Uncategorized, nostalgia, remembering, reflecting

Like a Thief in the Night

I don’t remember when Dad began to talk about it, but he said many times in the years before he died: “I hope the Lord comes like a thief in the night.” I expect he thought about it more after his diagnosis of colon cancer at 65. At the time, he had a colonoscopy, and he was always grateful for the next ten years of his life, before he died at 75.

He’d learned to live with the colonoscopy, he and Mom able to enjoy many years of retirement together, years that were the gift at the end of all those years in the steel mill. Dad had a union job and a retirement income as a result of that union job. I expect he thought he was living on borrowed time. In the years after he retired, there were trips to Hawaii to see his grandson, Colin. In those years, there were trips to North Carolina to see the older grandchildren. And there were trips to California to see Uncle Johnny and Uncle Pete, my mother’s brothers, and to see my husband and me. Using maps charted out via AAA, they traveled together, Dad the driver and Mom reading from the guide books, pointing out the sites.

Now, I’m grateful that they had those years together, to be able to travel together, to enjoy. They had fun. When Dad had symptoms of cancer again, the traveling stopped abruptly. He suffered again under another regime of chemotherapy, his illness made worse by the effects of the drugs. He spent his last days in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee, never leaving the bed, the room often filled with friends he’d known from his days at A.O. Smith, union friends, and family from various parts of the country. My sister, pregnant with her youngest, and Colin were there every day. A few days before he passed, his sister Edna traveled from Gills Rock on the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin to see him once again, and for the last time.

On my last visit, as I sat in a chair next to the bed, I asked Dad to talk. He said he was tired; I should talk, instead. I sat silent, not sure what I wanted to say. Dad had always been in the talker in our house, my sister, and I quiet, “like their mother,” Dad had told their pastor. I was sitting in that chair when Dad looked at me and told me – the night before, when he’d had an episode and the hospital staff rushed to bring him back – he had seen Christ, and he was not afraid.

Thankfully, the Lord came like a thief in the night, not many nights after.

Sunset over the Pacific, 1/24/2023, Mary Elyn Bahlert

Uncategorized

Dinner with Dad

When I’m talking to friends about our families, how we grew up, where we were from, about our siblings and our education, many of my friends refer to their parents in “formal” ways. I hear them speak about their “Mother,” and their “Father,” as opposed to how I refer to my parents: Mom and Dad.

Dad was an old school guy. Educated to the eighth grade in country schools, he was a worker. He was strong and he loved to work. When I describe him now, I say that he spoke in a dialect that is common to the northeastern part of the State of Wisconsin. When I travel to Door County now – a pilgrimage I like to take every year or so – I hear other folks who speak in the same dialect, even in my generation.

Dad was a Steelworker, a proud union man, proud of his strength and his long seniority at A.O. Smith Corporation in Milwaukee. The site of A.O. Smith remains to this time, but the place has changed names. Last Christmas, I received a large black coffee mug from my sister in Hawaii; across the sides of the mug, in big white letters: “AO Smith.” Most days, I use it now to have my morning coffee.

Dad was an old school guy, and in that era – I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s – that meant that he went to work and Mom stayed home to take care of the house – the flat – to cook, to tend to the children. Dad loved us, and he loved my mother. When I think about that now, those facts form a certain framework around my child, which like most childhood’s, had its share of losses, of sadnesses, of things lacking, even with my parents. In my middle years I had to take those relationships – mother to me, father to me, siblings to me – apart in therapy, but I came away with the love intact. I’m grateful.

When Dad retired at the age of 65, he left behind forty years of hard work as an inspector in a steel factory. He had been grateful to return to work after he suffered a heart attack in his early 60’s, and he credited his doctor with giving him that gift; Dad loved his work, hard as it was. When he’d been retired for several years, he told me that he still dreamt about his work at A.O. Smith from time to time.

Dad was an old school, hard-working laborer, and he loved us. His love and his pride for his family shone in his eyes – one blue, one brown. He loved to laugh, to share something fun with us. For all I lacked in childhood, love was not among the lack. He loved to talk – an extravert in a home of introverts.

A few years after Dad retired, I was living on my own on the other side of Milwaukee. Mom was away for the day and evening, and Dad invited me to dinner. He talked and talked as he and I sat in the kitchen, waiting for the chicken he had baking in the oven. I saw how he’d set the table for the two of us, and for the only time I remember, I sensed a formality about this invitation, about this dinner. For him – as it was for me – this was a special time.

