Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lately, More Funerals Than Weddings

            This afternoon I attended a funeral—my second in a week. It seems that I’m attending funerals much more frequently these days. I would attribute that to my age, but a much younger friend confided that she, too, has lately attended what seems an unfair number of funerals. So maybe this isn’t just an age-related phenomenon. Maybe it also can be tied to the number of friends and relatives with whom we have been blessed.   

            Whatever the reasons behind this frequency of funerals, I’ve made a surprising discovery about these most solemn of services: Namely, they aren’t really that solemn anymore. They are true celebrations of life. The few funerals I attended as a child followed a clear-cut format: sad songs, prayers, a sermon with some scriptures about life eternal and a heavenly home, a farewell to the deceased with a promise we would one day be re-united. I’m sure all of that brought comfort to the grieving family and should still be a part of every service. But at more recent funerals, I’ve noticed another element has been added—an opportunity to know the deceased in a way few of us were able to while he or she was alive. Whether it’s through a video, a display of family pictures, testimonies of friends, or the opportunity to chat with family, I have learned so much more about the departed. And I’ve learned about the “extraordinary-ness” of those who lived what I previously considered ordinary lives. I’ve learned about dedicated teachers who touched students’ lives in ways few people realized while they were living. I’ve learned of men who served selflessly in the military both during times of war and peace. I’ve learned of individuals who struggled through difficult childhoods to become devoted parents who valued family. And I’ve laughed. Yes, I’ve shed tears of laughter as friends and family recounted those funny acts, accidents, and antics that make the departed all the more endearing to us. I’ve left services such as this saddened yet uplifted, determined to appreciate life and people more.

            This post is not in any way meant to trivialize the sense of loss that accompanies a loved one’s death. Grief is painful, eased only by time and faith, and never completely erased. But perhaps the hurting can be alleviated in some small way by the realization that even in death those dear to us still provide hope and inspiration for the living.









Friday, October 19, 2012

Longing for a "civilized" presidential campaign? Fuggedaboudit!

            It seems every presidential election year, I hear some of my women friends—both Democrats and Republicans—voice annoyance with the vitriolic political atmosphere. Their complaints go something like this: I’m so tired of the rhetoric and hateful attacks. Can’t we just have a civilized campaign?
            To this question, I categorically answer, “No.”

            I say “categorically” because my limited understanding of history convinces me that presidential campaigns have seldom been free of heated, impassioned discourse. Nor have they been free of those who play fast and loose with the truth or those who demonize opponents with spurious accusations.

            A few years ago, David McCullough’s John Adams proved to be an eye-opening read for me. Among the author’s most striking revelations was the “dirty politics” that ran rampant during Adams’  bid for re-election against Thomas Jefferson. Those are two of the nation’s most revered Founding Fathers, yet that campaign was rife with slurs and innuendos and out-and-out lies.

            According to McCullough, “In the summer of 1800 the question of who was to lead the nation became a contest of personal vilification surpassing any presidential election in American history...and whether Adams or Jefferson was the most abused would be hard to say.”

            Among the charges hurled at Jefferson:

            “...a Jefferson victory would mean civil war.”

            “...Jefferson had swindled clients as a young lawyer...”

            “Not only was Jefferson a godless man, but one who mocked the Christian 
             faith ...Bibles would have to be hidden away for safekeeping were he

            Adams was no less a victim, being ridiculed as

            “...old, addled, and toothless.”

            “...[sending] Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to London to procure four
            pretty mistresses to divide between them.” (Can you imagine?
            John Adams??!!!)

            “...quite mad.”

            John Adams was published in 2001, so I don’t know if after the 2004 and 2008 elections, McCullough would still claim the Adams-Jefferson election was the vilest in American history. But it has to be right up there as one of the meanest, and if the situation hasn’t changed in the past 212 years, I don’t see it doing so in the future.

            But if I can’t offer hope the acerbic atmosphere of campaigns will improve, maybe I can at least offer the following suggestions for easing election angst:

            1) Completely dismiss the campaign and watch only sitcoms and reality TV.
                Or keep the subject light and get all your political information from
                SNL skits or late-night talk shows.

