Sunday, April 09, 2006

# 136 DEATH AND DEPROGRAMING

Don’t read this. I am simply posting this because in the last couple of years, my blog has replaced my daily scribbles in a journal. The journals I have packed away in boxes with the hope that they will be carefully housed in some attic or under some bed for years to come. But keeping old journals is not compatible with the way people live now. We prefer to keep our life and environment clutter-free. We like to apply the rule that if anything isn’t used or referred to for more than two years it should be discarded to make space for something else.

With that thought in mind, I’m grateful for the Web. This is my place to stash archives where they will always be accessible and safe from damage by flood, earthquake, fire, loss, or the fastidious housekeepers who can’t bear to have the clutter of old journals in a closet or under a bed.

Now I think historically, despite the passage of generations of time, families share and clone personality traits, mannerisms, and subtle things embedded in our shared DNA. So knowledge of what went before can be revealing. It can explain to future generations so many puzzling things about their own emotions, compulsions, or motivations. So that is the fundamental thrust of this post and gives some sensibility to why I am recording the things that are recorded here.

My knowledge of the personality of my ancestors is very limited. I know nothing of the attitudes or personalities of my third-generation-back relatives. But History repeats itself by giving families duplicated personalities, aspirations, and even the dreams of those who have gone before and although it usually skips a generation, sometimes even two generations, I think family values, connections, and disconnections need to be set down in fairly detailed ways. Because so often situations of family history that go back sixty years, maybe a hundred years, maybe even two hundred years, are our best resource for explaining the complexity of situations we find ourselves in, in the present. And the real value of this knowledge of our past, is that it provides an understanding that helps subsequent generations recognize the strengths inherent within that can, if unattended, become weaknesses; and the weaknesses inherent within that can, if attended, become strengths.

So the following becomes a form of historical family tabulation that will probably not interest you, so as I said before, don’t read this unless you’re really short of reading material. There is really nothing comforting or uplifting in its contents. But it must, for the reasons I have stated above, go into my Blog Archives for the edification of subsequent generations.

___________

Family situations cause bitterness and bias. That’s the nature of life. And despite my efforts to be tolerant I have an inner spirit that harbors its share of disgust though I try to religiously toss out anything of this nature that I haven’t referred to in the last two years. But in real life I hoard useless stuff and I guess in spiritual ways I hoard useless stuff as well. Some things I can’t toss aside no matter how hard I try.

I realized that when I wrote a Eulogy for my eldest sister who passed away last week. Her death was not as sad as it might have been. She was a ripe old age, she was in a wheelchair, she was in constant pain, and for many years now she has been unable to write letters or do the crafts that she always so loved to do. She looked forward to a release free from pain and it came quietly to her during her sleep. For that we were all grateful.

Now hers was a blended family. She had some children of her own but when she married, she also became stepmother to some grown children. Grown children fanatical about missions, and mission fields, and sponsorship, and money collections, and fund-raising. And that would have been all good and well, but in the midst of all this, dear sister lived in totally dire conditions. A house that was so inadequate that she once told me, “Most people undress to go to bed, I dress up in extra clothes to keep warm.” And when her own children were young, she told me she had to put mitts on them so they could play with their cars and trucks on the kitchen floor. Yet amidst her own dire need for better food, better housing, her husband sent the wee bit of money that he had to his grown children from his previous marriage for their mission funds.

I read a letter to my sister from one of the grown daughters that emphasized over and over how difficult it was to eat nothing but cabbage and how she longed for lettuce. Of course the next small check that came to my sister’s home was immediately repackaged and addressed by my sister’s husband to a foreign mission dealing with the hardship of an abundance of cabbage – but no lettuce. Meanwhile for months there had been no salads on my sister’s table of either lettuce or cabbage. And so, when an opportunity presented itself, I had a talk with Ms Missionary. A talk shortly after I had given her father, my B-in-L, money to pay the repair bill so he could get his old car out of the shop rather than continue riding an old derelict bicycle back and forth to town.

