If you checkthe time elapsed between my first post and this one, you will see that it’s been QUITE A WHILE since I’ve been here. I cannot begin to provide all the details, but a big part of this absence was due to work commitments, and the last six months has been due to my mother’s last illness. She passed on April 10, 2010.
I want to share the remarks I was privileged to make at her funeral. They are printed below.
I was going to read a poem today. But my first, second and third choices all turned out not to sound right when I read them. So I let go of what I planned, and instead I waited for what presented itself. And that’s what I have to share today.
I love the spiritual music of George Harrison. One of my favorites is the song, “My Sweet Lord.”
“My Sweet Lord,” he sings, “My Sweet Lord.
I really want to be with you.
I really want to see you, Lord, but it takes so long, my Lord.”
I thought of those words often during Mom’s last days. Though the time was short by then, how long it must have seemed to her.
I have a CD with this song on it, and it never fails to touch my heart with its simplicity and its truth.
But this CD has two versions of the song on it, and the one I came to love recently was the later version.
George Harrison suffered from lung cancer that spread to his brain. I cannot verify this, but when I listen to the second version of the song on the CD, I feel certain that he is singing it much later in his life, when he is much closer to death.
The first version of the song is wonderful. George sounds sure and strong and steady. The background music is rich; the choir provides the perfect melodic, uplifting counterpart to the longing in George’s voice. This is a performance of a man at the height of his powers, in the fullness of his gifts.
The second version is much different, and in fact I didn’t like it when I first heard it. It opens with a guitar solo played such skill and grace that it’s as if the guitar is singing the song. In fact, I wondered if this was going to be just a musical version. But then George comes in.
And it’s a shock. His voice is weak; he cannot hold the notes very long; he seems to need to take many breaths. The easy confidence of the earlier version is completely gone. By the time the choir joins in, George is more talking than singing, his voice sometimes even cracking in the middle of a line. And he changes the words a bit. They are more the words of a friend than a supplicant.
“I really want to be with you.
I’d like to see you, Lord, but it takes so long, my Lord.”
I’ve come to love this version, although it is much less polished that the first one. I love the broken-ness of it. It’s the broken-ness that I can relate to. The yearning George expresses is so real and true that it doesn’t matter that he cannot perform as he used to.
I came to feel so privileged that he recorded this, that he allowed others to witness him in all his human frailty, nearly stripped of his celebrated gifts. How often do you get to see someone with soul so bared?
So why am I telling you this today?
Because I saw Mom that way. It was hard to watch Mom die. Day after day, when I visited her, I could see the changes. Mom had tried to shield us from her decline for as long as possible, but in the end, she had to surrender. And those days, those last days were the most precious of all.
We think of giving gifts from strength, from the flower of our human capacity and talents. And we do give those gifts. And the world needs those gifts.
But I learned from George and from Mom that when we are broken–by disease or age or the trials and struggles of life–our giving capacity does not diminish. In fact, in some ways the gifts may be even more wondrous under those circumstances.
But it’s not easy to get there.
Mom’s heart was broken. One day, half turned away from me in her Hospice bed, I heard her mutter, half to herself and the other half to God, I feel sure, “You’re taking all this away.” My heart broke at that. I know the hearts of my brothers and sisters were broken too. Many of you who also loved Mom feel the pain in your hearts today.
It’s OK. Don’t resist it.
Some unfathomable grace can flow through the cracks and breaks. All we have to do is acknowledge what’s in our hearts. The Sweet Lord takes care of all the rest.
April 15, 2010
FYI: The CD is “All Things Must Pass.” I seem to have lost the jewel case, but I’m sure you can find this on the internet if you want to order it.