Listen When Your Aunt DeVi Speaks
Growing up for me was exciting. There was always something going on. My grandparents were living, my mother had six brothers and sisters, my father had two sisters, and there were cousins that I wanted to be around more than time and distance would allow. I collected their stories… the ones my mother chose to tell, the ones that I overheard as my father would speak on the phone, and the ones all of these relatives told me. There was a sense that I was a part of a family that was doing good things, but never quite realized how great they really were. Not because of some deficit in psychological development, but because greatness was never the goal.
What I knew about them was the kindness. What I knew about them was what was good in their lives. Partly because that was what was most prevalent in their living, and partly because, simply put, my mother and father thought it important to share the good things about others rather than gripe about the bad things we all harbor in our lives. When I spoke to my family about some great thing I heard they were doing, they told me about simple things. They typically diverted the attention away from themselves and expressed a gratitude for the opportunities they had.
When my time with my aunts and uncles was possible, it was not spent going over their latest achievements. There was always a sense, that I, no matter what age I was at the time, was the most important topic of discussion. That I, though having done little more than survived a day in elementary school, had accomplished more than they could have dreamed for themselves. When I spoke to my family, they responded with a kindness that allowed me to believe that the world, and others, were only to be loved and nothing more.
For better or worse, when speaking to my aunts and uncles, it was like hearing how great the bread was at a five star restaurant. They were living lives akin to meals that cost $100 and they were describing how they liked the way the carrots were shredded in the salad that came before the main course. It was not false humility and it was not that they did not really enjoy a good salmon steak or prime rib, but they really, really, loved those carrots. And what does a seven year old know about salmon steak any how. They are all great. They are all living to this day. I am grateful to have them on my side.
Which brings me to my aunt DeVi. Her name is Violet. As a child, for some reason, I could not simply call her name as “Vi” and it came out as DeVi. In letters of thanks for this or that gift that I was encouraged by my mother to write, they would all start out, “Dear Aunt DeVi”. Two gifts that I remember most fondly were a Spider Man action figure that shot real webs, and an autographed picture of Christie Brinkley. This should give you an idea of what an awesome life my Aunt DeVi lived. In her eyes, I could do no wrong, and in my eyes, she was like one of the many “second mothers” I was fortunate enough to have as a child.
But in truth, I could do wrong. When I was sixteen, I visited her in Denver. Her husband Merl and I got along, but not swimmingly. I was there to visit her. She set me up on a date with her friend’s daughter or niece, she gave me the keys to her car, and she had two weeks of fun planned out for me before I arrived. There were tickets to see Billy Joel at Red Rocks, dinners planned out, and a trip to see the Rocky Mountains in the June sun. After a week, I decided to fly back early because I just could not jive with my Uncle Merl. If I had regrets in life, flying back early might be one.
After taking a shower before the plane ride back to Tennessee, in the sweat on the mirror left from the heat and steam of the water, in my uncle’s bathroom, I inscribed the words, “Merl Sucks”. I treated it with a hair dryer so it would only be revealed when he took a shower, after I had gone. I used to tell that story to convey how clever I believed myself to be. How I got my revenge on my uncle Merl for his perceived offenses toward my friend and aunt. I am telling it today with some remorse, as after some years, I realize that relationships are hard, and people are only human.
The only words spoken about the incident were from my Aunt Vi telling me he did see it after his first shower after I had gone. As for Merl, he probably knew he deserved it a bit, and he never mentioned the incident. He would still get on the phone with me after she had called and be a little proud of whatever story I had to tell. He, like us all, had his troubles in life. He, like us all, needed forgiveness as he struggled to work out his way and place in the world. And the grace my aunt and uncle afforded each other, though not understood by my family, was most likely the closest thing to a radical commitment and compassionate devotion I have ever seen in this life.
My aunt Vi moved to Knoxville a few years back. I do not see her as much as I would like. A week or two ago, she wanted me to order and deliver a few copies of a book I wrote, and told me of her plans to distribute them to her friends. This was a total Vi move. When I took them to her condo, she invited me in for coffee and we caught up a bit. I sat there listening to her and wondered if she knew the real me. She said I was her pastor because of what I write on this blog. She went on about how proud she was of me. With a twinkle in her eye, she reminisced about all of the good things in life I had done. She spoke about good things.
I am pretty sure she does the same for all my cousins. I know she hopes good things for the world and for those who stop in and see her from her neighborhood. I know that she is special beyond anything in this world I might ever have the chance to experience. I wondered why, over the past two years, she and I have not talked more, but while writing this article I realized, the reason she spoke to me in the first place, was to find out what I was up to and these posts do that for her. She has had trouble. She has turned that trouble into a peace that she is able to share with me as I experience trouble.
Hopefully, we all have an Aunt DeVi. Hopefully, we have someone in our lives that is a little too impressed with what we do or have done. My suspicion is that you do, because as I entered the title to this blog I realized, we are all just an “ne” away from having this same champion of our well being on our side. Whether you believe in God or do not. Whether you meditate, pray, or seek something beyond yourself yet somehow within yourself or do not, you have an advocate for your happiness. Is it not ironic, that all these years I have associated encouragement, the giving of gifts, and the showing of compassion and commitment, to what I called Aunt DeVi, and that her source is actually what I call, the DeVine.
My belief is that both my Aunt DeVi and the Devine, would be happy to be associated with one another. My belief is that if we do not have that type of connection in our lives, then we should be busy building that connection with others in our lives. It costs so little to compliment someone on some small thing. We lose nothing by not tearing a person down in conversations held without their presence.
If you want to be closer to God, determine what God might say to someone else and say it. If you think God wants to do anything other than build someone up, so that they may carry on, rethink what you believe God to be and start over. I am intrigued by the notion that even the faith of a saint, Mother Teresa, could be described by some as atheistic in nature. In 2007, an article in Time Magazine, spoke of her saying, “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me–The silence and the emptiness is so great–that I look and do not see,–Listen and do not hear”.
Even through all of this, her goal was not to have God be close to her, but for her to do the work of God, and therefore, be close to God. There is a difference. On this emptiness, much has been written. My opinion is, that when you are away from God, God seems to be a great light, a great comfort, and something to be attained. When you are as entrenched in God, as the work of Mother Teresa allowed her to be, everything has the potential to be darkness. Even still, her advice to those seeing the world as having too many problems to solve, was to do one act of Love. Either at home, in your neighborhood, or on a larger scale.
I have no vested interest in the belief of Mother Teresa. I am not a devotee that needs her to have one thing or another to say about her beliefs. I am not an unbeliever that needs to tear her views down in order to prove my unbelief as valid. And whether she saw Christ in those she helped or whether she only saw those in poverty to be comforted, she made an impact. And whether she acted with a confidence in a divine being or whether she believed a word she preached, her actions, her life, was a constant birthing of the divine in the world.
Life is neither short or long. It cannot be measured in terms of time. Life is eternal, whether we are spending time in human experience or whether we are spending time in other forms. What this worlds needs is not more getting by, but more impact. What this world needs is not a better belief system, but a clinging to simple truths. And what I, and possibly you as the reader, need, is not another way to improve the way we are, but a way to cultivate who we are, in order to generate the most impact on those that need to hear that Love is real, that Love is the way, and that Love is within them at all times.
And that is how a blog about my Aunt DeVi ends. This alone should tell you what an impact she has made on my life and the lives of countless others.