            OR (and these are the two I recommend)

            2) Educate yourself by reading. Reading the opinions of those you
                respect and trust or reading the words as they came straight from
                the horse’s mouth allows you time to absorb and process the material
                being presented without the yelling, interrupting and posturing
                found on most political talk shows or without the convenient
                "spinning," the telling us what we just heard in case we're too dumb
                to figure it out for ourselves. You should also read information 
                presented by BOTH sides.


            3) Pray...for God to appoint and anoint our next president. And then
\               —whoever is elected—continue to pray for him and our country.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Gem of a Book: The End of Your Life Book Club

   sends me notices almost daily about the latest literature. If I took them up on every recommendation, my VISA bill would rival the national debt, and my kindle would probably crash. But occasionally I succumb to their ingenious marketing scheme. When a recent email suggested I might like The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did.  

Product Details            I read the summary on the Amazon web site. In spite of the title and the fact that this is a memoir about the author’s mother and her battle with pancreatic cancer, the story appeared to be inspiring rather than depressing. Then I “test drove” the book by reading the first few pages. I liked Schwalbe’s style. He managed to make waiting with his mother in the cancer center sound, if not pleasant, at least tolerable. But what hooked me was he and his mother decided to start their own private book club and discuss the books while she received her chemo treatments. I like reading about books almost as much as I like reading them. In this book, it appeared that I could do both, so I downloaded it. I’m glad I did.  

            A few more pages into the story, I was regretting my decision. I discovered that Schwalbe and I hold totally opposite religious and political views. I was convinced I’d find nothing on which we’d agree, including the books we liked. But I’d already paid my thirteen dollars, so I felt obligated to keep reading. I’m glad I did.  

            As I continued, I learned that Mary Anne, Schwalbe’s mother, and I did have something in common—our Christian faith. I learned so much from and about this remarkable humanitarian woman. The book was full of her uplifting insights and observations on living and dying...and books. As I read further, I found myself liking Schwalbe himself. While I didn't agree with his ideologies, I came to respect him as a gifted writer and admire him as a loving and devoted son. He wrote a beautiful tribute to his mother. And surprise, surprise, I found he and I actually liked some of the same books. In fact, in the Appendix he lists all the titles mentioned in this memoir. I plan to investigate many of them.  

            Folks who are facing life-threatening illnesses or have loved ones or friends who are—and those surely include most of us—will be encouraged by this book. I highlighted many passages as I read, planning on sharing them. But when I finished, I found I had marked almost one third of the book, too much to share in a single post. So I highly recommend you read the book for yourself. You’ll be glad you did. 



Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Nominations Are...

             No, not nominations for the Oscars, the Emmys, the Golden Globes. Not even the CMAs, MTVs, SAGs or any other of the weekly awards the entertainment industry deems necessary to bestow on itself. The nominations I’m listing are far more important and far more intriguing. They’re the nominations for the COFRL—Circle of Friends Reading List. 

            The September meeting of our club is one of my favorites. At that time, members nominate books they particularly enjoyed or think will make interesting reading and discussion. Then we vote for those that will comprise our reading selections for the next year. Because of time restraints, we went ahead and decided on our first two choices: for October, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen; for November, To Dance with the White Dog by Terry Kay. Also, for January, we’ll read Winter of the World by Ken Follett. The remaining selections will be determined by votes. In the past, I’ve forwarded this list to several friends who, as I do, appreciate suggestions for good reading material. Now I’m sharing the list with you along with a link to a brief description of each book.  

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom

The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne 

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Countess of Carnarvor

In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes

The Litigators by John Grisham

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grisso

Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis
The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler                                 

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
            As you can see, our tastes in books are as varied as the dishes we bring to our potluck dinners. And just like our dinners, our list offers--to quote Templeton in Charlotte's Web--a “veritable smorgasbord”of delights. From lighthearted chick lit to inspiring nonfiction to chilling mysteries, there is something to satisfy every literary appetite. And just as I do at our dinners, I’m going to sample everything and devour what I really like. 

            If you’ve read some of these books, I would love to hear your opinion of them.