Have you ever been unable to forgive yourself for a past action? Your do-over was never enough? Your action, or in my case inaction, continued to pain and haunt you? Prayers and wishes didn’t subside the memory.
I had one such pain.
Aunt Kate asked me to meet her at a funeral home. A dear friend of hers had passed away. I told her I would. I didn’t show. I had plenty of good reasons. I was in my early twenties, had worked all night. I was just plain tired. I needed sleep. I could hear the sadness and disappointment in her voice when she said, “You didn’t come.” I pictured her sitting by herself waiting and waiting for me.
Of course, I told her I was sorry. I could never get over not showing up for her. She never asked for much, if anything, from me or anyone else. I had more fondness for Aunt Kate than I did my mother. Her constant love continues to sustain me although she’s been dead for over 32 years. It’s her that I want to greet me on the ‘other side’ when I die.
I know she forgave me. I never forgave myself no matter how many little pieces of paper I threw into the flames on Solstice or New Year’s Eve.
Every day, I do a do-over. And, it finally feels good enough. It didn’t start out as that. It started out as one neighbor helping another.
On Halloween, sitting around the fire bowl on our block, I listened as our neighbor said he’d be driving north for a week to his cabin. His wife, who is in her eighties, would be by herself. I imagined her falling in her kitchen and no one knowing. I asked her if she’d like to start taking a daily walk.
She often told me on our strolls that I was the only person she had talked to that day. COVID-19 had pushed her further into isolation. She didn’t like to walk by herself and wouldn’t, but she would walk with me. Sometimes, I’d bring our two dogs and hand her one leash while I grasped the other. The dogs began to greet her like family. At other times, Jody would walk with us while the neighbor and I chatted.
Our conversations were generally the same: the weather, the home and garage projects in the neighborhood, and what our families were doing. I never tired of it.
After her husband came home our walks have continued. She has become my companion.
We don’t talk politics. We don’t talk religion. There is so much more to bind us.
I sense Aunt Kate’s spirit when we walk. I know she’s pleased. I know she’s happy. I have a different image in my mind. She’s not sitting alone in the funeral home waiting for me. She’s walking beside me.
The day after the invasion of our Capitol our almost seven-year-old granddaughter said to our daughter: “So those people will be arrested, right? And then they will go to jail? Because that is dangerous. They could make the police sick and then who would stop people from stealing and other bad things? And what if Congress gets scared so they can’t make rules anymore?”
Washington, D.C. has a magnetic pull. My tradition is to walk to the White House every visit and take pictures. Our daughter lived there when she clerked for the United States Tax Court which meant visiting her and exploring her favorite places. We did the Supreme Court tour one time with her providing insights. In 2019 I spent a day sitting in the House of Representatives and the Senate galleries as well as touring the Capitol with a member of Senator Amy Klobuchar’s staff. Meeting people in the offices of our representative and senator then watching them at work at the Capitol deepened my sense of what the democratic process means.
I think we waste trips to Washington, DC on grade school kids. Every citizen of voting age should be required at least once to visit the places where our government does it work. To go through security, read placards, sit in those galleries, hear the history of each branch. Let’s make it a compulsory requirement that anyone who votes must demonstrate that they have studied the processes that keep this nation a democracy. Not as a high school student, but at an age years after their formal education is complete. Call it a citizenship refresher.
Bless my daughter, and every parent or person responsible for children and young people, as they provide information and assurances during these times. If it has not been difficult to give kids a sense of safety while walking the talk about mask wearing and social distancing, now there is this to explain. And to fix.
Living alone in his final years, my father developed a soft spot for Hallmark Christmas movies. From Thanksgiving through early January his television choices were predictable: football any time a game was broadcast, morning news on NBC, midday news on a local show, Hallmark Christmas movies from dinner to the FOX nightly news.
He knew every plot twist and how the pretty young woman and handsome young man would find a future together. He probably didn’t discuss Hallmark movies with his dining room buddies, but he and I talked about them. We shared the inability to remember the names of characters or their imaginary hometowns, but we could connect on parts of the shows that reminded us of times in our past. We had different memories about my reception to Santa riding through Luxemburg, WI on Christmas Eve. He would laugh about my dismay when ordered to hand over my babysitting money to my brother who decided December 23rd that he had to drive from Milwaukee to Philadelphia to be with the woman who would become his first wife. We treasured the wonder of having a newborn under the Christmas tree.
Every year holiday traditions twist apart a bit. A month ago I wasn’t ready to think about Christmas. I don’t track each evolution, but changes are noted. Some are mourned. Some are a released with relief like producing multiple fancy meals while wearing dressy clothes, make-up and heels for example. Or the discomfort of sitting on folding chairs in the grade school’s basement to watch Christmas services on a large screen, when it is easier to stay home and watch a televised version.
The pandemic is shaking traditions out of the holidays faster than a cat knocking ornaments out of a decorated Christmas tree. Economic hardships make generous gifting feel off. Hunger in the community demands assistance. Uncertainty has crawled into of all our minds and souls.
My father’s example has helped in thinking through 2020 holidays. He could have been morose about losing his wife and son. He could have been clingy. His memories of sitting at the head of the holiday dinner table with children and grandchildren could have overshadowed the simplicity of a small tree in his apartment and a side seat at our table. He found other ways to mark the season– contributing more to favorite nonprofits, listening to seasonal music, wearing holiday socks, relishing when we crowded together to cheer on the Packers, and watching Hallmark Christmas movies.
A change noted: We don’t always know the lessons taught until after the teacher has left.