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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Death and Laughter

Word for the Day

Today’s Word:  Death.

WARNING:  If you are easily offended, stop reading now.  Really.

            I don’t remember very much from the very first funeral at which I officiated.  The lady was elderly and I was only a pulpit fill preacher.  I hadn’t been to any schooling or training.  Truth is, I really didn’t know what to do.  So … I was nervous.
            The lady was in her 80s and her main relative was an 87 year old brother.  Before the service was to begin at the funeral home I gathered with the small family in a side room for prayer.  When it was about time to start I said to the brother, “Are you ready to go?”  Just like he had been waiting for the chance, he smiled and said, “What, are you already looking for your next funeral?”  He told everyone, “The pastor wants to know if I’m ready to go too!”
            I don’t remember much more, though I know it threw me off for a while.  Death is serious business and as a young guy I thought we should approach it that way.  I wasn’t wrong.  I just wasn’t fully right.
            The best and most healing funerals give us a chance to smile and remember, very often an opportunity to laugh about funny things.  These days I look for the chance to bring a chuckle, appropriately – not with a silly joke, but with the foibles of life shown in a person we love, but have lost.
I recently attended a Broadway musical titled, “The Addams Family” based on the TV show.  If you remember the show, you know it had plenty of humor about death, dying, killing and torture.  In the musical, Morticia, the mother of the family had a fight with her husband and is distraught.  But she remembers the one thing which can help and sings a song “Just Around the Corner.”  What’s around the corner?  Death, and that makes her happy.  She even quips to the audience, “No, you don’t get it – just around the coroner.”  It was funny.  I laughed.
One basic way we handle difficult things in life is to laugh.  One way to cut the big troubles of life down to size is to make fun of them.  I can imagine there are those who would be offended when we laugh at death or make fun of it.  And we certainly have to have some wisdom about when and how. 
Did you hear about the little boy who crawled up on his grandpa’s lap and asked, “Grandpa, when’s the game?”
“What game?” asked grandpa.
“The football game, the one you are playing in,” explained the boy.
“What makes you think I play football?” queried the grandfather.
“Well,” said the boy, “I heard mom and dad talking.  They said when you kick off we’ll be on easy street.”
Funny?  Maybe.  Dumb.  For sure. 
We need to laugh.  We need to make fun of our mortality, even while we face it.  And death, well, there is a time to make light and a time to be serious.  We need both.
One of my earliest experiences was the horrible and tragic death of two-year-old Ryan in a tractor accident.  Nothing funny.  But a few days later when all the farmers came over to put in the family’s crop, there was laughter in the house at something, who knows what?  And mom said, “We haven’t heard laughter here for a while.  It’s good.”
Laughing is good.  Cutting death down to a size we can handle with faith or the funnies or both – well, that’s good too. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Waiting as a Gift

Word for the Day

Today’s Word:  Wait

            I live a long half hour from my work at Altru’s Hospice and I know how much time to allow.  Usually.  But today I pull up to the town of Thompson just as a train arrived and the arms came down across highway 15.
            So I wait.
            No one likes to wait.  No one.  At no time.
            I have put items back on a shelf when the check-out lines would make me wait.  On a phone call we rarely enjoy the music because it means we are waiting!   We wait impatiently in traffic, at the doctor’s office and for the kitchen timer to announce “dinner time” with a ding. 
            People look at waiting as a necessary evil, at best, and something to avoided whenever possible.  That attitude stretches to other parts of life too.  Youth don’t want to wait for intimacy.  As consumers folks buy now instead of waiting and saving.  Commercials ask us, “Why wait when you can have it now?”
            Remember – I’m waiting for the train at Thompson.  I didn’t have a computer to put these thoughts to words.  But the waiting gave me time to think that we are looking at this all wrong.  Waiting isn’t a problem.  Waiting is a gift. 
            Please don’t misunderstand me.  We shouldn’t think making someone wait for us is a gift.  But when are forced to wait, we are often forced to think and perhaps to think new thoughts. 
            We were buying a new television a few years back.  I saw the and was ready to buy.  But my spouse wanted to wait and look.  I didn’t want to wait, didn’t wait and brought the set home.  We ended up not liking it, and I had to wait in line at the store so I could explain why I was bringing it back.  I only wonder at how many times I would have saved myself problems by simply waiting. 
            Here’s some ideas to make your wait a gift!
            Contain the emotions. 
            Often we don’t gain from waiting because we are upset we have to wait.  Any value of giving thought to a problem or using the time to relax and re-think gets lost in our emotions.  Recognize the feelings, accept your situation and open your mind.
            Ask a Question.
            Questions are your greatest tool for learning.  “What is important to me today?”  or “Who can I help today?” or “How can I learn from this?” or even "Why is waiting bothering me so much?"
            Enjoy the slow-down.
            Frankly most of us are hurrying here and there.  Slowing down for a moment or two during the day should be a good thing.  So enjoy it.  Relax.  Think, pray or meditate.
            … Oh, the train is about through.  I have to get back to focusing on my driving.  But it is amazing what can go through your mind during a short wait. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Word for the Day

Today's Word: Marathon

            The horrible events in Boston have brought the word “marathon” to everyone’s mind.  For just a moment, let’s think about a marathon, a race of over 26 miles. 

            Perhaps you are a runner and have even run a marathon, or half-marathon or 10k race.  But have you watched a marathon live?  I have.

            My two oldest boys and only daughter-in-law, Emily, run marathons.  Emily hopes to run a marathon in every state in the union and she has a good start.  I went to watch them when they ran the Fargo Marathon last year.

            Of course, you don’t watch a marathon, not live anyway.  My wife, Betty, and I drove to about the mid-point of the marathon course and found some parking near a hospital.  After walking our own little mini-marathon to a good viewing spot, we gave couple of waves and cheers to our marathoners and then walked back to our car.  An hour later we cheered again when our family crossed the finish line. 

            In a race that is 26.2 miles long, we saw the runners for a few hundred feet.  In an event that takes something like three hours, we watched for a minute or two.  It was a single snapshot from a movie, a short glimpse of a longer event.

            Kind of like life, I thought. 

            On our walls are pictures of events.  But, like the marathon, those events are part of a larger picture.  The birth of my grandson is just one stop on a journey which stretched back to when his parents married, and even to when they met.  And the journey heads forward into an adventure yet unknown. 

            This is so important to remember during the less-positive events of life.  In the midst of disaster, or when we face death, or during illness we must remember the marathon.  These things are the focus of life right now, but life is more than just those.  A disaster comes and does damage, but the marathon of life has been proceeding for long before and will go long after. 

            The “pictures” we experience of life, though dramatic, are not the whole story.  Neither the wonderful event or the terrible one can erase what has happened before or prevent meaningful life in the days to come.   That moment is only a glimpse, a peek, a piece of the whole. 

            When we “watched” the marathon, I walked a ways along the course against the flow.  A couple of blocks down I came upon my son and daughter-in-law – walking.  My son said, “We really were running just a minute ago.”  I’m sure they were, and would be again.

            Don’t let the moment in time be the only thing you see.  If it is a good moment, treasure it, remember it and build upon it.  If it is a tough moment, remember all that came before and what will come afterward.  The moment may hurt, and the hurt may last, but there’s more to a marathon than one picture.