“Psychologists at the University of Kansas determined that four nature-filled days – intentionally away from electronic devices – resulted in 50% higher scores on tests measuring creativity” (toadandco.com).
Can you do it? Can you put your phone away for four days? Keep your hands off the keyboard? No TV? No ipad? No laptop, Garmin, weather report, Netflix, election update, texts, e-mail, clock, microwave, lights, Pandora, tweets. . . photos of baby Eileen.
It’s a snow day in Valparaiso, Indiana – a perfect opportunity for a one-day no tech retreat.. Instead, I’m typing. I’m up for the challenge, but first I want to Google how they measured creativity, and I want to find a remote campground far from snow.
Hundreds packed Bourbon Street in Chicago to celebrate the life of Eileen Joyce LaVoie, mother of four and wife to Joe LaVoie, who passed away in March 2015 after a five-month battle with cancer. Joe and Eileen had moved to St. John, Indiana, but their roots are in the parishes of St. Cajetan and Christ the King.
The event raised funds for the LaVoie Children Educational Fund through ticket sales, silent auctions, live auctions, raffles, wheels of fortune, and t-shirts. Baskets upon baskets of items graced the perimeter of the massive banquet hall and bar. Bagpipers, folk music, and rock bands performed as friends rejoiced over Eileen’s remarkable life.
When I approached the ticket table, someone said, “Well, I can tell you’re Eileen Rubey’s sister.” Again, my family ties are written across my nose, perhaps spelled out in faded freckles. Tim and I moved from the neighborhood over twenty years ago, but the spirit of complete connection never fades – thank goodness.
I said to my lifelong friend Shannon, “You could come to Bourbon Street every weekend for an event.” She replied, “It’s true. We could.” The utter commitment to faith and life is apparent in every conversation. Death is never viewed as the end. We know that. But this community takes it a step further – they come together in full force with energy, volunteerism, dancing, and joy. When a family is in need, they step up and serve.
Mrs. LaVoie hugged me and told me she was so sorry about Danny. Her wise eyes reflected her deep understanding of the ebb and flow of life. Over and over again, people expressed sympathy about the loss of Dan. At first, I welled up in tears, but as the hours progressed, I adopted their strength and resilient attitude. It’s not over. Eileen LaVoie and Danny are on to bigger and better things. It’s our job to keep the faith here and be thankful for their gifts. Grief stabs us randomly just to make sure we don’t forget, but ultimately, charity, faith, and love prevail.
As I left, I bought t-shirts saying “A Celebration of Eileen – Life, Laughter, Love ” and was struck by the Circle of Life – Eileen LaVoie, my mother, my sister, and our granddaughter – all Eileens, all unique, all beautiful. As we grieve, we also embrace life and each other. We cling to the mystery and delight of new life, and we’re filled with hope.
So I’ve decided to be different, to change. On Monday, I called my brother Michael:
Hi, Mike. It’s Nancy. Voice cracks.
Ya, Nance. How you doin’?
I’m good. Voice cracks. I’m just callin’ to see how you’re doin’.
What? My sister Nancy? You’re callin’ to see how I’m doin’?
Ya, Mike. I just feel bad that I never call, so I thought I’d call.
Have you been drinkin’?
Laughing. No! I haven’t been drinkin’!
Well, I’m doin’ fine, Nance. What about you?
Voice cracking. I’m not doing so hot. Crying.
Why? What’s the matter?
I feel bad about Danny.
Oh, there’s nothin’ you can do about that.
Struggling for words. Well, is it okay if I just call you once in awhile to see how you’re doin’?
Voice smiling. Ya, Nance, you call any time.
It was kind of rough, but it’s a start. Sending cards might be easier.
God is persistent. According to Thomas Merton, “We refuse to hear the million different voices through which God speaks to us, and every refusal hardens us more and more against His grace – and yet He continues to speak to us: and we say He is without mercy!” The Seven Storey Mountain (143).
We can choose to pay attention, to stop, to listen, to think, to reflect, to let ourselves go into the darkness, so the Light can defeat it and guide our paths. There is so much doing, meeting, talking. What about being? Listening?
Saturday, while running through the woods with Watson, I journeyed through a montage of moments – at the funeral home, at church, at the cemetery, at my house, at my mom’s, on the phone, at work, as a child, as a new mom, at the last holiday, at our wedding. What was said? What was assumed? What was meant? I thought of Father Kevin and Father Frank’s incredible faith and loving guidance, and I found myself singing “Be Not Afraid,” the words and rhythm providing a reverie of prayer and contemplation. I allowed myself to go into the depths of the shadows of pain, grief, anger, and overwhelming sadness – no distractions, just the flow of movement and waves of torment.
“I’m sorry, Danny. I’m sorry, Danny. Please forgive me. I’m so sorry.” The tempoed lament resounded as I meandered through trails while dodging mud and ice. I plunged into the messiness of life: remorse, guilt, shame and missed opportunities to help. I sifted through phrases at recent gatherings, in conversations, and in tidbits of information. Would’ve, could’ve, should’ves haunted my run.
As I entered an open field flooded with sunlight, the memory of my father’s deathbed wink at Danny hit me. Peace filled my soul as I felt Danny’s wink, his forgiveness, his “it’s okay, Nance,” his Irish sense of not wanting to put me out. He would hate it if we all felt bad. He loved us, and he is basking in God’s mercy and love. I suspect he may feel sorry for us.
Now I just have to forgive myself. That is a bigger battle. I have to trust in God while being steadfast on the lookout for signposts on the road to reconciliation. I know they’re out there.