Monday, December 7, 2009

Aggie's sky




I got lost in the middle of nowhere, Minnesota, on my way to Aggie's wake 2 years ago this month.

I think Aggie meant for that to happen. In the midst of my disorientation, I had to stop to get my bearings, and when I looked up I got something even better -- this photo. The view stopped me short. I had to exit my car and watch this stunning moment of the sun setting against rippled clouds and a blue snow-blanked field.

No doubt about it, Aggie was a force of nature. Which is why I like to think of this image as "Aggie's sky."

It's taken me till now to be able to write about her.

She paid me the briefest of visits on the day she flew away. (I love that phrase, flew away, blatantly lifted from Steven at The Golden Fish.) It was not the kind of visit where you sit down for tea and chat. More like a visitation.

I was on my way home from work on a chilly Friday, tucked away in the back corner of a bus, book in hand. For reasons I'll explain some day, I was reading about the Rule of Saint Benedict, a guide for living in a monastic community, written some 1,500 years ago. One of St. Benedict's precepts was that any visitor to a monastery should be greeted with abundant hospitality, including a kiss on the cheek.

Upon reading that passage, I had an extraordinary and vivid image of how when I announced my arrival at Clare's Well Retreat Farm by shouting "I'm home!" Sister Agnes Soenneker, a Franciscan nun, would sweep me into an embrace and plant a kiss on my cheek. And thus would begin a weekend of joy, solitude, renewal, and abundant hospitality.

Aggie was a gifted massage therapist, who began each session of bodywork with a prayer, and finished it with a blessing. She was a healer, someone who could read a person's body and know just what was needed. A Lakota man named Basil Braveheart befriended Aggie years ago, and Basil was convinced that Aggie was a Medicine Woman. I couldn't agree more. To be sure, Aggie was instrumental in my own healing after the Year of the Sledgehammer.

But I digress.

On the bus ride home 2 years ago, that delightful image of Aggie greeting reminded me that I'd be visiting Clare's Well in 3 weeks. And that was that.

Until the next morning, when I got a phone call, the kind bearing sad tidings. The voice on the line was that of Roxanne Wagner, a lay massage therapist who also works at Clare's Well and was Aggie's dear friend and colleague.

"I have some sad news," Roxanne said. "Aggie died yesterday. She was in the kitchen, cooking. And apparently she had a heart attack."

It seems Aggie, 68, a farm girl who became a nun and a nurse, who spoke two languages fluently, who worked wonders with her hands, trekked every year deep into the wilds of Nicaragua, riding in packed and bumpy buses, slogging through mud, and floating down rivers in rugged dugouts so she could get to remote villages to offer her services, who was arrested and jailed once for protesting the institutionalized teaching of torture, this Aggie had a bad heart. An irregular rhythm embedded in a mighty but imperfect heart.

She died in the midst of serving others, preparing a meal for guests at Clare's Well, a place she helped found. She died with a wooden spoon in her hand.

Aggie's funeral was held in the beautiful chapel at the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls. Following a Catholic mass, Basil Braveheart led a Lakota ceremony that included drumming and singing. Aggie believed the sound of drumming was the heartbeat of the earth, and she had long ago requested that the procession to her gravesite be led by such drumming. And so it was.

When her body was lowered into the ground, it was accompanied by drumming and by the sweet and melancholy sound of a Native American flute played by Aggie's best friend since high school, Carol, another Franciscan sister. The sounds of the drums and flute grew quieter and softer until Aggie's body reached its final resting place. And then silence reigned.

The cold December wind blew bits of snow and detritus around us as we stood in disbelief, sadness, and fleeting feelings of abandonment. Nuns just aren't supposed to die that young. They live into their 80s and 90s and beyond. Aggie had years left, years to dig in her organic garden, ply her trade, do good work in central America -- and fail to hide the mischievous side evident in the twinkle of her smiling blue eyes.

Her death was a ragged lesson in humility. A reminder that things happen in God's time, not our own. And it's been a hard lesson for all of us who loved Aggie and were loved by her.

As it turns out, my visit from Aggie happened within hours after her heart stopped beating and she flew away. Lucky for me, I caught a kiss goodbye on her flight path.
......

We got our first big snow fall of the year today in Minneapolis, and the whiteness is blowing and drifting outside. So beautiful. It seemed like a good day to look at Aggie's sky and tell this story.

(And Aggie, if you're listening, love the snow, but I'd still like you to pay a  visit!)

41 comments:

Pyzahn said...

So sorry about your friend, but that was really a lovely read.

willow said...

Lovely tribute to Aggie. I'm sure she must have had something to do with giving you the gift of that glorious sky.

Gaston Studio said...

Wonderful tribute to someone who devoted her life to serving others. How grand that you knew her and can still feel her presence.

Derrick said...

Hi Kathleen,

Beautiful sky for a beautiful person. You are fortunate to have met.

jinksy said...

That was a very moving story bout someone who was obviously a lovely person...it takes one to know one, they say...

ellen abbott said...

Oh my god, what a beautiful sky! How glorious.

I guess her work was done and she was needed elsewhere. How lovely that she kissed you on her way.

