I look at the empty page. I look around the empty living room. I feel the emptiness in my heart after the death of my mother. It has been a hard couple of weeks. For almost half a year, there was always something to do. Beyond the tasks of work and daily life, I had my campaign. If there was a free moment, I was reaching out to voters. Now it is time to take stock and look at what my next big adventure is.
I'm not the only one going through this. I see friends posting on Facebook about the bittersweetness of closing down their campaign headquarters. One question everyone seems to be thinking, but most people aren't voicing right now, "Will you run again in two years?"
I don't know the answer to that. Running for State Representative is hard work. For me, it has always been about much more than getting elected, and I need to analyze if it is the best use of my time. Unfortunately, too much of my time got drawn into the nitty gritty of campaigning, and too little was spent on the underlying issues. Perhaps that is part of what is wrong with elections that are too much of a popularity horse race and too little of a discussion about our American experience.
This year, I did not participate in National Novel Writing Month. I could hop in at the last moment, and try to catch up, but I've spent too much time trying to play catchup recently. My blog has suffered over the past few months as well. It is time for me to do more writing.
There are also the tasks at work and with the Connecticut Health Foundation Fellowship that needs attention.
So, what do I write? Do I work on fiction or poetry? Can I find the words of the next great American novel? Do I write more essays and blog posts? Can I find topics to discuss that will be engaging, stimulating and challenging?
Some of my current ideas including continued exploration into renewing our social contract and contrasting American Hegemony and American Exceptionalism. What might American Exceptionalism look like in the 21st century? How does it relate to our social contract and to Great Awakenings?
Closer to home, there are questions of how the Affordable Care Act gets implemented and what it means in terms of addressing health disparities. There is the recent concern by some about Agenda 21. Is this a threat to American Hegemony? To American Exceptionalism?
In a couple months, the General Assembly will convene. What are the discussions we can and should have around the state budget and legislation that is being considered? Are we properly engaged with our legislators on these issues? What is the best way to increase engagement?
All of these issues rattle around in my mind as I prepare for whatever the next challenge will be.
Note: I updated this blog post to provide a link to Agenda 21, and to correct where I had called it Article 21 instead of Agenda 21.
It is Thursday morning. There is a foot of snow on the ground in Woodbridge, and it is still coming down. School has been canceled and it looks like I will not be able to make it to the memorial service for my mother up in Williamstown.
I was supposed to offer words of remembrance at the service. Since I doubt I'll make it, I'll share some of them here.
We all remember different people different ways, and our memories of Alice Hynes are no different. Depending on who we are, she was a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a neighbor, a coworker, a friend, or many other different things. When they talk about writing, they say write about what you know. So, I'll focus on Alice Hynes, as mother and as friend.
The earliest memory I have of my mother is from when I was very young. I'm not sure exactly how old I was. I was in a bouncy chair. One of those canvas chairs hung from a large spring that connect to the moulding above the door. It was in our house in Williamstown. I was bouncing up and down merrily in the chair, facing the dining room, with my back towards the living room. My mother was in the kitchen preparing some sort of food. I had to go to the bathroom and I called to her.
That's it. I assume she got me and I made it to the bathroom in time. I assume there wasn't anything else going on. It is all I can remember from that very early fragment. Yet it reflects a couple important themes.
First, my mother was always there to help. Not just in the daily aspects of living, but in the community as well. She baked communion bread for the church. She volunteered at the learning center at the elementary school. She helped as a docent at the Clark Art Museum.
I was a bit of a daredevil as a kid, perhaps even reckless. It seemed like I was always in one scrape or another, and my mother was often taking me to the doctor's office. It was an old joke in the family, she would say, "If you break a leg, don't come running to me." Yet, she was always there when I was hurt.
The second theme that comes up is baking. She was always baking something. Beside bread for communion, she baked all the bread for our family. She baked cakes, pies, cookies, and a long list of other delights. An important aspect of her social life was a sewing circle she participated in. For us children, it meant staying home, while she went out to see her friends. But it also meant, tea rings. She would bake a tea ring to bring to sewing circle. She would bake an extra one that would be left at home for us kids.
I've written before about how in many ways, we had a charmed, idyllic childhood, which is perhaps the best praise any child could give to their parents. As I write this, I look out the window at the piles of snow. As an adult, I think about what it means for work and travel, but as a kid, it meant one thing, adventure. We would rush outside with our sleds, zooming down trails in the woods. Sometimes, I would get injured and limp back home to get bandaged up. Other times, we would play until we were soaked and freezing. Back at home, my mother would help us change to warm dry cloth and would be making hot chocolate and perhaps be baking something.
She would always have a cup of tea, herself. Often, she would be so busy, so engrossed in what she was doing, that she would make herself a cup of tea, and leave it steeping on the bread table, only to be found, much later, when it was very dark, and had turned cold. We were a family of tea drinkers. Birthdays would bring the Hynes birthday cake, a yellow cake, made from scratch, with a boiled sugar, marshmallowy frosting.
From my parents, I learned the importance of making things myself. My mother was a den mother in cub scouts and we made many great projects. As a family, we would make lemon sherbet in the winter, using ice we gathered from rock outcroppings along the road to freeze the sherbet. We would use milk from the family goats and, if we were lucky, a lemon from one of the lemon trees that we grew in our house.
In the summer, we would make root beer. We'd fill a five gallon pot full of water, sugar and root beer extract. We'd mix it and then siphon the root beer into bottles where it would sit and become fizzy. We would bring coolers of home made root beer to family gatherings, like at Aunt Betty's, or gatherings of friend, like afternoons with the Lulls in the Hopper.
