Votary in Miramar

WBR_LetGoOrBeDragged_v3Egyptian mythology says that if we follow the direction of the sun, we will heal our hearts.  I first learned this in Michigan, the halfway point of the driving-around-the-United States road trip. I knew heading east before heading west was the right choice, but I didn’t know why until then.

I do not have to tell you that I miss you or even how it still manifests itself every day. You watched as I jumped off that pendulum of emotions — dying and love; anguish and hope; fear and excitement — ready to live again despite your absence.  That pattern of feelings waged battle after battle, and it’s only now that I can see how you never left my side, not even a little.

You were the only one who knew how broken I was when I set out over a year ago, and you’ve been the only one who has understood how I’ve struggled to let go, let go, let go, let go. Starting over felt like agreeing to forget, so I came here to Miramar Beach, the end of where I’d meant to begin, to say goodbye once more to you and to my still wounded self, to the regret I hold in my heart superseded only by what I learned from loving you.

~  ~  ~

You know how I dream, and two nights ago I had another. I was driving a Jeep, not your burgundy color but a light, feminine gold. There really wasn’t enough room for all the people I’d offered to give a ride, but that didn’t stop me from continuing to invite more and more people to hop into the truck. As each new person’s weight settled in, the floor of the Jeep dropped closer and closer to the ground. I ignored it, pretended I wasn’t worried that I might break down, blindly driving in spite of the too heavy load.

The next scene was this same group of people but now we were returning from wherever it was that we’d come, again with too much weight. Because I was the driver and the last one to get in, I could see clearly how this excessive bulk could damage the truck. In fact, I don’t know how it didn’t damage it on the way to the first location. But I didn’t want to ask anyone to wait behind since I’d encouraged them to come along. It wasn’t far into the trip when I felt the tire go flat. I stopped so people could get out of the Jeep to fix it and that’s when I saw that it wasn’t one flat tire, but that all four were deflated. I’d been driving on three flat tires when the last wheel gave out.

After everything was fixed, after all four tires were inflated, everyone started to climb back in, each person’s weight once again putting too much pressure on the frame. I was standing outside of the vehicle, shaking my head. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but if I didn’t speak up, I risked permanently damaging not only the frames of the wheels but the entire structure of the Jeep.

In the last scene, I arrived at a house and saw a man who was familiar and knew that if I were willing to feign interest, I wouldn’t have to continue being alone. Out loud I said, “I could close my eyes and pretend it was you,” because even in my dream state, you were still dead. I did close my eyes and when I finally woke in the light of reality, I was shaking my head, No.

You have my love forever which did not end with your death, but today and always, I promise these things:

  • to let go
  • to never settle
  • to finish

Votary in Miramar.

~    ~    ~

Allan William Hook, September 3, 2013:  Votary of Nature by Thomas Say

Votary of nature even from a child

he sought her presence

in the trackless wild

To him the shell, the insect, and the flower,

were bright and cherished emblems

of her power

In her he saw a spirit all divine

and worshiped like a pilgrim

at her shrine

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Everything I Own

L-R: Hook's siblings, Walter and Claire then Allan with the big smile. Looking at his get-up, I'm going to guess 1955 maybe '56.

L-R: Hook’s siblings, Walter and Claire then Allan with the big smile. Looking at his get-up, I’m going to guess 1955 maybe ’56.

When I woke up this morning, it was still dark.  I looked at my phone wondering if it would read 2:10 in the morning.  Nope, 4:52.  Somehow this was the pass I was subconsciously hoping to receive: That I wouldn’t automatically awaken at the time of his death every September 3rd.

Before falling asleep last night, I decided that I needed today to be one of commemoration not of foreboding.  I donned my orange Hook Donor t-shirt in the hopes that people on the beach would ask, What is a Hook Donor? so I could brag on my husband and our endowment.  And that strategy may have worked if I hadn’t gotten so caught up in my shell collecting that I had to use part of my shirt as a cup-like vessel to haul back my beach goodies. Stretching and bending, I was in a race to beat the first sweltering rays before they escaped the clouds and landed on my unprotected face.

This, I thought, will be my yearly dedication to Hook — a northerly walk along an oceanfront – to honor not the miracle of witnessing his death, but one of the times he briefly returned to me in a dream, communicating without words at the water’s edge, where I could always go to find him.  Then, it was Port Aransas on the Texas coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, which spills out into the Caribbean Sea and onward into the North Atlantic Ocean.

On the 1st anniversary, I stood looking out toward the Indian Ocean whispering these words:

Waterman's Bay in Perth, Western Australia ... the rock cove where a portion of Hook's ashes were spread.

CLICK to enlarge: Waterman’s Bay in Perth, Western Australia … the rock cove where a portion of Hook’s ashes were spread.

