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Archive for April, 2019

REMEMBERING & HONORING. . .

Today is my mother’s birth-date.  Today I am remembering and I am honoring my mother.  I have decided to post, again, the eulogy I offered at my mother’s funeral and celebration of life.

Dorothy Harriet [Schwietz]. Smith – A Living Gift
10 April 1914 – 28 November 2002
Funeral: 30 November 2002
Eulogy: Richard W Smith, son

Last night as I was reflecting upon what I had written I felt stuck as I did not have a good beginning nor an effective ending to what I wanted to say this morning.  As I was sitting in the Milwaukee airport waiting for Archbishop Roger Schwietz to arrive… [NOTE: Gentle Readers, my mother would support young people on their journey – even to the point of bringing them into our home to live with us for a time – one of these was our second cousin Roger Schwietz who lived with us as a young priest; upon his moving on he asked my mother what he could do for her, she said, ‘Roger would you please say my funeral Mass?’  He said he would and now many years later Roger, now an Archbishop, did not hesitate when my brother called him in Alaska, ‘I will be there.’  And he was.].  …a poem emerged into my consciousness.  The first two lines of this poem by Dawna Markova capture something important about my mother and so I offer them to you now. Markova writes: I will not die an unlived life. . .I will not live in fear. .

 My mother, Dorothy Schwietz-Smith was a living gift to all who encountered her.  Her very presence gifted us with many presents.  She was slight of build, at 5’1” and her feisty, fighting weight was about 102 pounds.  YET she was large of stature at 6’6” – her soul energy weighed in at more than 275.  When she entered a room one sensed a bit of a regal presence; there was a neat, fastidiousness about her and her home.  When she looked at you, her penetrating blue eyes, and the turn of her lips, spoke volumes – from praise to criticism; from questioning to affirming.  Her smile and laughter were infectious.  Her looks would send a clear message, like ‘Don’t’ put your elbows on the table,’ or ‘Be humble,’ or ‘Don’t talk like a sausage.’ 

 She lived a full-life of 88 plus years. . . as a spouse and life-partner, as mother, grandmother, great grandmother, mother, and godmother, as daughter, sister, cousin and aunt, as matriarch, as friend, as support to many, as volunteer.  When you were with Dorothy, even for a brief period of time, you experienced her intellectual presence, her physical presence, her emotional presence, and her spiritual presence. 

 INTELLECTUALLY, you encountered a woman who was thoughtful, intelligent, crafty, open to learning; one who was contemporary – no matter the year; one who was a critical thinker and a superb story teller.  She brought with her an excellent sense of humor and could – and often did – laugh at herself.  She was creative, festive – she loved a good party.  She was a risk-taker and a gambler – ‘Don’t bet with Dorothy’ was a common refrain.  Yet, often she would allow you to choose your team and then she would take the other.  She bet without attachment – mostly.

 PHYSICALLY, you encountered a woman who was a superb cook – anyone who tried one of her cookies would end up begging her for another.  She was a musician, she crocheted afghans, and she was a collector (of glass and of needy young people that she brought into her home).  She was advisor, a teacher [how many of us did she try to teach to cook?).  She had a high tolerance for pain – physical, emotional and spiritual.    

 EMOTIONALLY, Dorothy was caring, stubborn, at times belligerent.  She was committed, caring, grateful, jovial, kind, tough, charitable, resilient, real – what you saw was what you got.  She was receptive to all.  She was the emotional glue for many.   

 SPIRITUALLY, she was all heart and soul.  She trusted in God.  She was faithful.  She was religious.  She was, for many, an angel and a guide.  She loved the Green Bay Packers, tennis and golf and was in deep spiritual angst whenever Pete Sampras or Phil Mickelson lost a tournament (which was, to her chagrin more and more often these past years).  She was always there – giving to ALL who were in need.   

 For many of us in this church today, Dorothy was a role-model who set the standards really high; yet, she was so fully human that she accepted and forgave our human foibles, mostly without hesitation.   

 We have all been blessed, Dorothy, by your Presence/presents.  Your legacy will live on through so many people that your Presence/presents will continue to gift the world.  We will miss you and we will pass the gifts you’ve given us onto the next generation.    

 Partly because of you, Dorothy, partly because of you, Mother, we will not die an unlived life and partly because of your example and faith, we will not be afraid!   

 Below is a photo of mom and dad on their 60th Wedding Anniversary.

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary - Copy

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The Questions we ask determine the path we take. –RWS

I love questions.  I have been emerging what I call, Essential Life Questions, for almost thirty years – I have page after page of these types of questions divided into several categories.  For me, there are questions to ‘answer’ – these used to be called ‘closed questions’ and there are questions to ‘respond to’ – these used to be called ‘open-ended questions’ and then there are questions ‘to hold’ – to live into overtime; as the poet Rilke says, to live the questions themselves.

‘Closed questions’ have right answers, factual answers.  ‘Open questions’ don’t; your response depends upon who you are, your point of view, your life experience, your values, your guiding principles, you deep assumptions, your deep beliefs, your prejudices, your stereotypes, and… the list could go on. .

