Dear Members and Friends,
I have been thinking about the location of my heart centers. In this liminal time, following the death of my mother, I realize that I now have three heart centers: California, Chicago, and Connecticut.
This past Saturday, a lovely Celebration of Life was held for my mother at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Kern County, here in Bakersfield, California. Three people gave prepared remarks. My brother shared my mother’s life history and then testified to the power of her love and support. Her best friend, Wilma, shared poignantly about how my mother provided hospitality and care to others—and was the heart of a group of women that traveled together extensively. And then I shared about how my mother was a bright light, some of the approximate text is below. When people were invited to share, over twenty women of different walks of life shared. From how she and Wilma had been the heart and soul of the fellowship as the head of the hospitality and membership teams for 40 years to how she made people feel welcome even after she lost the ability to speak to how she spoke at a 1995 Board of Education meeting in Bakersfield on behalf of a persecuted gay teacher.
As I write this, I am still in Bakersfield. Because my father’s health has declined markedly this past month, he needs to move out of his home of 50 years and into a senior care center. In addition to my work obligations, I am attending to him, my parents’ affairs, and determining what to do with the home in which I grew up. Given all this, I cannot travel to Connecticut this weekend. Instead, in the next few days, I will fly to Chicago to be with my wife and children. This Sunday, I will participate remotely in the worship service, “Unleashing Courageous Love,” reflecting on the power of transforming love and the legacy and life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As my heart has broken open following the death of my mother, it is lovely to recognize that I now have three heart centers: Chicago, California, and Connecticut. My keystone is in Oak Park with my wife and teenage children. With my father and brother and his family in Bakersfield, this is my second heart center where I must give attention this week and maybe another week in the future. It is a blessing to accompany my father for some of this challenging journey.
And I know I have a third heart center. It may sound sappy, but I’ve fallen in love with you all. As your transitional minister, I have developed a genuine affection for this congregation. As my arrival came when the community has been in disarray, I am humbled by the opportunity to call you to attend to what it means to be a faith community. I am grateful to hold the space for you collectively to rebuilt trust—and already I can see a lot of trust and so much potential.
It is a sacred time to do the relational work that will serve you in the decades to come. This winter, the congregation-wide read is Transforming Conflict by Terasa Cooley. She simply yet directly lays out the goals and practices of rebuilding trust. I encourage you to obtain a copy. There are many available at a discounted price in the office.
Brene Brown offers a wonderful complement to the themes in Transforming Conflict. Brown’s YouTube video “B.R.A.V.I.N.G. = The Seven Pillars of Trust” provides a good framework to understand the kind of relational work that I’m talking about. I invite you to join me at one of three times to view this video and discuss it: Tuesday, January 23, at noon, Thursday, January 25, at. 5:00 PM, on Saturday, January 27 at 9:00 AM. If I am in Westport, you can join me either in person or on ZOOM. If I am not, I will be on ZOOM as well HERE.
Join me and the wider congregation in our collective exploration of how to re-build trust with one another and reflect on how you want to be with one another. More specifics to come soon!
I share with you a poem that has helped me during difficult times as well as reflections I shared about my mother.
Rev. Alan Taylor
from “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
A remembrance of Pamela Sue Carlson Taylor by Alan Taylor
As many of you know, Mom was a bright light. I’d like to share a little about her childhood, a few memories of my own and then finally how she shared her brightness.
Mom grew up in small town Iowa. Her father served the community as the local funeral director, furniture store owner, and ambulance driver, for the hearse there was the community’s ambulance. She was an only child as was her cousin Rosalie—and they grew up like sisters. Every Sunday they went to their grandma and grandpa Carlson’s home for dinner, where the wider family gathered—and were clearly expected to gather. Family was the central priority followed by being supportive to others. But her father couldn’t keep the family business going because he wrote too many IOUs and my mother spent her junior high and high school years in larger cities where her father worked as an assistant funeral director. When her father took an assistant funeral director job in Menlo Park, California, she followed and taught second grade in San Jose. Even though she left Iowa, she held close to her family roots. After I moved to Chicago, she’d come out and have all of us travel to Iowa for Thanksgiving.
