Thursday, November 06, 2008

Belated All-Saints Day reflections

I wrote this on Sunday - before the work week got crazy; before I found out about "the letter from 2012"; before the election insanity peaked; before the world changed. So forgive me if it's a bit behind the times. We'll catch up with all that pesky "reality" in a little bit. But for now....

As I write this, I am sitting at the trailhead at Island Lake State Park, outside of Brighton, Michigan. It's really too cool to sit out at the picnic table - I really shouldn't have trusted the weatherman, and should have brought the coat along anyway - so I'm sitting in the cab of Chris's truck, laptop on my lap, looking off at the falling leaves and gently rustling pine branches.

Chris is off on what will likely be his last Michigan bike ride of the year. We woke up early, thanks to the death of Daylight Savings Time, and I just spontaneously said, "If it's halfway decent out, let's get you up to Brighton for one last ride." So we piled his bike and my laptop bag into the truck, and off we went.

On the way, I made him pick up breakfast at Tim Horton's (the breakfast sandwiches are proof yet again that "five million Canadians can't be wrong"), and led him on a ten-mile detour out to Secor Metropark. The trees form an arching tunnel overhead as we rode from Bancroft Street to Central Avenue, showcasing the last of the fall colors in a brilliant show of yellows, golds and oranges, with the occasional flaming-red sumac thrown in as a kind of Divine exclamation-mark.

It's All Saints' Day, and for the first time in a long time, I missed being in a worship service today. In the recovery community, November is traditionally "Gratitude Month," so the combination of the day and the month has me thinking about the people who have died or who are out-of-sight for whom I'm grateful.

I'm grateful for the men who taught me to be a man, once I finally decided that getting sober and growing-up might be a good thing. I'm thankful for my sponsors - Bob S., here in Toledo; Bruce F., Nick T., and Barry S, in Kansas; and Tom S. in Chicago. I'm especially grateful for Bruce, who first told me that my sexuality was something I was going to have to deal with at some point (more than a dozen years before I was ready to hear it) - and for Tom S. and his partner, Michael D., who were ready to lead me out of the closet and into the light when I finally ran out of denial. Though all but Bob S. are hundreds of miles away, their voices live on in me, and it always brings a warm feeling and a smile when I hear myself speaking their words in meetings.

I'm forever grateful to Jeff Wise, a high-school and DeMolay friend who, when I was finally ready to hear words of grace, directed me to the pastors at Epiphany Lutheran Church. I'm grateful to Emile Boselli, a DeMolay brother and Church of Christ pastor-in-training, who first introduced me to Max Lucado and the incredible images of grace in the book Six Hours One Friday. But the man I'm most thinking of this weekend is my pastor, mentor and friend, Tom Housholder. His life, his servant faith, and his willingness to share his struggles gave me an image of Christ and Christianity that will endure for my lifetime. When I was introduced to Henri Nouwen's image of "the wounded healer," I recognized it instantly - because I'd seen it for years in Tom Housholder's life and ministry.

Another man I miss greatly is Jerry Amundson, another surrogate-father who I met through his son, Eric. Jerry was a big bear of a man whose only real surrender in life was at the very end, to death itself. He was a soldier, a talented artist and businessman, a loving father, and a man who displayed passion in every area of his life - whether it was love for his wife and kids, hunting and the outdoors, or for his favorite Kansas City barbeque. I pray that someday people will see in me the kind of passion he displayed for those he loved, his life and his God.

And today, more than most days, I'm missing my mother. Mom was one of those persons who knew the motto of the Dead Poet's Society long before the movie came out - "to suck the marrow out of life," to enjoy each and every moment that one possibly could. Looking back, she also understood that classic line from Auntie Mame - "Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death." Her gifts of humor, spontaneity, and physical displays of affection (she was a hugger way before it was cool) continue to give to this very day. Her "what the hell, let's just go somewhere" attitude is at least partly why we are in Michigan today - because she passed on to me a drive to never miss a chance for joy if it was at all possible.

There was a moment, last Monday, when I really wished Mom had been around to share a moment with Chris and I. We had wanted to have a kind of anniversary dinner for a couple weeks, but this and that and the other thing just kept us from doing it. But finally, we had a night when nothing else was in the way - and I took Chris up to Eddie Lee's (up on the north side of Toledo, near Sylvania) for some classic prime rib.

Neither Mom, Chris or I had ever been there, but when we walked in I knew - this was Mom's kind of place. Not fancy-schmantzy (though she also got a kick out of that), but a nice joint. She would have loved the French onion soup - the baked kind, with the cheese baked onto the side of the bowl - and there was the bread-basket with warm rolls and the little bread-stick crackers that she loved to munch on before a meal.

We didn't want to spend a bunch of money, so we split a prime-rib dinner. (Yeah, Mom would have said "Just go ahead and have a dinner, for cryin' out loud- live a little!") But I think she would have been smiling as we reveled in the perfectly-cooked meat, quickly dipped in au-jus seasoned with just a bit of strong fresh horseradish. (Eddie Lee's is definitely an under-sung treasure in Toledo dining.) And she definitely would have approved of how much joy it was to just be, without any deadlines or gotta-do lists, to just sit back and celebrate the end of a good three days together.

My faith in an afterlife is what encourages me, this day - knowing that Tom, and Jerry, and Mom, and Chris's grandmother and uncle, and so many other people who have encouraged us both along the way are with us today. I trust that they can see what has come up, and gone down, in our lives - that they celebrate the victories and the joys, and mourn the losses and sorrows with us. I really wish that they were here to share this time with us. But I know in my heart that they are here, and smiling, nonetheless.

It is a day of faith, of hope, and definitely of loving remembrance. Top that with great food and great love, and you really couldn't ask for anything more....


John z. said...

Your mother was a loving person who tolerated no fools(like her son. I can still remember you telling of her standing on the copiers at SSOE direct her helpers to get out a big job. I remember her beaming at your MC installation, and you performing the Mothers tribute. No one could ever do it better!
John Z.

Black Pete said...

Sounds like you got a whole posse of witnesses to a good life, Steve man.

And it's good to hear that our economic invasion of the United States is going according to plan... :)

wilsonian said...

What a beautiful post, Steve. As much as these fine folks have given to you, I'm sure they received in great measure from you.

Gratitude is such a perfect lens to use...

Peace :)