Wish Upon a Scar

 

We dipped our wish in tepid tears,

and laid it on the early years.

 

The wounds of heart and soul so far

have branded this one with a scar.

 

It ran and hid beneath the skin,

and we are left to wondering.

 

Oh God, let not our tears go dry,

nor let us fail to catch her eye.

 

Send us your embroidered cloths,

your wishes dipped in our own thoughts.

 

Then lay them, will you, warm and moist

upon her scar, our healing voice.

 

 

They are ours. They are Barrett’s. We signed all the papers, lots of them. Yet sometimes I wonder if the agency left out something, some attachment that we didn’t sign. Those of you who have adopted children out of chaotic situations know what I mean. Attachment. Every human being is designed for attachment; emotional, physical, and mental. We heard about this issue common in adoptions. Barbara researched ‘attachment’ to the enth degree. But the realities of living with a detached child are stretching to say the least. Her mother instincts would and will not let her relent in the pursuit of brooding over her children, biological or adoptive. It is the real and raw stuff of motherhood. Often I stand beside her with no words to help. Continued prayers to Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, rise from our worn, weary hearts. We slouch mystified at how these scars manifest over and over again as Barbara has given words, hugs, and discipline in hopes of change. We know it is not the child’s fault and pleads for grace and mercy are pulled from the deepest pockets of our hearts. A mother’s heart is the most resilient muscle on earth, yet if there was a test to the edge of resilience it is a child of detachment. Ask any mother of adoption with children hiding these scars.

My prayer, our prayer, is the poem above. It is for adoptive families, especially a prayer hug for the mothers of adoption.

Way Over Yonder: This One is for the Willsea’s

When I heard that Beverly Barber Kirk Was trying to sing Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name, an applause of tears clapped down my cheek bones. I sure hope she catches up with my mom for coffee way over yonder!

Mother Mary. A Mother’s Day Reflection

She pondered these things in her heart.

Mothers do that quite often.

She kept all these things.

My mother did too.

 

An angel told Mary.

The power of the Highest will.

An overshadowing of foreshadows.

“For with God nothing will be impossible.”

 

All mothers are infused with possibilities.

They lay down their self dreams

and rest folded hands upon

their distended bellies.

 

Mary carried wonder

full term and delivered hope.

There was blood and water and child.

All mothers hold pasty skin to chest with awe.

 

My mother held each of us close for a moment.

A snip of the umbilical and the separation

began a journey of contemplation.

What will? What if? Life.

 

Mary’s path was set.

From empty womb to empty tomb

the realities of motherhood were multiplied.

The gestation in her heart left stretch marks of spirit.

 

Near the end Mary drank of the cup no mother should.

She wept just like Jesus and red drops fell

as sweat on her brow as she prayed.

Blood fell on her and for her.

 

No mother should lose a child.

My mother was ten for ten when she died.

She was spared Mary’s anguish under a broken sky.

Jesus spoke living words. “Woman, behold you son! Behold your mother.”

 

Even in death he loved her so and knew hers was an acquainted grief.

I wonder if Mary was one who anointed his body.

Those things she held in her heart poured

on and massaged in his skin.

 

Then came the first Mother’s Day.

Sunday he was birthed again to Mary’s arms.

The Rose of Sharon was given from her loving Father.

She then held him close and smelled the fragrance of redemption.

Liquid Pearls.

It’s not that I don’t want to.

The mix isn’t right.

Too much salt.

I’m dried up…

But I don’t want to be.

 

The after burn is gone.

No tracks to trace.

No liquid pearls.

At one point in each visit

our eyes would well.

 

We sat across the table

and shared life stuff.

We wouldn’t wipe them.

We would pluck each

others, like grapes,

and set them gently down.

 

No allowing them to run away.

We would cup our hands

under each others chin

and let them fall.

 

It was then I could see

her face in my hands.

My reflection revealed

in her pool of tears.

