Monday, July 27, 2009

Grace and Mercy

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

I believe in something I think of as prayer, even though I subscribe to very little of the stuff that usually surrounds it. Sometimes it seems that only the word 'prayer' will describe it. Other times it's 'positive thinking' or even 'a psychic connection' or even just 'meditation' or 'abandonment'.

Or let be, let be.

There are things in heaven and on earth, Harry, that we haven't dreamed about. What about all those aeons during which nobody harnessed microwaves, for instance, or projected holograms. Maybe human love-waves and thought-waves are just as real, just as effective, just as evasive.

Magic and science fiction depend upon it. And song.

Yikes. Come to think of it, let's hope that the capitalists never figure out a way to make the power of all our thinking-of-you, profitable.

Whoops, too late for that now too... The Holy Roman Church cornered the market on that long ago, and more recently it was the greeting card companies. These days I guess it's the telcos or whoever gets the money out of the tweets and texts that fly around the ether when we all need each other, when we are at the edge.

Now there's one time (other than flying) when prayer comes into its own. And that's when someone is dying. They are about to leave this plane of reality and it is what makes us human, to imagine that somehow their journey isn't over now, it's just beginning. (Some archaeologists have defined the moment of our becoming 'human', as that stage in our evolution when burials are first found, with evidence for flowers and foods and grave gifts accompanying the laid-out body.)

Our loved ones are heading out into the unknown darkness. We hope their destination is benign and a rest for them. They're on a longer journey than the one to the outer planets. And they need spiritual food. Like our love. Our thoughts. Our memory.

Our prayer. Our good will.

I've held so many darlings as they crossed that divide in recent years that I feel like a midwife of death. A consciously approaching death is so much like a birth, with all the urgency, the inevitability, the struggles and stages, and in the end the climax, the great release.

Last night someone I loved lay on her death bed, too far away to visit and even too remote in circumstance for me to say goodbye in any other way than in my heart and thought (with also a whispered message perhaps, across the phone, or a proxy kiss from a loved one who was with her in the flesh).

She was my children's grandma, and the very best mother-in-law a woman could ever have wanted. She was the opposite of the demeaning cartoon caricature: she was kind, patient, friendly. She was a good woman, real, not fake ever. She was fun-loving and tolerant, and so utterly not a Calvinist. She was accepting and understanding, and in spite of adhering to a traditional religious faith, she was always good to me, even when it would have been so easy not to be, and maybe even justified, before and during and after my marriage to her son.

She even stood by me one memorable time when my own mother rejected me. (My mother couldn't understand why I should let my marriage fail. My mother in law was wiser, both in being secure in her own identity even if her children didn't always 'measure up' to her expectations, and also in not trying to second-guess a relationship breakup. If you don't know the facts, and insist on laying the blame, she said, a good starting point is to assume it falls at 50/50.)

As Grandma fell last night like a beautiful comet, she was well taken care of with her attentive aiga around her. And the rest of the far-flung family - flying towards her in mind and heart like a video of a breaking plate played backwards - was hurtling back together to be whole again, coming back together to constitute a vessel bearing on its surface an offering of love and memory and gratitude for the beloved matriarch.

All I could do was pray some, and sing more - choosing some of the old and new songs of the church I got to know and admire largely through the example of Grandma and Granddad, whose realistic and practical faith was more informed by ideas of social and economic justice than by superstition.

As a 'post-Catholic' I rather balk at actually saying the rosary these days. But in contemplating the words of it, there was a poignancy in the appropriateness of the phrase "pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death", a point we all come to.

These days much of my religious iconography is two-dollar-shop Buddhist, and I have a particular fondness (if not a devotion) to the female Buddha, the Goddess of Compassion, known in Korea as Gwaneum and more well known to the rest of the world as Kuan Yin "one who hears the cries of the world".

To look at, Gwaneum is remarkably like the Blessed Virgin. She carries a jug of mercy she pours out over the world. I find that comforting, and a little more than a metaphor. She reminds me of Colin McCahon's Virgin compared to a jug of pure water.

Rest in Peace, Grandma. Farewell.


Mary McCallum said...

I am sorry for your loss and all your losses over such a short time. You write so beautifully and so reassuringly about being with the dying and the ways we seek reassurance. The image of a broken plate reversed is astonishing and memorable. Take care.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Thanks Mary - I remember it's a year tonight since we met last year at the Montanas - and your surprise when I introduced myself as the author of the Tabby Blog ;-)

P x

Vanda Symon said...

Pamela, what a difficult couple of years you're having. Your words and thoughts are beautiful and eloquent. She sounds like a remarkable woman.

Big virtual hugs