Gleaning the Fields

Dear Aaron,

 As you well know, you are eighteen now because you often remind me of your adult status.  In turn, I always remind you:  “Since I’m still paying the bills, you get to hear my two cents.”  We just finished our fifth youth mission trip together.  It will be your last with your church friends, but I still have at least two more to go with Lauren.  She will get her letter in two years.  The idea to write this came to me when I was gleaning the field in Maryland.  I had never gleaned before, and did not really even know what it meant, but it was a powerful experience.  The solitude of that field allowed me to write this entire letter to you in my head as I settled into the meditative motion of pulling leaves from the collard and kale plants and stuffing them into bag upon bag. 

 I may let up a bit on telling you what to do, but I think there are some valuable things we have learned from these trips together and in fact, from our walk of faith together that started with your baptism.  I am not going to make you feel guilty for not going to church in college because I did not attend church regularly in college. I want to leave you with something that you can read back upon when you feel the need for a Mama’s guidance, not just in the next four years, but in the next fifty. 

 When you are sick of school and the thought of studying for one more test drives you crazy, think about children in third world countries around the world, reading by candlelight, with outdated textbooks and limited school supplies, thrilled to get an education.  Picture a little Afghan girl, maybe one with eyes like your sister who risks her life to attend school.   Study for her. 

If you ever find yourself complaining of the college dorm food or your future wife makes squash casserole (remember that fun meal?) and watermelon (please, I still do not think you are allergic to it), think about what we learned this week:  Many families in your own country have to decide which child eats for the day and which child has to wait until the next day.   When people tell you that there are jobs available if these poor people want them, tell them to try to provide for a family from minimum wage for a week.   Think of the women in Haiti who eat clay to get enough calcium for their unborn children.  Eat your mystery meat or squash casserole for the hungry.

 When you are feeling that your way of worship is the only way, go sit through an African- American church service where sitting solemnly in the Presbyterian way is “weird” or attend a Quaker service where there is no worship service and the silence is completely deafening. If you feel Christianity is the only way, go have lunch with a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jew, or even an atheist.  Remember what the Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu doctors did for your Dad.  They were doing God’s work, too.  In fact, if you ever have preconceived notions of a minority group, racial, religious or cultural, you will only be able to drop your prejudices if you connect with people.  Step out of your comfort zone, listen to every voice, and learn a new perspective.  

When your back aches from a hard day of mowing and pulling weeds in your lawn on a Saturday, after you have already had a long work-week, reflect back to the day of gleaning the fields. Picture a migrant family, working 12 hour days, seven days a week at minimum wage, moving their family from place-to-place to find more work and facing discrimination wherever they stop.  Suck it up and keep moving.  Show gratitude for the luck that fate bestowed upon you by just being born into a white, middle-class family.

 When you are feeling that your boss is not giving you the recognition you deserve, remember Mrs. Boyd. At 86, she has worked to get fresh fruit and vegetables to poor families in Washington DC since the early 1960’s. The working poor cannot always afford fresh produce. She does not expect recognition or appreciation in return.  She does it because it is the right thing to do.  Humble yourself and find self-satisfaction in your career, but remember that what you do for a living should never define you. 

When you think your kids are acting spoiled or unappreciative, maybe take them on a mission trip or plan some regular volunteer work as a family to help them discover the gift of service.   In fact, the secret is to start it when they are very young.  Have them learn to sit quietly through a church service.  Take them gently by the ear if necessary (it didn’t hurt you), and remind them to respect others’ rights to worship in peace, and it’s best for them to learn at an early age that the sun doesn’t rise and set on their rear ends.  They also should learn that sometimes wisdom comes to us during the quiet times.  Love them fiercely. Parent your kids with passion. 

If you feel you are lost at any time in your life, maybe give faith a chance. Faith is the stuff that lies beyond the scientific and mathematical theories that you will learn.  There are some great intellectual minds that make room for it in their lives, but you will meet plenty who want proof.  There is no proof.  That is what faith is all about.  Even if we are all wrong, it will nourish your soul and enrich your time here on Earth. 

