Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 27 - What’s the best thing going for you right now?

From Thirty Days of Truth

We spent Saturday afternoon at my father-in-law's apartment, sorting through photos, travel journals, letters from grandchildren and planning for the memorial service the next day, talking, sharing, laughing, remembering.

My mother-in-law's memorial service was yesterday at the retirement community where she lived, the culmination of a very full and very emotional weekend for all surviving family members and friends.

The memorial service was led by members of a local African-American church who for 9 years have provided the retirement community with the Sunday services my mother-in-law faithfully attended. Their memories of her were loving, joyous and heartfelt.

Although I'm not a particularly stoic person, I was more emotional than I expected, but for now I think I'll blame it on the singing, which was dynamic and soulful. First Melanie, then Avery - both sang Acapella the specific hymns my MIL requested. Several times during each hymn the music was so powerful I would quietly gasp, then hold my breath, tears running down my cheek. The lyrics became personal because they were the very words I'd heard my MIL use in her everyday life in her conversations with all those she knew and loved.

So....I guess you're wondering why I specifically mentioned the "African-American" church.

In case you might have forgotten, I live in Arkansas. Although the media and some survey takers sometimes categorize our location as being in the mid-west, Arkansas is, in fact, in the south and all that frequently and stereotypically implies: 1) sweet tea is generally the house wine, 2) BBQ is smoked meat and NOT food cooked on an outdoor grill, 3) fried catfish, chicken and okra are staples at every single buffet within the state's borders, and 4) racism is not concealed or as guarded as it is in other parts of the country.

The residents of the retirement community where my father-in-law continues to call home are all white...meaning the color of their skin, not their hair. I don't believe there is one black couple or single black person residing there. The residents, many of whom still harbor the resentment of the civil rights movement of the 60's and in their old age with diminished personal filters, don't hide their aversion to any racial differences.

But, knowing full well the racial challenges facing them, the predominately African-American church members chose to provide church and bible study services to the residents of the retirement center every third Sunday. They took an unbelievably huge leap of faith and have ministered to the residents for the last 9 years. My mother-in-law became a faithful participant and loving friend, but during the memorial service it was noted that she was often the only resident in attendance. This was not surprising to me, considering the mindset of the other residents. What is surprising to me is the faithful commitment of the members of the church to continue to minister to whomever chose to attend, no matter how few.

My mother-in-law was a master of lessons, always looking for examples and opportunities to convey her message of encouragement for people to open their hearts and minds to everything and everyone around them. I believe even in her death her plan was to provide such an opportunity for her very white retirement community friends by presenting them with a beautiful, powerful and uplifting memorial service performed by loving and faithful church family, who just happened to be black.

After the memorial service, a few of the residents casually mentioned that they thought they just might attend the Sunday services in the future. It made me smile. It was my mother-in-law at work.

When the service was over and all the handshakes, hugs and condolences were exchanged, all of us retreated to my father-in-law's apartment and decided to meet in an hour or so for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.

Tom and I came home to change into something more casual and comfortable before dinner and during a conversation with my sister Karen we learned that she had an angina attack the night before but hesitated to go to the hospital because she didn't want to awaken us in the middle of the night. Tom's response was immediate, while I was still catching my breath: "That's why you're we can help you."

Are you asking yourself what does all of this have to do with Day 27's question?...'What's the best thing going for you right now?' Today? Right this minute?

Answer: My ability to breathe. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and blow it out. Breath is nourishment. Breath is a tranquilizer. Breath is a cleanser. Breath is a pause in the chaos. Breath is life and I'm lucky to be alive.

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