 

She drew mine to her mouth

and sipped with a smile.

I laughed and washed

my face with her liquid salt.

 

When I was a child she used to say, “Oh, dry up!”  Yet, since we became more than mother and son, our tears often entered our conversations.  She no longer said, “Oh, dry up!” but joined with me and I with her.  I know I wasn’t the only one who sat across from her at the table of tears AND laughter!

© Gerald Allen Barrett and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.

“I feel so selfish.” A mother post.

“I feel so selfish.” I said it to two of my sisters outside of the assisted living home where my mother is spending her last few days of life.  I was so glad to hear my oldest sister say, “Me too.”

I remembered back to when my younger brother Peter was saying a very long goodbye to his first wife.  He had spent 20 years of his marriage going out on dates and such with a third wheel; cancer.  They were never alone.  She carried in her body an alien which reminded them constantly of the gift of life.  Near the final days he said to me, “It seems like the world should be stopping.”  Now I understand just a bit better what he meant.  I want to pick up a New York accent and yell at all the busy people, “Hey! Stop! Can’t you see my motha is dyin’ over heeah?”

My older brother John lost his first wife years back and I remember his words at a family reunion.  “Jerry, I am just so lonely.”  The Bible says that because of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ death has lost its sting (1Corinthians chapter 15).  I get that, and yet that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt like a bugger.   Those who hold faith in these verses and the work of Jesus will mourn, but not without hope.

So I say again, “I feel so selfish.”

There is a tree on my delivery route whose wound is slowly healing up.  In the first few days of being a senior in high school, her car veered off the road and struck a tree not a quarter mile from her house.  That was several years ago.  The ribbons and teddy bears and flowers are long gone.  Soon the bark will seal up with only a linear scar left.  I see her father once in a great while with a package in hand.  He looks all healed up too and yet…

“I feel so selfish.”

Within a year I watched two mothers care for their medically fragile boys.  One was seven, the other younger still.  The devotion of a mother is like no other on earth.  Near the end of each of these short lives the mother’s exhaustion was evident.  Their love was not exhausted though.  Hearts were broken open and spilling all over the boys they loved.

“I feel…”

Sixty two years ago, Marilee Barrett, daughter, sister, and wife added on another essence of womanhood…mother.  She never looked back.  Mothers usually don’t.  Ten children later she hung her heart out on the line like cloth diapers.  Again and again her love ruffled in the wind of time like white linen under cobalt skies.  Then, yesterday all of her children, whether there in spirit or in time and space, gathered.  We all stood, kneeled, and sat around her basinet beholding her as she beheld us.  My older sister wrote an e-mail that describes it so well.

“About 3 p.m., Carol (my mother’s youngest child) was with Mom, and asked to hold Mom’s hand. Mom smiled and said yes, and they both agreed that it was comforting.  Carol then told her that she would be going home (to S. Carolina) tomorrow, and Carol started crying. Mom then said to her “Then we should probably get this show on the road” – which led to more tears, and then Mom started praying. “Lord, take me” – several times.  At that point, several of the sibs came into the room, and we gathered around her.  It was a “God-blessed” awesome moment.  Here are Barb, Rob, Pat, Mary, Margaret, Jerry, and Carol (seven of my mother’s ten children) all surrounding her with love, and tears, and she says “I’m just ready for it to be done.  But I don’t know how!”  And she was crying.  Jerry read from John 14, and then prayed with everything in his heart to God to give her mercy, to give her comfort, to give us comfort, and to help her through this transition. John, Ellen, and Pete, (my mother’s other 3 children, who were unable to be there) we know that your hearts were there with us, but oh, how I wish you could have seen the power of love happening in that moment.  Not just our love for her, and her love for us, but God’s love working all the way through that room.  We shared memories then, and just little tidbits of our relationship with her, and there was some levity in our conversation.  But most of all, I think God worked His peace into all our hearts – which we all hope that you feel as well.”

