April 4, 2014

As she was preparing to leave for this mountain climb in Nepal to honor her brother, Gary, who had died a year ago, our daughter Mary had to make sure the large elementary school where she is in charge of Buildings and Grounds would be secure during her absence. The school is in the North Woods of Wisconsin and the children are mostly Native Americans. She will be carrying the school flag into the world’s highest mountains to their admiring delight. Last year she carried it up to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. This winter Wisconsin had an alarming shortage of propane for heating in one of the severest winters on record. For over sixty days it has never at any time even been up as high as freezing, and nights of 18 below zero have been common. Keeping up with sources and providers for propane to keep her school warm has been a major task for Mary. Two months ago she went personally to one of the providers to connect with him. He is a burly, outdoor man of few words, powerful and focused on living a life grounded in physical work and activity. He was curt and to the point as he managed his business through multiple stressful demands of desperate customers in dire weather. Yet, just before leaving him that night, though she didn’t really know him, Mary took time, in her “big hearted Mary way”, to do a check in. Looking him in the eye and recognizing all the demands on him just then, she asked sincerely, “Hey, time for a ‘welfare’ check, how are you doing?’ He softened some and replied. One hour later, the man’s eighteen year old son, Jeremy, driving a propane tanker on a delivery, slid on the icy roads trying the avoid a car with two eighteen year old girls also sliding out of control on the ice. All three young people died. Mary’s kindness had come just before the tragedy occurred. Shortly before leaving for her trip, Mary was able to get a full tanker of propane from this man’s company to secure her school’s heating while she would be gone. She called twice to thank him but couldn’t reach him. Just before she left town he returned her call. She said she hadn’t wanted to bother him, just wanted to thank him for taking care of the school. He replied, “Oh Mary, you are a sweetheart…. by the way where are you going?” She told him she was climbing one of the world’s highest mountains to honor her brother who had died this past year. There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. Then slowly in a voice cracking with pain and awe, he answered, “Oh, Mary, you’ll be closer to God!” The man, broken hearted with his son’s death opened up his stoic grief. Mary asked if she could take something to the mountain for Jeremy too. The father was moved and grateful. The next morning Mary came to him and gathered some precious photos of his beloved son that she would place under a rock on a mountain that is ‘closer to God’. Her trek now can give a measure of comfort to a grieving father, who, with all his skills in the physical life, cannot bring his son back. So as in all passings, it is up to us who are left on the earth to reach out to one another. The funeral. Shared sorrow and fond remembrance. Cards. Phone calls. Nourishing food. Flowers. Helping with children, house cleaning, errands. Memorial trees and gifts to charities. Or making comforting offerings in the eternal magnificence of a distant mountaintop, ‘closer to God.’ All such deeds create the intertwining strands of human empathy into a tapestry of caring, beauty, and goodness. A weaving, chalice-like, a universal cosmic dream catcher, made golden with gratitude for the loved ones in our lives. So it can receive and hold the protection and inspiration those of who have passed on sending us their love to soothe us or, like glimmering shooting stars, to shine before us in the community weaving between heaven and earth, in the web of Universal Life and Love that holds us all.



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