020: Turning Grief to Soup and Television

ere’s what I love about our spiritual lives: If our eyes and ears are open, there are guides everywhere — all around us, perhaps like angels, waiting to help us along our paths. We only have to slow down, watch more carefully and listen more attentively. And, if we do — if we truly are mindful of each other — we discover that — surprise! — none of us are exactly angels, but all of us can be spiritual guides.

    These meetings happen all the time! They arrive in the Emails that you send me — like a note last night from award-winning author Thomas Lynch, reminding me that he and his family soon are appearing on the PBS network’s “Frontline” series of documentaries.
    More about that in a moment! (Or, CLICK on the two videos right now to see clips from Frontline. Or, CLICK on the two book covers to read more about these wonderful books!)

    Have you met people in the way I’m describing here? Just this morning, I had another experience like that today. It was as easy as strolling into a big Borders bookstore this morning and receiving a cheery greeting from 65-year-old Joan Zubl, who actually said these words to me: “This is a good day, isn’t it? We’re above ground, standing upright and we’re moving around and that’s something to be thankful for.”

    And, of course, the spiritual connection there between an email conversation with Thomas Lynch — a funeral director who now is world famous as the author of “The Undertaking” — and this in-person conversation with Joan Zubl that started with the phrase, “We’re above ground, standing upright …” — well, within moments, I was talking with Joan about end-of-life issues.
    And, Joan was sharing with me her all-time favorite book about grief.
    Was that word “favorite” jarring to you? Sorry.
    But, we are determined here at ReadTheSpirit to help Americans RE-think the way they regard aging, dying and grief. These are such dark secrets in our culture that they’ve become the Bogeymen in Baby Boomers’ closets — when, in fact, as a population we’re all aging. We desperately need guides like Tom Lynch and Joan Zubl — and maybe you, too, as you read this story today and share it with a friend.
    We need to turn these dark secrets into sacred mysteries that we treasure.

    We need to see the spiritual Gifts in all of this.
    “Oh, then you MUST tell people about this book, ‘Tear Soup’!” Joan told me, the moment I mentioned our ReadTheSpirit project. “I lost my husband in April and then I discovered this book and, since then, I’ve shared it with my son who’s 43 and we both just love the book. It looks like it’s a book for children, but it’s not just for children. It’s not!”
    I was convinced already, but Joan’s eyes were searching my face, making sure that her enthusiasm had registered and that I would seek out this delightful picture book about an elderly woman, who has suffered a loss — but has a spiritual gift for cooking an ever-changing dish that she calls Tear Soup.

    “Having just had a loss myself in the last six months, I can tell you that ‘Tear Soup’ covers every stage you go through,” Joan said. “This is how the path goes. Some days you need a great big bowl of Tear Soup; and some days you need just a cup of it. Sometimes you put in certain ingredients; sometimes others.
    “The book tells the story of this woman, an older woman, who has had a big loss, but it’s not specific about the loss, so it can fit a lot of situations. But she knows how to make this special soup and that’s the heart of the story,” Joan said.
    I told Joan how much I enjoy books that supposedly are “children’s books.”
     She said, “You’re right. It’s a shame that people miss so many good books because they think they’re for children.” She thought a moment, then added, “So, when you write about this book, ‘Tear Soup,’ make sure to tell people that it is good to read with children. They will get the story on one level. But it’s also good for people at any age.”
    I told her, “I will.”
    And, now, I have.

    But, back to Thomas Lynch for a moment, whose books, including his wonderfully thoughtful and playful poetry, are clearly aimed at adults.
    Tom’s a poet at heart. And, like many American poets, he’s better known overseas than he is the United States. For the past two weeks, you’ve been reading a series of my articles here in ReadTheSpirit, but I’ve actually been in Scotland on a Celtic pilgrimage that I’m going to tell you about in a five-part story next week.
    Sitting across a long oak dinner table at Iona Abbey on a tiny island off the coast of Scotland, I was chatting with a half dozen pilgrims from the UK. We started talking about my home base in Michigan, great writers and Tom’s name came up.
    Eyes widened across the table from me. “You know Thomas Lynch, the poet?”
    “Yes,” I said. “You know his work?”
    A woman from Fornby near Liverpool said, “Oh, he’s the great poet, then, isn’t he?”
    Well, yes, even though he may not be a household name across America, he is, indeed. And, even his memoir, “The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade,” which presents itself as prose, actually is beautiful poetry as well.
    If you haven’t watched the two video clips with this article, please do so. You’ll hear Tom’s voice and think about the phrases you hear that sound like poetry. They’re taken from “The Undertaking.” Tom has shortened up some passages in the book for the documentary so that they roll like music as he talks about confronting death as a natural part of life — and making it, really, an important part of the fabric of community.
    So, please — consider picking up a copy of Tom’s book or “Tear Soup.” Click on the covers and you’ll jump to our Amazon store where you can do that. “Tear Soup” is great for all ages. Tom’s book is geared for those of us who are adult enough to look at the broad spiritual tapestry of life with all of its sometimes embarrassing moments that make for grand storytelling.

    Come back Friday for a look at Women’s Spiritual Voices from Around the World, which is one last piece you won’t want to miss in our special emphasis this week on Women and Prayer.

    Then — remember to tell a friend about the
five-day series, “Celtic Pilgrimage to Iona,” which starts this coming Monday, October 22!

    The documentary about Tom and his family airs Tuesday, October 30, 2007, at 9 p.m. on PBS — but, as they always say at PBS, make sure to check “local listings,” because some stations across the U.S. delay broadcasts.

    Please tell us what you think. Share any ideas or suggestions! Click Here to email me, David Crumm, or leave a Comment for other readers on our site. 

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