Life, the Universe and Everything

There are days when the ‘verse is trying extra hard to get your attention. If you listen carefully and pay attention, wonderful things might happen. Today was one of those days for me. A series of seemingly small, but meaningful things lead me to one of those moments that hits you over the head and stops you in your tracks.

This afternoon, after church service, my congregation was having a forum to discuss an issue of importance to the congregation. While I was listening to the discussion I was also thumbing through our hymnal. I don’t have a copy of my own, so I like to take the opportunity to read it when I can. I happened upon a call and response reading by the poet Edwin Muir and adapted from his poem “The Way.” I was so moved by it, I read it several times and meant to take a picture of it (so that I could have it for this blog post). Here’s the original poem:

“The Way”

“Friend, I have lost the way.
The way leads on.
Is there another way?
The way is one.
I must retrace the track.
It’s lost and gone.
Back, I must travel back!
None goes there, none.
Then I’ll make here my place,
(The road leads on),
Stand still and set my face,
(The road leaps on),
Stay here, for ever stay.
None stays here, none.
I cannot find the way.
The way leads on.
Oh places I have passed!
That journey’s done.
And what will come at last?
The road leads on.”

I knew this was meant for me today. There was a reason why I kept coming back to it again and again.

Later, I had lunch, briefly met with a friend then headed to the library to enjoy my book in the (free) AC. The book I am currently reading is the 3rd in Diane Duane’s “So You  Want To Be A Wizard” series. This series is to me what “A Wrinkle In Time” is for so many others I know. I can honestly say that this book series has changed the way I look at life, the universe and everything. Science is magic and magic is science in a very real way. In the chapters I was reading our very young protagonist, Dairine, a new wizard on her Ordeal creates a sentient species on a far flung planet then must convince them to spare the “slowlife” (humans and the other non-computer based life in the universe) when they logically deduce that entropy must be stopped until we can get our crap together (which will likely be never). She and The Lone One (basically the Power of death) are trying to sway these new beings to their respective sides. The fate of the universe literally depends on who “wins.” In the last part I read before leaving, Dairine had one last card to play. I won’t give it away, but it was very profound and moving.

As I was walking out, my head was still on that planet with Dairine, The Lone One, and the young beings she created. A church friend of mine who I happened to run into twice in the span of a couple of hours and whom I had been sitting and reading quietly with, bid me goodbye. As I watched her walk away I thought to myself, “She’s beautiful.” Not in the traditional way (she is not what most would typically consider attractive), but in a deeper, richer way. It’s like I was looking with different eyes.

Further on my way out the door, I stopped and picked up a displayed book that had an interesting looking cover. The book was “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi. This is the summary I read from the jacket:

“John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce–and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living.”

I can’t explain what happened next, but when I stepped into the sunshine I was overcome with emotion. I had such a strong desire to live and be alive that I could barely breathe for it. The thought that came to me was “I want to get old!” An odd thing for a fairly young person to wish, but in that moment I wanted to someday have the wisdom and appreciation and joy of a long life. I understood it for the gift it is. I could see the old woman I wanted to someday be. I’ve never wanted to live as much as I did in that moment. It actually hurt. I could barely keep my composure. That was a revelation. In that moment I felt like I got it. Just a tiny bit of all there is to get, mind you, but I got that one little bit of it. The universe is amazing and wondrous and so is everything in it. The connectedness I felt with the whole of creation in that moment was indescribable.

Now, you would think that after all that the ‘verse would be done with me for the day, right? Nope. It had one more thing to show me. I drove to Target for a window fan recommended to me by a friend. While I looked around for the fans, I saw some of those big wall decals for your home with inspirational sayings. One in particular said: Don’t let the world change you. My first thought was to agree with this. It reminded me of a beloved quote by Isodora Duncan: “You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.” However, my second thought was, ‘Wait, no. That isn’t right AT ALL.” Don’t let the world change you? You MUST let it change you! You must let it teach you to see with new eyes, to open your heart, to touch the souls of others and be the person you need to be. That the ‘verse needs you to be. Not allowing oneself to be changed would be horrible. A tragedy. Every moment of every day the world changes you. And you are BETTER for it. We are better for it.

A bit of song by one of my favorite singers, folk singer Marian Call, is often running under the surface of my thoughts. In it she says, “If ever love astounds you, you have to let it. You have to let it. And if love ever surrounds you, you have to let it. You have to let it.” I think today I did Marian proud.

Marian Call’s music!


A Eulogy For My Mother

Deep cleaning my room today uncovered many things I had either thought lost, had forgotten about or didn’t know ever existed. One the things I “found” again was the eulogy I wrote for my mother’s funeral. It was two pages of yellowing paper instantly recognizable as something written and printed with 90s technology.

I read over the words I wrote 14 years ago, when I was 18. I could see myself sitting at my computer in our kitchen (the one my mother and grandmother was so proud to have gotten me, used, for homework. It didn’t have internet.) and writing this the night before the funeral. I sat there until the words simply flowed out of me. That’s how I write. That’s how I know something is ready to be put down on paper.

When I delivered it in the church the next day, It was hard to get through certain parts without crying. Maintaining my composure was very important to me then (and now). Looking out into the assembled group of my family, friends and family friends, I could see my words having a powerful affect on people. Crying, yes, but also nodding and quite a few “amen”s and “yes, lord”s. Having gone from a Christian to an agnostic Unitarian Universalist between then and now, much of the un-changed parts of my faith and view on life are evident in the words I wrote.

So here it is. A eulogy for Paula Terrell.* Daughter, sister, mother, sci-fi enthusiast. Sunrise: September 22, 1956. Sunset: October 24, 1999.

Most of you knew my mother as a caring person who was always worrying about others and putting them before herself. Well, that’s true.  She was almost entirely selfless in her actions. She loved helping others and having fun. She had a contagious sense of humor. When she started laughing at something you could not help but laugh as well. Whether it was reminiscing about a childhood memory or a funny storyline on TV, it was usually very amusing. We had fun critiquing sci-fi and fantasy so much that she always told me that she wanted to live among the stars in the future, exploring new worlds and seeking adventure. Well, she is living among the stars now, exploring a new world and having the ultimate adventure. I would say her dream has come true.

Her and I, we had our fights and arguments and so forth, but we knew each other pretty well. It’s ironic that just when we were starting to cross the bridge into understanding each other, we would be separated before we could meet in the middle. Some people say that to die so young is to live a wasted life. But I know that that’s not true. I freely admit that I do not always understand God’s motives, but I do believe that each of us is here to serve a purpose. And whether we die at twenty or a hundred, it’s okay as long as we have fulfilled our destiny. It may not seem fair to us left behind, but we can console ourselves with the knowledge that we will understand later.

She has fulfilled her purpose. In her suffering, she taught us to appreciate life; and in her death, she teaches us to live not for tomorrow but for today. God has now called her home. She no longer has to suffer in this world. To us her death may seem like a tragedy, but her life was our gift from God. And for that we should be grateful.

*The only changes to this from the original were to correct or add punctuation. No text was changed. Paragraph breaks were kept in original places.