Votary of nature* even from a child,
he sought her presence in the trackless wild

To him the shell, the insect, and the flower,
were bright and cherished emblems
of her power

In her he saw a spirit all divine,
and worshipped like a pilgrim
at her shrine

(*Votary of Nature by Thomas Say)

My whole life, I will never tire of reciting this ode to my husband, but there are three things I have learned in the last seven days:

  • Music by Bread is not to be listened to on a regular basis.
  • There is beauty to be found in the broken pieces of shells hidden deep in the sand.
  • Kitty Hawk was not home to the Wright Brothers; it was only where they learned how to fly.

~    ~    ~

A friend loaned me a book in 2003 called Beachcoming at Miramar: The Quest for an Authentic Life.  The author, Richard Bode, took the bold step of leaving “the real world” in exchange for the freedom to walk the sand at Miramar in northern California for a year.  Bode died eight years later but not before he’d completed his quest:  To heal and re-engage his own life.

~    ~    ~

A week ago, I stumbled across a song that I am oh so very glad I did not hear two years ago.  As music often does, these lyrics tugged at tender places, and my plan for this anniversary was simply to post this song and nothing more.  That’s how wretched the heartache was from listening to it.  But the words describe Allan and me and where I am today, so perfectly, that I felt you deserved to cry, too:

Everything I Own by Bread (Click to hear)

You sheltered me from harm
Kept me warm, kept me warm
You gave my life to me
Set me free, set me free
The finest years I ever knew
Were all the years I had with you

And I would give anything I own
Give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again 

You taught me how to love
What it’s of, what it’s of
You never said too much
But still you showed the way
And I knew from watching you

Nobody else could ever know
The part of me that can’t let go

Is there someone you know
You’re loving them so
But taking them all for granted
You may lose them one day
Someone takes them away
And they don’t hear the words you long to say

~    ~    ~

In the future when September 3rd rolls around, I will not fret when melancholy sets in nor try to push back the sadness.  I will be grateful for what I have, not what I do not; and I will mourn a man so worthy of my tears.

Today, I am open and thankful and yes, a little disjointed in my thoughts. I am those jagged edges of the broken shells I keep collecting.  But I know that if I stay long enough by the water, I too will be smoothed over by the ocean.

~    ~    ~

When the Wright Brothers came to Kitty Hawk in 1900 to test their dreams of flying, they failed so often that people forgot they were even here.  It ended up being four miles south in what today is known as Kill Devil Hills where the brothers made their first successful “powered” flight.  But none of that matters because the Outer Banks was never home for Orville and Wilbur.  When they had done what they had come to do, they left North Carolina and returned to their family and friends, just as I will do when I learn how to fly.

Until then, I honor Allan William Hook, September 3rd 2013.


The colorful beauty of broken pieces.

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Votary of Nature


CLICK to hear The Band sing The Weight

A lack of time continues to creep up on me and this is a now or never post so I hope it ends up making sense.  In my last blog, I said I’d be writing about God and religion with the caveat that there would be no preaching, soapboxes, or soul saving. 

Given the enormity of these topics and the limited discussion of them with Hook, I wanted to share because you’ve been with us on this journey from the beginning.  You’re as much a part of this story as we are, at least that’s how it’s felt to me.

What is Votary of Nature?

Votary of Nature, in addition to being the title of this blog, is also the beginning of a haunting poem Hook chose to have read at our wedding.  (I chose Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 — not a predictable reading for a wedding either but not as evocative as Hook’s choice.)  As beautiful as I found the poem, I didn’t completely understand the honor of the words written at least not until these past couple of months.  Votary of Nature was etched on the tombstone of Thomas Say, an American Naturalist, considered the father of entomology in North America.   I’m not sure if Say wrote the poem or if it was written for him but it goes like this:

Votary of nature even from a child,
he sought her presence in the trackless wild

To him the shell, the insect, and the flower,
were bright and cherished emblems
of her power

In her he saw a spirit all divine,
and worshipped like a pilgrim
at her shrine

Before Votary of Nature

It was not an easy decision for me to marry a non-Catholic, someone I used to joke was a closet atheist but is probably more an out-of-the-closet agnostic.  But if labels and categories were based on how a person acts, then by most behavioral requirements of common religions, Hook would be considered a Christian.

I take my Catholicism seriously or as seriously as a consistent sinner like me can.  I am as drawn to my religious beliefs as I am frustrated by the organization of them.  I’ve been baptized, made my first communion, been confirmed all in the Catholic Church.  Although I do not always agree with the man-made hurdles of religions in general, I appreciate the desire for structure, the insistence of practicing the faith.  Some traditions I honor without thought, others begrudgingly so; regardless, I believe. I choose to believe without all the hard data.  But, I do not believe that anyone who is not of the Catholic persuasion or has never been baptized, communioned, confirmed, wetted down with holy water, ashed on the forehead with black smoot, or has stuck a wafer to the roof of their mouth to chew on later, said ten Hail Marys and five Our Fathers, is any less likely to make their way into heaven than someone like me.  I need the ashes and the water and the wafers.  I need all the help I can get.

