Comforting Words: In the Beginning

Sunday, January 02, 2005

In the Beginning

If you are like me, every New Year there are things that you have been putting off that you promise yourself that this will be the year of accomplishment. Then December 31 rolls around and you realise that you were sidetracked by life happenings and those resolutions remained unresolved.

This year, I am taking a different approach. No promises, no resolutions have I made. This year I will take life as it comes and roll with the punches. What I hope to achieve by December 31, 2005 is that I would have lived an authentic year - being and doing the best of me. At the end of the year, I will take an inventory of the cupboard of promises which I have been consciously filling for over 20 years now. Something tells me that I will be in for a surprise.

I invite you on this journey with me through this Blog. Each week, Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart that guide me (and you if wish) will be posted here. This week's is entitled "In the Beginning:"

Words from Scriptures

From the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

Genesis 1:27, 37 (King James Version)

"So God created man in in his own image, in the image of God
created he him; male and female created he them. And God saw everything that he
had made, and, behold, it was very good."

Genesis 2:7 (NRSV)

"Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living
being."

From the Hindu Tradition:

Laws of Manu

"The universe existed in the shape of darkness,
unperceived, destitute of
distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning,
unknowable, wholly immersed,
as it were, in deep sleep.

Then the Divine Self-existent, himself indiscernible but
making all this, the great elements and the rest, discernible, appeared with
irrestible power, dispelling the darkness."

From African Traditional Religions:

Shona Prayer (Zimbabwe)

Great Spirit!

Piler-up of the rocks into towering
mountains:

When you stamp on the stone The dust
rises and fills the land,

Hardness of the precipice;

Waters of the pool that turn

Into misty rain when stirred.

Vessels overflowing with oil!

Father of Runji,

Who sews the heavens like cloth:

May you knit together that which is
below.

(Hindu and African traditional text and prayer taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 83 - 84

WORDS OF COMFORT

Something struck me while doing my Christmas shopping recently - something which apparently has been nagging at me for awhile now which I chose to ignore. It is something which I believe I share with many but has escaped the attention of the marketing gurus.

I noticed this absence during my stop at a Carlton Cards store - no plug intended - looking for Christmas cards. Deliberating whether to go with 'funny' or 'mushy' cards, which would have to be rushed mailed this last week before Christmas as my funds had just come in, I wandered into the section with cards for Moms. That was the first jolt to my awareness - I don't call my mother 'Mom'! So I started browsing the ones that simply said 'Mother' when the second jolt to my consciousness came. "You cannot send any of these cards to your Mama," the voice said.

My immediate reaction was a defensive "Why not?" "Well first of all," the voice said, which I now recognised as that of my friend Truth, "You don't call your mother "Mother" either and secondly, none of these cards speaks to your relationship with your Mama!" I now seriously started to read the cards and to my dismay the voice was right. What was I to do? All of these cards were laced with what for me would have been platitudes. In that moment it dawned on me that for years I have been buying cards like these, which neither reflect my deepest feeling or speak the truths that were written on my heart. There was no way I could honestly sign my name once again to one of these cards!

You see, I am a member of what sociologists and the news media now describe as the "Sandwich Generation." Members of the "Sandwich Generation" are people who like me have the responsibility of parenting both their offsprings and caring for their aging parents. In my case, I have been directly and primarily responsible for my mother for the past 14 years, although I am neither in the 50 - 60 age group of a regular Club Member. To add insult to injury, my mother much is not yet 70 years old.

For some, the experience has been rewarding and give them a real sense of giving back to parents who have truly loved and supported them throughout their growing years and even well into adulthood. There are others, myself included, for whom this has been a real burden and a trying experience, who have been financing their parents who never formally "retired." It is to these 'sandwich kids', the ones who fall within the category of burdened, stressed and at their wits end, to whom I write and who will really understand this true confession.

Before you begin to judge those who describe the experience as burdensome and stressful, hear me out. My story may differ in some specifics from others but it is basically one of trying to survive in a world that is designed for those who had their backpack filled from the get go. Unfortunately, for some of us our parents or parent were either too busy having a whale of a time in the glory days to bother about preparing for old age, tried their best to plan but inflation ate away at their retirement fund or they were like my mother, economically and spiritually poor and have no pension.

Fast forward twenty to thirty years later and meet the sandwich kids who are either prepared to handle the stress graciously as they are economically empowered to do so. Then they are those who are not for a myriad of reasons. We are kicking, screaming and pulling at the short and curlies trying to make it work. Now consider the critics of the latter group. Some critics cite Scriptures to admonish the sandwich kids who are having a really hard time making it work, calling them ungrateful and wicked in spirit. I have been told by critics that forgiveness is the key and once you forgive, it is possible to make all the sacrifices necessary to help your aging parent, including foregoing your and your offsprings personal needs.

My response to such comments has been to suggest to these critics that they walk in my shoe for a mile. The issue is not unforgiveness nor is it with the parent who made and attempt but was unsuccessful with retirement planning. The issue, at least for me, is the burden on the family to care for a parent who made little or no plan for retirement either because they felt that "life was just for living" and "God will provide" or they were too poor to think about preparing for the future. Whatever the reason, sandwich kids are willing to help and care for their aging parents, however their abilities to do so is severely curtailed by their own economic realities, expenses of childcare and college age offsprings and the need to prepare for their own retirement.

The last concern is probably the most crucial if the cycle is to be broken.One of my kinder critics have recently apologised to me, having now had first hand experience with caring for a demanding senior with no retiement resources. The point is, it is easy to tell others what they should do and even feel in challenging circumstances when you have not had to live that experience yourself. When you have had to allow your teenage child to take a job in order to have money for lunch and other school expenses and give more than serious consideration of student loans to finance his/her way through college because all your savings have been spent on on a parent since she/he was 55 then you can judge.

Christmas can be a very stressful time for sandwich kids and until this passing season, I did not know the hidden emotions it held for me. Trying to find a card that, to use my teenager's language, 'kept it real' was the moment of truth. Finding a card which expresses love for a parent whose reckless living now places demands on you that can hardly be met while keeping food on the table for your child is hard. There are two options I can think of, either you purchase the "To a Wonderful Mother/Father" and convince yourself that it doesn't really matter.

The other option is, while you wait for someone at Carlton Cards or Hallmark to come up with cards that speak to real life situatons, you do like I did - write a letter instead.

For more information or to join the Sandwich Generation Club, visit:

http://www.thesandwichgeneration.com/

Words from the Heart

Father/Mother God, Creator of all Life

Giver of Love, Wisdom and Understanding.

Hear my voice this day as I come

Into your Presence as an unlit lantern,

Standing in the Garden of hope and beauty.

My heart yearns for the spark that will

Ignite the wick of my soul.

My heart hungers to be in your service.

I desire to radiate your glory,

Shine with your magnificence and

Glow with your love in the darkness of my existence.

Hear my voice this day, dear God,

As I ask to be filled with your wisdom and

Understanding of even those who would seek to

Dull my light because of its shade.

Teach me to love and understand even more

And to shine even brighter.

Guide me dear God to that place of compassion that

My light may not be dimmed by the wind of anger, mistrust,
ignorance and
intolerance.

Stengthen me, dear Divine, that I may be

Anchored in my faith and trust in your power and

Build a wall of love around my heart light, that though

It may flicker it will burn brightly even in the storm.

And so it is.

Until next week.

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