We had a large garden, and many of my childhood memories are of planting peas and beans with my mother, or of canning them afterwards. As the weather got warm, we would sit around the kitchen table, shelling peas, cutting up beans or husking corn. My mother would be busy canning or freezing the produce to get us through the coming winter. If we worked hard and were productive, we would get to go to Margaret Lindley Park to go swimming in the afternoon. If it was a special occasion on the weekend, we might go up to Harriman Reservoir. We would play in the water and my mother would get a rare chance to rest.
Often, there would be an afternoon storm that would roll in. We'd swim until there was thunder, and then get in the car and head home. I've always enjoyed watching the weather. As a child, we would have maps of the United States, which we'd draw the weather patterns for my parents to see when they couldn't watch the weather.
It seems ironic that my mother died in a weather related accident and it is the weather that is keeping me from attending her memorial.
Now, I'm older. I can look back and see some of the struggles we faced as a family. Perhaps it wasn't all as idyllic as it seemed then, or at least as I remember it now. Yet it is these memories that will sustain me and I hope similar shared memories will sustain all of us as we celebrate the life of Alice Hynes.
We all have different ways of grieving. Partly, I keep the grief at bay by keeping busy, and then finding quiet times, here and there, when I can deal with a little bit of the grief. Other people I know immerse themselves in their grief, letting it pour out everywhere. Some people prefer to grieve privately, others find comfort in the support of those around them.
For much of my life, I've been more of the solitary griever, an introvert on the Myers-Briggs tests. Yet I went through a time of grief a decade ago when a friend offered me some sage advice.
Another part of my personality is that I like to help people. At the same time, I've always been reluctant to accept help from others. My friend pointed out that if everyone didn't accept help, there would be no one for those of us who like to help others to help. It made sense, and I've gotten better at accepting help.
I've also recently been hearing many people talk about the value of gratitude. By being grateful, our experiences of events and people around us changes.
With all this in mind, I've been balancing my grief with gratitude to all the people who have come to comfort and console me. It has made those awkward moments when people come to offer condolences much more comfortable.
This fits nicely with All Saints Day, which was last Thursday, and many Christians observed in one way or another this Sunday. We sang hymns about all the saints who from their labors rest. The priest at our church gave a great sermon about how the saints around us, through their support and encouragement can help us through the most difficult trials.
I thought about Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
I have managed to persevere through my grief, thanks, in large part, to the great cloud of witnesses surrounding me. Some of these witnesses may have very different understandings of who God is. They might talk about Allah, some higher power, or simply love, but they have been witnesses of this higher power to me.
With this focus of thankfulness, together with thinking about my mother, another hymn comes to mind. I always associate heading back to Williamstown for Thanksgiving, with the hymn "Now Thank We All Our God".
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Who from our mothers' arms… What do we associate with motherhood? Compassion? Caring? Comfort? I was a reckless daredevil as a kid, ending up with a long list of injuries, but always, my mother was there to take me in her arms and provide comfort. Now, she has passed away. I will not feel her arms around me again, as I did when I was a young boy.
Yet there are many around me who have offered their comfort at the passing of my mother. Some have been bold and given me hugs without asking. Others have been more circumspect and have asked if they can give me a hug.
The answer is yes. Thank you. God continues to bless me on my way, providing those blessings, no longer from my mother's arms, but from the arms of friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.
I know that there will be moments of great sadness, together with moments of wonderful memories. But most importantly I know, we are all in this together; both when we help one another and when we allow others to help us. Then, we are blessed and at our best.
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit… for all the saints… Because we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses… These are all phrases that come to mind on this first day of November, All Saints Day, as I mourn the death of my mother. Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit is that childhood invocation of luck for the coming month. As I think about my mother, I think of the charmed idyllic childhood I had. Life has been very good to me, and even in my grief, there is joy, hope and gratitude.
All Saints Day, the day that Christians celebrate the lives of their loved ones has always been an important holiday for me. The hymn, “For All the Saints”, has always been one of my favorites. This morning, I’m watching videos of this and other great hymns.
As a final note for this morning, the outpouring of condolences and support has been amazing. I cannot tell everyone, how greatly they are appreciated.
Last Friday, I attended the funeral for Lillian Reba Moses. I believe I had only met her once, at the Community Health Center’s 40th anniversary earlier this year. She was one of the founders of CHC, and if it weren’t for her work, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I listened to stories of her dedication and commitment to the community, and I couldn’t help but think of a world where there were people like “Mother Moses” looking after the people of the community with a stern but compassionate watchful eye.
The loss of these archetypal maternal figures has almost become a cliché about what is wrong with society today. Too often we fail to look out for one another the way Reba did during her life.
Amidst all of the strife, Reba clung to her beliefs, and the hymn that echoed through the service was “It Is Well with My Soul”.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
On Saturday evening, I attended a music event at my local high school. Tying together the great performance was creativity and compassion, the twenty-first century skills that are also as ageless as caring for the community. I had thought of writing a blog post about Mother Moses, Music in Motion and the coming of Hurricane Sandy. We are at our best when we come together as a community, either the way Mother Moses brought people together, or the way music teachers at Amity High School brought people together.
Today, that community is gathering around my family and me. Last night, my mother died in a Hurricane Sandy related automobile accident. She was a few years younger than Mother Moses, but they share a birthday.
My sorrows are rolling like sea billows, and the sea has been particularly roiled these past few days. Yet at the same time, peace like a river is attending my way and I can say that it is well with my soul, having known people like Mother Moses and my own mother who have cared so much for their communities.