Under the Apple Tree

20170418_173453The house is too still.  Her non-stop action was just what I looked forward to at the end of the day.  And on her last day she had helped me wake by moving from a spot by my knees to lying on my pillow with her paws over my chin and her face on my face.  We would do the routine: get up, go to the kitchen, put on the tea kettle, open a can of cat food, and look out the window to assess the day.  I would head to the bathroom, she would use her cat door and go outside.  I would make the tea and bring it back on my tray to savor the first moments of peace.  She would bounce back in and join me on the bed, licking her paws and cleaning her face, she would then sit in my lap for the obligatory pet and purr.

At the end of the day she would be on the counter, across from the kitchen door, or sometimes come out the cat door to greet me.  On her last day, she was in the kitchen picture window watching me in the car making that last call.  I was tardy and so she left the window, went around to the study and her door, bounced out and when I opened my car door, she jumped right in.  Up on the dashboard, waiting for a drive, or just announcing that she was in my space, she was my companion.

Mum had returned from her trip to Spain and she had been greeted and loved by Mouse. I gave her the update of all the shenanigans and adventures she had the week before.  Dinner was made, mouse served first, and I was off to a meeting. Long day with Hospice and tomorrow was going to be long as well.  I needed balance.

I returned home to Mum’s bedroom light on. That was strange. Her goal was to stay up till 7:30. It was later than that. The kitchen light was on, she was sitting at the table, TV on but muted.

What’s wrong Mum?  She couldn’t speak, then she whispered, “I have bad news.  Mouse is wrapped in a towel in the garage.”

I retrieved the bundle, and unwrapped her to see her limp and lifeless, a bit of blood out of her ear stained the towel.  No broken bones, no gaping wounds, she was still a bit warm and listened for a purr as she was in the morning.  Her eyes were open but it was clear that she was gone.  I brought her back into the kitchen so that Mum could say goodby and I dug a grave under the apple tree.  I laid her down, curled up as she was with me, looking peaceful and said goodbye.  Gently covering her up I gave thanks, checked back in with Mum and bid her goodnight.

She had gone out on her own accord and had been under the lilac bush.  She had been hunting bumblebees and flying bugs as of late and I imagine that she had darted out in full chase and unaware of the car.  The driver didn’t stop and I hope didn’t know.  The next driver saw her on the side of the road, stopped and looked for the owner.   Mum wouldn’t go to the door when they came knocking because she didn’t know them, but our neighbor stepped up, and brought the news to the door.

Fast and lethal.  I knew it was a risk to have and inside outside cat.  I knew that she might live a long and fun packed life. I balanced that with the knowledge that she might be hit by a car, taken by a coyote or otherwise killed.  I took the risk because I needed to have life and non-stop-action to balance my work.  Life is a risk.  I got her at the shelter and gave her the best life I could in the short time we had. No regrets there.  But I have learned a huge lesson.

We are all created in nature and in nature we should live.  I just don’t live in a place where she had a fair chance. And I am guilty for thinking that getting clipped by a car was a smaller risk. I felt she was smart enough to learn fear of cars.  I didn’t count on her natural predatory instincts over-riding that awareness.

I yearn to be where I can walk a dirt road, be in nature, and have a pet.  This week was full of patient deaths.  It was full of tending to those who are grieving.  I found myself tearing up in a staff meeting and coming home bawling as I park next to the apple tree. I found myself lost in the vastness of the silence and rethinking the cost of living off the farm.

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?

Sometimes I wonder why I say yes.

Melanie our Priest at St. Paul’s asked me the  week before last if I would read some of Jesus’s last words for Good Friday service and pontificate about it for 5-6 minutes.  She didn’t actually say pontificate, she said “meditate” , but that is my feeling about talking in the pulpit sometimes.

I got the phrase that I can’t pronounce.  My God, my God why have you forsaken me? is the general translation.  Some translations say, abandon.  All are based on the 22nd psalm.

1.My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2.O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 

And the psalmist continues describing his anguish and ends with a prophecy of the coming of the Lord.  Next up, psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd reminding us that,

6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. 

So that is my mini- exegisis and I can connect the dots to the scripture in Mathew pretty darn easily.  Jesus is on the cross, but we know the end of the story and his is raised, salvation all around. Easter lilies and chocolate bunnies for the rest of us.

This universal condition of feeling completely abandoned is a familiar one.  I see it with patients in their own dark hour.  Chaplain shop talk calls it “the dark night of the soul”. Alcoholics call it “hitting their bottom”. In depression, it is that point before you step off into the abyss of absolute aloneness because you can not bare the feeling or weight of it any more.

