On my last trip out West, before his death, I took Big Bro to Breakfast one morning while Dad was at the doctor. Not feeling so good, he wasn't sure about going, but he went, if only to please me. Before we dug into our plates we prayed. As we bowed our heads, the entrance door opened,with a waft of cold air and light arriving with the murmur of pouring rain. I looked up. I noticed the people at the next table were not looking at the door, but rather, at our table, either the gun on the hip of my dark blue pants, or our prayer. They seemed more intent on our action of prayer.
I was born to a Catholic mother. It was only this year I got my birth certificate unsealed and found out her identity and that of my biological father. I'd always assumed I came from foster care with my brother, as my parents always talked about their bringing us home at the same time, but that was not the case. My biological Mother, 17 when she became pregnant with me, was of English descent, an avid huntress, descended from one of the first settlers in America, my biological father, a civil engineer, born of German immigrants who fled Europe after WWI to farm in Texas. They are both gone, and my two siblings (for they later married after they finished their education) wish no contact with me so that, as they say, is that. The family tree though, is as unique as it is interesting, our being descended from one of the first settlers in the US, and I'm apparently sixth cousin to Bill Gates, though I doubt he would be any more interested in meeting me than they are.
But in looking back, it was for the best, as I gained a family, though not related by blood, that shaped me in ways I'd not have known otherwise. I grew up in a small logging town populated with the descendants of recent immigrants who came to our country at the turn of the last century to work the logging trade. Mom's and Dad's ancestors came west via Minnesota and North Dakota and Indiana after arriving in America, both of their parents originally homesteading in Montana. My Mom's mother was from Sweden, her Dad from Norway, so the Lutheran church is what we were raised in. And so, I spent my early early years with the stories of Lutheran Basement Church Women, creamed peas and toast, and that bastardized offspring of a can of cream of mushroom soup and leftovers, the Lutheran Supper Hot Dish.
It was a good place to grow up, community both inside, and outside of the church. I remember Sunday service, the Communion cup glinting like a newly minted coin, the people around me that loved me like my own family, as from above, the bloodied and life sized Christ crowned with thorns looked down on us with forgiving eyes that had seen too much, his face, smooth and impenetrable. I'd take a sip of the cup, taking in the blood that contained an indomitable spirit which came from the fire that exists in us all, looking up at Jesus there on the cross with a conspiratorial nod and a silent thanks, having no other words.
Even for those meals, as we set about to watch cowboys or spies save the world, we said Grace.
"Why pray?", someone asked me not too many years ago, "you did, and look at everything bad that's happened to you, people you loved whose days were numbered too few?" Can I say I never questioned God, in anger, wishing that he felt the same pain that I did, shoving my fury into the sky like a fist?
I married too young, to a Catholic, returning to my roots, I guess, and remember studying the many Saints, St.Wulfric, St. Fina, St Barbara. I looked St. Barbara up and it said that after her father whom she had loved and trusted had tortured and killed her, he'd been struck down by lightning. That likely explained why she became the patron saint of artillery and the protectress against sudden death. Years later, watching my then husbands business fail yet again through inattention and excess and sporting bruises that hopefully did not show, I prayed to St. Barbara for some lightning, but my pleas went unheeded.
When I go back to my hometown now, I return to that same church I was raised in, with my Dad. The people who loved me as a child, for the most part, are still there, though elderly. My piano teacher, in a nursing home now, but always open for a visit, my childhood best friend's Mom, now widowed, another woman who sat by my Step mom's bed for days with Dad and I as she struggled in her last days, the people that drive my Dad to his doctor's appointments when we can not. There's comfort there in that community of saints.
Is that fair? Yet, he's had nine decades more than his first daughter, born in extraordinary perfection, simply too early and too small, the awful perfect prayer of his firstborn, who breathed only days, my mom rendered barren from the travail of the birth. Yet from that death came life, adopting children no one wanted, and soon the table was filled, with small hands, small hearts and much laughter. "Bless us, O Lord, for these Thy gifts. " and ""Mom he took my garlic bread!" and "May I please be excused?"
Had my parents closed off their hearts in that original loss, that table would have been silent.
I've certainly had to ask for that forgiveness in my talks with God. For I talk to Him regularly, in the woods, when the light has a weary quality to it, like a backwater pool of light lying low, winter's light is crisp, clean, illuminating everything so clearly. The words are less than wishes and more than regrets, and even if I didn't state them out loud, I could hear them with my breathing as they gathered within the intent of breath and came forth in a rush of cold air, invisible words going up to an invisible God.
I, for one, am thankful for the words.
This Good Friday will be two years since my brother left me, the few precious things he left me, on the shelves with other treasured things where I can see them when I wake up each morning. Small, simple things - powerful things. I look at the table on which rests my pistol, sitting quietly, waiting to protect me and others, when higher powers can not. I am blessed that I live in a country where my God given right to have that protection is recognized. But then again, I am blessed in so many ways.
I think tonight, I'll cook up a little steak and some toast and eat off a TV tray, watching a DVD of an old Western on the computer screen, some old show I would have watched with my brother on the Friday nights we had the treat of eating in the family room. With the meal I will say a prayer, of thanks for that and many things. For my brother and his brave heart. For those that prayed for me over the years, even when I didn't deserve it. For forgiveness of sin, for the blessing of the one that love mes, even in my imperfections.
Bless us oh Lord for these thy gifts. . . .