Saturday, January 13, 2024

Pennies From Heaven


Or: Four Funerals and a Wedding

Do you believe in pennies from heaven?

It was New Year’s Day, and we were at Market Basket, and in the parking lot, I saw this black balloon, left over from the previous night’s festivities, no doubt, and as it bobbed and weaved, pushed back and forth by the breeze, it came to a stop right here and I looked down, and what did I see, but this shiny penny. It was as though the wind had pushed the balloon to lead me to it.


Who is this from? Three funerals in as many weeks.


From Rumi, on the question, how many paths are there to God?


There are as many paths to God as there are souls on Earth.


Funerals are each as uniquely individual as the person who has passed.


A broken heart is an open heart. And there is still hope for the living, because the future is still ahead of us, unwritten, like the blank pages of my journal. Like when the Patriots were down 28 to 3 in the third quarter in the SuperBowl against Atlanta. It was still possible to pull off a win, because the rest of the game hadn’t been played yet. We’re still on the playing field. The future hasn’t happened yet, and so all is possible.


But the pages behind us? Filled, filled with everything, including regrets, so many regrets, the words not spoken, equally as well the harsh words spoken that can’t be taken back. When we’re young, we think we’re going to try to live a life free of regrets. You get older, and they just pile up, just add it to the stack heap.


Comfort, where do we find comfort?


Even God felt regret – grieving at seeing the faults of their creation.


And the Lord regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart.

Genesis 6:6


God was about to smite all creation, but found Noah, who “walked with God,” and thus spared Noah and his family by building an ark to survive the flood.


Even God had regret. And Jesus wept. And the regrets pile up.


Who is this penny from?


At the eulogy for our neighbor, Chris, his niece and nephew summed up his life in a three-word sentence: He was there. What an inspiration. There’s a New Year’s Resolution. And so the next day I found myself on a plane, headed to Chicago for my Uncle Warren’s funeral and to see family, cousins, nieces, Dad. As much as I could fit into my time there, the first time flying since the start of the pandemic. Othwerworldly, some things were just the same, and others, it felt like I had time traveled, or been asleep like Rip Van Winkle, awaking from a deep sleep, to find a changed world. Some things minor, like Nuts on Clark has been replaced by Garretts Popcorn shop at Midway. Hmmm. And some things just the same. Portillo’s, Harner’s.


It felt good to be there.


There was a fourth funeral for Father David Engbarth, the Pastor at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish from 2007 to 2014. He was the one to say the funeral Mass for my Mom, and now in hindsight, I realize how lucky, blessed I was, that he allowed me to speak and say a eulogy at her funeral. I didn’t realize it was a rule, at least at that Church, not allowing lay people to say eulogies. He broke a rule for me. So many rules, though. Thank you father David. He truly “walked with God.”!/Obituary

Remember the movie, “Four Weddings and a Funeral?” It seems like these days, it’s more like “Four Funerals and a Wedding,” which we also have on the horizon. We need some happy events. Maybe there should be a sequel.


Also, in this movie, there’s a poem that’s read during the eulogy toward the end of the movie, which, no spoiler alert, look at the title, you knew there was going to be a funeral. The poem is by W. H. Auden, and yes yes yes, it still speaks true today, for how the grieving widow, siblings, and children must feel. What comfort can there be, it’s all short of bringing the person back.


Reprinting the poem below, under fair use.


Funeral Blues (also known as Stop All the Clocks)

By W. H. Auden (1936)


Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.


Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.

Put crepe bows round the necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.


He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.


The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;

For nothing now can ever come to any good.



How does grief change over time, to soften, to bring comfort? Is there such a thing as good grief?


I give you another poem, read at the cemetery after my sister’s funeral 16 years ago.



By Clare Harner (1934)


Do not stand

By my grave, and weep.

I am not there,

I do not sleep –


I am the thousand winds that blow

I am the diamond glints in snow

I am the sunlight in ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.


As you awake with morning’s hush,

I am the swift, upflinging rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight,


I am the day transcending night.


Do not stand by my grave and cry

I am not there, I did not die.


Subsequent versions of this poem circulated, with the first and last stanzas replaced with the following, implying the comfort that not only was the person not truly dead, but still with them yet.


I give you this one thought to keep –

I am with you still, I do not sleep.


I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not think of me as gone –

I am with you still, in each new dawn.


How can you comfort the grieving? What can you do, but be there.


And maybe bring sushi from Shanghai & Tokyo. Or sweet rolls from Harner’s. I wonder if any relation to Clare Harner, the poet. That would sort of bring things full circle, wouldn't it. 


Until next time, Happy New Year! And I wish you peace.


