Open Wide

by NotDownOrOut

All Are Welcome

All Are Welcome

Years ago one of my students told me that she had described me to her mother as the smiling-faced alien who emerged after her spaceship had landed and said to the denizens of this planet, “All are welcome. All are welcome.”

I remember blinking a few times as I tried to figure out whether this was a compliment or a criticism. It certainly was a mixed metaphor. I like the notion that I welcome folks and put them at ease, but the alien spaceship has several possible interpretations. There is, of course, the image of a trusting Richard Dreyfuss taking the hand of a stranger and walking into the spaceship at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There the aliens are benign creatures who have, if memory serves, collected and then returned countless folks who traversed a sort of Bermuda Triangle one century without aging. I like the image of the alien in Cocoon. Brian Dennehy was the right blend of affable and inscrutable as he welcomed our aging citizens on a voyage that would rejuvenate and repurpose them.

Then there is the image of the merciless alien attack in response to our musical overtures in Independence Day. That feel good film about whoopin’ “E.T.’s ass” always makes me think of my bird house in which the open wide front door is represented as the maw of a cat (pictured above).

If you have ever seen a cat play with its food then you know that canned cat food must be the equivalent of what rolls on the grill at the convenience store at about 2 a.m. The cat has so much more fun with living prey. You watch the “menu” disappear inside the cat’s mouth and then emerge dazed and damp. The cat will bat it around and pounce upon it a time or two. This part always makes me think about how we blindfold and spin around children at birthday parties right before we set them upon an unsuspecting picture of a donkey or a piñata. What looks like fun can be disorienting for someone enlisted into play by “friends” who enjoy another’s vulnerability.

Why is it impolite to play with one’s food? Is that rudeness perceived by the cook or the meal? I digress. I do not think my former student would compare me with such a violent image.

My student’s description of me certainly was a mixed metaphor. The line “All are welcome. All are welcome.” actually comes from a movie about spirits from another plain rather than aliens from a spaceship. In the movie Poltergeist the medium Tangina Barrons separates the spirits who have died but not “passed over” from the Beast by urging them to walk into the Light. She says:

Cross over children. All are welcome. All welcome. Go into the Light. There is peace and serenity in the Light.

We got word this week that our family is about to lose another member. My Grandma Babe’s dear cousin Marge (called Gick by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren) has this week moved from her home to hospital and now to hospice. It is not cancer that will take her. Gick has lived well into her nineties and will die naturally. And she is ready. This is what her son wrote to us:

Mom wants the end to come right now, so we tried to explain that God has a different plan, so we just have to “let nature take its course” as the Hospice social worker says.    Mom asked the lady if she was going to live.   The lady said “Yes”.   Mom said “Damn it!”   …..   I think she is ready.

After spending April following stories of terrorism, police pelted with pipe bombs, shoot-outs, ricin-laced envelopes sent through innocent hands of innocent postal workers to our political leaders, explosions at fertilizer plants, violent weather, and deaths by cancer (like the death of my Aunt Arlene and the impending death of Handsome Husband in the blog happilyhomeless2@wordpress.com), I was prepared to take this news about Gick hard, but I am greatly comforted by the thought of a long life ending peacefully in a room surrounded by people who love her through her death into a new life in the Light.

When Gick’s sister Mary died, Mary was in the doctor’s office for a check-up. She simply looked up in the corner of the room and raised her hand. She said, “God, take me,” and was gone. I like that image.

In 1996 my friend Ivanka gave me a book by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring (HarperSanFrancisco 1985). At the time I was caring for Grandma Babe, Mary and Gick’s cousin. Ivanka wrote inside the book that she selected it with the assistance of a nun who said that Cardinal Bernadin was using the book to prepare for his own death. I read passages from that book whenever I am troubled by the concept of death. In the chapter on caring for the dying the author speaks with Rodleigh, one of the Flying Rodleighs, a circus troupe’s trapeze artist act from Freiburg, Germany. Rodleigh told the author of his experience as a flyer and his great trust in Joe, his catcher. The author of the book sees the moment of the catch as a metaphor for crossing over. Today I read this for comfort:

Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, “Don’t be afraid. Remember that you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump. Don’t try to grab him; he will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and trust, trust, trust.”

I like that image, too.

I don’t have any albums by the rock group Creed, but I once saw Chicago resident Marty Casey perform the song With Arms Wide Open on Rockstar INXS www.youtube.com/watch?v=GycLCjVXSSE. The lyrics suggest it might be about a couple starting a family, but it could just as easily be about the reuniting of family in the Light.

“With Arms Wide Open”

Well I just heard the news today
It seems my life is going to change
I close my eyes, begin to pray
Then tears of joy stream down my face

With arms wide open
Under the sunlight
Welcome to this place
I’ll show you everything
With arms wide open
With arms wide open

Well I don’t know if I’m ready
To be the man I have to be
I’ll take a breath, I’ll take her by my side
We stand in awe, we’ve created life

With arms wide open
Under the sunlight
Welcome to this place
I’ll show you everything
With arms wide open
Now everything has changed
I’ll show you love
I’ll show you everything

With arms wide open
With arms wide open
I’ll show you everything …oh yeah
With arms wide open..wide open

[Guitar Break]

If I had just one wish
Only one demand
I hope he’s not like me
I hope he understands
That he can take this life
And hold it by the hand
And he can greet the world
With arms wide open…

With arms wide open
Under the sunlight
Welcome to this place
I’ll show you everything
With arms wide open
Now everything has changed
I’ll show you love
I’ll show you everything
With arms wide open
With arms wide open

I’ll show you everything..oh yeah
With arms wide open….wide open

Anytime we undertake a strange journey with arms wide open and meet a welcome that speaks of homecoming there will be happy tears in addition to the sad ones.  I pray that, when the time comes, I can extend toward the catcher my hand open wide and trust, trust, trust.