Give up pretending.
Everything, you know,
everything, sooner or later
gets eaten. Little fish,
big fish, no difference—
the world’s mouth
is on you. Outside the personal,
it even has a certain glory.
When the mouse, in its last
short dash to the grain,
feels the great rush of wings,
in the flash before
the crushing beak descends,
it is finally, luminously, airborne.
In the broad, voiceless,
hours of the night
you have always known
the red beak of
awaits you. The choice,
very simply, is this:
What will you give
your own beloved
bones and blood to feed?
Reflection: “The Final Sacrifice: What Will Your Legacy Be?” by Rev. Ann Marie Alderman
A nurse from a hospital in England once told this story. As it happened, there was a little girl in the hospital who was very sick with a rare disease. Her brother, who was five years old, had miraculously survived the disease and developed the antibodies that meant that a transfusion of his blood could possibly restore his sister to health. The doctor explained the situation to the little boy, who listened seriously, and agreed to the transfusion. They hooked him up. As he lay there, watching the blood leave his arm and go into the little clear plastic tube, his sister tried to entertain him with smiles and funny faces. But he didn’t respond.
After a while, he looked up from the tube to the nurse who was attending him and asked her a question. He said, “What will it feel like when all the blood has gone out of me, and I die?” He had not understood what was happening. He didn’t know that a blood transfusion only takes some blood; he thought he was giving all of his blood to his sister. But he was willing to do it. Of course, he was very relieved to find out that he’d be perfectly fine. But the story is shared around the world as a tale of sacrifice, especially from one so young. And maybe it makes us wonder for whom in our lives would we be willing to give our own.
As many of you know, I have five-year-old twins; my daughter, named Ella, and her twin, a very serious young man, Kirk. Kirk is named for my father, Kirkland, who died when I was a senior in high school. I often, but not always, tell the story of why I am in the ministry, by starting with sharing that my father died suddenly when I was a teen. And that the next year, my first year of college, still stunned by loss, the university I had chosen to attend (with the scholarship I received, because of my father’s death) that university offered a seminar course on “death and dying” my first semester. It was taught jointly by the Nursing School and the Department of Religion. It helped so much to re-orient me; to help me to understand what my place in the world might be now that my father was gone. It was one of those right time, right place miracles that has defined my life… that came after the wrong time, too soon death of one of my parents…
I had been, with my family, a member of a church since I was born, but that university seminar that opened up the world of religious wisdom to bring me not only understanding, but solace.
How are we to understand who we are, what we are to do with our lives, why death comes, and what life is for when death defines us?
Much later along the path of my life now, I am… every day… aware that I will quite likely die, or at least cease to be as functional as I am now, when my young children are still in their teens. I think often about the sort of legacy I will leave them. How will who I have been, the choices I have made, affect who they become? Will they have the resources to live with death, with love, with joy?
Have I made the sacrifices that will assure that they prosper in their lives?
What I see now in my five-year-old twins is day after day how the bond between them has grown stronger and deeper with every young new year. I feel certain my often serious five-year-old son would give his blood for his sister if that was what he thought was required. Will he feel the same way at 15?… at 55? I may not get to know.
How willing are you to make the ultimate sacrifice?… to give your life so another can live? How wide is the circle, the circle of your care, of who you would you make a sacrifice for?
What will your legacy be when you die? How are you choosing to live toward or into that legacy?
Congregations often think of legacy “gifts” in terms of asking those with the means to do so, to create and then to continue to build up an endowment fund.
Endowment funds are a kind of congregational savings account to be used in the future for special beyond-budget needs. Those who have the means to think of their legacy in monetary terms are often the ones who are asked to make the initial contributions. So, the ask goes out to the ones with the resources to leave appropriate financial gifts for their heirs to stretch beyond their own children and leave a legacy for the church’s use. If there are those who have had the foresight and the resources to have planned ahead to have funds in place so that their children are not overly burdened by their needs when they age, then they may be asked to leave those resources to the church if they should die before there is a need for those resources.
