Monday, December 21, 2015

ROMAN CARNIVAL?

When I was a small girl, we never went to Midnight Mass for Christmas.  I don't think I was even aware that there was such a thing until I was older and heard others talking about it.  Our family clock was set by my father, who was an early bird, and as I was growing up we always went to the first Mass of the day, which was at 6:45 A.M.  Of course the early Masses had an advantage then because you had to fast from midnight, so the sooner you went to Mass, the sooner you could eat.  We went to this Mass year round, and on Christmas there would usually be a few Christmas carols played on the organ, which I thought was wonderful because most of the year there was no music at all.  When I joined the school choir, I discovered that other Masses had music.  We sang at the 8:00 A.M. Easter Mass, and nothing had ever seemed so glorious.  Of course, then I wanted to go to the Midnight Mass, but my father told me that it was just "a Roman Carnival," and we weren't going.  

For years, I wondered what on earth he meant.  I had no idea what a "Roman Carnival" was, though the way he said it indicated that it was not anything that should be going on in church.  Then, when I was engaged, I visited my fiance's church at Harvard.  They had a world renowned boy's choir, which practiced every morning at the 8:00 A.M. daily Mass and gave my future husband a very skewed idea of what Catholic music was usually like.  He wanted me to experience their singing in all its glory, so we went to St. Paul's for Midnight Mass that year.  We had to get there nearly an hour early to get a seat in the upper church where the choir sang, and although it was very cold in Cambridge, the church was overflowing with people and soon felt overheated.  I was attempting to pray and focus on the great miracle of the Incarnation before Mass began, and gradually I became aware that the people in the pew behind me were talking and getting louder as time passed.  When the Mass began, they joined in the singing at the top of their lungs, not on key, frequently erupting into shouts of laughter, friendly shoves, and noticeable hiccups.  At some point, it dawned on me that the entire group was drunk, and rather uproariously so, and that they had come to church to be entertained by the boys' choir rather than to ponder the mystery of God become Man.  And at that moment, I suddenly understood what my father had meant by a Roman carnival. He had grown up in St. Louis, and went to the Irish parish, and I'm certain that his experience of the merrymakers who had imbibed too much before Midnight Mass had led him to conclude that every Midnight Mass was a drunken revelry. And there were entire dioceses where Midnight Mass was forbidden for that reason.   

However, when I was married and singing in our parish choir in New Jersey, we did go to Midnight Mass, and it was a very beautiful experience.  I was in the choir loft, and felt lifted up close to heaven, and only when the choir clattered down the old wooden stairs to go to Communion, was I reminded that we were only human, not angels announcing the good news to the shepherds.  Looking back on all those Christmas Masses now, I can also recognize that one of the realities of the Incarnation is that the Child in the manger came for us all, drunk and sober, and we can't know when his love will transform even the most inebriated heart.  May we all be transformed in some way as we celebrate his coming as one of us.  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

HE'LL HAVE TO DO

I had been stymied in my desire to keep moving forward with my book about our marriage by my inability to find the next journal from my senior year which set the stage for the beginning of our romance.  Finally, I was challenged in a webinar by Michael Hyatt to ask myself what single brave decision do I need to make today, and I knew it was to finish going through an entire closet full of the notebooks that held our thirty years of love letters, as well as, presumably, a few of my journals that had been gathered up with them after the flood.  I sorted them out by decade, found the notebooks from our original Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend, and finally found the journal I was looking for.  I was thrilled, and flipped through it, which detailed my family's move from New Jersey to Texas, my farewell to the boy who had won my heart, and the new life back in my native state, which I had left at age four.  I began college there, and because we had agreed that we were too young to think of marriage, we had made no commitments. 

I began dating Tom, a guy who seemed more compatible than my New Jersey boyfriend who was off to Harvard the year of the strikes.  He was Catholic and conservative, though he often sneered at my good grades and thought the highlight of a weekend was to hop on his motorcycle, head to his family's home and comb out their Newfoundland dogs, which was a long drawn out process.  He also loved to race trains across their tracks, and fortunately described performing power stalls before he asked me to go up in a private plane with him, so I was able to politely decline.  He owned two boa constrictors. The six foot snake named Romeo, had a very bad temper and once bit him through his leather boot and left a scar.  Three foot Juliet was a beautiful snake, and I once took her around my neck and strolled through the girls' dorm, enjoying the shrieks of those who didn't think a boa constrictor made a lovely necklace. Unfortunately, they met an untimely end when Tom left them in the care of one of the professors over Christmas break, and he turned off the warming devices they needed.

