Another of my friends died about two weeks ago. It made me sad. I think of my mother who at age 98 told me how alone she felt, for all her friends were dying, leaving her behind.
Her words reminded me of the time, years ago, when the curfew rang in the evening, how we children dropped whatever we were doing and rushed home, dirty, sweaty, tired, happy. The day had been good. Sometimes a child who hadn’t heard the bell peal across our little village needed a special holler to come home.
Mother was waiting for that special holler to head to her final home. Her friends had all heard the call and left. She had been saying good-bye to life and hello to the new life ahead for some time. At my age these are two daily tasks.
I say good-bye to things more easily than I once did. Whatever sits on shelves and hangs on walls no longer means much to me. I wonder about hoarders who keep piling it in. What draws them to their stuff? What makes it impossible for them to give it up.
I say good-bye to activities more readily each year. It feels good to stay at home and not keep rushing around like my children. Son James flew to Washington, D.C. this weekend via New York City. Daughter Susan drove to Kansas City. Joanna visited Kansas a few weeks ago. I am glad they can do this. I can’t. This week I resigned from a board I had been on for 37 years. It was time to let go.
I find it fairly easy to say good-bye to those lumps and bumps that cling to my thought life, particularly my theology. They have hampered me long enough. My need for certitude in minor areas has become less. Dispensationalism, for example. Many younger people don’t know what the word means or why it was of major importance to some of us at one time. Or why people were dogmatic about each arrow and line in the large complicated diagram depicting the end-times. The faith life isn’t about arrows and lines and complicated formulas.
I say good-bye, with regret, to the loss of skills like cooking and baking, which I once enjoyed immensely. I have lost the touch, I tell myself. I no longer know what yeast dough should feel like before I put it in a large bowl to rise, so I don’t attempt a batch of sweet rolls any more.
I get hungry for old foods like green bean soup or summer borscht but can never find all the ingredients in supermarkets. Summer savory? What is that? Without it green bean soup is just vegetable soup. So I make Ruehrei for myself, and, as I look at the little pan of food, I wonder what it was like when I made this soul-food for six people. It must have been a mountain.
I keep saying hello to a deeper understanding of faith. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that outwardly he was wasting away, yet inwardly he was being renewed day by day. To keep growing inwardly is important to me, especially to hang onto joy and a deeper understanding of grace.
I keep saying hello to new insights into my family's story. Life review is important for all older people. I do it for several reasons: (1) I want my children to know where they came from, the country of origin, and the values that shaped their ancestors, including mine. You don’t know who you are until you know where you came from.
(2) I want them to know why our extended family, originating in rural life in the Ukraine in the former USSR, never became farmers in Canada when they arrived here in 1923 though new immigrants were expected to become homesteaders.
(3) I want them to know about the generosity of my father’s uncle Abram D. Schellenberg, who came to Canada a good decade earlier and established a business in Saskatchewan. His foresight enabled him to sponsor my father’s extended family and other relatives looking to escape the political unrest and hardship in the former Soviet Union during Lenin’s rule. Such gracious giving needs to be remembered and emulated in some form.
(4) I also want them to understand what happened to the other half of the family – my mother’s side, which got caught in Stalinist Russia and spent eleven years in forced labor in Siberia following World War II.
As children we never stopped our play to wait for the curfew. It always came as a surprise. Already time to go home? But home we went. That’s the way I feel about life. While I am aware there is a curfew ahead, I want to be hard “at play” at my pursuits when the bell rings, yet ready.