat with him and learned that he was related to Chuck Yeager, the famous test pilot. Waiting outside were several of my coworkers from a small computer consulting firm. The firm was owned by evangelical Protestants and most of the employees were of similar faiths. The priest’s homily was bizarre as he quoted the “great Buddha” and from Kahlil Gibran’s book, The Prophet. I was both embarrassed and furious that Father was so ignorant of Protestant sensibilities. They already believed that Catholics were not “saved”. He only confirmed that we were also kooks. Fortunately, no family or friends ever mentioned the homily, but I felt like he had soiled my mother’s funeral.
My mom’s suicide had been preceded by an unsuccessful attempt several years earlier. My parents had a bitter marriage and after one argument, Mom had swallowed several sleeping pills. Dad found her passed out, called an ambulance and after a couple of days in the hospital, she survived.
My parents met with a Catholic counselor, a former Carmelite monk, for some time period. Mom seemed to be not as depressed and it didn’t seem like she was suicidal any more. Much later I started seeing the same counselor after being recommended to him by a friend. I didn’t realize he had been (but no longer was) my parents’ counselor until my first meeting with him. After my parents ceased counseling, it seemed like their situation grew worse and that my mom became angrier and more depressed. I felt like her general mood was hostile and I remember telling my counselor shorty before her death that Mom had changed, that there was something wrong with her, but a risk of suicide did not occur to me.
I don’t know if there are “typical” effects on the survivors of those who have committed suicide. Naturally there is the grief you would experience at the loss of a loved one, a grief that can be crushing but given enough time, most people’s lives typically resume some sort of normalcy. An added dimension when someone commits suicide is trying to find out why they chose that option. How could they feel so bad that they’d want to kill themselves? Who made them feel bad? Who was mean to them? What was wrong with their upbringing? Who didn’t love them enough? That can pit family members and friends against each other. I’m not even going to try to answer those questions here. Maybe no one is to blame.
I had started seeing the counselor because I felt like my temper was getting the best of me and I didn’t like that. The initial assessment of the counselor was that I might see him for a few months and be on my way, but after Mom’s death I continued seeing him for the next 20 years, with a few breaks interspersed. Depression had cast its pall over me, a dark blanket covering my head. My work at the consulting company required me to drive in heavy traffic across the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the work as a developer was solitary as I was often working in little computer rooms or closets tucked away in warehouses. I didn’t just feel isolated – I actually was isolated and needed a change.
I had heard that a coworker from a previous employer was a manager at an insurance division of a major retailer. A call to her resulted in interviews and my taking the job, with my friend as my manager. Even though it was a major corporate environment, it had some independence from the retail parent and it seemed to be well managed (in fact it was the only profitable division in the corporation). I was most impressed by the friendly environment and it was the tonic I needed to help lift my spirits. My performance reviews were positive and I became somewhat known for my technical abilities.
As usually happens in a corporation, good performance results in more responsibility, which often results in more stress. My second-line manager put me in charge of coordinating the division’s data center move from Ohio to Dallas. It was new territory for me and required some overtime, though not an unreasonable amount. There were just so many details and the timing of the switchover had to occur so that the company’s business operations were not affected. I remember standing at the copier one night and a coworker asked me how it was going. Fighting the urge to burst into tears, I told him it was pretty stressful and I’d be glad when it was over. The move took place without a hitch, much to my relief.
When the next special project came around, I was selected for its team of two – a manager and me. It was then that the effects of my mom’s suicide really hit me – years after she had died.
We were to learn a new software development methodology and a new technology and develop a marketing system to replace several helter-skelter systems that different marketing groups had developed in-house. We attended three weeks of classes to learn the new methodology and the development tool. I found it extremely confusing and was nervous about trying to use it. After we completed the course, my new manager told me he was going on vacation for two weeks. He left me to start conducting meetings with the new methodology and using the new tool. We had watched videos on how to conduct these “joint application development” meetings, but it remained a mystery to me and seemed to require a special talent that I didn’t think I had.