Tom said he wanted to marry me, which threw me into a panic, because I wasn't at all sure that he was the right man for me, and I became less sure as the year went on.
I can remember at one point thinking it wouldn't be too bad, but fortunately I came to my senses and realized that that was a terrible thing to think about getting married.  We eventually broke up, but as I reflected on my confusion that year, I thought how easily I could have drifted into a marriage that would eventually have made us both unhappy.

I can remember years later, my husband saying how often he saw Catholic women marrying someone with the attitude of "He'll have to do." It's as if they had determined that their vocation was matrimony, and they looked about for an employee to hire for the job.  The first difficulty is that matrimony is a life-long covenant, not a contract that can be broken if it doesn't work out.  It is meant to be the most sublime relationship between a man and a woman and requires commitment, work and love, binding them body, heart and soul.  If entered into for convenience, or because nobody better has showed up, it can become a morass of misery to the couple, any children they may have, and family and friends as well.  

On the other hand, when a couple enters into the Sacrament of Matrimony, sharing the same faith and values, loving each other passionately and determined to make their marriage thrive, they light a beacon of hope for those they encounter. One of our daughters and her husband gave out leather bookmarks at their wedding with a quote from Homer, which sums it up well:  "There is nothing nobler or more admirable that when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends."  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

SHARING IN SUFFERING

When my husband had been gone for over two years, I went through a new period of loneliness.  It was different than when he first died, when it was sharp, and would stab me at unexpected times.  Suddenly, it seemed as if the rest of the world walked by in couples, and I struggled on alone.  Our parish began to offer a date night for married couples, and I thought somewhat bitterly that it had never been around when my husband and I could have gone to it.  Without my husband, our home, which was built to house ten people (the two of us, our six children and my parents), at times seemed to threaten to swallow me up, even with my son helping and a gardener doing most of the work outside.  

One morning, as I was praying the Morning Offering, I realized that here was an opportunity to offer up my loneliness especially for our bishops--and one in particular who had worked with us in Worldwide Marriage Encounter. They, along with our priests, have chosen a life of celibacy that includes loneliness.  I didn't choose such a life, but after a very happy married life, that is the path I now walk, and I can choose to walk it in company with them.

In addition, I can walk it in company with those who struggle with same sex attraction and who are also called to a life of celibacy.  I hadn't thought about their situation very much except when friends shared their journey of heartbreak over family members who experience same sex attraction.  When one of my daughters sent me a link to an insightful video ( http://www.blackstonefilms.org/thethirdway/ )that enabled me to relate to them as my brothers and sisters, I was pierced to the heart and felt called to reach out to them in prayer as well.  I didn't choose to be a widow any more than they chose same sex attraction.  We can carry our crosses in the footsteps of the One who carried the cross that ultimately can set us all free.

Monday, November 9, 2015

THROUGH THE EYES OF A SON

On the third anniversary of my husband's death, my son posted the following on his Facebook page.  Of course, it made me cry, but I also feel fiercely proud of my son, who was able to capture so much of who my husband was.  It speaks so eloquently that several of my daughters re-posted it to their pages.  We were all blessed to have shared our lives with him.
Three years ago today, my dad passed away of cancer.  I feel incredibly lucky and blessed that I got to spend twenty years with such an amazing man. This is the man who once drove from San Diego to Phoenix to pick me up at the airport at 9 pm, and then turned around and drove me back to San Diego, just so I wouldn't miss taking the PSAT, and despite the fact that we got back at 4 am he was still up at 6 the next morning to go to work in Irvine, and never complained.  The same man who, when I called from jail, just said, "Well, I'm assuming there's a good story involved in this one."  [There was--but that's another post.]  He never missed an opportunity to help you learn or grow, and when you messed up, he would share a similar time from his life, and try and help you learn from it. He was the smartest man I've ever known, yet he would happily admit when he didn't know something. In conversations he would find out what you were interested in and then somehow he would happen to know something about that subject and he would talk to you for hours about it, whether it was the Australian political system, the interstate numbering system or his personal favorite, Abraham Lincoln. He never complained about all the work he did and never expected anything in return for what he did, even when he was dying of cancer.  I never saw him complain about being in pain; instead he would make jokes to the cashier when he had to buy adult diapers.  Growing up it was pointless arguing with him because he was far too smart and too good at debating to ever hope to win, but anytime he was wrong on anything, he would go to you and admit it and sincerely ask for forgiveness even for little things. He exhibited strength, humility and intelligence in such a way that instead of making you feel insignificant compared to all the things he was, it made you strive to be more like him and a better person.  He treated his cancer as an opportunity and a way to tell everyone around him how much he loved and cared about them one last time. I'm so grateful that I was given the chance from my father, not only to learn how to live life, but also how to leave it.