Gleaning the fields goes back to Biblical times. As you now know, it is the process of picking up whatever is left behind in the fields by the farmer.  Some of it not needed and some not up to market standards.  The collards and kale we picked provided nourishment to someone who we will never know.  I did some thinking on that day in the field and I wonder if you did, too.  Do we leave behind people to rot in the field?  Do we say: Why should I go and fix a house for this woman in Jacksonville who might not take care of it, any way?   Why pull weeds and mulch a shopping center in Anacostia when you will never set foot there again?   Why feed the recovering drug addict who doesn’t work and doesn’t really meet “market standard?”  You never know what a single act of kindness might do for someone, and I hope you have learned over the years that God’s children are always worth it.  Glean as may fields as you can, my Aaron. 

On Daddies…

It’s no secret that I’ve been purging lately, cleaning out physical and emotional stuff.  At one point, Aaron said to me, “Mom, I’m somewhat like Dad.  I don’t like to throw things away either.  What if you get rid of something really important?”  My parenting theme the past two weeks is  that we don’t need stuff when we have memories.  Today, I am remembering some Daddies. 

My Dad, Bill Blose, was like no other. His laugh and exuberant spirit would light up a room.  We couldn’t go anywhere in town without someone knowing him, and as a little kid, I thought he was famous.  We could be on vacation in Colorado, and he would be talking to someone like he had known them his whole life.  “Does Dad know Flo, the waitress?”  “Of course not,” Mom would say.  He sincerely wanted to know about other people, and he wanted them to know about his family. He trusted people, at times, too much.  When questioned about his trustworthy nature by Mom once, he shrugged and said, “I can look myself in the mirror, but I wonder if he can too.”   He had seven girls and never wished for a boy.  Whenever he was asked about the son he never was granted, he would crinkle up his eyes in his typical manner and say, “If the good Lord thought another man was needed around here, he would have sent one!”   He showed me what I wanted in a man:  one fiercely devoted to family, fearless, strong, loved by everyone, kind and affectionate.  I loved catching glimpses of him hugging Mom and stealing kisses when he came in from the farm while she worked on dinner.  I wanted a man like that!     I got most of that from Tony, but I would often tease him and say, “There are two people that I would want with me in a deserted alley.  One of them is my Dad and I am sorry to say that the other is not you, but your friend Kevin.”  Tony would say, “Yeah.  I want Grandad and Kevin to protect me too!”

When Tony was sick, I started a Caring Bridge page so I could keep friends and family informed.  Tony and I read every post written by people from all over the country.   There were literally tens of thousands of visitors to our page.  One of my favorite posts was written to Tony by his friend Kryss Shane three days before he died.  I read it to him, but he was sleeping quite a bit at that point.  I’d like to think he heard it, and I printed two copies for Aaron and Lauren to keep.  Kryss granted me permission to share it with you and I feel it’s appropriate for Father’s Day:

Hey Tony!  I just wanted to add some thoughts to this guestbook.  I’m not the religious sort, but you’ve been added to the prayer list by the staff at my office and by the senior citizens who are my clients.  The way I figure it, it’s never bad for a musician to get shout-outs in NYC, right?  I think about your wife a lot, but I think about your kids most.  I think about how you are probably worried about them being without you and how your wife probably can’t imagine raising them alone.  i hope you’ll both have the opportunity to realize that those things won’t happen.  Kids are resilient but also have wonderful memories.  While the difficult parts will will suck, of course, the part that will always remain is who you are to them. Every moment you’ve shared, every lesson they’ve leaned by watching your actions will remain with them no matter where either of their parents are.  Sometimes people think that having two parents means literally having two people who live in the same house who sit at the same dinner table.  Most kids don’t have that.  Many kids never meet their fathers or live with few positive memories of their biological male parent.  Many sit on steps waiting for deadbeat dads who never come, many listen to moms who cry over how alone they feel without a partner’s help. Your kids will never have that.  Your kids get to spend their entire lives with heads and hearts full of memories of their dad. They get to fill their ears with CDs/MP3s (or whatever new thing they create next )of the soul of their father by way of music.  They get to recall the hugs, love, happiness and safety he brought to them.  And when they hear their mother cry, it will be a reminder to them that love is real and that it transcends all space and time.  They get to grow up wanting to find their own love and not being willing to settle for less than what their parents had.  I can’t imagine the stress you all must feel and the decisions being made that no one wants to make so young.  I can’t begin to assume what that tastes like. What I do know, however is that there are future children who will be born to yours, who will hear stories and music from their grandfather.  They will know love and feel love because they were taught how to parent by two amazing people.  They will have each other to lean on in difficult times and to share the recollections of the goofy things their dad did when they were young.  And your beautiful wife, made gorgeous by genetics and by the love shared with her soul mate, will get to watch it all, will get to see you in them and in their children.  As I said, I’m not the religious sort and I don’t know what religious books say about these things.  I am, however, a social worker and a human, and a person changed by the few times we’ve been in the same room at the same time.  I can’t back this up with scripture numbers. I can speak from what is already clear;  who you are and who you always have been, lives in the hearts of those who are lucky enough to love you and to be loved by you.  I hope today is a day of peace, of a moment to rest your heavy hearts, and of the awareness of how loved you are by numbers of people far greater than you’ll likely ever realize. 

