Category Archives: Uncategorized

Shrouded: Remembering Ben Suddard, the Elder

I was beyond the reach of data and cell towers, so I didn’t find out until hours later. Yesterday, two weeks after his son died, Ben the Elder followed him into God’s embrace.

Ben and his wife were my family’s first neighbors in Wareham, 2002. Quiet, gentle, with the gift of repairing broken things, his skill and humor graced the world. He and his son built the cedar benches that offer rest in the library’s learning garden, a study in sturdiness and simple beauty. Like him, they have made life better without fanfare or flash.

Yesterday, I stood with my husband and younger son on the lower part of Mount Greylock. Flurry clouds obscured a distant mountain, offering only the barest glimpse of a dim and smoky outline. All three of us knew it was there, not one of us could discern its true form. Yet, the mountain, even shrouded, was as real and solid as anything on this earth.

I see Ben in that image, in that moment in time. Quiet. Solid. His life not lost, merely obscured by my limited vision and vantage point.

The Take Down

The multi-colored lights still hang off the front edge of my roof, and nets of the same still blanket the shrubs below. My Christmas tree is up, and there are still things underneath it. Most of the gifts have found their way into their permanent places, but a few boxes and baskets remain – to the great delight of my two cats who relish sleeping in them. That this is the state of things on January 15th is strange – Christmas is usually stowed in the attic a couple of days past Epiphany.

But this isn’t a usual year. Pandemic deaths and hospitalizations are at record levels; there are thousands of National Guard soldiers camped in the Capitol, and a threat of violence hangs over the capitols of all fifty states; the deaths of my father-in-law and a dear friend brought loss and sharp-edged grief into our everyday lives which cannot be marked and lessened with shared prayers, services, and meals. There’s a heaviness to this time weighing on my body, mind, and soul: is that why the tree still stands? I can’t say.

This morning, I opened the curtains, fed the cats, and greeted the light of a new day. Looking at the tree and all the work it represents, something shifted. Instead of boxing ornaments and lights as quickly as possible, I’m going to turn the take down into a spiritual practice. I’ll remember the Christmases past that each ornament represents; I’ll remember holiday gatherings with my father-in-law, Bob, and be grateful for his presence. I’ll recall the Christmas day that Ben and his wife Lena dropped by – and the laughs we shared over the mess of Matchboxes, Legos, wrapping paper, and ribbon that surrounded us. When all the trappings and trimmings of Christmas 2020 are gone, I’ll do something I haven’t had the heart to do yet: give Bob and Ben back to God with love and gratitude.

As for life beyond my own door: I can’t cure the pandemic, but I can certainly make sure I’m doing my part to lessen its damage; I can’t prevent mob violence, but I can do my part to act firmly and wisely, and avoid embittering and embarrassing others.

Love God, love self, and love neighbor. It shouldn’t surprise me that it comes down to this once again. But sometimes, it does.

In Memoriam, Ben Suddard

For years, whenever I pulled my refrigerator out to clean the coils and scrub away the grime that had grown under it, Ben would knock on the door – an instance of synchronicity the universe created not because it was of great significance, but because it was funny. Ben’s knack for laughing at life’s quirkiness turned those many encounters into fond memories.

Ben could tell a good story. Whether it was about his childhood, how he met his wife, Lena, or the many adventures he had on Buzzard’s Bay and ski slopes, Ben shared the people and events of his life with a light touch. The humor in his tales was never at someone else’s expense.

My son, Jared, learned to walk at his beach house because he and his wife let us stay there for the first month we lived in Wareham. He brought several of my relatives out on the water to see his oyster farm; he brought oysters and patience to a couple dozen preschoolers as part of a summer program; he and his father built the benches and planters in the public library’s learning garden – a gift of skill and beauty that makes life in Wareham a little bit richer.

Today, Ben left this life he loved. He leaves behind a loving family and good friends. He returns to God sooner than I’d imagined or hoped. Thank you, Ben, for sharing your life with me and my family. What a precious gift you’ve been to me and mine. And to the world.

Enter 2021

2020 was tough. There were blessings, yes, but they tended to be difficulties that turned into learning opportunities. Death surrounded us, on the news and in our home towns. Political unrest and a lot of anger – some righteous, some not – was on full display. The flaws in our imperfect governing institutions and the limitations of those working within them had tangible and almost immediate attention and effect. 2021 might be here, but 2020 lingers in our pandemic-caused isolation and the mounting death toll across the country. There is no quick (re)solution and we remain in an alternate social reality still.

What about 2021? It’s starting with loss, but also hope for a healthier national reality. The patience required to stay vigilant until vaccines are universally available just might translate into a willingness to look for long-term, more permanent strides toward racial and gender equality. Grief at the loss of so many loved ones may turn into an abiding compassion for the suffering of all people – those close by and those flung far across the globe.