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

SWINGS

A recent prayer of reminiscence carried me back to my grade school years at a parochial school in the Midwest that is now over a hundred years old.  While I had many good friends there, I am also an introvert, and I was often just as happy to play alone and invent elaborate adventures with my imaginary family, which included Sir Lancelot and Squire Brian from a television series popular at the time, and Honey from the Trixie Belden books.

But one of my other solitary activities was to climb on one of the swings and swing as high as my legs could pump; on a good day my toes might even just touch the leaves of a tall tree nearby.  These swings were the institutional sort, with huge metal poles on either end, and another pole suspended between them, and the swings hung from that pole with metal chains that ended in rubber seats. These swings were never subject to the bump and sway familiar to those who have swung on swing sets not securely cemented in the ground. When I started to swing at school, I was transported to another world, where I could fly through the air at dizzying speed, hoping I might reach the leaves, delighted in the sheer freedom of swinging, with a firm clasp on the chains but my feet soaring.  When the recess bell rang, I felt as if I had returned from another planet, or at least from touring the skies.

Reflecting on this from a spiritual vantage point, I can see my swinging as a reflection of living in the state of grace--and love.  The homily this morning, on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, who was the patron saint of Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II), was on the last section of the Prologue to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, called "Above All - Charity," which quotes from the Roman Catechism
The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends.  Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.

I think of swinging as living in that divine love, and springing from love into the arms of the Father, who then sets us on the way he has fashioned for us to carry his love into the world. The recess bell has rung, but the buoyancy of grace can carry us back into the classroom of life with a fresh air glow we can share with everyone who surrounds us.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

LOOKING FORWARD AND BACKWARD

This past weekend, I participated in our parish's fall festival, which is one of our major fundraisers as well as a way to build community among the parishioners.  Last year I contributed a basket of greeting cards to the craft booth, and I would have split the proceeds with the parish.  I said "would have" because none of the cards sold.  When I picked up my basket, the woman in charge sat me down and gave me some of the feedback she had heard, which was very helpful, and it was kind of her to take the time to give some good advice to someone new in running a business, since she had run a successful business for many years.

This year, my business partner and I had three racks of 190 cards, and we had cut our prices drastically since last year, and had many new cards for sale.  I also volunteered to help with the craft area, both in setting up and in helping people to find things and in selling.  I stayed for most of the two nights and was able to point out my cards to many of the parishioners who came, most of whom had no idea I made cards or ran a business.  We sold 35 cards, and I had orders for five more, and got many ideas for cards that people were looking for that we don't make yet.  I don't know if I sold enough that I will be able to sell them in the new parish gift shop, but I learned a great deal from the people I spoke with, and also ran into some parishioners whom I hadn't seen since the days when we both had children in the school together.  It was enjoyable to interact with so many long-time and new friends, and to see the parish becoming even more alive as a result of the festival.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

ALWAYS IN MY HEART

Recently, our parish began a group as a ministry to parents who have lost children through miscarriage, stillbirth, or other tragedies such as SIDS.  A couple of young mothers who had recently been through miscarriages prompted the formation of the group, and when we first met we had a woman who had lost a baby boy to SIDS, the mother of a stillborn boy and the grandmother of a stillborn boy, the two young mothers, as well as myself who had lost a baby early in pregnancy when I was forty-five.  At our first gathering we shed a lot of tears as we shared our experiences, the belief that losing a baby to miscarriage somehow doesn't "count" in a society that allows unborn babies to be killed up to the moment of birth, and the loneliness of continuing to grieve our lost child or children when the rest of the world seems to expect us to move on quickly.  People trying to be kind told us, "You can always have another one," as if they were toys that could just be duplicated, "there might have been something wrong with it," as if we would love our child less if there were, or even that he or she might have turned out to be a criminal. A bond was forged among us all by our shared sorrow and our determination to offer help to any other parents who needed our love and support.

