David R. Weiss – August 21, 2022
Sometimes in our less than stellar moments we discover that we are somehow channeling stardust.
Before leaving Michigan City this morning I decided, with some small measure of trepidation, to sing one of Mom’s favorite hymns to her while she lay in bed.
I should clarify that. I sing in a group, ideally a whole cloud of witnesses singing together, so that my notes are “chaperoned” by the stronger singers around me. On my own, doing my honest best to match word to melody, I … bleat.
Besides which, “Beautiful Savior” is on Mom’s short list of favorite hymns, not mine. And although it is well-known to me from years of singing it, beginning in Cherub Choir in my elementary years, these notes were not made for my voice. Still, I sang. Well, bleated.
The tune was suddenly far more familiar in my distant memory than the immediacy of my mouth, with notes dangling like participles wondering where their words are. By the end of verse one, my voice teetering between sincerity and shame, I questioned if I should spare her the rest. But when I glanced up Mom, eyes closed, she seemed … almost blissful.
Whether that was wishful thinking or not, I made the decision to plunge forward, doubling down on my confidence with cacophonous fury. I finished verse four, trading “Beautiful Savior” for the prayerful relief of a “Sweet Jesus!” whispered beneath my breath.
I walked around to Mom’s side of the bed to say good-bye. As I gently kissed her forehead, her eyes sprung open and she said, “Thank you, thank you!” with all the lucid zeal of a woman I hadn’t encountered in over a year.
I know, it’s just four words (okay, just two words, repeated). But these words used to be her standard expression of joy in thanking me at the end of a visit. And they were spoken with crisp clarity and something close to a twinkle in her eye.
I told her I was going home to Minnesota for a few days, but that I’d be back. I told her (again) that I loved her. It was the longest sustained eye contact of the four days I’d been with her. Then she said, “Will you give me a kiss?” And puckered her lips in hopeful anticipation. This, too, was my mom of a much earlier dementia, a mom I hadn’t encountered at all in 2022. I planted a holy healing kiss on her lips and said goodbye.
Four days earlier, while driving from Minnesota to Indiana, I penned an acrostic, reflecting on my “mission”: going home … to kiss mom goodbye. But during my entire visit she was pretty much lost in her thoughts—or in whatever tangled neural thicket has almost entirely stopped her thinking. Every encounter a reaching toward someone receding away.
And yet, for a single, short, sustained moment today we met in a middle space.
I don’t imagine for a minute that enough singing would turn back time on the disease that has ravaged her brain. It’s been ten days since she last ate. I see the gaunt lines framing her face. The exhaustion of both her spirit and her body is palpable. I can feel her growing restlessness for a peace not available to her in these parts anymore.
My singing won’t undo any of that. But for two minutes this morning I sang the fog away and we beheld each other. And we kissed each other goodbye.
Sometimes in our less than stellar moments we discover that we are somehow channeling stardust. Thank you, sweet Jesus.
But don’t look for me to join the church choir anytime soon.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.