A few weeks ago, I preached at a retirement center just out of the Bay Area. When the worship service was over, a man in a wheelchair came up to me to say a few words, to introduce himself and to thank me for being there that day. He had some thoughtful comments to say about my sermon, and then he surprised me by saying: “You did a lot of research to preach that sermon. You must come from a family of researchers.” Surprised, I simply told him that I was the first in my family to receive an education. I felt proud.

beauty, nostalgia, remembering

Quiet

“There’s a kind of hush, all over the world, tonight, All over the world tonight, people just like us are falling in love…” Les Reed and Geoff Stevens

The rain has been falling for days here in California. Notoriously dry, the weather here has brought storm after storm this winter. We are grateful. And also, we are hearing news reports of mud slides in the Santa Cruz Mountains, people without electricity for day, highways closed when lanes become impassable to traffic. When I first moved to Northern California from the Midwest, I expected sunny skies – every day. In the winter of 1981-1982, though, it rained day after day; I’d arrived to this sunny place in an El Nino year, famed for bringing storms.

But this year is different. Weather forecasters describe these storms as coming from an “atmospheric river,” or the “troposphere.” Moisture starved farmland is now flooded. Ever since New Year’s Eve, a parade of showers – even thundershowers, a rarity here – have me checking the weather app on my cell phone by the hour to see if it’s safe to go for a winter’s walk. Most days, I manage a few walks during breaks in the storm.

Rainstorms don’t bring the kind of quiet that accompanies certain snow falls in the Midwest, which I remember nostalgically every winter.

One New Year’s Eve before I arrived in the Bay Area, a group of friends and I – women and men – gathered at a friend’s apartment on the East Side of Milwaukee, a beautiful, flat area of the city whose streets are lined with homes and apartment buildings built early in the last century, to call in the New Year together. That New Year’s Eve, it snowed. The snow came down in a particular, quiet, soft way – no wind. And so the lot of us put on our coats and boots and went for a walk before the passing of the year at midnight. As we walked, the snow covered the sidewalks and our boots made dark patches on the sidewalk where we’d passed. Our voices were muffled by the snow. We left our mark, but only for a few minutes, as the snow gathered – gentle – again, covering our path behind us. Our voices were dimmed by the presence of the snow, covered, also.

When it’s cold out – really cold out, not Mediterranean cold, like here in the Bay Area – it’s pleasant to sit inside a warm, cozy house to gaze out at the quiet snow falling. Not many storms come in like that, most accompanied by strong winds and ice forming as quickly as the snow falls.

Quiet. Like cozy, and like the heart rending moments of Indian Summer, I miss that certain quiet.

Shadows, photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert, 12/2022

Uncategorized

Epiphany

Epiphany, 2015

I started to follow in my sleep.
touched by the star.
The star paraded over my dreams,
night after night.
one night, I sat on a hill and watched the star
until the morning.
Then, I knew it would lead me if I chose to follow.

I followed.
I followed the star.

The route:  circuitous.
The country:  rugged.
The ruler:  vicious.
The companions:  odd - and wise.
The nights:  cold, colder than in my land.

I followed.
I followed the star.

Stories say the Star led to a child, The Child.
This I know now:
The star led to Light.
                                                                                                                                                                 Mary Elyn Bahlert, 2015









































		
reflecting, wisdom

Word for the Year

If you’d like, google “choosing a word for the year.” It’s a thing! And when Google comes through – which it always does – you’ll be directed to 529,000,000 results! I hope that you are closer to knowing what word you’d like than one out of 529,000,00! If not, you might want to wait until next year.

I’m not ready to wait. I took part in an hour long time of reflection during Advent, the liturgical season that leads to Christmas. The spiritual director that led the time of reflection – attended by participants from many countries – suggested we choose a word for the year. I’d known about this practice – a centering practice, to return us to ourselves when the activities of life seem overwhelming – for many years, but I expect that I was not ready to choose a word for the year – until now.

Finding the word was not difficult for me, but I recall a story – a scene from a movie – that relates to my word. Cher stars in the 1987 movie, “Moonstruck.” It’s a good movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth an evening of your time! I can recall the story line, and the faces of the characters, although not always their names. What I do recall, the scene that has stayed with me for all the years since I saw “Moonstruck” for the first time (it had to be in a movie theater then, not on my computer, like now), is the scene when Cher goes to Confession. She’s a good Catholic girl from an Italian family, and she and the priest know one another well, although they are hid from one another in the confessional booth. So she begins her confession, and she quickly rattles off a series of “sins” – and quickly drops into the middle of her list of sins: “I slept with the brother of my fiancĂ©.” The priest stops her; what was that??? She repeats her sin: “I slept with the brother of my fiancĂ©.”

The priest responds: “Reflect on your life.”

Choose your word for the year. Write it down. Keep it with you – in your mind and heart.

Happy New Year!

City Street in Autumn, photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert, 11/17/2022, Piedmont Avenue