Our new pastor has been amazing in helping us move the ministry forward.  He told us we could have a place on the church property for a garden of remembrance, and while we originally thought we would have a spot in the area where the outdoor Stations of the Cross are, when we met next, our leader excitedly led us to an area right outside the front of the church, where there is a low wall, and told us that they were going to put in a Garden of the Angels, with two statues they had found in the church office building, some new plants, a bench, and little stones that people could have engraved with the names of the children who left us before we could get to know them.  We had a dedication Mass, the garden was blessed, and we have over a hundred stones with the names of our babies.  

We're preparing now for our next Mass, to be celebrated on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patroness of the unborn, we have a notice in our weekly bulletin that we are here to love and support anyone who has experienced such a loss, and it is a way to harness our own sorrow in order to reach out with healing to others.

Monday, October 5, 2015

SHAKESPEARE AND THE MAGIC OF CONNECTION

I am including a poem I wrote recently to share the magic of an evening when we went to a Shakespeare play (actually NOT Midsummer Night's Dream)--though there will probably be another blog entry about a production of that play that was twenty years in the making--and the music, the enchantment of Shakespeare and the embrace of the warm night spun into poetic flight.

MIDSUMMER EVE IN TOWN


Stars shimmied down
infinitesimal tendrils of light
crowding close
and wrapping the indigo
sky around our shoulders.

I told my husband I loved the music
woven through Shakespeare
and a young man walking ahead
turned around and said,
“Thank you.  I wrote it,”
and he was as near
as the gathering stars

and warm breath of the night.

Friday, September 25, 2015

HIDDEN DEPTHS

This past Wednesday, when I went to pray my Holy Hour in the Blessed Sacrament chapel at our parish, I discovered that the door was locked, and realized that with all the priests of the diocese on retreat, things were more hunkered down than usual. So I told the friends who come with me every week that God was probably telling us, in the words of the Gospel, to "Go to your inner room...and pray to your Father" (Matt. 6:6).  I went home and prayed there.

My prayer of reminiscence bubbled up a memory of my senior year, when I had gotten to know John Hazard better. It was our Easter break (and I think we even called it an Easter break even though we were in public school), and most of us were anxiously waiting to hear from the colleges to which we had applied.  John had applied to five Ivy League schools and was obviously concerned about the responses.
I had asked him to call me when he heard, and he promised that he would.  

When the phone rang, my mother picked it up and told me he was calling, and when I answered and he responded, I remember being almost stunned at how deep his voice sounded over the telephone.  I asked him what his news was and he told me in a very happy voice that he had been accepted at all five.  I remember several years later seeing a picture his mother had taken of him in front of a table with the five letters there.  One of his friends had been accepted at Yale, and another at Princeton, but he was the only one in our class who had been accepted at Harvard, and that was where he wanted to go. 

When I reflected on it Wednesday night, it was the sound of his voice and how much deeper it was than I expected that filled my mind.  As I prayed about it, it occurred to me that every one we meet has depths we don't encounter casually, and that only when we take time to really listen and get to know them do we discover more layers of who they are.  And even in our daily existence, we can deepen our experience of the moment by paying more attention to our surroundings, opening our eyes and ears and allowing life to enter in.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

CHANGE TIPTOES IN BEHIND

Today, just after noon, it was already 104 degrees. September and October in Southern California are often the hottest months, just as the rest of the country is starting to celebrate fall, pulling out sweaters and decorating with pumpkins.  Here, the pumpkins might bake in their shells if we left them sitting out in the sun.

I called my daughter, who was preparing to host their Sunday night dinner group, to see if she wanted to have it at our home, about half an hour away.  They don't have air conditioning and we do; she had already called last night to ask our son to bake his famous pies here rather than heat up their house even more.  She said she would check with her husband, and called back almost right away to say they would be happy to have it here.  I have known most of the members of the Sunday dinner group since they were in college and grad school together; it's the group responsible for introducing my daughter to her husband.  I've seen many of them married and watched as children began arriving. The last time we hosted, there were twenty-seven children in all!

