Bone-Weary but Blessed

[First posted in February 2011 on]

 My great-niece was born on January 22nd. A couple weeks later, I was talking on the phone with my nephew, the brand-new father, about how it was going. “We’re pretty exhausted,” he said. “Changing a lot of diapers, up every few hours, checking regularly to make sure she’s still breathing.”

The marvel of it. That described my life exactly. Except the subject of care wasn’t a newborn baby but my dying mother. As I surveyed the stacks of diapers and bowls of pureed food that had suddenly overtaken my home, I thought, “Dying sure is a lot like being born.”


My mind went back to Thanksgiving of 2004, when the members of my extended family had converged on my sister’s home for the traditional feast. Before dinner, in response to my mother’s offer to set the table, I had handed her the silverware. Minutes later, I discovered her standing by the dining room table, still clutching the utensils, utterly bewildered. We had witnessed earlier indications of Mom’s failing memory, but that was the day I knew for certain that we were on the long journey with the identity thief called Alzheimer’s. Continue reading

Like Fire on Glass

“Yesterday, it was like fire on glass,” said Mary Etta of the sunrise I missed. We joked that I was frequently heading to bed just about the time she was getting up.


This early morning there is no sun to see. Dark, gray-blue clouds hover near the horizon. The surf is churning almost under the cabin, foamy whitecaps swirling in all directions. A strong, gusty breeze has set the wind chimes in chaotic and clamorous motion, and the palm trees are rustling and clapping in response. I’m sitting wrapped in a blanket. A fire spits sparks in the fireplace, and the smell of corn-and-apple fritters wafts in my direction. It is a smorgasbord for the senses, and I can’t remember when I ever felt so peaceful.

“It was a week,” I say to myself, lamenting that in a couple of hours my four friends and I will be headed off of Hunting Island, South Carolina, and back home. It was the first of what would become an annual celebration of friendship. The dolphins had danced for us. Pelicans had swooped into the lagoon across the way, while raccoons were up to mischief in the driveway. Continue reading

Thirsting for Justice

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  –Isaiah 55:1-2 

My honorary three-year-old grandson Isaac was showing me the amazing kid-sized kitchen that his grandfather, my friend Bill Wylie-Kellermann, had made for him for Christmas. I complimented Bill on giving him such a politically correct gift. He said, “You mean because of the gender thing?” And I said, “No, I mean this morning Isaac turned the little spigot knobs, peered up into the faucet, and asked, ‘Where’s the water?’”

You see, Isaac lives in Detroit. And more and more of his neighbors are having exactly this experience—turning on their faucets and having nothing come out. More than 38,000 households in the city have been denied access to safe, clean, and affordable water.


It works like this: The city raises water rates beyond the means of people already struggling to survive, and when they can’t pay, a crew from a privately contracted “demolition and environmental service” shuts off their water. Local and regional officials have maliciously charged that low-income customers insist on “free water”—and these same officials have recommended “behavior modification training” for them. In October 2014, a special delegation from the United Nations declared the massive water shut-offs an unprecedented human rights violation. Continue reading

The Lessons of Groundhog Day

[First posted in February 2012 on]

A Sunday school teacher was asking her young class about Easter. A 5-year-old boy piped up, “That’s when Jesus comes out of his tomb, and if he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter.”


Yesterday we observed Groundhog Day. And by “observed,” I mean we totally ignored it except to ask at the end of the day, “Anybody know what Punxsutawney Phil saw today?” Apparently the famous-for-one-day-a-year Pennsylvania groundhog saw his shadow and we’re in for six more weeks of winter. Which is a bit ironic since, at least where I live, we haven’t actually had much winter yet. Just one snowfall in late December that melted by noon.

The frogs are already singing antiphonally in the pond. The white snowdrops on the bank have been in bloom for a week. I might not have taken note of how early the flowers popped up, except that last year they appeared with all their splendor and comfort the day after my mother died, on February 14th. Spring has arrived in the western North Carolina mountains about three weeks early this year.

Continue reading