In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain. For centuries they had been tolerated there, and their labor had helped to build a great country. But King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, anxious to establish their hold over a newly united Spain by means of the Catholic Church and the Inquisition, gave the Jews a stark choice: they must be baptized or flee.
Here in the rural upper Midwest, it seems every other person has a pole barn. Usually it’s full of old tires, a trailer, dozens of tools gathering rust, coffee cans loaded with lug nuts and screws. Ed and Edna’s place is pretty typical. Edna's cupboards, bureaus, garage, attic and spare bedroom have been crammed full of things that define her. (“Oh, you know Edna Furbelow,” says her neighbor, “she collected Hummels.”) Now that Edna has died and her husband’s pole barn has finally gotten emptied, everything must go.
A friend of mine recalls that her mother always sat sideways in her chair during meals. Whether the table was surrounded by family members or invited guests, she was poised for action. She’d jump up if she’d forgotten something in the kitchen, if someone wanted steak sauce rather than the ketchup that was on the table, or if it was time to pass the serving dishes around again. This mom seldom relaxed enough to enjoy the food and conversation.
While making nursing home and hospital calls one day, I visited several people who were on oxygen. A slim green hose ran from a machine to each person’s nostrils, piping in pure air to make his or her breathing easier. In each instance we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together in preparation for Holy Communion, our hands joined and our voices speaking together. I was struck by the strength with which each of these people prayed. Their bodies were weakened in many ways, yet the prayer flowed vigorously from their lips, as if the prayer as well as the oxygen was helping them breathe.
We were at the lake, my daily walking spot. I had brought a friend who needed to talk. Her head was down as if she were searching for meaning, hope and traces of God’s ways in the ruts of the muddy path. My head was down too, in silent solidarity. We walked. Suddenly I missed a familiar pitter-patter—my dog was nowhere to be seen.