But even as the heat seems to press the landscape to the ground and the gardens and lawns of the area turn brown with the drought-sponsored watering restrictions, I can see clues that the earth is still turning, and autumn will eventually make its way here.  At the very top of the liquidambar trees, ruby and burgundy is scattered among the mostly emerald leaves. Sunset creeps in sooner, and in the morning dawn lingers in bed a bit longer.  Children are back shrilling the air at the two schools near us and their big yellow buses boomerang out and back twice a day.  I am ready for cooler air and praying, like most Californians, for a very wet winter!

Friday, September 11, 2015

THE CHALLENGE OF MARRIAGE

In the past few months, I have stumbled over marriages that have shattered or are crumbling.  They are long-term marriages of friends or marriages of friends of my daughters. The first time I heard of the dissolution of a marriage of a couple who seemed very similar to us in many ways was the reception of a document in the annulment process by my husband, followed by a letter from the wife detailing some of the very serious issues in their marriage.  They had moved away a few years before, but we had stayed with them for several days in their new home, and had been blind to the brewing catastrophe, or deceived by the elaborate farce played out for our benefit.  We did have a dozen children between us and the romping about of so many little ones may have been the smoke and mirrors that kept us from having any sense of what was going on underneath the facade.  But I remember that when it was borne in upon me that in fact this seemingly ideal couple had been torn asunder by the lightning strike of divorce, I felt as if an earthquake had roared beneath my feet, leaving the ground no longer solid, and walls a danger rather than a protective shield.  I understood the twins in A Comedy of Errors who began to question their own identities, although with more serious intensity.  What happens in so many cases is a Tragedy of Errors--errors of understanding, of expectations, and of actions, and most devastating, an error of underpinnings. Because if there is no underpinning of commitment to the covenant of marriage--and for Christians, to the sacrament of Matrimony--then a major disagreement or a tragedy can overwhelm them like a tsunami and obliterate the landscape created by their vows of love.  When Don Francisco sang, "Love is not a feeling, it's an act of the will," he summed up one of the key truths that binds together husband and wife. Your feelings of love may ebb and flow, but your decision to love, "for as long as we both shall live," made on your wedding day, is a sturdy plank in the foundation that will carry you through every storm of life.  Standing securely on that foundation, you can do the work of marriage--prayer, passion, and persistent communication--that provides a home for you and a haven to others.

Monday, September 7, 2015

TRANSCENDENCE AND IMMANENCE

Recently, as I was going through my emails, I came upon one from Writer's Digest, which I was assuming was another of my many rejection notices.  Somehow, they don't seem as daunting when they come in by email, as when it's an envelope in the mail, and I can often tell by feeling whether it's a thin rejection notice, or a slightly thicker letter saying they have accepted my poem(s).  But instead, this email was the bearer of the welcome news that the poem I had submitted to their annual writing contest had received an honorable mention.  This didn't quite lead to my doing a touchdown dance, but I felt appreciated.  In addition, the poem had been sparked by a comment a friend had made in an email to me, and I let her know that she had been the muse who inspired my poem.

When I was praying about the incident that provided the background for the poem, I remembered how our son, who was two at the time, had insisted on climbing the path at Muir Woods for several miles, and how people who passed us commented on his persistence.  And how we then had to carry him all the way back down!  However, despite making this extended hike with all our six children, my predominant memory was of the silence and awe that the huge trees of Muir Woods impressed upon me.  When I reflected on that vast green chapel, in the tiny Blessed Sacrament chapel in our home parish, I was overwhelmed with the realization that God is present in every moment, from the most mundane, to the most magnificent, and that if I open my eyes and ears more often, I can experience his presence rather than rush blind and deaf through my life.  I can hear

Heartbeats like pebbles
on the upward trail
diminuendo in intensity
of space sprung
from one whose works
and Word are hung
beyond time veiled 
in a runic twig or bound
in veined systems of leaves:
green hope fragile
submerged,
profound.