J said...

That sky is incredible (I'm amazed by the colour catching in the clouds) and so is your tale.

Hilary said...

A beautiful story to match that wonderful sky. I'm sorry you lost Aggie. I'm glad you shared this tale.

Nessa said...

Beautiful tribute. Gorgeous sky.

Silly Haiku

Renee said...

Oh darling, that is beautiful.

You have made Aggie come alive for me. Just as beautiful as the sky I now see Aggie as even more beautiful.

Love Renee xoxoxo

Kathleen said...

@Pyzahn: Thank you, dearest! I just connectivity back!! w00t! I'll be in touch!

Kathleen said...

@Willow: Thanks for that! I feel sure myself, as crazy as it sounds!

Kathleen said...

@Jane: Oh, yes indeed. It is a grand thing. Some day I'll write about my my first visit back after Aggie flew away. It's has a funny little twist!

Kathleen said...

@Derrick: Yes, so so fortunate. And to know you, my friend!

Kathleen said...

@Jinksy: You are very very kind. She always a little mischief in her eyes, which I can relate to!

Kathleen said...

@Ellen: Truly, one of the most beautiful winter sunsets I've seen! Thank you. And yes, so amazing that I was on the flight path!

Kathleen said...

@J: I love that the picture captured your amazement. Now just imagine it below freezing, having no idea where you are, and seeing that lovely sight! Such a gift.

Kathleen said...

@Hilary: Thank you, dear one. I wish I could have polished up the story a bit, but it just needed to be told. I appreciate you reading it.

Kathleen said...

@Nessa: Thank you. Sometime you must tell me how you're able to add the hyperink to your post, clever one!

Kathleen said...

@Renee: What a lovely comment. Thank you so much. I just know Aggie would have LOVED you.

Janie said...

Wonderful tribute to a special lady. That sky could well be her farewell kiss.

ladyfi said...

A lovely tribute. And that spectacular sky is surely touched with a divine spirit!

Dianne said...

I've always believed that humans contain so much energy that it must be released into the universe

clearly Aggie's energy was majestic

congrats on POTW

Cricket said...

Those we have loved do not pass away, they pass within to live somewhere near your heart. A beautiful sky and a moving post.

Land of shimp said...

I came here via Hilary's blog, and am so glad that I did. What a beautiful, moving post. You brought tears to my eyes.

Thank you for writing about your friend, Aggie, and for sharing a bit of her spirit with us all.

Mental P Mama said...

What a beautiful shot. And an even more beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman. Congrats on POTW.

Cabo said...

That was so very endearing. The photograph is perfect. :)

ds said...

Wrenchingly beautiful. You remind me of my own "Aggie"--a very dear friend who died at the same time. Thank you. Her sky is glorious.

gaelikaa said...

It's a sad post, but beautiful, triumphant and hopeful too. Well done.

Congrats on POTW mention!

Kathleen said...

@Janie: Beautifully put! Like I said, she was a force of nature, no doubt about it.

Kathleen said...

@ladyfi: I love that image of the sky "touched with divine spirit." I only we can open our yes long enough to see it all around us all the time. I usually have to be stopped in my tracks . . . but not always. Thanks for the visit!

Kathleen said...

@Dianne: Boy, you sure nailed it! May I quote you sometime in my blog. That is so beautifully stated!!! Thank you so much for honoring Aggie!

Kathleen said...

@Cricket: What a beautiful thought. I love the idea of them passing within and resting close to my heart. I think some part of them does that, and some part expands to fill luminous part of the world. I'd love to quote you sometime in my blog. May I have your permission?

Kathleen said...

@Land of Shrimp: Thank you so much for your visit! Delightful to have you here. And thank you also for your kind words. I hope the tears were gentle to you. I know I needed to wait till they were for me before I could write about Aggie. Your empathy honors her-and you don't even know her. I find that remarkable.

Kathleen said...

@Mental P Mama: Lovely to have you visit. Thank you so much for reading my little story. It's so good to be able to share about the wonder that is Aggie. Blessings.

Kathleen said...

@ds: Oh my goodness, you lost an Aggie, too. We are kindred spirits, then. I'm so grateful for your visit and your comment. May you be gentle with your grief during this time of the year that is full of movement and purpose when those of us who are remembering seek solace and quiet. Blessings.

Kathleen said...

@Cabo: What a lovely comment. Thank you so much. Having visited your blog, I'm delighted to make the acquaintance of a very fine storyteller. Blessings

Kathleen said...

@gaelikaa: Thank you! I really appreciate your visit and the kind words. I was glad I could finally show the sky she showed me!
Fondly,
Kathleen

Lazy Husky Ranch said...

I've been so worried about you, and here you were just introspective. Understood :-)

diane said...

beautiful sky and story.....

Cricket said...

Hi Kathleen - Oops. I didn't realize you replied to this comment. So many blogs, so little time. Anyway, to answer your question, quote away, if you have the desire. That's fine.

I do think the idea of our loved ones passing within has something to do with the idea of eternal life. I suppose it is something elusive, yet I believe it all the same.

Respectfully Yours,

Cricket

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