Or pcace. It has been that sort of year.


Who was this penny from? Do you believe in pennies from heaven?



A few more finds and observations along my way.


Christmas Eve, I found a movie, “A Cape Cod Christmas,” filmed in Falmouth, MA, and so full of familiar places and landmarks, but what struck me most was the opening song, “Lover’s Lane,” by Les Sampou, a local artist, and she was kind enough to share this with me.


For more of her original works, check out her website. She also performs locally around the South Shore and Cape mostly.


Another farewell – to Coach Bill Belichick, thanks for the memories. Perhaps it was fitting that the Army-Navy game was played at Gillette in your final year.

Holiday Markets


Also, leading up to the holidays, I had the chance to participate in some holiday markets and sell my wares, books and geodes (rocks, paper, and scissors, since I offered gift-wrapping too) at the American Legion Post 156 in Waltham and Post 440 in Newton, raising money for the VFW. Of course, I wound up buying way more than I sold, and my only regret was that I didn’t buy even more, or follow up with some of my fellow vendors.


The woman at the back of the room (behind and to the left of Santa) knits the cutest tiny Christmas sweater ornaments, and I am trying to find her, as I’d like to share my Mom’s mitten pattern. A little help internet?

Isabel Soaping & Co., Newburyport, MA.

Enjoying my soaps, including the shampoo bar. Delightful! Lavendar-Rosemary, Roasted Pinecone.


Laryssa Filatov Fiber Artist & Illustrator


Danny Renzella Acrylic Paintings – you can follow him on Instagram, his handle is AverageAcrylics, but I think they’re far from average, except in the sense that we’re all the same and unique and special and average all at the same time. Loved these paintings so much had to bring them home!


So many artists, loved the painted rocks too! 

Thistle – Author of Under The Garden Gate, a children’s book about all the various outdoor creatures who have come to share their home.


More books to read:


The Sane Society, by Erich Fromm (1955). I am only three chapters into it, but stunning how his observations about how society and culture both shape the individual, and how each individual shapes society still rings true today. Thanks to my local Post Office for the book recommendation!


The Angel and the Assassin, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. Probably the most important book I read in 2023, sharing the research that now shows that the brain is not separate from the body’s immune system, and the vital role that microglial cells play. Long overlooked, they play a vital role in brain health, serving as the janitorial crews keeping the brain nice and tidy. Inflammation and stress can set them off, making them go haywire and start destroying healthy synapses. Luckily there is good news to share too, that researchers at MIT have shown that being exposed to 40 Hz gamma waves (either flickering lights or sound) can re-set the microglial cells and calm the brain. This could have huge implications for autoimmune issues, and Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are plenty of 40 Hz gamma wave audio available on YouTube, check it out.


We say, there are no saints, no villains. People are just a mixed bag. Or maybe we can be both villains and saints, at the same time, both at the macro level as well as at the molecular level. Some interesting parallels there.


More health stuff:


Mum’s Cream from Le Nadur, developed right here in Massachusetts by Biochemists Denise O'Hara, PhD, and Mengmeng Wang, M.D., PhD. It’s designed with all-natural ingredients so it’s safe enough for expecting mothers to be, but so effective, why wouldn’t everyone want to use it?


While I’m at it, a little promotion of my book, The Happy Clam, just named a top book of 2023 by Exceptional Needs Today magazine. Thanks, Amy Tobik, for the recognition!



Check out their website to sign up for a free subscription to their online magazine today.


Thank you to O’Some CafĂ© for hosting my holiday book giveaway! You're awesome!

I do recommend the Brown Sugar Tiger Latte!


Mark Your Calendars:


Geodes & Journals Program has been funded via grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Watertown Cultural Council, and will be partnering with the Watertown Boys & Girls Club again to introduce kids to geology and writing through geodes and journals. Fun! Dates TBD. Thank you MCC/WCC!


March 20, 2024 – International Day of Happiness.


March 21, 2024 – Celeste Ng at the Watertown Free Public Library for a talk about her newest book, Our Missing Hearts.


April 7, 2024 – National Geologists Day.


October 13-19, 2024 – Earth Science Week.


Next Time: Book Talk Recap


Auden, W. H., 1936. “Funeral Blues,” first published in the play, The Ascent of F6.

Harner, Clare. 1934. “Immortality,” first published in the poetry magazine, The Gypsy


© 2024 Rosemary A. Schmidt

Rose Schmidt is the author of The Happy Clam (© 2020), and Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life (© 2003), both published by Gainline Press. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not reflect the views of any other agency or organization. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact me. Twitter: Rosebud@GainlineRS