Thursday, January 16, 2014

TELL THE STORY

Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story.  That is his duty.
                                                                                                                   --Elie Wiesel

Today, nearly 30 years ago, I had a phone call from my parents.  My father wasn't usually the one who made the call, and he spoke somberly, saying they had some bad news from the little town where my grandmother lived.  I assumed it was that she had died, since she was elderly and suffering with dementia.  Instead, he told me that my mother's sister and her husband had been killed in a terrible car accident.  I was in shock and burst into tears, and then spoke to my mother, who was also crying.  They had been traveling back from the hospital where my uncle had had surgery, skidded on an icy road and were hit by a huge truck.

I was pregnant with my fourth daughter at the time, and my husband was out of town on business. I managed to call him and gave him the news, but I remember feeling very alone and isolated, half a continent away from the rest of the family.  On the day of the funeral, the only other cousin who wasn't able to go, called me from Colorado, and we shared our love for our aunt and uncle over the phone.

In general, when I was growing up, we went to see my relatives, and they seldom came to visit us.  All had big families, and most were farmers, and it was hard for them to leave. But once, just after my husband and I had moved to Northern California, before we even had a phone, I was walking past a front window in our home, trying to unpack, and I looked out and saw my aunt and uncle coming up the sidewalk.  They had come out for a family funeral not far from where we lived, but hadn't been able to call, so just arrived.  We had a wonderful evening together, in the midst of the chaos of just having moved in, with boxes and toys everywhere.  I managed to find my spaghetti pot and made a big batch of spaghetti, and we laughed and reminisced over dinner.  But the greatest blessing I received from that evening was when my aunt told me that when I would visit them, I was constantly complaining to her that "those boys" (her sons) were always doing things to me, taking away my games, and in general not letting me torment them by following them around wanting to do what they were doing.  She said she thought I had been spoiled and wondered how I would turn out.  But she told me that seeing me now made her realize that I had turned out all right!  It is something that I return to often when I am doubting myself.  

At the time they died, their oldest son had been out of the Church, and he remained so for over 30 years.  I'm sure they prayed for him indefatigably from heaven, and eventually he returned to the Church, he and his wife made a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend, and then he applied to the diaconate program.  When he was ordained, my husband and I flew to Reno for his ordination and spent a wonderful weekend there with his family, including many of "those boys" whom I had seen as my childhood tormentors! He is now filled with zeal for the many ministries he has undertaken in the Church as a Deacon, and I am in awe at the crooked paths the Lord continues to make straight.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

THE JOY OF APRONS

Yesterday as I was waving goodbye to our son, off to classes as a full time student again, I realized I was wearing one of the new aprons my children had given me for Christmas.  I have taken to wearing aprons much of the time, realizing that I am a messy person and very likely to spill something either when I am eating or cooking or cleaning up.  However, the only apron I had was one my parents had given me years ago.  It was also a Christmas present, but they had used it to wrap up the lamp they were giving me.  It didn't go with many of my clothes, but it was serviceable and reduced the laundry load.

My daughters, who spend a good deal of time on the Natural Family Planning message board, discovered a woman who makes aprons in the color and style you request, and I now have two new aprons in different prints of blue; I think one is a Regency style.  They go with almost everything I wear and they are quite classy.

As I stood there waving and thinking how nice the apron looked, I also reflected on it as a badge of my occupation for most of the last thirty-eight years.  While I often listed my occupation as writer, the majority of my time was spent as a homemaker, raising six children and trying to subdue the chaos that threatened to overwhelm the house whenever I turned my back.

I can remember driving home from a school run one day and thinking that my mother had done the same thing for us when we were growing up, and a sudden eruption of happiness poured through my being as I realized that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, even though I often kicked against the goad about the details. (Why did the kindergarden teacher send home a note saying we needed 6 rolls of clear contact paper the next day?)  Once when my beloved husband and I were talking about our childhood goals, he said that as a child he saw his father working, married and raising a family, and he told me with a smile, "That's all I ever wanted."  I used that as the last line in my novel (now being considered by a publisher in England).  As I'm beginning a home business I will undoubtedly use my aprons more than ever; may they remind me of the contentment I can experience as I follow the vocation that rolls out before me.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

                                 Emily Dickinson

These are some of my favorite lines from Emily Dickinson, and when I ran into them this morning when I was reading the reflection in Martha Whitmore Hickman's Healing after Loss, it triggered a cascade of memories like linked windows suddenly opening one above the other from ground level to the sky.

