Mom and I left Dad at the kitchen table half-dressed, his suspenders dragging to the floor, to have his breakfast of Quaker granola (hardly sugar free, but he doesn’t care anymore) and to finish buttoning his white Sunday shirt. Always a suit and tie man, he has given up on ties, or rather on his shoulders, which he cannot raise to fold down his shirt collar, and on the collar button that cannot find the button hole under command of his trembling fingers. We found him in pretty much the same state an hour later after choir practice, with ten minutes to get him ready for church. “I’m slow, aren’t I?” he said to me with a grin. “I know it. I’m like a tortoise.” Mom and I exhaled exasperated sighs. “I’m slow but I’m steady.” And that he is. Steady in his love and acceptance and absence of judgment and discerning intellect and in his love of chocolate chips. I rushed outside to sweep the snow off the faithful Suburban, to shovel and salt the driveway, and to turn the car on and turn up the heat setting and the fan, all in time for Mom and Dad to hop in, or rather to creep up and in. The church meetinghouse is just around the corner, but we insist on seatbelts, even though Dad’s seatbelt clasp cannot find its latch for his stiffened hands and shoulders and back, and in frustration he let out an “Oh, for cripes’ sake!” which I have learned is a euphemism for “Oh, for Christ’s sake,” which I will not tell Dad, for he loves and reveres Jesus Christ, his Redeemer, his Savior, and has spent his life in Christ’s service, and he would never in a century take his dear Lord’s name in vain. I stood by his car door, knowing not to shut the door for him, but merely close it to the mid-point so he could reach out and shut it himself. In the men’s priesthood class after sacrament services, an ancient welcoming sympathetic man gestured Dad to a chair next to him. I could tell that the chair looked a long way down as Dad turned to point his backside to the chair and joked to his friend, “Point and fall, Brother, point and fall.” Having pointed, he allowed himself to fall into place, where he enjoyed the group’s discussion about exercising our particles of faith.
Mom announced it was time to bring in the pine wreaths and Christmas lights. Being the second week of January, I suppose she was right. The temperature dropped quickly as the sun dipped behind the Oquirrh mountains, and I got to work. I gently pulled the light strings off the bushes and rolled them into balls. Dad and I had wrapped each plug in black electrical wire. He was quite proud that the lights did not short out even once in six weeks of rain and melting snow. Now, I unwrapped the brittle black tape and rolled the strings into balls, stowing them in the light tote, consigned to the basement until next November. Coiling the extension cords came next. As I worked in a race with the fading daylight and growing cold, my angers and jealousies and heartaches crowded in upon my mind, shouting their false and hostile narratives. I did not feel strong enough to change my self-talk, and shifted tactics. I begin to sing, standing there on the busy street corner coiling lights. Not just any song, but a song that could chase away my dark thoughts and replace them with light and tenderness. I sang the beloved children’s primary song, I’m Trying To Be Like Jesus. I know only the first verse, so sang it again and again and again, shutting out the dark voices. I was able to finish my chores and enter the house with a smile. Here are the lyrics:
I’m trying to be like Jesus. I’m following in his ways.
I’m trying to do as he did in all that I do and say.
At times I am tempted to make a wrong choice,
But I try to listen as the still small voice whispers:
Love one another as Jesus loves you;
Try to show kindness in all that you do;
Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,
For these are the things Jesus taught.
Rarely do I write religious poems, thinking myself unequal to the sacred task. Today, however, during a contemplative moment, images of our Lord suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, pushed upon my mind, through my fingertips, to form this poem. I feel that I don’t know Jesus well, but I do believe that I understand something of his purpose for us, that is, to create us anew in his image, through his Atonement, into beings of light, goodness, kindness, empathy, understanding, generosity, forgiveness, and truth. He whispers to us every moment of every day, helping us to change, oh so imperceptibly, incrementally, to become more like him. His end is our eternal happiness.
IN THE GARDEN
drops of blood,
fall, to spatter
on the rocks,
the sand, the soil,
running on the exposed roots
of an ancient olive tree,
in the darkness,
choked whispers and sobs