Perhaps spending so much time at home will move us to get our houses in order – to let go of what doesn’t matter and to love what does. Such an endeavor isn’t exactly a typical New Year’s resolution, but it seems like a good way to enter this new year.

May God’s peace abide with you in all circumstances, and may you be God’s peace for others. Amen.

In Memory of Bob Fredrickson

On a hot and humid New Jersey summer day, about four minutes after meeting him, Bob Fredrickson invited me to dinner with his family. He hadn’t seen his youngest son in months, and I’m sure he’d have loved to have that first meal together without an outsider. He didn’t know at the time (and neither did I) that I’d become family soon enough when I married that son. He just extended the dinner invitation because he was a kind man.

Over the the last twenty-eight years, I saw him extend the same courtesy many times: my grad school friend who dropped in for coffee joined us for a New York City lunch, other friends traveling across the country given a meal and a place to stay for the night, a dinner out for a friend and her daughter recently relocated to Arizona. Like that dinner so long ago in New Jersey, he didn’t have to and wasn’t expected to extend an invitation to join – he just did.

I see that generosity in his sons – Bryan, Barry, and my husband, Dave. I see his love in how each raised their children. It’s a legacy that cannot be bought or sold, but it’s worth is undeniable.

Thank you, Bob. For the life you gave to this world.

Thank you, God. For Bob’s life.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Dear God, make me grateful for all that this life offers – the good and the difficult. You made me and you sustain me, offering love in all times and places. Teach my heart to love, my spirit to dance, and my mind to understand. Amen.

[I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For, Bing Crosby, Holiday Inn (sound track), recorded 1942, Sunbeam Records]

God To Surround Me

What surrounded me today?  Images on screens, traffic, Ikea shoppers, clothes on the drying racks.

What surrounded you?

I wish I had taken the time to ask for God’s presence in what I saw on various screens, on routes 495 and 24, in the aisles at Ikea, and in my bedroom. But I didn’t.

Lucky for me, God is willing to work with what’s here rather than waiting for the state of my soul to improve.

That’s true for everyone,  including you.

Thank God.

The Deer’s Cry, The Pilgrim, Rita Connolly, Shaun Davey, 1994

The Notorious RBG

She didn’t set fashion trends, but she did change her collar in coordination with her opinion. She went to law school when women just didn’t do that. In the past few years, she was the subject of several books and a couple of films. One of her best friends and coworkers held radically different views, something that made them both better professionally and personally. She died a few days ago.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for the rights of those who most needed a champion. She faced strong opposition, but managed to stand her ground with dignity and with respect. She made constitutional law interesting.

The world is a better place for her passion and compassion.

Check out these books about her life and work:

Levy, Debbie; I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams; My Own Words

Kathleen Krull; No Truth Without Ruth: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Marc Cohn; The Things We’ve Handed Down

Neruda’s Flowers

Ode to some yellow flowers

Rolling its blues against another blue,

the sea, and against the sky

some yellow flowers.

October is on its way.

And although 

the sea may well be important, with its unfolding

myths, its purpose and its risings,

when the gold of a single

yellow plant

explodes

in the sand

your eyes

are bound

to the soil.

They flee the wide sea and its heavings.

                    We are dust and to dust return.

                     In the end we’re

                   neither air, nor fire, nor water,

                   just

dirt.

neither more nor less, just dirt,

and maybe

some yellow flowers.

[Neruda, Odes to common things; New York: Bulfinch Press, 1994, p. 57]

Neither more nor less than dirt – an Ash Wednesday sentiment. It’s true, too, in its own way. We are no more nor are we any less than ashes and dirt. Except we are also God’s beloved. Neruda never states that, at least not explicitly. Still, there are the yellow flowers. Perhaps, just perhaps, they are a glimpse of divine love.

Pillar Four: Acceptance

Acceptance: The Only Place Where Change Can Begin

[New York: Avery, 2016, p. 223]

The pandemic continues, with new cases cropping up all over the country. Local and state officials are trying to find the best balance between keeping things closed and getting things reopened.

The protests and demonstrations continue, as does the mistreatment of protestors and the respectful treatment of protestors – it all depends on the place and people involved.

This is reality: pandemic ramifications and the loss of life due to skin tone. I’d rather not be in this place, but my preference is beside the point. If I want things to get better, I have to acknowledge what is before I help change what will be into something kinder and more just. Living in unreality won’t help anyone, but it will allow the wrongs of today to continue.

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu know a thing or two about harsh realities and working toward a better future for everyone.  First, there must be acceptance:

Acceptance allows us to engage with life on its own terms rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish… [p.225]

Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly, and to respond appropriately. [p.225]

Lord, keep my eyes, heart, and mind open to your direction. Make me an instrument of your peace.

Black lives matter to you; may they matter as much to me.