I got up early this morning to study for the final in a course I’m taking in Indigenous Religion and Ecology. Unfortunately, the coffee hadn’t kicked in and I fell down a rabbit hole and cleaned up my personal email instead. I apparently stopped doing so on May 29, 2020 – the day my son Jeremy died. Life seemed to take a different path after that day.
I wrote about the grief and the loss for a few weeks after he died. My public blog became my personal journal in the hope it would be cathartic for me and somewhat hopeful that it would shorten, or at least make bearable, the grief process. It didn’t. It simply became easier to write about Opal’s Farm and passing on quotes I came across that meant something to me than to speak of the pain of grief.
So, I’ve been silent the last few weeks unless it’s about Opal’s Farm. Spring planting has taken up most of my time. It’s hard to stay on top of all the great things happening at the farm – and there are some fantastic things happening there this Spring. I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I had more hours in the day so I could tell you all about it, but I don’t so I do the best I can business-wise.
When it came to writing anything else I found myself relying on the old “writer’s block” excuse -and that’s just what it was – an excuse. The reality is grief has reared its ugly head and clouded my thinking for some time now. It started around Christmas – that’s my deceased son’s birthday – and hasn’t let up.
I told my wife that I may need to finally see a grief therapist. This was becoming somewhat debilitating, but I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars an hour for someone to tell me grief and loss sucks. I get it.
I also get that people don’t want to hear about my loss anymore whatever their reason may be.
Grief is incredibly isolating. People who haven’t lost a child don’t get it. They may have the best of intentions, or they may think it’s time (it’s been a year-and-a-half) to just “get over it” and move on. I understand. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’ve treated others the same way. Not because I want to but because of the discomfort, and often fear, I feel being around grief. We all do it…
This morning I read once again all the emails and articles written about Jeremy after his passing. He was loved by many. Although his talent as an artist lives on through his body of work, I find myself wondering if at best, he’s thought of from time, and at worst, if he’s been forgotten – everyone’s moved on. COVID robbed us of the celebration of life he wanted should he pass. We honored one of his requests at the small family homegoing we had for him – we had honey buns but couldn’t have a taco truck. I’m still waiting on that one.
Several years ago, Jeremy and I were headed out to a remodeling job we were doing. I miss our time in the truck together – the conversations, the laughter – although I must admit that working with Jeremy was rarely easy. We’re both pretty set in our ways! Still, we had a lot to laugh about. He told me that we should write a book together. I asked him why he thought that. His reply still haunts me today – “We could write about you and me. It’d be so crazy no one would believe it. We’d make the non-fiction bestseller’s list.” I can’t argue with that…
There were several things that Jeremy wanted from me that I just never got around to while he was here. Some of them I’ve done, some I haven’t yet. He always wanted me to find my birth parents. He loved my adopted parents, especially my dad, but he always wondered about who were really were – where and who did we come from. I found that out last year when I met my birth mother – his grandmother – and learned so much of our family history. When I go to Kentucky in May I’ll be taking some of his ashes to lay at the family cemetery on the family farm we will be having our reunion at. My brother’s sons look so much like Adrian and Jeremy. Part of Jeremy belongs there too.
I’ve also begun the book he always wanted. I realized that Jeremy had a private persona and a public one as an artist. While most people know Jeremy the artist, few know Jeremy the man. It’s time for a broader (and crazier) picture of he and I both.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe post a chapter here and there. I don’t know if it will be a bestseller. In fact, I don’t even know if you’ll read it. I do know that what will happen will happen and maybe his loss and the pain I feel will mean something to me and the healing will begin…
It’s an exceptionally brilliant sunny morning here in Cowtown. The sun reflecting off the snow-covered lawns makes everything brighter. It won’t stick around too long as the forecast calls for a warming trend this coming week. The long-awaited precipitation is welcome news to Opal’s Farm and the rest of North Central Texas. We’re moving deeper into a drought phase, so even snow and ice are welcome (if the power stays on anyway…)
Most folks here were not looking forward to this recent cold snap. The power outages, broken pipes, water shortages, and deaths from last year’s major freeze were still too fresh. Everyone was afraid of a repeat this year. The rest of the country must’ve been watching as well. Momma called from Kentucky to make sure we were okay – North Texas made the national news. I’m somewhat embarrassed that everyone doubts Texans can survive a couple of inches of snow and freezing temperatures, but after last year I understand.