Just before that blessed time I had finished a poem. It was for my siblings that had been gestating in my heart over the past few weeks.  I was going to read it to them at a family meeting last night (which I ended up doing).  The words I had written were underlined around that bed before I uttered one of them.  God hovered over all of us.  Every kind of tear was shed.  Bitter-sweet ones, joy filled ones, sad ones, happy ones, silly ones, and pear shaped ones of love were falling like rain.  Even Jesus wept.  I couldn’t help but think we were in a birthing room.

 

Our cries separate us

as broken water.

So we draw closer,

like contractions.

 

We bear down in grief

and our labor pains

begin to push her

toward the light.

 

As she endured the pains

of childbirth, we will too.

All ten of us have come

to breathe a rhythm over her.

 

Oh, time will dilate

for her safe passage,

and our prayers

will carry her.

 

God knows when she

will birth from our womb.

For now, she floats in our love.

Suspended but for a moment.

 

 

“I feel so selfish, but not guilty.”

 

 

© Gerald Allen Barrett and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.

Negotiating Pooh, Reposted for my siblings and friends.

 

I was in the hospital gift shop looking for a stuffed chicken.  Barbara, my wife, loves chickens.  The clerk said, “sorry, no chickens.”  So I headed back to the emergency room with Pooh bear under my arm.   Barbara smiled and affirmed my love for her.  Pooh’s station at home was our bed during the day and Emmy’s, our six year old, at bedtime.  So this honey colored bear began a duel attachment.  How well we know the importance of attachment in this house of adoption.

 

My mother recently found herself at the same hospital, so before I went for a visit I asked Barbara and Emily if grandma could have some company until she was released.  Barbara said, “Of course!”  Emily said nothing with her voice but a few things with her face…questions with her pursed lips and eyebrow movement.  I told her Pooh would only be gone for a few days and grandma would love to have something to cuddle while at the hospital.  She finally said O.K. and asked to come with me.  I said she is next in line to visit grandma when she is out and then we could see if Pooh behaved himself while grandma was babysitting.

 

So off I went with Pooh to Bronson Hospital on a Sunday eve.  I was heading east and took in a spectacular moon rise, pale orange on the horizon and as big as a get well balloon.  Ah, but for a string long enough to tie it to my mom’s third floor window.  But there was Pooh.

 

My sister Ellen told me she was at the north building but for some reason I went to the usual place to find the nurse telling me the room number indicated that my mother was in the north building.  The nurse said I had two options.  One was go back to my car and drive over to the lot closest to the north building, or take the tunnel by foot.  The tunnel sounded adventurous so Pooh and I headed for the basement.  I could have sworn I heard Pooh say “Oh bother” under his breath.

 

It was a tunnel indeed.  Oh, it started out nice with drop ceilings and pictures of local landmarks on the walls and occasional donation tiles with names.  Then we turned a corner and the ceiling lifted so all the veins were exposed.  Bundles and bundles of wires representing fiber-optic, electrical, phone lines and who knows what all hung from the ceiling.  It reminded me of going through Chicago via business I-94.  Then I saw the heating ducts along the side of the walls.  They were two feet in diameter.  At one point we walked past the boiler room with its baritone hum.  The sign on the door said hearing protection required.  This stretch also contained stretchers on wheels, empty and lining one side of the tunnel…ambulances in waiting.

 

We walked at least a quarter of a mile without seeing any other human.  It was a solitary place.  No Muzac dribbling from above.  Just the sound of humming and my shoes stepping on a bazillion layers of wax.  I remembered visiting my dad at the old Burdick Hotel downtown when I was a kid.  He was in maintenance and I got to see the bowels of the old hotel.  It held a lot of dark edges and dust and mold, but also mystery and intrigue for a child my age.  It too was a solitary place and looking back I can see how my dad could settle into such ambiance.  My dad often was a solitary man…Just ask my mom.

