My mother, who lives in Tampa, called me Sunday night. The recent firestorm over the Terri Schiavo issue has made her nervous enough about her final wishes that she is re-doing her Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney. My brother is her executor, but several years ago he made it clear that, as a Catholic, he could not honor her request for 'no extreme measures' and 'do not resuscitate'. She asked my sister to be her medical designate, instead.
My mom is a liberal of the old school. Raised in Irish-Catholic Brooklyn, she became a Unitarian in the '60s after struggling with the 'don't question' dogma of the faith she was raised in. She (and we) remained Catholic for several years after her divorce, but ultimately the contradictions were too great for her to overcome, and she found a home in the Unitarian-Universalist Church. It was a little confusing to me (the oldest of three) to be suddenly un-Catholic, especially since I, unlike my younger sister and brother, went to Catechism and had my First Communion. I didn't particularly care for the Unitarians, who mostly struck me as a bunch of overly-friendly hippies, and what kind of church was it if it didn't tell you what to believe? Not that I missed going to boring old Mass and Catechism and Confession, but a church was supposed to be a Church, it seemed to me. Instead of spending our Sunday mornings all dressed up with a doily on my head at Corpus Christi, I spent my time in a back room of the Unitarian church with a clunky little 63-key piano, teaching myself to play and trying to avoid the peace-and-granola weirdos. For my mom, of course, it was different - a real spiritual home, where you could ask all the questions you wanted and come to your own conclusion about God, yet still be involved in a faith community. When, as a single mom, she needed to go to work, she put her money where her mouth was and went back to school to become a social worker - a stressful, thankless, bureaucratic nightmare of a job; underpaid, understaffed, overworked - because she felt that she could help people on a direct level in that way, and she worked for the State of Florida for 35 years.
As we grew to adulthood, we three kids found our own spiritual paths. I became a Christian of no particular denomination, my sister and her husband are Methodists (or Presbyterians, I can't remember which), and my brother is a born-again Catholic. Oddly enough, my mother and I, who are almost polar opposites in most matters, are on the same page politically. My brother and sister became Republicans - my sister for fiscal reasons, my brother for cultural reasons.
How did this happen? My siblings are good, principled people, and they would say the same about me. We all love one another dearly, and respect one another. We were raised to believe that family comes first, and we take care of one another in whatever way is needed. I'm more or less the 'rebel' of the family, having eschewed college for the life of a musician, but have nevertheless managed to get married, have a family, buy a house - all the good old-fashioned American values. My brother the accountant has disapproved of my unpredictable lifestyle (and my tattoo) but he would lay his life down for me in a heartbeat. I'm his sister, and that's the end of that. And when I rant and rave about the religious right, I have to remember that the baby brother I adore is one of them. Moreover, like my mom the bleeding-heart liberal, he puts his money where his mouth is. He tithes 10% of his income. He spends his weekends volunteering at soup kitchens. He walks the talk, unlike 99% of the politicians and ministers who claim to speak for him.
As passionate as I am about my political convictions, when I'm with my siblings I avoid talking about my own politics. I wish I was brave enough to just let the chips fall where they may, but while I feel strongly about my position, I don't think that arguing about politics and religion will do anything but put a wedge between me and the ones I love, and it's not worth it to me. They know how I feel; I know how they feel. But I wonder how we can be so close in our real life, our real values, and yet be at opposite ends of the political spectrum. And our values are the same - God, family, service to others. Why, then, can't we talk?
My mother's lawyers suggest that she name three family members for her Medical Power of Attorney. That would be me and my sister and brother-in-law. So now, if something happens to my mom similar to what happened to Terri Schiavo, if she is incapacitated with no hope of recovery, in fulfilling my mother's wishes, I may be looking at losing the brother I love. I do not want to end up like the Schiavos and the Schindlers. And I am sickened by the opportunistic politicians who are using these people to further their political ends.
God help us all.