Forget what a man says and watch what he does.

Have you ever heard this saying before?  I’ve attributed this quote to my father, Lou, but I’ve always wondered if someone famous said it first.  Doesn’t it seem too obvious, too of course, for some philosopher not to have graced an audience with these words centuries before?  This saying stuck with me the entire time I was dating Allan.  It has been the perfect barometer for measuring the sincerity of a person, and it was with this benchmark of words that I watched what Allan did and forgot what he said.  Choosing to marry Hook was easy.  He may not have professed an allegiance to any religion (or even if God exists at all), but what he calls himself or how he has spent his Sunday mornings has been significantly less important than how he has treated others, how he has treated me. 

Until May of this year, I bowed to this wisdom.  Then Allan became terminal and I temporarily lost my mind.

Hook the Scientist

Organized religion and God and all the history and feeling that are wrapped up in these words are not topics even the best of friends might discuss.  They’re not subjects I’ve completely reconciled with myself as an individual let alone as a wife.  For the last 90 days, religion has been a trapped, solitary wasp in the Hook house, flying overhead, demanding to be released.   Once the final diagnosis of two to three months was made, I got scared for Hook thinking he was going to die never admitting that God might exist.  It wasn’t that Hook said, ‘God doesn’t exist.’  His position has been that he doesn’t know what, if anything, exists outside of what has been proven by data — the stance of a true scientist.  Something may or may not be — what does the research show?

Then several months ago, two of our loved ones, one on Hook’s side of the family and one on mine, coincidentally gifted us the same book, Proof of Heaven.  (A third person tried to loan the exact book just last week and I quietly declined.)  It was written by a scientist who professed a belief only in that which could be studied and validated with data.  The author, an M.D., had a near death experience and as a result wanted to share with the world that science alone cannot explain the mysteries of the universe.  That’s the short version. 

Out of concern for Hook, our loved ones wanted him to read this book.  For weeks, I pestered him about reading the book, placing one of them on his nightstand while the other sat on mine.  Sometimes he would pick up the book and pretend to read, but I knew it wasn’t something that held his interest.  With all that must have been going through his mind and all that he had to bear, Hook said nothing as I tried to shove religion and spirituality and a higher power down his throat. These were not the actions of someone who was supposed to love and care for him through his last days. But I was afraid.  I was afraid that somehow I was letting him down or letting God down or letting myself down, because I believed I was now tasked with getting Hook to acknowledge Jesus Christ while he was still lucid enough to do so. 

I honestly do not know what I thought would happen.  Except, asking Hook to read a book like that or reading it to him would be the closest thing to torture I could ever inflict on my entomologist.   I struggled with what to do:  Read, don’t read; Ask him to read, leave him alone.

When I found myself in that scared straight place of thinking I was failing badly as a fake Catholic wife (because let’s be honest – what could God have possibly been thinking to pair Hook with such a demented disciple like me?), I turned to the one place that holds comfort and wisdom for me, the one place that regardless of my rebellious religion misgivings, I still trust:  the Church.  I spilled my anguish out to a priest and asked for guidance on how to resolve the, Save Hook’s Soul dilemma.   This is the response I received via email:

If Hook is as close to nature as I think he is, then he has experienced more of God’s tiny glories than you and I ever will. Don’t worry about his “professing it”. Our God – the God of Jesus – does not require confession. He only asks love of us. Did Hook love? Then he has known the God of love, the God of Jesus Christ.

What Hook clearly doesn’t believe in is the “god” that has been presented to him by religion in this day and age. And that’s not his fault or my fault or your fault. It just is. But it’s got nothing to do with his salvation or with his being welcomed into the arms of the One who made him, along with the rest of the amazing creation that Hook has spent his life crawling around in.

Job 12:7-10. “Now ask the beasts to teach you, and the birds to tell you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of God has done this?…”

Hook has had some very good teachers about the hand of God. Who are we to say that he has not been listening?

Hook the Man

Reading the priest’s response brought on waves of gut-wrenching tears while at the same time lifting an enormous burden from my heart.  I was asking my husband to be inauthentic about who he was, has always been.  I was asking him to say words he did not mean, to announce something he did not believe.   But even all of that is not what snapped me back to a place of reasonableness and sanity and acceptance.  My reaction to the priest’s response was, in addition to relief, that of shame because in my overwhelming fear, I’d dismissed some validated data about my husband:

To say that Hook is a kind man is to remark that the sky is blue.  It is obvious, consistent, natural.  It’s not something he thinks about or has to focus effort to do.  It’s a way of being for him.  But his kindness goes deeper than that.  He’s a man who never seems to hold a grudge.  When he’s been wronged, he shrugs it off.  When he gets frustrated or ornery, his annoyance comes not from the person he’s interacting with but is born from the desire to do the right thing.  He is loyal, too, even when it’s obvious another may not be, even then he does not sacrifice that person or the relationship.