But here is the thing.  Hang on.   We know the end of the story.  We know that we will have Easter.  The tough thing is leaning into the depths of abandonment. Forsakenness. The psalmist says that he is lower than a worm, not even human.  Who hasn’t felt that before?

I certainly have. And I have wondered if there really is a God and I hit my bottom, I couldn’t see, or feel or even know that my God was there the whole time.

And yet, here I am.  Last night I was a guest lecturer at Emmanual College teaching a master’s level class of Nursing students, of all things.  The class is Spirituality and Ethics in Nursing,  and I got to teach on spiritual assessments.  Today I got one of the most  heart warming letters from the professor who said loads of good things about the class and my teaching.

Monday I brought a palm to a patient who was experiencing  their own dark night and “I said, you are not alone, I will be here with you” .  Monday night in the halls I heard the same thing from folks that have been sober for a while to the newcomers who are so very lonely and feeling  so very forsaken.  “You are not alone. Welcome”.

God never promises us that it will be easy.  In fact, there are tons of stories in every major faith that tell us the opposite.  Things are gonna get bad, but hold on.

Easter is coming.  I have meditated on it.  Might actually get up the moxie and just read the blog post  vs. cleaning it up for prime time.  At this point, I am gonna leave it alone and just stay fluid through the unknown.




Mouse Is In The Garage

I had a heavy week.  I thought I would get ahead of it by doing a spiritual assessment on a new admission Sunday afternoon and while I was at the facility, I would check in with another couple of patients.  I have a flexible schedule like that. However I also had a bunch visits that needed to be done, a week of lousy, rainy and otherwise dank weather, a memorial service and an online class.  Come Friday I was a bit fried.

Balance is the key and so knowing that, I got a kitten and named it Mouse. img_0788

I figured having something very alive was a good balance to being with those who are dying.

But after a long week, I figured I needed something else. Teary eyed and exhausted. I finished up work and even Mouse could not help lift the weight, so I headed down to the village, and I decided to go and get that bike that I have been wanting for a good long while.  I had been down to the Dedham Bike Shop at least a couple of times over the last few years and even bought a bike for my buddy Bea’s birthday. But didn’t get around to getting one for me.

I stopped riding a bicycle about 18 years ago when I was diagnosed with IC and was told that I had to change a whole lot of things in my life to reduce the pain and disabling effects of the illness.  Riding a bike was one of those things. Plus I was either a student or an unemployed CPE intern or simply unemployed, so a fun thing like a bike was out.

imagesYesterday I threw  caution to the wind and decided to go look at bikes and found one that seemed like a good fit. I put a deposit down on it with the plan to go ahead and pick it up this morning.   I felt like I was 5 again.  My first bike was red Schwinn Pixie but with a white seat and it came from the Dedham Bike Shop. I picked a purple one and got a purple helmet to match.  I felt like the kid at Christmas who peaked and saw a bike with their name on it.

It was a good thing too. When I returned home after a meeting last night I was called in to work to help the family of that new patient I had been with last Sunday.  The patient had put themselves on hospice and the family was not ready.  The Patient was ready for death and had said so to me, but the family wasn’t on the same page.  And despite the protests against the illness, the patient passed away.   I got the call and within 15 minutes was on site, but the family had left and so I did what I was called to do.

Went down the hall, entered the room and then spent then next little while with the deceased.  I had found the TV on, the bathroom door open with light streaming out, full light in the room and the sheets of the deceased all askew.  I turned things off, pull the covers up over her feet, shut the door and began to pray.  They had said to me last Sunday that they had forgotten their prayers, so I pulled out a Rosary and said it for them, as I laid the pink plastic cross down.  Returning home I took some time to decompress and thought about that bike.  I went to bed singing “Bicycle race ”

This morning I went down to the village and rode it home, singing.   These same streets that I rode my first little red bike on and all of those feelings of being free came back. Just like when I first learned to ride and go faster than on foot.  And getting the bike gave me some energy to do the chores and put the cat window in for Mouse. She learned to use it and has some freedom now herself.

In her new freedom she disappeared for a while and gave us a scare.  Turns out she went into the neighbor’s garage and before they went out for the night, the door was closed with her locked inside.  They are still out and she is still locked in, but at least I know where she is and eventually they will come home, see my note pinned to their door and I can go fetch her.

And here is where the balance pays off.  Mum was tired at the end of the day and when Mouse didn’t show up, Mum was upset.  Afraid of all the things that could go wrong.  On the other hand, I had an awesome day riding my bike and singing Queen songs.  I figured Mouse would either show up or she wouldn’t.  Either she lives a free life going out and coming, sometimes getting stuck and needing to be found, or she doesn’t.  I choose the former too.   And like Mouse I choose to play when I can.