I told Ms Missionary about the sad situation of the cold, drafty shack her dad and stepmother were living in. I told her that on their table during winter months, there was never a salad, lettuce or cabbage. I told her that the money that was being sent to her was money that was sorely needed for their survival.

And what did Ms Missionary do? She looked at me blankly and shrugged her shoulders and said, “I had no idea that things were as dire as you say. But what can I do? My Dad sends the money voluntarily. He is adamant he doesn’t want it back and he always tells me they are managing very well.”

I tried to appear amiable though inside I was filled with disgust. “They are not managing well,” I said. “What he is telling you is not true. And it’s not that difficult to put an end to it,” I said. “When he sends you money, send it back. If he sends it again, send it back. Eventually he will no longer send it.”

So the conclusion of this conversation was that Ms. Missionary would keep in touch with me from her remote location oceans away and if things weren’t good at home, she would refuse the money. She carefully copied down my name and address. That satisfied me, but now it is twenty years later and in that twenty years, there has not been one solitary query made as to the state of affairs at home.

So, with my sister’s passing, although this mission-fund-leaching-activity on Ms. Missionary’s part has always irked me beyond belief, I decided to put that all behind me and write something for my sister’s funeral that would simply honor the wonderful person my sister was and let the rest of it go. What point to hash it over now?

So, at the request of my other sisters, I sat down and wrote this brief Eulogy.

THE KINSHIP OF SISTERS

Today we are sad. Talking helps. We talk about a sister who was wholly dedicated to God. A sister who was so quiet, so transparent, so in the background, but yet her life was such a testimony to others. I know that because so many people have said so to each one of us.

She limped through life on a bad hip that was seldom free from pain. She had reasons to complain, but still the closest I ever heard to a complaint was her comment to me after attending a woman’s social.

“I looked around me today,” she said, “and said to myself, I need to smile more. Those other women at the social today were so carefree and happy. Why can’t I be as cheerful as them? And so,” she said, “I really tried to be. I tried very hard. But I couldn’t. And then I realized that my body has been in so much pain for so long that I begin to believe that it how it is supposed to be. That I am no different from anyone else. That they feel the same as I do, but they are bearing up under that burden so much better. Do you think that is true?” she asked.

I wished I could have said it was true. That everyone felt pain equal to her own. But of course I couldn’t because it wasn’t true.

And so with her passing, we are relieved that she is finally free of pain, but we are also sad. We search for comfort in conversation. We talk about her simplicity and gratefulness for the smallest of favors. And in that conversation, Sister B recalls how Departed Sister said to her when she was planning her wedding that she hoped she could have an abundance of pink roses to mark that special day. But aside from the small spray of pink roses in her bouquet, there were no extra roses. And so Sister B and Sister C and Sister D grabbed scissors and scurried into the woods where they clipped buckets of thorny branches of wild roses. And so, although the wedding was a simple outdoor celebration, there were an abundance of roses. Enough roses to transform a common farm yard into a special Rose Garden.

This is a simple story but it seems to frame the feelings we have about a special sister. She was that special quiet, unassuming presence that transformed our lives, like the wild roses, into a Rose Garden with the strength of her faith, her enduring courage in the midst of much hardship, her patience and appreciation of simple things.

I like to think that in heaven she will say to her Lord. “Lord, I looked around me today at the others. I feel so much joy. I think I feel I have been given more joy than the rest of them.”

And the Lord will say, “That’s true, my dear, you have. Your life was such a shining light to others that I have given you an extra portion.”


________

So now, those of my family tree, you know that right now there are more offshoots with the same mannerisms, personalities, and common DNA as Ms Missionary. This spiel is for those of the same persuasion within the next generation and the next. I understand Missions are an honorable profession, but they are not honorable if they are implemented through the dishonorable acquisition of funds from those in need.

Practice the faith you preach. If God wants you to serve in a mission field, he will provide. You do not need to take action to secure what you need through despair over cabbages, sacrifice of the fee for a bouquet of roses, or through the ignoble transfer of funds sorely needed for another’s food, clothing, and shelter.