This doesn’t mean Hook is perfect.  He is not.  Oh boy, Hook is so not perfect.  Still, he’s inclusive rather than exclusive of those different than him even when he doesn’t understand them.  He’s a man who takes care with children and the elderly (I’m not making this up) treating both with a tenderness that seems to take others by surprise.  Allan is a man who is almost incapable of telling a lie.  He can tell small ones like saying that he wants to do something with me when really, he’d rather poke his own eyes out.  But if he fibs, he will eventually tell on himself with an indignant, “I can’t lie.  I’m an Eagle Scout!”  

Hook is someone who is, quite simply, joyful.  It would not be unusual for him to wake up singing on any given morning.  True, sometimes they were naughty songs (he will be a juvenile till the end) but who wakes up singing on a Monday morning?  Who wakes up singing on a Monday morning with terminal cancer and the end of their life near?   I hear his cracked voice, almost inaudible, through the audio monitors in his room, “My baby’s red hot, the other babies ain’t doodlely squat.”  He’s a gentleman while being a scoundrel, a jokster with the guys but the crabby professor in a classroom who’s kind of dorky but hippy and cool at the same time.  A man who would risk his own safety by driving his Jeep to the grocery store (only three weeks ago!!!) so he could surprise his wife with fresh cut flowers.  “I wanted my baby to have flowers,” he said.  (Imagine not my surprise but my horror when I realized he was out driving around.  For exactly ten minutes of my life, I alternated prayers of please-don’t-let-him-hurt-himself with please-don’t-let-him-hit-anyone.)     

And all of this, the total of Allan’s character, is embodied by the most endearing quality of all — his childlike approach to nature.  This appreciation for that which exists in the outdoors or all living things is to me quite magnificent.  Actually, Hook’s not into all living things – there are some Homo sapiens he would do without.  Still, he has a reverence for the history and future of nature, a constant inquisitiveness, a keen sense of observation as he explores and discovers with his eyes and ears, the life surrounding him.  It’s educational to watch him absorb his natural environment.  Even just sitting in a Texas backyard, Allan sees and hears all that is alive.  I used to think he had exceptional hearing but remembered how sometimes he had to ask me to repeat something or would lean in to hear.  I knew he didn’t have the best eyesight even with eyeglasses, but when we sit outside on the uncovered deck in the mornings, he’d point out birds or insects or changes in vegetation that my eyes or ears did not catch. 

This gruff, cigarette-smoking, lap swimming, solitary wasp loving, dirty song singing, crazy fishing hippy is more than just an entomologist, a hymenopterist.  He is a worshipper at the foot of Mother Nature.

I need to stop, because I am overdosing on Hook right now.  I’m writing all of this because he’s going to die.  He’s going to die, and there is nothing I can do about it except this one thing: Allow him to die the way that he lived. 

Hook is a blessed (my word not his) man.  He has said over and over again that he has no regrets, no last wishes, that he is satisfied with the life he has led.  From my view in the sofa chair next to his hospital bed in our home, I see that my husband has accomplished what most only hope to do.  He has lived the life God intended for him, to the best of his abilities, all the while treating others as he would like to be treated, forgiving selflessly regardless if you wronged him once, twice, or forty times.  The face that my old, ornery, obscene man shows the world is a face God already knows.

I look to my husband as a benchmark (minus the obscene) for how to live life completely, how to honor the gifts graced to us, how to nurture these and one another in a way that leaves a lasting mark on earth.  If I could act – be – half as good as Allan, I might just have a shot at heaven, the eternal glory I know in my heart to exist.  And if heaven truly does exist, then Hook will be on the fast track to it when he takes his last breath.  This I know the same as I know Jesus waits for us all.  And there you have it — my lying, cheating ways because I am preaching and from a high soap box, and there will be one soul saved but not the one you think.

When we married, some people thought maybe this Catholic girl was going to open Hook’s mind to a higher power, that perhaps I was going to help him redeem his soul.  But Allan’s votary of nature is more than enough for him and more than enough for God.   It has taken my husband’s illness, his inevitable death and my rapid-paced train of daily memories reflecting on his life to realize:  It was never going to be me who saved Allan.  It has always been Allan who’s been saving me.

Forget what a man says and watch what he does. 

Lou was so wise, and I am still learning.

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