A contemplative monastic nun writing about spirituality, family, relationships, memories, art and craft,
books and more...all from the Boomer Generation perspective and experience.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Make Friends with a Cane

"Please, do make friends with a cane."
Around the age of 55 my knees began to give me trouble. That did not fly with my profession as librarian and teacher in middle school. Two arthroscopic knee surgeries (roto-rooter jobs cleaning out debris cause by osteoarthritis) bought me a bit more time. In the process I made friends with a cane. By the age of 61 the friendship served me well while recuperating from double knee replacement surgery. I am happy for this friendship, especially when I see disasters waiting to happen all around me.
On November 2 and 3 the New York Times ran two articles on fall risk for the elderly: "Bracing for the Falls of an Aging Nation" and "A Tiny Stumble, a Life Upended" both by Katie Hafner". These are worth reading and sharing with older friends and family. Denial reigns. The statistical risks are frightening; the complications from falls are innumerable. Yet, as the articles report, safety measures like life alert pendants, canes and walkers are resisted, often to disastrous end. When my mother, already in dementia, was 88 I told her she really needed to use a cane. Her response, "Oh no, I don't want to look like an old lady." I told her, "You already are an old lady!" When walking aides are introduced after dementia sets in it is difficult to master the habit of using them. Not habituated to reaching for her walker, my mother rose one night in assisted living to use the bathroom. Just standing beside her bed she lost her balance, fell and gashed her head on the bedside table. She lay on the floor  for hours bleeding profusely. Although no bone was broken and the gash required only 6 stitches she remained in the hospital for 5 days, required time in a nursing home and is now a permanent resident there. There is something to be said for getting used to using a cane or walker while you can still master the process.
This message may seem a bit premature for me and my peers but not so. We may not need one all the time but can certainly use the assistance of a cane when conditions are treacherous - hiking in the woods, long tourist walks in unknown territory, icy conditions.
It pays to have one handy, have it sized correctly and know how to use it properly. At the age of 64 a tall healthy male friend of mine slipped on ice outdoors. He was not found for half an hour. He had dislocated his shoulder, damaged his knee and done terrible nerve damage. Two surgeries later after nine months in a nursing facility, living on narcotic painkillers and completely separated from his normal life of independent travel and teaching all over the world he is finally getting his life back. But his body will never be the same.
So pick out something useful but elegant. Keep it handy. Don't be too afraid or too proud, or like my mother too vain to use it. And know that people are very nice to those using a cane. This is especially true while traveling by air which has become an almost intolerably uncomfortable process. Ultimately it can be your best friend.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

All Souls' Day Reflection

A Gift of Presence
for the Digital Age
Reflection presented at
All Soul's Day Prayer Service Concert
St. Joseph's Church, Kingston, NY