 

I switched Pooh to the other arm and kept walking and thinking under thoughts.  Not underwear, under thoughts.  Walking beneath the structures above the ground like trees, I negotiated its roots.  Instead of walking on pavement I was walking under it.  Deep huh?.  I really think it is, and not just virtually.  So many life things maintain vitality because of unseen forces, not unlike the boiler room hidden in the catacombs of Bronson Hospital.  Our spiritual life, though hidden, is what keeps us humans on the move.  I know science has it’s take on evolution and such.  All the chance stuff flowing from fins to feet to opposable thumbs.  Honestly, I don’t have the mental strength to try to embrace such ideas or debate them either.  Some of the human race thinks the leap of faith involved in believing in intelligent design is too broad of a span.  They fear of falling in a great crevasse.  I, contrary wise, believe the gap is just as wide in Darwin’s theory and with a leap of faith in what pray tell?   I look at Pooh with eyebrows lifted as if he can read my mind and might be able to rub a couple of brain cells together himself.  Nothing.

 

The hallway started to ascend and huge photos of Michigan wonder took the place of wires and ducts.  It was as if God said “lookie here, see how beautiful this earth on which I placed you?”  There was the Grand Haven lighthouse with waves jumping and spreading around to a fine white mist.  There were tulips of many vibrant colors framing the windmills of Holland.  There was the Frankenmuth covered bridge nestled in a landscape which Currier and Ives could never replicate.  There was a river carving out a path through an autumn forest yawning with color before a winter’s nap.  I thought, why would “chance” offer such beauty to fill the senses our bodies hold?

 

3842.  3842.  I pushed the button to call the Bronson North elevators.  It lit up like a glow-in-the-dark lozenge.  I put my finger near the hole at the top of the elevators as it came for me and I could feel the air push through with greater force as it got closer.   It sighed right before the bell rang and the doors slid open just like on Star Trek when someone entered the “Bridge”.  Jer-bear and Pooh-bear stepped in and I pushed yet another button with a 3 on it.  Numbers.  3842. 342.

3428.  342-8127.  FI-2-8127.  Fireside 2-8127.  ET…phone home!?  No, no, no, dyslexia or memory recall weirdly.

 

It was forEVER the home phone, first as a rotary hanging from the kitchen wall and then button laden.  We rode the circuit in the beginning and then started pushing buttons.  Recently, my sister Ellen had her phone set up so if we dialed fireside 2-8127 it would ring at her place where mom was.  Call me sentimental.  Call me sappy.  Call me a softy.  That’s ok.  But the number represented the longest relationship in my life.  The line was a lifeline between child and mother.  What tighter line is that besides an umbilical cord?

 

The door slid open and we slid out into the third floor.  3842.  3842.  Ah, there she was, sitting hunched over like a question mark reading the large print Reader’s Digest.  I nudge Pooh with my elbow.  We sat down at the foot end of her bed after a hello.  She asked me what was that I brought.  I was tempted to take the opportunity to razz her with a formal introduction.

 

“Mom, I would like you to meet a friend of mine…this is Pooh.  Pooh? This is my mom.”

 

What I told her was that Pooh was released from Barbara and Emily to keep her company until she gets out.  She told me it wasn’t necessary.  I looked around her private empty room and insisted she babysit Pooh for a few days.  I knew I couldn’t get the moon to sit still outside her window so a honey loving bear seemed appropriate.  He would sit still, and he did for the whole visit, except when I knocked him over when I went to ask a nurse for a toothpick.  When I came back my mom pointed and said Pooh needed straightening up.  Funny, when I was a child, that was a phrase that often left my mother’s lips to a crooked child.   I can hear it as clearly today as I did forty years ago.

 

“Oh, straighten up!”

 

Our visit was pleasant and often etched with silent moments.  We both kept looking out the window between sentences.  The lights in the evening were warm and inviting.  She occasionally would refer back to Pooh and remind me to thank Laura and Lissie for lending him out.  I would smile and disregard the mental error.  She reassured me that she would take good care of him.