The ice and snow are on there way out and it’ll be seventy degrees by next weekend. Our family stayed warm with no power outages, broken pipes, or water shutoffs. The winter crops survived the cold and life goes on here in Cowtown. If truth be told, a couple of days of Arctic blast just aren’t that big of a deal, but I’m grateful to be inside this morning and to have time to read and write…
I reread the Book of Joel for this morning’s meditation. When I was a kid, I very proudly told everyone that our family was in the Bible. I made up a lot of stories about my heritage and who I was so I could feel some value to my schoolmates. I may not have known much about my birth family when I was a kid, so I embellished the lineage of my adopted one. That’s another story for another day…
Back to the Book of Joel…
Joel is probably one of the truly “minor” minor prophets. He doesn’t talk about exciting things like invading foreign powers or wars, you know, the big stuff. Instead, he writes about an invasion of locusts that have left the country destitute and hungry. His story would likely be buried a few pages deep in today’s newspapers. Bugs and hungry people don’t sell advertising very well, particularly when they’re somewhere “over there”. Honestly, I never paid him much mind even if we did share a name.
(Aside – As an adult I now know I’m completely unrelated to him. His father’s name was Pethuel. There is no one in my family tree by that name…)
Locust swarms aren’t a large concern here in Texas like they are in the Middle East and Africa. We had a serious bout with grasshoppers and couple of year ago – that was bad enough – but they didn’t put a huge dent in our harvests at Opal’s Farm. It was annoying to walk the rows and be hit by large, jumping grasshoppers or throw peas away because they’d been chewed on: I can’t imagine what it must be like to have swarms so big they block out the sun, hinder movement, and eat everything in sight like they do in other parts of the world.
Joel’s words echo today. Substitute climate change or social justice for the plague of locust and not much has changed in 2500 years. I watch the news – wildfires that grow bigger each year, hungry kids, systemic racism, and raging pandemics. I can easily echo Joel’s initial despair.
“God! I pray and cry out to you! The fields are burning up. The country is a dust bowl, forest and prairie fires rage unchecked. Wild animals dying of thirst, looking to you for a drink. Springs and streams are dried up. The whole country is burning up. Joel 1.19-20
“Shake the country up… A black day! A doomsday! Clouds with no silver lining!” Joel 2.1-2
It’s a bleak picture, but…
“But there’s also this, it’s not too late – God’s personal message! – ‘Come back to me and really mean it! Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!’ Change your life, not just your clothes…
Fear not Earth! Be glad and celebrate! God has done great things. He’s giving you a teacher to train you how to live right” Joel 2.12-13, 21-23
“I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people… Whoever calls, Help, God! Gets help. Joel 2. 28,31 (The Message)
Joel offers choices and hope for what appears to be a bleak future. That’s what I hope to do today. Take actions that offer hope – whether it be the regenerative farming we practice at Opal’s Farm or the unity we try to build in the fight against racism and hate.
I know I’m not alone either and that’s gives me hope.
– Rosa Parks, Quiet Strength (1994)
While everyone can be a role model, not everyone can be larger-than-life. I think of those that are “larger” than the rest of us as the positive role models to role models. We all have larger than life heroes.
The kind of hero they are changed as I’ve grew. It was John Wayne, Superman, and John F. Kennedy when I was growing up in the sixties. My definition of a hero changed by the time I was in college in the seventies – it was more of an anti-hero. If you were against the establishment, I was with you! I even had a Che Guevarra poster in my dorm room and a “Question Authority” bumper sticker on my car (both by the way, were a burr under the saddle of the administration of the Christian college I attended for a year where piety and strict obedience were the norm).
I’m not sure who my heroes were in the eighties and nineties. Those were lost decades in many ways. I think I thought of anyone who could stay clean and sober was my hero. I sure wasn’t hanging around anyone like that. The new century brought about the recovery I’d longed for and my definition of “larger-than-life” changed once again to those that looked beyond themselves to serve the common good and make this a better place to be.
It I’d be willing to wager that we’ve all wanted to be a hero. I’ve even met folks who believe themselves to be one (a little clue – larger than life people don’t think of themselves as heroes, or even think of themselves at all, really – at least not mine…).
What is larger-than-life?
“What creates such larger-than-life people? Their altruism is hard to understand by almost any psychological definition of the human person. I believe such people have built their lives on the reality of union with God, Reality, or What Finally Is.” – Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent Books, 2019), 161–162.
“Surrender is the strongest, most subversive thing you can do in this world. It takes strength to admit you are weak, bravery to show you are vulnerable, courage to ask for help.” – Holly Whitaker
“Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.” – Desmond Tutu
“Whatever that you do, you begin from the premise that you’re human together.” – Musimbi Kanyoro
“I’m not sure it even matters what the artist thought they wanted when they sat down to create the work. The art itself seems to want something, to make a change in the world. And the ability to create art like that belongs to each of us.” – Seth Godin
“If someone can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love. – Dr. Opal Lee (the Grandmother of Juneteenth)
I asked Ms. Opal if I needed to start calling her Dr. Lee. She laughed and told me Ms. Opal is fine. That’s what larger-than-life heroes do…