We have so much in common today. We have all come to remember and celebrate those who have gone before us. Although we come in different stages of grief, with different flavors of remembering, our interior questions are probably quite similar. “How can I handle this? Where do I go from here?” The fortunate among us may have had a wise soul or a spiritual guide offering a willing ear. These treasures, like my spiritual director, share our sorrow and tears. They remind us that Jesus who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus is a companion in our sadness and grief. But then my spiritual director, as all good directors should do, asked the big questions. “And what is God saying to you in all of this? What opportunity is God asking you to find in your grief?”
          Bereavement is an experience of the loss of a presence in our lives; a presence that may have been influential, someone involved in our lives, available and responsive. However, it is also possible that we are grieving not only the loss of a person but also regretting the opportunities we missed to enhance our relationship with that person while still alive.
          Since we experience so keenly now the absence of a presence in our lives; since we may regret lost opportunities to be present, to be in meaningful relationship with the one who is gone; could it be that our loving God is inviting us to a new awareness of the quality of our own presence in the lives of others? Can this invitation be translated into a quality of presence that makes us better listeners, more generous with our time, more compassionate in response, and much less the masterful know it all problem-solver?
          Jesus was generous with his presence, so generous that he had time to see, really see people, even to seeing into their hearts. While in the midst of crowds he was attentive and he noticed. He noticed the tax collector Matthew bent over his coins. He noticed Zachaeus who had scrambled up a tree to get a better view. In both he saw a generosity of heart invisible to others. He felt the hand of the sick woman touch his cloak in the press of the crowd; stopped his forward momentum and took the time to praise her faith and provide the cure she sought. And when an unnamed woman approached him during a feast at Bethany he accepted her gestures of devotion even when others objected. He allowed her to anoint his body with fragrant perfume and with his words memorialized forever the depth of her love.
Speaking of feasts – the Gospels indicate that Jesus liked dinning with his friends. He liked to linger at table, hearing their questions and responding to them with homey yet instructive stories. His presence was gift.
          As Christians we are asked to imitate Jesus in all things. In our sense of loss is a seed, the seed for growth in Jesus’ quality of attentiveness to others. It is an invitation to grow into a more radical form of personal availability, of listening, of presence than has been our ordinary habit. This is a contemplative attitude toward relationship. It is a Jesus attitude. It also happens to be a very timely antidote to an explosion of communication without depth or feeling experienced this digital age. We find ourselves participating in a frenzy of communication. I am as guilty as anyone – busily at work as webmaster, Facebook page organizer, blog poster, e-mail user and most recently trying to master the I-Phone.  I would not give them up. These digital tools can be used to spread the Gospel Word, to work more efficiently, to just keep in touch. But texts, e-mail, tweets, blogs and Instagrams cannot provide an arm around the shoulder, a listening ear, a gift of quality time in family or with friends. Digital communication does not allow for reading the expression on a face, the tremor in the voice, or the body language that speaks in silence. This is the very quality of the one on one human presence, face to face, in the now that we miss in grief for our loved one and what we may wishing we had offered in the past.
          Consider the invitation that God may have wrapped up in your loss. Consider the invitation to a more loving quality of attention, awareness, and availability in all of your daily interactions. These may come at the kitchen table, in the line at the supermarket, at the next soccer game, or when all you hear is the sound of the TV and everyone’s head is bent over one device or another. It is a very timely appeal in our current technological age. This is the stuff of which our spiritual lives are made. Our response may be the finest tribute we offer in memory of our loved one, the quality of whose presence made such a difference in our life.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Halloween Remembered

Am reading a very interesting book entitled The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of the American Community by Marc J. Dunkelman, New York: Norton, 2014. This essay speaks of the quality of community that is lacking in many places these days. This Halloween memory is vivid for all who knew the Schultz family in Kingston, NY.
Mr. Shultz