In re-reading the Eulogy I wrote, I am somewhat ashamed. As much as I tried to lay aside my grievances, anyone with a discerning mind can find them woven into the thoughts I expressed. But in my family tree, all do not have a discerning mind. And so it is my hope, that in the future, some of my descendent kin will read this and be more discerning in recognizing the offensive odor of exploitation versus the sweet smell of faith.

(I told you not to read this, but if you were patient enough to read it, now that you're done, you might as well comment)

8 Comments:

Blogger Me said...

Roberta,
It grieves my heart to say this, because I am of the same profession as your sister's stepdaughter. You are completely right, and I am happy to say that at least within our mission, we are addressing this situation. There are those who will take advantage, and when there is a lack of accountability, it makes it easier to do so. Accountability not only with how much money is received, but what is done with it is crucial in keeping everyone honest and upright. You would think it is in the job description, but sadly, it is not. Blessings, and thank you for bringing this to the forefront.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

me, I am surprised and so appreciative of that comment. I am also so proud of you and like so many said about my sister -- it's people like you that that shine a brighter light to others. May God bless you and all who do this kind of work while recognizing that more souls are won through principled righteousness than through accolades or fund-raising campaigns. I think for others, the money-leachers, if they can't stand the heat (or in this instance, a diet of cabbages), they should get out of the kitchen!

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Esther said...

Dear Roberta,

My heart is with you and our family at this time. I loved your eulogy of the roses. I thought it was lovely, touching and perfect.

It is those little words spoken, heartfelt and sincere that will ring in the hearts of everyone who heard them, years from now when they remember her.

Much Love,

Esther

4:56 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Dear esther, thank you for the kind words. I certainly appreciate them and of course I'm truly pleased you took the time to let me know that you had dropped by.

The funeral was one of those that stifled applause but oh how we all wanted to applaud when someone (I think you know who) stood up and in a slow deliberate manner said, "She was always so gracious, so welcoming. In fact she was so kind natured she couldn't give anyone a dirty look (long pause)--- even if they deserved it."

That statement was so exact we all had to hook our thumbs together to keep from clapping.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

Of course you do realize that telling us not to read it was a sure fire way to get us reading. Yet another quirk of human nature. ;)

But seriously, Roberta, my sincere condolences to you on the loss of your sister. Your eulogy was lovely and I'm sure that she was nodding approval from her heavenly home.

Other parts of your post made me sad and angry, though. I see a similar situation in my own extended family and it has always rankled me. I know that there are "do gooders" out there who get it right. But there are so many who don't.

My dad was cut from a different cloth than his siblings, fortunately. They're the type who will "save" strangers, especially if they can get a bit of attention for doing same. But family are just expected to fend for themselves, even when they end up in dire straits through no fault of their own. Dad, however, was a strong believer in "charity begins at home." Which I firmly believe in myself. Yes, do what you can for those in need out there, but each of us needs to think of our own family as our first responsibility. If all of their needs are met, and we still have resources of any kind to spare, then we can and should look at needs elsewhere.

So, yet again, I fully understand your feelings in this post. It's too late to make your sister's lot in life easier. But hopefully someone who needs to rethink their priorities will read this post at some point and take it to heart.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi eleanor, thanks for the comment. I'm glad that your Dad understood that his first moral obligation was to his own family. So many do-gooders as you suggest fail to realize that 'kindness begins at home'.

And you are also right about the others. There are many that only do caring "ACTS" when there is someone to record it, applaud it, and broadcast it, rather than because of humble compassion. I guess society is so embedded with the assumption that 'charity is a good thing' that few of us ever consider that even acts of charity can be corrupt acts of self-interest.

Thank you also, eleanor, for your kind sympathy.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

There is nothing like the love of a woman for her sister. You do her justice.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi nancy. Thanks for visiting. I guess I wrote something my departed sister indirectly authored through the influence she had on each one of us. So although words seem so inadequate, I appreciate your comment that we did justice to the woman she was. That is comforting to know.

11:56 PM  

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