LIFE BREATH

We Breathe in
   The morning air,
      The exhalation
         Of our mothers' breaths.

We breathe in
   The ancient air
      The exhalation
         Of all who have lived.

We exhale
   And share our breath
      With all who breathe,
         Now, forevermore.

So we live:
   Sharing always
      Our very essence,
         The breath of life.

 

                                                               MY DAD

In my first blog, I mentioned most people have a world view that includes belief in a Higher Power, an afterlife, a soul.  The power of sharing our life stories was also discussed.  So today, I would like to share a story with you about my dad, Eugene, who was an exception to the many who believe in an afterlife.

Dad grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin.  Born in 1921, his family eked out a sustenance sort of existence during the depression years.  As the eldest, my dad grew up quickly, bearing responsibilities beyond his years.  He also took the brunt of his father’s abuse, according to my uncles.  Grandpa was an alcoholic, a mean-spirited man who abused family and livestock alike.

Shortly before World War II began, Dad left the farm and eventually joined the US Army Air Force.  He became a Tech Sergeant specializing in electronics and radio communications.  During most of his war years, he was stationed in the South Pacific.

After the war ended, he married my mom, Irene, and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  There he took advantage of the GI Bill, attended Marquette University, and graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering.  He was the first in his family to attend college.

Over the next ten years, Mom and Dad had four daughters; I was the oldest.  Throughout his life, Dad worked two jobs.  During his rare free time, he enjoyed deer hunting, also fishing in our local lakes.  Although he had hated farm life, he wanted to be outdoors, surrounded by the peace and beauty nature provided.  But he made it very clear he wanted nothing to do with religion.

“This is it!  This [earthly life] is all there is!”  I recall him saying when I questioned his beliefs as a young girl.

Those questions came up a number of times over the years.  Although Mom encouraged her daughters to attend Sunday School and Dad would drive us there, he would never participate in any of our church activities.  To my recollection, he only stepped foot in a church for Mom’s funeral and for several weddings.

The years passed.  At the age of 75, during the fall of 1997, my dad lay dying of pancreatic cancer.  All four of his daughters, two of us registered nurses, took turns caring for him. As his death seemed imminent, we all took leave from our jobs and spent most of our time with him in our family home.  We were assisted by our local Hospice staff, including Bernice, a minister.  She offered spiritual guidance and solace to us, and to my surprise, Dad welcomed her visits as much as we did!  They usually spoke in private, and I wondered if Dad may be changing his mind about the possibility of an afterlife.

As his days became more and more filled with unarousable sleep, we sisters took turns spending the night on the couch near his bed in front of our living room picture window.  We had heard that classical music was very soothing under these circumstances, so we set Dad’s beloved radio to a classical station, playing it twenty-four hours a day.

One afternoon, I was holding his hand talking to him as he lay soundly sleeping.

“Daddy,” I said, “I know you don’t believe in life after death, but I think you may be in for a surprise!  It seems you will probably die before I do, so when you find out what happens afterward, please try to tell me, to let me know . . .”

A few days later on October 22, the time had come.  My sisters and I stood over Dad as he peacefully slipped away from us . . .  peacefully until his beloved radio crackled forth with a horrendous blast of static!   We looked at each other over Dad’s now graying and breathless body and said “let’s turn that thing off!”  We did.  But I think we all believed it was Dad’s last communication with us.

The next day we turned Dad’s radio back on.  Classical music filled the room.

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Dear People of Brussels . . .

And to all the citizens of Belgium,

We weep for you, we weep with you.  We understand and share your pain and grief, your anger and fear.  As the news of your shocking assault by the cult we call ISIS unfolded, we were reminded of the numerous attacks on humanity we have all endured throughout history.  While the faces of those who have chosen to inflict such unmerciful assaults have changed over time, their agendas of trying to attain power and control over others have NOT changed.  Through deceitful masking of their true goals, leaders of these vicious groups have attracted followers who are unaware of the larger scheme.  We are beginning to realize we must unmask those leaders rather than merely trying to eliminate them.  We are also learning to deny them what they seek:  we have become more cautious while not allowing fear to direct the course of our lives.

We watched as the people of Brussels and all of  Belgium continued living through their days of sorrow with dignity and determination.  We watched as our president, Mr. Obama, offered American support and a call for world unity along with his condolences.  Please know our hearts are with you as you maintain your hopes for tomorrow.  The holiness of our humanity will prevail.

Most Sincerely,

Sue Ellen Valk, one of the millions who speak as an American

SOUL’S BREATH

Beneath the veils of public faces,
Under the layers of cloth and flesh,
Between the beats of pulsing hearts
Breathe the souls of all mankind.

Though infinite and eternal,
Creator- and all created-
Soul’s Breath is no more than the wind
Blowing softly across the earth.

But embodied within our hearts,
Soul’s Breath becomes a whisper-
Given voice to honor our nature,
Precious voice to cherish life.

Let’s speak of love, of joy and wonder,
Abundance in a single breath-
Which is shared by all humanity,
Intermingling Soul’s Breath with each other.

Indeed.  Let us speak!

In a world whose history seems to have been defined by the fears, power struggles and intolerances among its human inhabitants, it’s time we created a new kind of history.  We must speak with each other to do so, and we must speak from a different perspective.  That perspective can be created by each person choosing to:  honor all the things we humans have in common; acknowledge our differences without judgment; celebrate the uniqueness of each individual.

While most of us have heard such admonishments before, I think we forget- or possibly we don’t realize- that such actions do not happen naturally.  They are actions we  choose – or not.  They are choices we make with each interaction, either consciously or unconsciously.  I suggest we bring such choices into our consciousness and decide to relate to others from this perspective, so we may help create better relationships among those who share our planet.

Let us speak both to cherish our lives and help create a life worthy of the perfection within us all.

Humankind has evolved as a thinking, feeling, intelligent species.  We all have a world view, a belief system, a way of defining our lives within both our immediate and expanded societies.  This view, for the greatest majority of people, includes belief in a Higher Power, a God, existence beyond earthly life, and/or a soul.  Widely varied as these beliefs may be, having such a set of beliefs is a part of human nature.  Therefore, when referring to honoring all we have in common,  I will call this the practice of honoring each other’s souls.

It all begins with speaking, though it can’t go far without listening- paying attention, truly hearing and internalizing thoughtfully what others have to say.  Sharing thoughts and life stories have helped create the bonds we have formed since before written human history.  By expanding our sharing outside our usual communities, we can increase human bonding.  With each such interaction, we get a glimpse of the souls within all participants.

Choosing to honor each other’s souls, deciding to interact with each other from a new perspective, and interacting with those outside our usual comfort zone will positively impact our lives.  Have faith!  Very soon, we could become a Human Community which creates a history that reflects the beauty and wonder of our humanity!