Early every morning, except for the last few months, he walked past my house headed for the bakery and a copy of the New York Times. Rejecting jogging sneakers and shorts, he wore all-purpose leather shoes with khaki work pants and favored the layered look topped by a worn plaid shirt. A rumpled tan fishing hat completed the look of a man prepared for some woodland adventure. His once tall lanky frame now somewhat bent from academic pursuits maintained a steady unaffected stride. He was Mr. Shultz. I never got to know him better than that because he lived a few blocks away. He was just Mr. Shultz whose house my sons and I had visited once a year on each of twenty Halloweens in response to the offer of cider and doughnuts for any trick-or-treater, young or old, who needed a place to catch his breath, hide from ghosts and goblins, or duck barrages of shaving cream.
            Mr. and Mrs. Shultz rearranged the cherry and oak antiques and Chinese porcelains in their living room each All Hallows Eve. After covering half of the room with painters tarps, they placed indestructible wrought iron furniture at the periphery of the protected area and set out long maple benches laden with bowls of doughnuts and cool, refreshing cider. Family and friends gathered to view the costume parade from the intact end of the room while sipping an evening cocktail. Mrs. Shultz ladled out cider. Mr. Shultz extended a warm greeting at the door. The only requirement for visitors was that each sign the guest book where attendance could be verified and compared to statistics kept since 1946. Could that first Halloween open house have been a joyous celebration of long-awaited peace, a welcome to those boys who returned from war along with Mr. Shultz, or a tribute to the memory of past trick-or-treaters who did not come home? I never asked.
            Two days ago, Mrs. Shultz died at the age of seventy-five. A detailed obituary in the daily paper mentioned the Halloween open houses. Its straight forward narrative filled out the character of Mrs. Shultz beyond that of hostess feigning fright at diminutive ghosts and admiring awe for dainty fairies. She had graduated from Vassar, raised four children, founded the Boys’ Club, managed a business, sat on numerous boards, and loved Mr. Shultz for over fifty-three years. It seemed fitting to pay our respects to Mr. Shultz on this occasion out of sync with the annual round but in memory of that Halloween hostess and accomplished woman.
            At Carr’s Funeral home, a daughter greeted us. We explained that we had been Halloween visitors. She replied, “Isn’t it wonderful that the paper included that in the obituary. Of course, my father wrote it.” Turning from another conversation, Mr. Shultz took my hand in immediate recognition and acknowledged my son. “We’ve come in memory of Halloween, “ I said. “Oh, I’m so glad. Wasn’t it great of them to put it in the paper. Did you sign the book?” We nodded. My son said, “I should have written that we came because of Halloween.” “Oh, please do that,” said Mr. Shultz, “we’d love it.” He continued to hold my hand as another daughter approached saying, “I see that Kermit the Frog has arrived.” My son and I marveled at her memory. We chattered in a highly self-conscious struggle to express the heartfelt. Mr. Shultz seemed a little more bent, pale and lost. Our hands had parted as he spoke of not knowing what to do about Halloween. I told him that the obituary was beautiful and that his wife’s achievements had impressed me so. Unexpectedly my eyes filled with tears and my lips quivered a bit as I praised her accomplishments and devotion. Mr. Shultz’s face began to glow, his features becoming more animated. As we said our “good-byes”, he expressed his gratitude for Halloween visitors. I took his hand to shake in parting, a final gesture of sympathy for the loss of his wife. He raised it to his lips and kissed it. With eyes steadfastly focused on mine, he said, “Thank you”, appreciating me for appreciating her.

Hildegard Pleva

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Family Context for the Boomer

The Oreo Generation

Long ago a promise was made here to attend to the Boomer experience; to reflect upon the relationship of this generation, a generation in or entering retirement, to the slice of population born before them, the younger generations that follow them, as well as the social and cultural reality in which they live.

The image of a sandwich has been used as metaphor for the experience of this generation in between. I prefer the image of the famed Oreo cookie. What is the experience of being the filler in this generational alignment while surrounded by a contextual  smorgasbord including technological revolution, economic shift, constant war, realities of aging, global warming, the ebola virus, etc., etc., etc.?

Why propose the image of the Oreo? The filler in an Oreo does not rest between two yielding slices of soft bread. The filler attempts to meld two unyielding firm and demanding cookies. In addition, its sweetness is to soften the more blunt flavor of chocolate striving to assert itself.

This is a vision of the Boomer reality experienced by many these days. Many are trying to be lovingly, responsibly and appropriately in relationship with the generation that came before us (parents and other older relatives or friends) and the generation which came from us, now our adult children. As in the Oreo cookie, we either take on or have cast upon us the task of supporting or holding together this generational mix. And like the cookie filler we are to be a sweet, pliable, and present and wise element of the structure.

Most recent posts touched upon the cause of world peace, issues in the Church, history, social commentary and more. However, the events of my personal life in last five months call me to ponder this Oreo phenomenon. As Boomer well into the last years of my life the experience of the Oreo filler is mine. The most recent episodes follow all too rapidly on the heels of placing my mother in an assisted living facility, supporting Hospice care for my father in his home, experiencing his death, selling the family home and dealing with the collections of their life time.

Future posts will tell the story in more detail. The story is presented at least in part as a cautionary tale for the Boomer and for the generations that surround them. But here I will merely post the remembrance/obituary piece I wrote two weeks ago upon the death of my mother's brother.

In Remembrance of Joseph Milazzo

Joseph Milazzo peacefully slipped away in the morning of October 3, 2014 at Putnam Ridge Nursing Home, Brewster, NY following a brief but serious illness. He was 82 years old. Following a physical collapse in Florida on July 20th and hospitalization, he was moved to Brewster on August 13, 2014.