My earliest memories was seeing my mother with a smile on her face, whether she was preparing a meal, shopping in the grocery store, or even on her hands and knees cleaning the kitchen floor! Her natural disposition was one of compassion, gratitude, and contentment.
The earliest significant conversation I remember having with my mom was in first or second grade. The little girl down the street told me that if I put my ear to the sidewalk, I could hear hell. So I did, and sure enough, I heard something. So I asked Mom, “Do you believe in hell?” She said, “Alan your father and I don’t believe people go to hell after they die, but I believe that instead people go to one of seven levels of heaven, and the level you go to depends on how you live your life.” This conversation shaped my cosmology, and decades later I asked my mom if she remembered it. She said that she didn’t remember the conversation, and she didn’t remember ever believing in a seven-story heaven!
As Clif and I were growing up she made costumes for us—the most elaborate of them were Alexander the Great and Darth Vader for me, a suit of armor and a stormtrooper suit for Clif.
I think Mom smiled especially brightly when she went shopping, and not shopping for herself, shopping for others. Whether it was shopping for clothes for her family, shopping for a friend or shopping for her beloved grandchildren.
When I struggled with something when I was younger, she passed her hand across my forehead. She didn’t say things like “everything is going to be alright.” She just was there. Once I was older, she would tell me that she was praying for me. I never stopped feeling buoyed by her unflagging love.
I’ll never forget that moment when I called and told my parents that even though I had just spent two years to get into medical school that I was going to enter seminary and prepare for the ministry instead. I knew I didn’t need to be apprehensive, that she would be supportive, but I wasn’t expecting her effusive, joyful,“THAT’S WONDERFUL, ALAN! I’M SO HAPPY! YOU’VE FOUND WHAT YOU’RE MEANT TO DO!”
She had her own calling in teaching. She loved truly teaching second grade and I hope there are people who will speak to this here or online later in the service.
There were a couple of things that annoyed me about Mom. She had her way of cleaning and on those family trips to a shared house or when she visited us in Chicago this was the only source of mild tension. Another was that she wasn’t discreet about the details of her children’s and grandchildren’s lives. She seemed to tell everyone about what was happening in our lives.
There is one thing I wish was different about Mom. She didn’t recognize just how incredibly bright she was, how she impacted other people with her brightness, and how her bright light touched the inner light of so many. She often struggled with feeling like she wasn’t enough, a struggle I know something about. But, truly, she was more than enough.
During her last four years, her frontal lobe deterioration dampened her capacity. She lost the ability to speak or have facial expressions. It was so painful to see her always with a flat expression, yet her brightness still shined in her eyes. That was all she had to express herself with, and some people could see it, and she knew who those people were.
To summarize, she shared the bright light that she was in so many ways.
With her smile
With a gentle touch of the hand
With a kind word
With her laughter, and oh could she laugh
With flowers, she loved to give flowers
With food, she loved to cook and share food
both for her family and for others
With song – she loved loved loved to sing
And lastly with her eyes
Because she loved to sing, I share with you one of the songs I sang to her just before she passed:
Kind friends all gather round, there’s something I would say
That what brings us together has blessed us all today
Love forms a circle that holds us all inside
Where strangers are as family and lonliness can’t hide
Give yourself to love if love is what you’re after
Open your hearts to the tears and laughter
Give yourself to love, give yourself to love
I’ve walked these mountains in the rain, I’ve come to love the wind
I’ve been up before the sunrise to watch the day begin
I always wanted to find you but I never did know how
Like sunshine on a cloudy day you’re here with me now
So, give yourself to love…
Love is born afire, it’s planted like a seed
It doesn’t give you everything but it gives you what you need
Love comes when you are ready, love comes when you’re afraid
It’ll be your greatest teacher, the best friend you have made.
So, give yourself to love…
You’ve been a bright light, Mom, your love has kindled the lights of others. I trust your love will continue to kindle the lights of many, including your beloved grandchildren. May you rest in peace in the light of love, that eternal light to which you were so faithful.