Today marks two years since Tony’s passing, and it’s so cliche, but it’s true that time heals.  I had a yard sale today and I put out some of Tony’s jeans to sell.  As I was setting them down, a guitar pick fell out of a pocket onto the sidewalk.  It made me smile, but I didn’t need to keep it as a reminder of what I had.    






Junk Pile Treasure

I received good advice two years ago when Tony passed away after his fifteen month battle with cancer:  Don’t change anything for one year.  I did add a few pictures to the house, a couple of Pottery Barn pieces scattered about,  but I didn’t take one thing out of his closet.  After six months or so, I gave some things to his musician friends:   pictures,  favorite stage shirts,  a 12 string guitar went to his good friend, Andy, but I didn’t touch the rest.  At year one, I sorted through most of the closet, giving away things he really could have cared less about : ties (he refused to learn to tie a tie or else he would have to get a “real” job), dress clothes, shoes, suits, etc.

 It’s been almost two years and the time has come to clean up this place a bit.  If I move after Lauren graduates, I don’t want to be faced with all of this junk that is just taking up space. I decided to tackle the basement studio closets and file cabinets.   Aaron has dubbed his Dad an “organized hoarder.”  Seriously, my husband kept EVERYTHING.  I found band agenda meetings from 1989, ticket stubs, every laminate that he ever wore backstage, his Cub Scout jacket with all his badges, and the eight years of Franklin Planner binders.  Aaah.  His beloved planner.  I remember when he first got it for Christmas of 1993.  He was obsessed with this thing and once left it behind at a show in Richmond.  You would have thought the world had ended.   He used to chastise me for my loose organization with my “pile” of papers and notebook paper used as my to-do list.   “Yeah, but if I lose something, it’s no big deal because I have come to grips with my lack of organization, but if you lose something Mr. Al-O, you need a psychiatrist and an antidepressant”   I opened up the binders and just started pulling the pages out and placing them in a pile.  One page stood out on the top of the pile and was marked from 1997.  Curious, I searched for May 28, 1997, the day Lauren was born.  Written on the journal side of his planner in his combo cursive/print style :   “Lauren Arrives.”  I went back to March 26,1995 when Aaron was born,  and written on the journal page in big letters:  “Hello Aaron!  We love you!”   I searched through July 1994 when I told Tony that I was pregnant.  I found this written out to the side:  “We found out we’re going to have a baby-Sarah played me “Danny’s Song” by Kenny Loggins to let me know.  I didn’t know what she was trying to do and made her wait until the Batman cartoon was over!”   I searched for a day in January of 1997 when we had to have amniocentesis because the doctors feared something was wrong with our baby.  I found it on January 29th:  “Our Baby’s Fine!!!”  On all of the days of birthdays, written at the top of his list was :  “Call Aaron/ Lauren for birthday.”  Each wedding anniversary was celebrated in enormous font.  

 I sat amongst my pile of thousands of Franklin Planner pages and had a good cry for many reasons.  I cried because I had been angry with him and felt guilty.   I cried for my children and future grandchildren who would never know their grandfather’s signature laugh.  I cried because I had a hell of a lot of stuff to still sort through and this was the tip of the iceberg. Then, I allowed my tears to turn to gratitude.  It was a blessing to have had a sensitive, loving partner and devoted father to my children, but I’m still throwing some of this stuff away!   

I sat down with my yoga class last night before class and told them my story.  Somewhere amongst all of our physical and emotional junk, piling up and longing for a Franklin Planner, there lies something beautiful,  something to strengthen and to move us all forward.  Sort through your junk pile today and find your treasure.