Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thankful Thursday - It's a life and death thing

 A couple of weekends ago, I drove up to Asheville to spend some time with my daughter. I hadn't seen her in a few weeks, so it was time for a road trip. On that gorgeous Saturday, we walked through the botanical gardens just outside the college campus. It is referred to as "the botans" by the students.

Such a beautiful, quiet, energizing, educational place. Although I was careful to take photos that didn't include other visitors, there were plenty of people there, soaking in the sun's rays, talking to one another, reading, standing in the stream, taking photos of each other and their children. In other words, we weren't the only people wise enough to spend some time in the great outdoors on that glorious day.

I am enormously grateful for the beauty of nature, of flowers in bloom, leaves bursting forth from heretofore barren branches, and also the beauty of the people who emerge cautiously from our wintry coccoons and are being transformed into spring creatures with color and energy and hope for a warm summer.

The smaller the flower, the more miraculous, as far as I'm concerned. So much beauty in such a small package.
How do those tiny seeds know when to send their new shoots upward, towards the sunshine?
Year after year. Season after season. They don't give up hope. They don't concede and allow themselves to be overwhelmed by winter's frigid temps and icy blanket. Nor should we.

For a late lunch/early supper we went to a Spanish restaurant called Curate. I'm not sure if this is the meaning they intended, but that word means, "heal yourself." And after that meal, I certainly felt healed and whole. Buzzing with activity, the kitchen sent out dish after delightful dish. It was by far the best Spanish food I've had since moving down to North Carolina.

The two empty dishes pictured here previously held grilled bread on the left and gambas al ajillo on the right - that is, shrimp cooked in garlic.

We had the most amazing pulpo a la gallega with a potato puree and sea salt. This dish caused my eyes to roll back in my head. Oh me, oh my. I wanted to order a second plate of this deliciousness, but I refrained. I will definitely order that one again sometime soon. And I won't be sharing it with ANYONE!!!

For dessert, we had crema catalana con frutas del bosque, essentially a take on creme brulee with berries under the cream. There is a layer of candied sugar laid on top of the cream, a layer that had to be broken with our spoons.

It was the best meal I had had in months.
I was full and grateful. So much bounty. So much beauty.
Great food and even better company.
I love that daughter of mine, blue hair and all.

At the other end of the spectrum from the vibrant, lively time I had with my daughter was the time I spent in Arlington, Virginia, earlier this week. I went with a dear friend to the funeral of one of her dear friends, a woman who had served as a nurse during World War II. She was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery near her husband.

On Tuesday morning, there were ten funerals planned. Apparently, it takes months from the time of death before the burial can take place. In this case, it had been about five months since this brave woman died.

The pomp and circumstance was impressive, somber and precise.

They handled her casket with reverence and honor.

Then the caisson left to go carry yet another fallen American.

Marines stood guard nearby, maintaining focus and attention before, during and even after the brief service ended.

The eight who had carried her casket to the gravesite, stood and held the flag above the casket during the entire ceremony. I kept wondering how hard it must be to remain at attention during services in the heat of the DC summer, clad in tight, heavy uniforms. But there they stood, unmoving, listening, waiting.

After the soldiers folded the flag, the chaplain approached the daughter of the deceased, handed her the flag and repeated what a chaplain said to my mother thirteen years ago at the national cemetery out at the end of Long Island after my father's passing - "On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service."

It's difficult to listen to those words and watch that presentation without crying.

Once all the guests had left the area, the Marine who had stood guard at the head of the casket walked somberly away. It was a spectacularly beautiful morning, sad, tear-soaked, but so very memorable. Over 400,000 people are buried there at the national cemetery in Arlington. So much life and so much death.

There is so much to be grateful for. I am grateful for - 

Life and death. Part of the same story. Part of all of our lives. 
A place to be buried, to be laid to rest.
The miraculous and life-giving story of Easter, reminding us that death is not the end.
Being invited to translate a funeral at church tomorrow - I never thought I'd need my Spanish at this new church we've been attending. But here I go.

Loved ones who show up as life winds down and death approaches.
Loved ones who show up at the end of life to remember the good times with survivors.
The ones who don't wait until the end, but show up all along the journey.
The opportunity to show up in other people's lives to encourage them along their own rocky journeys.
Reconnecting with a friend I met during my first year of teaching, a friend in need of prayer and support as she faces the challenges of parenting teenagers.
Laughing through our tears as we talked. 
Honoring the fact that, "Parenting is no joke."

Eating, drinking, walking, and enjoying the beauty of life. 
Women and men who learn to cook so well and are willing to share their gifts with the world.
Sharing time with family and friends.
Celebrating health, academic success, friendship, and love.

Road trips. Safety in travel.
My courageous friends who are in Haiti right now.
Trips planned with Steve and the kids. 
Solo trips yet to be planned.

This awesome video, reminding us that every little bit we do can make a difference. 
Jen Lemen, who provided the link to that video and so many links to so much joy and courage over the years.

This simple reminder that life is not meant to be simply one chore, one obligation after the other. 
There is room for happiness, joy, grace, love, and laughter. 
There is room for food, for drinks, for movement, and for faith.
There is room for choice, for choosing life, choosing forgiveness, choosing peace.
There is also room for sorrow, crying, suffering and death.
In fact, since we will inevitably deal with this last bit, then we have more reason than ever to make room, time, and energy for all the goodness of life that comes before it. 
It is a life and death thing, a life-then-death thing - so let's live with the greatest joy and deepest gratitude that we can muster. 

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