 

At one point the discussion led to “why Pooh?”  Why not Piglet or Eeyore?  Pooh was the most appropriate for a hospital visitor I thought.

 

Eeyore…depressed.

Piglet…too nervous.

Rabbit…too controlling.

Tigger…too hyper.

Owl…all night “whoooing”.

Christopher Robin…a nice chap, but too real.

 

But Pooh, sure he gets bothered on occasion, and sometimes a rumbly in his tumbly, and once got caught in a great tightness over honey, yet he always rebounds to a friend indeed.  He was humble, loveable, and one bear that would be ok to meet in a hundred acre wood.  Not to mention a wonderful presence in a room with IVs and a Stryker bed and an eighty two year old woman.

 

“Please tell the girls I will take good care of him.”

 

“For sure mom…I really need to go…can I pray with you?”

 

“Yes.”

 

I held her hand and prayed that peace and joy would rest on her and that healing would come and that Jesus would visit her in her dreams.  She thanked me with a scrunched-up-about-to-cry-face.  I once again told her I loved her and goodnight.  I think I saw Pooh wink at me with an I-got-this nod as I left the room.

 

I walked back through the tunnel alone but absolutely not lonely.  Love, love walked beside me and in me and Pooh negotiated between a six year old and a grandma.

 

Note: Jesus has got it too.  He is one who told the disciples to let the children come to him.  In these final days my mother has become so childlike.  Despite the discomfort, she engages with her visitors with simplicity and grace.  Her imagination comes alive when talking about her grandchildren.  Oh, Jesus has got it.  He is pulling her close and setting her on his lap and making eye contact with the child he loves so much.

 

 

© Gerald Allen Barrett and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.

Hall Light

 

She dozed off in a Stryker bed.

Her head tilted and cricked.

She mumbled and snored a bit.

It was an afternoon nap

and we just were.

 

Might I stay until bedtime

to tuck her in and say a prayer?

I’ll leave the light on and the door cracked.

I could be just down the hall

beneath that same light.

 

“Oh Father,

Come to her in her dreams like the daddy

she once adored.

 

Oh Jesus, take her hand,

like the big brother she once looked up to.

 

Oh Comforter,

Lay the baby Jesus in her dreams to hold

as she did each of us in a room such as this.

 

Oh come and be the light in the hall.

Come and be the opened door.”

 

“I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.”  Psalm 4:8  King James Version

 

As you have wished to us many times over;  Sweet dreams, mom, sweet dreams.

 

 

© Gerald Allen Barrett and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.

Cracks

When I was young, I had your back

by uneven steps on the sidewalk.

I stopped paying attention.

I had destinations.

Oh, your broken back.

 

The dandelions pushed through

to see if I would look down.

I kicked the buds off their bases.

The cement was mine and I

didn’t notice the shin splints.

 

The wheels turned.

Skateboards and bicycles

sent bumps up my discs.

I got off the walk

by borrowing your car.

 

I left you by the side of the road.

I was center lined and selfish.

Things were said, better off dead.

Your broken back.

Your broken heart.

 

I’ve seen my kids stutter step

down the walk protecting

a spine of a mother kind.

They look down

while clasping her hand.

 

Their mom wants them to look up…

to watch were they are going.

But I hope their hindsight

serves to see the curved

back they once protected.

 

 

Written for my mother, who stuck with me even when I stepped on cracks.

 

© Gerald Allen Barrett and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.

The Eyes Have It

One of my adopted daughters struggles with attachment issues.  More than one daughter does actually, but this one more acutely.  My wife, bless her, is in the trenches with all our adopted children, 24/7, dealing with post-traumatic abnormalities.  This particular daughter has us both shrugging our shoulders and asking, seeking, and knocking for wisdom and insight.  “How can we aide in the restoration of this little heart?”  Sometimes it’s as though hope is in our back pocket and we sit and wonder where we left it.