I chose Emily Dickinson for my "Junior Poet" at the University, but since I had been a Spanish major my junior year, I had to do the Junior Poet work my senior year, along with my senior thesis.  Although my first choice was Gerard Manley Hopkins, I finally decided he was too difficult, when I was in New York City most of the year and couldn't just drop in on the professors for advice.  Dickinson turned out to be a good choice in conjunction with my thesis topic, the Puritans in literature, since much of her writing wrestled with them on their New England turf.

The window that opened closest to the clear but pale blue sky as I reflected on these words was the burgeoning hope that often springs up unexpectedly when I have started early in the morning and the day rolls out with promise before me.  The Gospel reading for today is one of my favorites:  Jesus has just fed the crowds with miraculously multiplied bread and fish, he sends the disciples off in their boat, dismisses the crowd, and goes up the mountain to pray.

Later,  he will walk on water and calm the storm.  But I have often been caught up in the time he went up the mountain and imagined I was a child leaving the crowd and following him.  What would it have been like to be there in the shadows with Jesus in communion with his Father?  Did he speak or was the silence around him pregnant with the mystery of the Persons of the Trinity?  When I feel flattened in my prayer life, as if I were a one dimensional being, perhaps I need to ponder the immensity of that communication beyond dimension and time and space, that reaches out to include me with all my limits and give me a glimpse of prayer caught up into eternity.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

HAPPY NEW YOU!

Last night  I celebrated the New Year twice.  The first time was at 9 PM, when the fall of the ball in Manhattan is first shown in California.  My morning lark daughter and her family came to stay overnight, and we played games, fixed little bagel pizzas and mini quiches and had sparkling cider for the three boys and champagne for the parents who wanted it.  The only problem was that we were on the wrong channel until the ball had already fallen, so all we saw was the confetti and the ending strains of Frank Sinatra (a Jersey boy) singing "New York, New York." They were all in bed before midnight.

I was planning to follow their example, when my oldest daughter and her family returned form a party where they actually watched the ball fall at 9, and then came home, but since they are all night owls, they were just getting started, and my son-in-law found a station that was replaying the NYC ball fall at midnight...except it was a certain news station which was actually running three minutes late.  However, it meant that I got to see the ball fall at 12:03 and welcomed in 2014 in the appropriate manner, and then went to bed.

Since the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God is my Feast Day (from my middle name), I always get up for Mass on January 1.  It was easier when it was a Holy Day, because then we have later Masses to choose from.  But today the latest Mass was 9, so I went off to Mass in the company of the morning lark family after we moved the night owls' minivan and set off their car alarm in case anyone in the neighborhood was still asleep.

Our priest said that when he was a boy in the Philippines, his bishop used to greet everyone with Happy New You, since all of us have the ability to change ourselves, and thus change the world around us.  This resonated with a quote from G. K. Chesterton that was included in our church bulletin:
"The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year, but rather that we should have a new soul."

And I do feel a new soul bubbling up in me as I set forth on the untested waters of 2014.  My resolution is tied up in one word:  "outside,"  to remind me to get outside a least once a day, for sunshine (or rain), fresh air, the garden, and a chance to be mindful of all the beauty around me.  I'm sitting at my new desk in my new office looking out at three of my grandsons playing some version of soccer, and tomorrow I take off for the north with my son to visit my youngest daughter's godparents.  It is out of my comfort zone, but that seems to be where I need to be right now, and it will be the last chance to get away before he starts school again.

A new year, a chance to begin again, and to celebrate all the ongoing things in my life that I can easily take for granted:  a small granddaughter who sat with me quietly all through Mass, sunshine gleaming on green grass on January 1, and friends who look forward to our visit, as well as all the family and friends to whom I will be sending my belated Christmas cards.  But that is a story for another day!