Churches with endowment funds have benefited from someone or some group approaching the folks with means and asking, “Won’t you also consider your spiritual heirs who will occupy this place after you are gone? Won’t you put a gift to this place in your last will and testament… a gift that is specifically designated to our endowment fund?”
That practice is all well and good, and UUism has benefited from those with financial means, benefited from those with the wherewithal/the courage to ask, to do the setup and the continual replenishment of endowment funds.
That is the way it used to work. Do we still have people willing to do the ask? Do we still have people who have any funds to give beyond what it might take to meet their needs, or their children’s needs?
Maybe yes, maybe no.
Perhaps, we ought not to leave this ask only to those with financial resources, but ask ourselves, each of us, what would we be willing to give, and to whom, beyond our immediate circle of care.
Who or what are we willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for? Whose life, or what cause or ideal are you willing to put before your comfort, your survival?
I am asking that you to consider that making a sacrifice is about more than giving something up. It is deeper than that. It is about considering what or who is worthy of our loyalty, devotion, faithfulness.
What relationship, what idea, what ideal would you honor if you could, if you were asked to, if it became necessary?
At five, as a twin, an often very serious twin, the decision to make a sacrifice may be about preserving the life of your sister. The decision to do such a thing might not take very long when you are five. And that decision might change, when you are five, in a few seconds. But there is also (at five) that pure moment, I have seen it, when the five-year-old is sure that he would give anything to be loyal to his closest companion, even if his gift was his own life.
Our poet asks, “What will you give your own blood and bones to feed?”
You may know the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac. God asked Abraham to come up to the top of the mountain and make a sacrifice, to bring his son. Abraham said, Okay, I will give you the best lamb in my flock, my child.
What? the reader, the hearer of this story says. What? You can’t ask that of me. What kind of god are you? And we stop listening to the story.
So, what did God say to Abraham? I don’t want your child. I appreciate your blind loyalty, your following of convention, when it comes to sacrificing the most precious thing you have. But I want you, I want your devotion, your faithfulness… your willingness to do what is necessary in the moment, your presence to relationship with ME.
I want you to be in this relationship with me in a way that acknowledges how very important it is to be as in the moment with me as you can be—in every revolutionary, transformative moment… I want us to fly together… soar together, beyond blood and bones.
I want you to choose to be alive, not to perform an exercise of blind obedience, but to say yes. Yes, to what gives life…
“What would you give your blood and bones to feed?”
The poet says… feed the glory, the airborne moment…
This is about adopting a way of being… not so much about writing a check or arranging your last will and testament…
It is about creating your legacy.
And when you are doing it, the choosing is so split-second, so automatic that it no longer feels like a choice. It just something we do.
That is faith. Faith in the power of love, faith in the idea that love makes a difference, that the circle of care ought to be ever wider, demanding of us and receiving our yes, our throwing ourselves into the air to be consumed.
Returning to poetry, I offer…
More than anything, I need this boy
so close to my ears, his questions
electric as honeybees in an acreage
of goldenrod and aster. And time where
we are, slow sugar in the veins
of white pine, rubbery mushrooms
cloistered at their feet. His tawny
listening at the water’s edge, shy
antlers in pooling green light, while
we consider fox prints etched in clay.
I need little black boys to be able to be
little black boys, whole salt water galaxies
in cotton and loudness—not fixed
in stunned suspension, episodes on hot
asphalt, waiting in the dazzling absence
of apology. I need this kid to stay mighty
and coltish, thundering alongside
other black kids, their wrestle and whoop,
the brightness of it—I need for the world
to bear it. And until it will, may the trees
kneel closer, while we sit in mineral hush,
together. May the boy whose dark eyes
are an echo of my father’s dark eyes,
and his father’s dark eyes, reach
with cupped hands into the braided
current. The boy, restless and lanky, the boy
for whom each moment endlessly opens,
for the attention he invests in the beetle’s
lacquered armor, each furrowed seed
or heartbeat, the boy who once told me
the world gives you second chances, the boy
tugging my arm, saying look, saying now.