Joseph was born on December 1, 1931 in Brooklyn, NY.  His parents were Rosalia Galante and Frank Milazzo, both natives of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. He is survived by his older sister, Matilda Nimke, widow of Helmut Eric Nimke. Matilda now resides at Putnam Ridge Nursing Home. He also leaves his nieces Sister Hildegard Pleva, OSsR of Beacon, NY and Commander Rosalinda Hasselbacher, US Navy Nurse Corps Ret., of Shelton, CT as well as four grand-nephews Jonathan, Matthew and Andrew Pleva and Erich Hasselbacher, their spouses and five great-grand nieces and nephews.

It has been arranged with Halvey Funeral Home, 24 Willow St., Beacon, NY 12508, that the family will gather at the funeral home at 10:30am on Wednesday, October 8, 2014. At 11am there will be a brief prayer service at which Fr. Richard Smith, pastor of St. Joachim and St. John’s Parish in Beacon will preside. Immediately following we will proceed to St. John's Cemetery, 80-01 Metropolitan Ave., Middle Village, NY 11379) in Queens. Uncle Joe will be buried in the grave of his mother who died in 1932 at the age of 29 just three months after his birth. There is something very touching in this reunion of the two of them.

My Uncle and all his Brooklyn buddies who I remember from my growing up years are in many ways like characters from a Damon Runyon story but with a Sicilian/Brooklyn accent. My Uncle began life in the Depression with many strikes again him so he was not what I call a 'straight line kid.' Did not finish high school; went from one unskilled job to another; was drafted during the Korean War and served in Germany. He did get a GED and finally, through a friend of my parents, began a job working as an apprentice in the carpet trade. Slowly and with much hard work he rose through the Union ranks and became a skilled carpet mechanic with the ability to lay intricate designs in wall to wall carpeting. He would come home and talk about doing work for the likes of Claudette Colbert and Lena Horne. After his retirement he took on the pattern of a snow bird, living in Brooklyn during the late spring and summer months and returning to his condo in Margate, Florida to enjoy being on the beach with his many friends every day. He eventually took up permanent residence in Margate.

He was only 15 years older than my sister and I so he was the young gay blade who taught us how to dance the cha-cha and how to let the man lead on the dance floor. When my sister went off to St. Vincent's Nursing School in Greenwich Village in 1968 it was an awful neighborhood and he knew that sooner or later she would be out and about in a threatening neighborhood and meeting with friends at the local hangouts. She recently shared that before she left for nursing school Uncle Joe said that if she ever had a problem or got into a fix she did not want to drag her parents into she just had to call him and he would be there. This was the type of presence he offered in the family.

He had a beautiful girl friend before he was drafted and kept to his death an album of all their pictures while dating. I believe he received a "Dear John letter" from her while he was in the Army and it broke his heart. He always had a woman in his life, women he could bring home, but he never married.

He worked very hard, enjoyed life, loved good food and had many friends. But he saved money and played the market. When he knew the market had gotten beyond him he placed his money in wise investments. So his generous gifts in life will be matched by bequests in death leaving a legacy which will enrich the lives of those he loved.

He was known as "Joey Blue Eyes". He was a generous friend, treated his ladies with dignity and respect as a gentleman. He loved his sister and her husband, my parents, and called them from Florida every Saturday. And he loved his nieces and their children.

After his collapse on July 20th of this year, even in his dismay at his deteriorating condition in hospital and nursing home, he remained concerned about others and grateful for care. He was always inquiring as to what or where I had eaten and if I was a feeling comfortable in his condo and finding everything I needed.

We did everything we could for him but something else was winning the race and finally he just slipped away.

I see now that the act of writing has been the creation of a more intimate obituary than is usual. I share it with you to give a sense of the man.

