Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dickens and the Church

The last two weeks have been painful.  There.  I said it.  Profoundly painful.  It's bad enough that the anniversary of my father's death stared me down, but to have my mother pass a year to the day of his funeral service slayed me.  I remind myself of thoughts of last year.  My heart knew that these two were joined at the heart.  I hoped that Mom would be with me a few more years, but heaven had other plans.

When Mom took the final turn, the Hospice nurse and I agreed that the time had come for her to be given the Last Rites.  Mom remained true to her Roman Catholic tradition while I had converted to the Episcopal Church.  So, I called her parish priest and the Parish Secretary told me to hold on he'd arrive shortly.  So, I did what I normally do - I paced.

After what seemed an eternity I heard someone turn the front door handle.  Yes!  Dickens barked.  I ran to the front door only to find the priest running down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.  (By then I had crated Dickens and rested in the knowledge the priest would not be licked into a frenzy.)  I opened the door and called out to the priest, "Father, you're going the wrong way!"  He turned around, I noticed his ashen face.  "Father, what's wrong?"

Mom really like this guy because of his height, smile, and youth.  He remarked during a hospital visit to Mom that he noticed me walking a "cute little dog".  Now I knew this man-of-the-cloth knew Dickens.  It's not like times of old when a priest made sure he visited the sick at least once a month.  Now, the parish had a "call us if you need us" policy, which I have to admit rubs me the wrong way.  I remember thinking that perhaps a phone call every now and again would have helped.

As I stood with the door open, the priest turned and said, "I'm allergic to dogs."  I responded that my dog had hair, not fur, the dog had been regularly bathed, and that he sat in a crate.  The priest stood with his hand resting on his car totally unmoved.  He then responded, "I have an aversion to dogs."  "You have a what?" I asked him to repeat what he had just said because a)  I couldn't believe what I had just heard; b) I could not wrap my head around the fact that my dying mother might be denied the sacrament because of an 18 lb. Cairn terrier.   I don't deny that some folks are afraid of dogs, but I had just told him about the crating thing.

The scenario reminded me of another deja vu moment last fall.  A nun used to do a walking meditation through our neighborhood each Sunday.  She always smiled and wore the most cherubic expression.  One day as Dickens and I came out the front door, Dickens began to bark in his frenetic, bouncy way.  The nun glanced over at my straining-at-the-leash pup-dog, adjusted her veil, raised her skirts (revealing well-worn Nike's) and took off like a Saturn 5 rocket, arms pumping by her side.  Dickens and I looked at each other with perplexed expressions.

"Wait!"  I yelled.  I closed the door, picked up the crate containing the offending animal, and shoved Dickens crate and all into the bathroom, slamming the bathroom door shut.  I returned to the front door.  "Father, now there are two doors protecting you from my dog:  the crate door and the bathroom door.  Please, come in."

As he entered the house, I leaned forward and said, "Father, fibbing to me about your allergies? Seriously?  Fibbing ain't the way to begin this home visit."  I forced myself to put my feelings aside.
In the end, my mother received the spiritual comfort she deserved, the priest received the emotional comfort he required, and, as for me, I strained my back hefting that damn crate containing Dickens.

That night I noticed a tightness not only in my back, but in my heart.  My days had been jam-packed with fear concerning Mom's care, but I did it anyway.  Why couldn't others admit their fear and move through it.  Did the sister really believe I'd serve her to Dickens for lunch?  Did the priest honestly think he'd have to be gnawed before performing the Last Rites?  I guess fear penetrates even those who are so called and profess a deeper faith.  I wish faith reminded us of who we are as strongly as fear does.  Fear grips us tightly, yet this human needs to embrace faith as Job did by never letting go; of tightening my hold with white-knuckled force to the power of faith.

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