I am sitting this morning in my favorite coffee shop.  How many people have come through the door this morning is a closed question and can be answered for there is a ‘factual number’ available to us.  However, if I ask, what is the best food to partake of here then your response will depend upon many factors; you can collect the information on the possibilities, but only you can decide – unless, of course, you allow someone else to decide for you.

In our culture the temptation is to turn everything into a closed question; our current political culture is a good example of this.  That way there is no argument and no doubt – so the theory goes.  By the time I graduated from high school I believed that all the questions had been answered and most of them resided in the back of the teacher’s book; my task was to get them from the book into my head.  Later on in life I used to pick up a book with the belief that now I would have the answer.

The reality is that most of life’s questions are not closed questions to be answered; they are either questions to respond to or questions to hold and live into.

Consider the following:  How can I influence you?  How can I persuade you?  What is the ‘best policy’ given this situation?  What do I need to be faithful to even though I might not be effective?  What am I to do with my life? 

 There have been, and there will always be folks who know they know the answer and are willing to tell you what it is; they believe that they are truly in the know – they are rooted in surety.  What they are doing is cheating us.  What they are doing is telling us that we don’t have the wisdom to figure things out for ourselves.

‘What I am to believe?’  This is perhaps the most open ended question there is.  I am charged with responding to this and I am charged with ‘living’ this question.  I do need others’ support, care, love, and mirroring back to me; but it is my life to live, it is my voice to bring to the world, it is my story to write and live.  My life is my opportunity and my obligation.  For me, this is one reason that it is crucial for me to continue to emerge the life questions are that essential for me to respond to, to hold and/or to live into.

Love the questions; live the questions. –Rilke

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The way out is through. –Goethe

It was early morning.  I was sitting in a coffee shop and a young mother and her young daughter entered.  The young girl was distraught.  As I observed her and listened I learned that the young girl was to go off to kindergarten for the first time — and she didn’t want to go.  She was afraid.  Her mother was patient, reassuring and yet firm — her daughter was going to go to kindergarten.

How many parents over how many years have had a similar conversation with their daughter or son?  The conversation might have been about the first day of kindergarten, or perhaps the first grade, or maybe even ‘going off to college.’  Loving parents listen and respond to their concerns.  They reassure and support.  And they hold firm — it will not benefit the child nor the parent(s) if the child does not cross this particular threshold.

When I-You-We choose only that which eases our anxiety or our fear we lose out.  In choosing relief we turn our backs to the ‘Way Open’ and we cement our feet to the threshold while looking at the past.  We cannot go back — this is an illusion that quickly manifests itself when we try to do so.  In going ‘back’ we soon become lost and confused for this is not where we belong; the land that was once ‘home’ is now alien to us.  We learn that our anxiety and fear is not diminished — it might well be ‘put on hold’ for a time but it will only return with more intensity.

One of the challenges of stepping off of the threshold into the ‘Way Open’ comes when we know we must make a choice as to how we are going to proceed with our life.  Too often these life-choices are made while it is still unclear as to how the choice will enable us to develop more fully, how it will enable us to use our gifts and talents and abilities to meet the needs of the world we will be stepping into.  We feel a tug to go back.  We want to cling to the known [you might remember, gentle reader, that in Afghani, the verb ‘to cling’ is the same as the verb ‘to die’].  If we have discerned a ‘guide’ that has helped us navigate our way we might now question whether we really trust him or her.  Our challenge involves holding our anxiety and fear with gentleness, taking a deep breadth of faith, and then stepping across the threshold into the ‘Way Open.’

Although the choices we face might be important ones, even life changing ones, like: which job to take, where to live, whom to marry, how much money to save or when to retire; the choices I am now thinking of are deeper and more far-reaching.  These choices include the development of our capacity for compassion, for love, for being trust-worthy, for being trust-builders, for living a life of non-compromising integrity.  Stepping into the unknown ‘Way Open’ requires trust, faith and hope — in ourselves and in something greater than ourselves [God, the Transcendent, Humanity, etc.].  How will the ‘Way Open’ help me become a more loving person, a more compassionate person, a more empathetic person, a more forgiving person?  How will the ‘Way Open’ enable me to feel more deeply and respond more fully to the world’s pain?  How will the ‘Way Open’ enable me to discern the needs that I might help address using my gifts, talents and abilities?

Like the young girl faced with the threshold of stepping into kindergarten, we each have had and will have times of such life-changing choice.  Like the little girl, we all need the love and support of another (or a number of others) as we face the anxieties and fears that come with these types of choices.  And like the little girl, in the end we have to take the step across the threshold alone for it is our life that we are called to live.

 

 

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Yesterday I noticed that the majority leader of our Senate, Mitch McC. has decided to invoke the ‘nuclear option’ and ram the President’s lower court judge nominations through the Senate (this means the majority can ignore not only the minority but also the ‘will of the people’).  The ‘Nuclear Option’: Another blow to Democracy.  Later last evening I began to think about ‘pharisees.’  They are, just as you, Gentle Reader, and I are at our healthiest, living paradoxes – we are both virtue and vice, light and darkness.  I am now thinking of the dark-side of the pharisee (small ‘p’).

