Sunday, May 7, 2017

May 7: Very Long Weekend, Classic Saint Marty, "Nest"

Welcome to the end of a very long weekend.

I have spent yet another entire day grading papers.  The end is in sight.  By tomorrow night, my final grades for the semester shall be submitted.  Then, I can start planning for the online class that I start teaching in two weeks.

I have an update on my brother.  He was flown to a Spectrum hospital in Grand Rapids.  Tests and treatments start tomorrow.  I visited my brother last night.  He was in good spirits, joking and calm.  Obviously struggling for breath at times, he talked with my daughter about the bundt cake he was going to make for her when he returns from downstate.  The only moment that was really difficult was when we were leaving.  I hugged him.  My daughter hugged him.  My wife hugged him.  Then he told us to give our son a fist bump for him, and my brother almost started crying.

So, I am not complaining tonight.  It's stupid to complain when I'm sitting in my pajamas in my living room, listening to Mozart, eating Raisinets.  My kids are sleeping.  Pretty soon, I'm going to bed.  I have so much for which to be thankful.

Today is also the anniversary of my other brother's death.  Three years ago.  Generally, I don't recall details like that.  I prefer to commemorate birthdays.  However, the blog post I wrote two years ago seems very appropriate for tonight . . .

May 7, 2015:  Did God Will That, Trying to Make Sense, Answered Prayers

[Ives r]emembered how Robert [his son], coming home in tears after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, had asked him, "Did God will that?"

Ives struggles with the question of God's will through most of Mr. Ives' Christmas.  So much senseless tragedy befalls him.  Ives doesn't understand why his good son, straight-A student and future priest, is gunned down in the street while his son's murderer is eventually released from prison and starts a family.  Ives can't make sense out of a senseless act, even though he spends years trying to do just that.  He wants a glimpse of God's master plan, if it exists.

I think Ives' dilemma is the dilemma of most thinking Christians.  When faced with immense tragedy (on a personal or global level), how do you continue to believe in God's goodness?  In a world full of tragedies (terrorist acts, tsunamis, earthquakes, wars), where does God fit in?  Why does God allow terrible things to happen?

Today is the one year anniversary of my brother's death.  Needless to say, I've been a little melancholy.  At lunch, I stopped in the medical facility my sister used to supervise.  One of my best friends works there, and I was hoping for a little spiritual uplift.  The employees were cleaning my sister's office out.  Boxing up her belongings.  Sifting through the detritus of an over 20-year career.  It didn't improve my frame of mind.

I don't presume to understand why my brother died or why my sister got sick.  Certainly, the last year or so of my brother's life was not easy.  Crushing headaches.  Constant pain.  As a stroke survivor, he faced challenges every day.  Before my sister's illness, she was under tremendous stress at work.  She was never able to just relax and be happy.

With a year's perspective, I understand that my brother was suffering, and, in some place in my heart, I know that he's in a much better place now.  Whole.  Joyful.  At peace.  That doesn't make the pain of his absence any easier.  From the day my brother had his stroke, I prayed every day for his healing.  As Truman Capote noted, though, "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones."

I pray all the time for my sister now.  For her healing.  It frightens me sometimes to think what form that healing will take.  She's going to be having surgery in Ann Arbor at the end of May.  Then she will have many more months of recovery in the nursing home.  There is going to be no easy solution to my sister's health woes.  Jesus isn't going to show up at her bedside, touch her, and say, "Rise and go to McDonald's."

So, like Ives, I'm a little unmoored tonight.  Sad.  Confused.  But, that's what faith is all about if you're a true believer.  In the face of sadness and confusion, I have to trust in God.  That may sound naive or just plain stupid.  However, trust is the foundation of hope.

And hope is what Saint Marty needs on this day.

Missing you, brother

And a poem for my brother:


by:  Martin Achatz

for Kevin, May 12, 2014

My daughter saw it first,
tucked under the garage eave
like an abandoned hat or trapped
tumbleweed, a jumbled braid
of grass, twig, leaf,
detritus of last autumn's letting go,
sculpted with beak, claw
into a soup bowl, deep with down and dung.
I stepped closer, inspected it, wondered
what else made up the sinew
and rib of its creation.  Maybe
a Tootsie Roll wrapper from July 4,
brown, white, sweet-smelling.
A blade of blue or silver Christmas
garland, flashing in the sun
like Tiffany glass.  Mud made
by my son in August
when he drowned the pumpkins in the garden.
Ribbon frayed from my daughter's
ballet shoe, pink and slick
as a hummingbird tongue.
All the lost and forgotten
twisted into the DNA of spring,
something new, green.
On this evening of letting go,
I feel like a robin, gathering
shards of you from my backyard.
The root of your voice.  Hay
of your hair.  Thistle of the last
joke you told, the one
about the spark plug and bartender.
I try to stitch these elements together,
bring breath back to your lungs
one final moment so I can
hold your hand maybe,
feed you one more fork
of pumpkin pie.
Tonight, when I sleep,
I will see you hatch, break
open, shake off your lake-
blue shell.  You crawl to the lip
of the nest, spread your wings,
then launch yourself
into the bright palm of heaven.

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