There are days when I arrive home to find my wife mentally writhing over the interactions of this adorable child.  I mean, to look at her, she seems like the essence of childhood innocence and playfulness.  But any given evening, the monologue squeaks from momma to me like letting the air out of a balloon while stretching the exit hole.  Mom is emotionally spent and frustrated that this one isn’t “getting it”.  I usually have nothing to add but listening ears and an apology that momma had yet another tough day.

But then I remember something that has happened more than once.  Sometimes Barbara (My wife and mother to little miss unattached) was graced yet again to proceed through angst to compassion with softer words and eye-contact.  It was a brown on brown stare down, and through eyes of love that would water a seven-year-old dehydration.  The tide would come in and behind it we would wonder if the salt water would preserve a precious heart, both hers and her mother’s.   I too, have in the past, made eye contact and with similar results.   “Tears are what lubricate the soul” is an oft repeated phrase.  Yet, I wonder if this child’s tears can roll far enough to reach her broken soul.   With whispers to her mother self, Barbara hopes and prays those drops go the distance.

The concept of eye-contact is cataract covered in our world today.  We look at screens more than we should.   “Reality T.V.” sometimes convinces us that we know intimacy because we make eye to pixel contact, when the in-to-me-see sitting next to us rarely gets a wink.  Images from hunger torn regions of the planet telescope children staring through the lens to us as we sit eating popcorn.  There just isn’t enough pixel resolution to clone the real thing.

And that’s the thing.  Personally, I have never been that good at eye-contact.  I often get caught counting freckles.  Lips, quivering like earth worms on asphalt after a hard rain, would sway my attention.  Barbara and I will sometimes talk to each other while staring at each others forehead.  It’s a personal joke.  An old friend who seemed to never look us eye to eye, would aim his eyes at the center of our forehead as if we had a third eye.

My Barbara has taught me the importance of making eye-contact.  With our busy, A.D.D. atmosphere which is our home, she often stops me short in the fray…”eye-contact!”   Even when I leave for work and run my finger down her lifeline as she sleeps, she will wake enough to smile and connect our black dots.

There have been poignant moments of connection in with relation to this human element.  One was when a man named Mike DeVroo (name not changed to honor his life) offered me the elements for communion.  His eyes were Paul Newman blue, arresting, and in the moment I felt as if Jesus looked through my eyes and down into my spirit.  That moment I felt as though I got a peek at what the disciples might have experienced at the last supper.

Another moment was when I recently asked my mother a probing question into her brown-black holes.  She was slowing down and personal freedoms had been evaporating over the last couple of years.  Her short term memory was becoming just a stub as well.  I simply asked her how she was feeling about all the changes.   Her pleasant, aged face instantly scrunched, tripling her wrinkle count as she tried to suppress her tears.  “I don’t know why I am still here.”  Because your son still wants to look in those eyes, I thought.  After a pause, something significant exited my mouth to her hearing aids, but I don’t recall what it was.  I was thinking please don’t close your eyes, no, not yet.

A week ago I had to apologize to an adopted son who has his own cracks.  He had made some horrible decisions which sucked all of our attention, as parents, from our “ninety and nine sheep”.  Honestly, I didn’t want to look at him for a while.  This wasn’t what our vision looked like seven years ago when we received him into our home.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been looking you in the eyes lately,” I breathed.  “Now, look at me.”

We held the contact and I said a few other stumbling thoughts.  Then his tears broke out like escaped convicts and sprinted down and jumped from his chin to his pea-coat button.

Why?  Why are the eyes the gateway to the soul, as they say?  Physiologically they are just black holes that suck in light.  They are two of three dots of the ellipses of our existence placed strategically apart to capture the depth of things.  How can they be the instrument of embrace between people across a crowded room?  How can darting pupils in an intense conversation underline the thoughts just behind them?  How can they twinkle like a couple of little stars?  How?

© Gerald Allen Barrett and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.