I just couldn’t figure out where to begin on the project. So what did I do? I doodled. I sat at my desk and doodled on my calendar and doodled on a legal pad. I paced the aisles. I think I had episodes of dissociation as I walked down an aisle dragging my hand along the wall, thinking “this wall is real. I can touch it.” I was unable to sleep at night. I remember being terrified that I was going to kill myself. If I had a thought that was similar to something Mom had said, I’d think that was an indication that I was just like her. My mom was an artist. I was artist – NO! Mom would say, “I can’t go on like this”; I would think “I can’t go on like this.” NO! It felt like I was in a dark whirlpool that I had no control over and I was being sucked down into suicide.
A user manager had also been assigned the project and had attended the classes, too. I met with him and he really had no idea of how to conduct these meetings either. So we just scheduled a few meetings with the marketing departments and used the old method of gathering specifications, foreswearing the new methodology. My stress was compounded by the fact that the marketing departments seemed to take offense at having their systems replaced (it turns out they had not even been asked about it.). When my manager returned, I showed him what information we had gathered so far. He was not pleased that we were not using the new methodology.
Finally one night, still unable to sleep, I thought to myself, I’m not going to let this job kill me. I’ll quit if I have to. I decided I would meet with my former manager and tell her that I couldn’t do the job I was given in the manner they wanted it done. The next morning, I did just that. Within a day, the project manager was replaced with someone that I had worked with before and the situation immediately improved.
Another action I took was to tell my counselor about what had happened. He encouraged me to see a psychiatrist to get started on anti-depressants. The psychiatrist got me started on a couple of medications. My mental state stabilized and the project lasted a year before being pulled in favor of a complete company wide system replacement.
I say that my mental state stabilized, but I was left shaken by the experience. I felt somewhat fragile and I became perhaps overly aggressive in trying to prevent feeling overwhelmed again. My managers and coworkers probably didn’t like the “new me”, but it was better to protect myself than to be popular or even liked.
It would be some years before I realized I was no longer fragile, and that in fact I had become much stronger. I endured other very stressful times on the job without having a breakdown. I’ve had some disasters in my personal life that I’ve weathered, again without falling apart. I quit anti-depressants several years ago after having taken them for about 15 years. I’ve wondered if I really needed them in the first place because they can bring problems of their own, but I don’t want to say that no one should be taking them.
William Styron, the author of Sophie’s Choice, wrote a memoir called, “Darkness Visible” which was an account of his personal experience with severe depression. It’s a short book and it has been 20 years since I’ve read it, so my recollection of it is minimal. I do remember him saying that people who haven’t been depressed cannot understand how someone can be in so much mental pain that they want to kill themselves. Indeed, an occasional friend would encourage me to just move past Mom’s suicide. They didn’t understand that I wasn’t even thinking about her suicide – I was just struggling to cope with life, having been weakened by her act. Styron also gave some statistics about suicide, and all escape me except that if someone close to you commits suicide, there is a much greater chance that you will attempt it. I had intuited that myself after Mom’s failed attempt to kill herself. Her younger brother had just killed himself a few months earlier. I felt like that had opened her mind to it. I don’t think people normally consider taking their own lives, but once that taboo has been breached by someone close to you, it presents itself as a real alternative.
The most important thing Styron wrote was what his close friend kept telling him during his depression: Suicide is not an option. His friend refused to allow it as a way out. Styron said it was one of the most important factors in preventing him from taking his own life. On rare occasions over the years, I’ve had to repeat that to myself: Suicide is not an option. It’s also a statement that I’ve used when dealing with a close relative who has attempted suicide on more than one occasion and suffers from depression and bipolar disorder. It is something I can say with conviction. Take it off the table. Don’t allow it as a possibility.
Something I realized after Mom died, was that she had talked about killing herself. But I didn’t know what to do about that. I didn’t know that people who talked about it were likely to at least try it. Even though she had attempted it before, I didn’t realize it indicated a probability of her doing it again. But I learned. When someone talks about suicide, take it seriously, tell them it’s not an option, and try to get them help.