Her Name is Mouse


Last week was a bit of a downer.  Aggie, a recycled parsonage cat came to me when she was 8 and I was just starting seminary.   She kept me company through all the paper writings and theological readings.  In the past month nature took over and she died, at home and peacefully.  I served as hospice support for her.

She was loosing weigh, stopped eating, then stopped drinking and I knew it would not be long.  I carried her around when she was too tired to move more than 10 feet at a time. I spent hours just sitting with her, in my lap, petting her.  She was purring and didn’t show pain, just fatigue.   I took a break and went out, returning home to find her gone and just a warm body lying on the floor.  I held her for 45 minutes, petting her and sobbing until I felt it was time to lay her body to rest.

Wrapped in my arms, I brought to down to the woods and then lay her in a pile of brush, covered her over and said goodbye.  Nature will take care of the rest.

Then back up to the house and there, on the floor,  her food and water bowls.  Her litter box need to be cleaned, the cat supplies picked up, washing and cleaning to do where she had expired.  Death is a messy business.  Everything packed away and I sat in the stillness of the house and wept.  Mum came home at dusk and I brought her down to where Aggie lay, so she too could say goodby.  I prepared for a quiet night.  No cat sleeping on my head, batting my face at 2 am or yeowling with existential angst.    There is a great depth that one slides into when death arrives.  More than a sadness, it is a void of life.   And in that void one is faced with a biological response of fatigue, of heaviness along with the emotional waves of sadness.

With my new calling to full-time hospice and bereavement work, I sat in the stillness and came to understand that I would not do well coming home to a still house.  I need life around me, perhaps more so now than ever.  I still miss my flock and my farm and all the life that surrounded me.  It motivated me to get up, to buck hay, to mend fences to meet my neighbors at the farm show.  It connected me when I didn’t want to be connected.   I came to understand a deep truth about me and for that I was thankful for the gift of grief.

Sunday, still feeling glum, I invited Mr. K out for a walk.  At 91 and a WWII vet, he puts everything into perspective. We headed out, then grabbed a cup of tea and like we often do, we went to the animal shelter.  I expected to see the same 4 older cats up for adoption all with tags that said things like: shy around new people, trouble with litter boxes, needs special attention.  As we signed in I heard one of the staff say to the couple in front of us that there were puppies and one kitten.

Kitten?  Really?  How old?

11 weeks.  Just came up for adopting in the last 10 minutes. She was part of a litter and all of the kittens were adopted, someone was going to take her, but didn’t come back to pick her up, she was supposed to go on Friday and we have called with no response. She was just released, has been spayed and has all of her shots.   Wanna see her?


Boom. Done.  Her name is Mouse.

She is sleeping on my lap as I write.  She sleeps on the bed, under the covers by my side. She comes when she is called and follows me around.  She had found her litter box and uses it.  She plays, then sleeps, then plays.  She is Purrrfect  for me now.

She has a couple of jobs to do. She is the Chief Rodent Control Officer, a role that Aggie was terrible at and would have lost her job if she hadn’t aged into retirement on my watch.   She is also the principle Mischief Maker, Yarn Tangler and Happiness Engineer.

All of these jobs promote the notion of life and being alive. It is an essential part of what is going to keep me grounded as I move forward.   I feel like everything lined up as it should.  Here I was being the hospice chaplain to my own cat just prior to starting up my new job.  Aggie was with me through the seminary journey and lasted up to the week I was offered and accepted a call.  Many blessings for that.

they must have been good talkers

I love, love, love the world of the internet when this stuff happens.   I got an email this morning from cousin John over in the UK about reading my post on Jump.  He then asked me if I knew the story of how the family became protestant.  I didn’t, so he provided it.  


Edmund Campion was a Protestant cleric in Queen Elizabeth’s reign  and much favoured by her, who converted to RC and then became proscribed. He fled to Europe and then returned to England via Ireland to join up with other Jesuits and it was Widow Jump of North Meols hall farm whose trading boats brought him  over( our family originates from this village and buried in the churchyard there ) The informers gave Campion away and he was arrested and given a show trial in London and executed, Widow Jump and her sons must have talked well as they survived but  Lady Hesketh as landowner was thrown into Manchester gaol and died there .I understand that our family had such a fright from all this that they became Protestant .”   

I also learned that male Jumps have a genetic marker which is derived from Scandinavian roots.    And here I was under the impression that prior to England, the clan was from Iceland.  But it makes sense to me.  

I love the idea that the Jumps were able to talk their way out of a very sticky situation.  This falls into other stories I have heard about the family.  They had the gift of gab.  To think quickly on one’s feet is a skill.  To be able to talk your way out of a quartering is a skill too.  




