Memorial

I push open these double wooden doors – they’re stained a beautiful dark rosewood. My eye is drawn to the purple carpet that marks the aisle all the way forward to a raised platform. It separates two groups of chairs. There seems to be a decidedly purple and white theme to the flower arrangements. Soon groups of people begin arriving and conversing with one another. Mostly they know each other, they all mean something to the guest of honor, and the guest of honor all mean something to them. This is a celebration.

The guest of honor is the matriarch – an older lady of average height, her short hair has a defiant red tint to it – hence her long-time nickname, “Red.” Her strong personality had developed as she conquered many obstacles in her day. As a result, her relationships could be complicated and no strangers to drama – but today is a good day and there’s no hard feelings. It’s also a miraculous day. Friends that she had long out-lived made an appearance alongside all her relatives.

Memories are being shared – some for the first time, others are being repeated much to Red’s delight. All of her favorite foods and drinks are available should anyone get hungry. I’d like to imagine laughter and delight. Everybody should be celebrated because everyone matters.

But such a celebration can never be. My grandmother has died. We found out on Christmas day that things weren’t looking so good. I asked for some time off the next day – but had to work my shift that evening. Some time in the middle of the night or the next morning – I’m not sure which, she stopped breathing. I’m not at all sure how to process it. Could I have insisted that I couldn’t work my shift so that my family could leave immediately and have a chance of meeting her while she was still alive? My only comfort is knowing that in many cases, despite hours of waiting alongside an ailing relative, they tend to like to pass away when the visiting hours are done and others aren’t around – so says the internet anyway.

I wish I knew where her obituary was – so I could read a little more about her. I wish I had bothered to actually call her every now and then just to talk a little.

For those who know my grandmother, her strong personality made for complicated relationships – it doesn’t mean that we love her any less … it’s just not always an easy kind of love. I grew up watching these kind, sweet grandmothers on TV shows – and my own grandmother was just so different. I wished in so many ways that she was like them – and I didn’t notice that she had her own charms about her. Some of the things I admire most are that fierce independence, that no-nonsense attitude, and she knew what she liked and didn’t hesitate to make it clear.

Her name meant Shining Light, Pride/Fame/Glory, and Blessed. That she most certainly was.

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Stumbling Stewards

Not long ago, a lot of protected land was opened up for potential development. I shook my head in disbelief when the guy said, “You know how to take care of your land.” The whole history of pollution is a testament to how little we have take care of our land.

Centralia, PA – In May of 1962, an underground coal mine has a coal seam that catchs fire from the burning of a trash dump – it’s still burning today.

Picher, OK – a former lead and zinc mining area, lots of toxic remnants were placed in heaps in the area, which in turn has polluted the water table. One study suggested that as many as 1/3 of the children in town were suffering the effects of lead poisoning. The mines themselves also pose a danger – they could collapse and the buildings above would be taken down with them.

Cuyahoga River – perhaps the most famous example; these polluted waters once caught fire.

When pollution is a factor, what comes first? Usually it’s the bottom line, the cheaper disposal method; rather than the proper, more expensive one. When the priority is putting people to work, putting any thought into pollution control seems like you’re trying to put the brakes on progress. Never mind that putting people into pollution control is also creating jobs.

The whole history of pollution shows us that we never have known the best way to take care of our land … because we didn’t do that well, it put human lives on the brink – destroying the health and vitality of some – taking the lives of others. It may be annoying that waste chemicals can’t just be dumped into our water supply or that mine remnants can’t just be dumped in huge piles all around town – that even nuclear waste has to be sealed away in very specific conditions – but it’s far better than the alternative. We might not know how best to take care of our land, but at a very high cost we have learned how not to take care of our land. Sometimes the best thing you can do for some land is to let it be at least a little wild and to leave it alone.