A pharisee living in the dark side is a righteous person whose righteousness is nourished by the blood of sinners.  As I reflected on Mitch and this type of pharisee a question emerged into my consciousness: How to be a dark-side pharisee in politics?

An easy way: at a given moment display righteous indignation over the means which your opponent has used to attain the same corrupt end which you are trying to achieve (in Mitch’s case, the corruption of our Constitution and our ‘Democracy’).  When the opposition had control of the Senate Mitch and his colleagues (the minority at the time) railed against the nuclear option.  Now invoking it is, for Mitch and his collaborators, a proof, in their eyes, of their righteousness.

Pharisaism, in politics and in life, is not self-righteousness only; it is also the conviction that in order to be ‘right’ it is sufficient to prove that the other is wrong.  For ‘good religious pharisees’ as long as there is one sinner left to condemn, then you are justified.  For Mitch and friends, as long as there is a hint that compromise is needed then the other side will be demonized and the nuclear option will be invoked.

Our Founding Fathers knew that ‘Democracy’ had to be rooted in compromise and that over time it will decay from within if compromise was, compromised.  Mitch and his friends have taken another step to contribute to and ensure the decay of ‘Democracy.’  Why can they take this action, take this step?  Because ‘We the People’ do not care.  We have, over time, chosen not to be the government but to turn the government over to a select few.  If ‘We the People’ actually embraced ‘Democracy’ we would take on the mantle of responsibility and act accordingly.   ‘We the People’ have taken on the mantle of passivity.  If we continue to wear this mantel we will continue to be contributors to the decay and death of ‘Democracy.’

Once one puts on the mantle of the pharisee and once one then identifies and points his/her finger at a ‘wrong-doer’ then one can become justified in doing anything one wants to do – however, vice-full the behavior (think: attacking ‘Democracy’ via invoking the nuclear option).

I leave us this morning with the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Few are guilty, but all are responsible!

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FEAR OR ANXIETY. . .

In our culture we frequently interchange the concepts of fear and anxiety.  More often we use the word fear to describe anxiety.  So it might be helpful to distinguish between the two – then again!

Fear = a feeling of agitation caused by the presence or nearness of danger, evil or pain; a direct threat.  The intensity one feels is directly related to how one interprets the threat; if one interprets the threat as severe then the intensity of the feeling will increase.  When faced with a fearful situation one will engage the situation, flee from the situation, or get stuck and neither engage nor flee.  As soon as we perceive the threat we develop some automatic physical responses – our heart rate increases, adrenaline is rushed to certain muscles groups, we become hyper-focused on the threat, we sweat, our blood pressure goes up, and our higher level mental functions seem to slow down, if not shut-down as we move to protective reaction.

Anxiety = a state of being uneasy, apprehensive, or worried about what may happen or about what might possible happen.  The following example might help distinguish between the two: You are walking along and come to a street and you want to cross the street.  You look in all directions and don’t see any vehicle coming so you begin to cross the street.  All of a sudden, as if out of nowhere comes a car speeding down the street coming straight toward you.  Your normal reaction is one of fear for danger is bearing down upon you; the ‘threat’ is real.  You quickly assess the situation and decide to engage the speeding car, jump out of the way or freeze in your steps hoping the car will miss you [an aside: if one is intoxicated one might well determine that taking on the car will be the best idea].  Now, let’s back up.  You are walking along and come to a street that you decide to cross.  You look all ways and see nothing coming.  You begin to cross the street and still nothing is coming and yet you have the same response as the person who is being threatened by the speeding car.  This response is as intense and since there is, indeed, no car coming – no real threat is present – what you are experiencing is high anxiety.

So what are some of the fears and anxieties that we hold?  Here are some to consider:

–Financial failure [perhaps financial dependence]

 –Not being loved or not being ‘wanted’

–Being ‘’alone’ or being abandoned

–Chronic/protracted illness and/or pain

–Being repulsive to self or others

–Believing that you are a failure [especially in some important aspect of your life]

 –Dying – growing older and running out of time in your role   

 –Not being good enough

–What lies deep within one’s self – the darkness, if not the ‘evil’ [that one might see or that others might see]?

There are some questions that might help if we choose to engage them:

 –To what extent are you motivated by, controlled by, and/or demotivated by fear and/or anxiety? In what ways does fear or anxiety motivation serve you and others well?  In what ways does fear or anxiety not serve you and others wel?. 

 –At this point in your life, what are the fears and anxieties that you carry with you?

 –What were the fears and anxieties that you carried 5-10-20 years ago?

 –If you continue on your current life-path what might be some fears and/or anxieties that you will be ‘invited’ to carry during the next 2-5 years? 

 –What is the difference between being fearful or anxious and being your fear or being your anxiety? 

 –In what ways do you project your fear or anxiety on to others?  What is the effect and affect of doing so upon yourself and upon the other(s)?

 

 

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