Here is my take on the recent ban.  To be clear I am talking about the Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorists Entry Into The United States.  

I read it and I call Bullshit.

But here is my take anyhow.  This is the only way I can make sense of this.


If I wanted to get into some sort of negotiation with somebody or an organization, I would most likely figure out what my bottom line is, start with an opening stance or bid and wait for the counter bid.   I would use my skills of knowing the market and the product, the service and the customers, to get to what I would consider a fair value, price or trade.  I would be able to stand my ground and if the deal was not what I wanted, I would walk.

If I was at an auction and wanted livestock, equipment or land, I would do my homework and know who the seller is before the object came up for bid.   I would weigh the value of the product against the actual cost and again set a bottom line.  A line that I would not go over even if that Ram, or tractor or parcel of land was the sweetest thing since sugar on snow.

If I was less ethical and believed that “by what ever means necessary”  was the way to get stuff done, I might even make the environment less stable by creating a distraction to then close the deal. I would prey on people’s emotional responses and underlying human characteristics and use emotion to help achieve my goals.  I would manipulate the environment.

If I were Trump and I made a whole bunch of outrageous promises that played to a particular group of people, and by some fluke I actually won the Presidency, what better way to get what I want.. power.. by operating the government like a business.  I would have a game plan that  includes a bigger picture.

By distracting the nation with his egregious executive commands, he is playing a shell game .  Of course this executive ban is going to be legally challenged, because it is illegal.

Even I know that the United States constitution protects religious freedoms, including showing preference for one particular religious group. I am referring to section 5 (b). ” to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”

Well, perhaps we should start right here at home first.  I digress.

The point is this.  If I wanted to make a power grab that is outside of the constitution;  such as rolling back environmental regulations to help oil companies expand their private business, thought the use of eminent domain (it is coming watch out), or perhaps reverse the laws around marriage equality, or racial equality or even deny health care for women, those with mental illness or addictions, then I might throw a diversion. Kinda like a cluster bomb.

I might just do something so outlandish that everyone is distracted.

Then nobody will press for full tax and business disclosures.  No one will worry about what was said to Putin in the call the other day.  We will be so split and emotionally scattered that a reasonable response will be hard to muster.

He test drove his strategy when he flooded twitter with inauguration twats and then sent his press secretary and Kellyanne out to spin dry the “alternative facts” line.  And guess what.  It worked.  This behavior is so unpresidential, that it is stunning.  However this behavior can be seen with other demagogues.  It is seen with people whose moral compass is unable to find true north.

The thing is, you gotta step away from the center of the emotional response and take a look.  Look for the bigger picture.

I don’t know what he and his cabinet are up to.  I have been reading up on him though and what I read about him is scary.  He is human, like the rest of us and he is bright.  Very savvy when it comes to business.  The biggest problem is that he sees the country as a business and not a democracy.   He understands it as a demagoguery and that is the critical difference.  Perhaps he is hastening his own tyranny, meaning that he will be replaced by Pence. Perhaps the leading party is going to let him continue. But while this unfolds, we must come together.  March and protest but also come together to work this democracy as it is laid out.

Therefore, if we as a nation are to uphold the principles of this great democracy, we must step back and think about his in terms of a marathon, not a short distance sprint.  We must not get caught in the distractions, but come together to shut this thing down.

Now what?

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Now what?

Breathe, just breathe.  Sleep in.  Needlepoint. Spin that wool. Knit really good yarn.

Read what you want to read.  Write the way you like to write, as if you are not being graded, write without the filters.

I used to be brave with my writing and somewhere along the way I bent. I didn’t break, but I certainly stopped writing in the way I like to.  I conformed to expectations and writing became a chore and a bore.  I was clear, most of the time, but lacked transparency. I lacked the flow of writing as a means to connect with myself.

The topics were ok.  But I lost the feeling that what I wrote mattered.

Here in the blog, I write for me. I find that I can hear my voice and thus know more about me when I write. It is different then writing in Word or some other doc that sits in a file.  I write and hit send and just like that I can’t take it back. Well, not true, I can delete.  But the folks that subscribe to the blog get the raw, first version.   I write, I re-read once, try the spell check thing and poof… off it goes into space.  A giant exhale and along with it, sometimes my fears and anxieties.  It is like sneezing in the movies, you can’t take it back or hide.  I let go.

And it really doesn’t matter if anyone reads my musing. That is not the point.  I am doing this for me and the format works.  If someone happens to read and relate, or even respond, then that is just like maple syrup in my tea.

What next?

Transition.    And a whole lot of musing.

Feels good.