There will not be a Mass because he was only a weddings and funerals type of church-goer. But he was good and loved by God and conquered many demons in his life, I am sure. And "now he knows." The prayers offered at the funeral home and cemetery will be as much for those he leaves behind as they are for him as his ‘awareness’ expands to all eternity.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meeting Sr. Theresa Kane, RSM

Sr. Theresa Kane, RSM
Archdiocesan Council of Women Religious (ACWR)
October 14, 2014, Sparkill, NY


The Years of Consecrated Lives:
Comments Upon Advent of Papal Declaration
for the Year of Consecrated Life

Sr. Theresa Kane is currently teaching at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY. She resides at Marian Woods, an assisted living facility for women religious. In 1978 she was appointed to deliver words of welcome to Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. At the time she was serving as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).The event received world-wide media coverage. In her remarks she raised the topic of issues pertinent to women including reference to consideration of access by women to all of the ministerial roles in the Church including ordained priesthood. Her remarks were startling and brought on a storm of response on all sides of the issue. Below appear my notes of her remarks at the ACWR meeting.

Quoting retired Bishop Hubbard (Diocese of Albany) Sr. Teresa spoke of consecrated religious life as an expression of “evangelical daring”. Upon reflection she moved from the singular form of the year’s title to the plural form “years of consecrated life”. Prior to her famed remarks to Pope John Paul II in 1978, the United Nations had declared the first UN “Year of the Woman”. Thus consideration of the dedication and possibilities of women’s lives is many years old.
The presentation as outlined was to include the topics of genesis of the word “consecrated”; how “consecration is to be understood in current conversation”; and important implications for consecrated life including the Second Vatican Council, the role of laity, and the consequences of consecrated life.
Exploration of the origins and use of the term consecration:
·       consecration of the host at Eucharist
·       consecration of holy ground (cemeteries)
·       consecration of bishops
·       consecration of religious
·       consecration of couples at marriage
·       consecration at ordination for priesthood
·       consecration in sacraments and blessings (baptism, holy buildings, virginity)

Consecration comes with a blessing. It is the vehicle of covenant resulting in mutual blessing.

Recent history regarding the Apostolic Visitation of congregations of women religious in the United States instituted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) was reviewed and it was suggested that declaration of the “Year of Consecrated Life” was an effort on the part of CICLSAL to quietly put that controversy to rest.
Second Vatican Council

The Council did not spring full blown out of the mind of Pope John XXIII. It came from a vision and a spirit of anticipation among scholars and theologians beginning in the 1930s and 1940s. The Council engendered new emphasis on religious ecumenism, religious freedom, participation of the laity as expressed in “Lumen Gentium”, a Council document, and the concept of community replacing the prevalent concept of institution. Where ‘institution’ has features of organization, structure, systems, management, purpose and, in terms of the Church, leadership by a pyramid of hierarchy. In contrast, the concept of ‘community’ presents a discipleship of equals, a spirit of liberalism and the notion that the entire community is consecrated.

Lay people are 90% of the Church community. The movement from the tradition institutional concept to that of community declared a new dignity of inclusion for the vast majority of the People of God.
Consequences of Religious Consecration

The consequences of living a life of religious consecration are a Gospel way of living, service to those most in need and a quality of prophecy.

1.     Gospel Way of Living – Consecrated religious life is a valid Spirit-driven life style that does not have its origins in an institution but is lived in parallel to an institution. Since consecrated life is Spirit-driven it can often be in tension with systems of religion especially in areas of business and governance because it is a radical departure from the standard values of society and culture. These values include ownership. Wealth, independence, and lives not determined in an autonomous fashion. The communal stress in consecrated life is a Spirit-driven mystery following the Gospel way of life which requires:

 * prayer, solitude and contemplation
 * community
 * service
2.     Apostolic Service – Service to the poor within the context of the belief that “the poor are to be agents of their own destiny” to overcome oppression by both the Church and the government. Choices for ministry reflect a “preferential option for the poor”.

3.     Prophecy – Requires contemplation, the courage of one’s convictions, and development of conscience followed by respect for the primacy of personal conscience in discernment.
In this way we atone; we become ‘at one’ with ourselves, in relationship with others, with all of humankind and with all of creation.