Thursday, August 27, 2015

NUMBERS, WORDS, AND WFF N PROOF

As I have been journeying through my journal from senior year in high school, I've discovered memories I had long since forgotten.  Puns were very popular in our AP English class.  They became a part of the air we breathed, and popped out at times without our realizing it.  At one point, when we were discussing Shaw's St. Joan, I remarked that St. Joan had a man’s job to do, so she had decided to be suitably attired—entirely unintentionally I had made a pun, and John Hazard seized upon it, pointing it out rather loudly to my delight and consternation.  

In addition, we reveled in "Tom Swifties," which were named after the Tom Swift series of books, science fiction tales geared toward readers who also might have read Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.  The author, who wrote under the pseudonym of Victor Appleton, had a habit of attaching adverbs to the phrase, "Tom said."  John Hazard had at one point promised me a whole page of Tom Swifties, but the very next day as I was getting my lunch from my locker, he walked past me and said, "'My, this roof is strong,' said Tom beaming."

As we moved into the second half of the year, birds came home to roost in the numbers we received on the various Achievement Tests we had taken earlier.  Those of us in the AP English class were mostly very competitive. I'm not sure if it was my father's influence, who gave me the impression I could do anything I wanted, or the three years at the all girls' school where I was used to competition, or my own personality, or a little of all three, but I never understood why a girl should play down her own intelligence in order not to offend a boy.  In the Achievement Tests I had taken, I received numbers that were all in the 95th to 99th percentile, but in Spanish I got an 800, which was the top score.  I was so excited, I ran out of the Guidance Office, and told one of my friends who was waiting for me, and soon a whole group of friends was congratulating me.  My Spanish teacher told me that even her nieces, who were native Spanish speakers, hadn't done that.  But my happiest moment was when John Hazard told me that he, who had gotten an 800 on a couple of other things, had not gotten an 800 on the German Achievement Test, and that he had never heard of anyone getting an 800 on a language Achievement Test.  Instead of being embarrassed, I was thrilled that now I had earned his respect.  

Another intellectual pursuit was the beginning of the WFF n Proof Club on campus, a game my father had gotten for me several years earlier to teach me logic.  I taught my girlfriends, and one of the boys taught his friends, and we carried on from there, and I even had to show the teacher who was the moderator how to play.  For several weeks, we all went around school using the arcane WFF n Proof terminology and undoubtedly got a great deal of fun from speaking in a language that the uninitiated didn't understand. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

KAIROS PIERCES CHRONOS

As spring eased its way into the high school, senioritis began to flourish, and I soon wangled several honors passes, which meant I didn't have to go to most of my history or Spanish classes since I had convinced the teachers to let me do more independent study.  They didn't have Spanish 5 at the new high school, and I wasn't in the AP History class though I should have been.

I spent many an hour sitting out on the grassy area in front of the high school with other senior friends equally endowed with honors passes.  I also had discovered a nook of nature within the campus itself which was deserted once classes were over, and I escaped there one day in the middle of a Yearbook meeting and sat there quietly soaking in the golden peace of a late afternoon, and the minutes dissolved into that timelessness the Greeks called kairos.

The Muse danced and images fluttered out on incorporeal staves, and I tried to pen the notes to a piece of notebook paper in a "Spring Sketch."  Looking back, I can see Whitman casting a looming shadow over the verses, but they did roughly outline the moments when time slowed and was forgotten.

There is a blade of grass here,
another there, and a weed,
adding up to a carpet ruffled 
with brown grass and leaves
that weren't raked up last fall.

There was a rain yesterday,
but it has all soaked through, 
leaving the grass springy
and very softly dry.

There is a tree there 
and five more, and a little bush.
The first shy leaves
have crept through the branches 
and they wave in the air
that has no heat and no cold;
and the breeze blows 
the blades of grass, too.

There was a bird in the tree,
perched among the slender branches
that toss gently in the air.
The warbler sent his low sweet melody
cascading into the sea of grass
where it blended with the endless rhythm,
as the notes came floating
from a chorus in a distant grove,
and the gull's cries rolled in
from a broad and endless sea.

There was a girl here beneath the tree
living with the blades of grass
and the new leaves that drink the rain,
singing the soft notes bequeathed
by the bird, long flown;
gathering her gifts of sun and peace
she held them to her until they were
impressed forever in her heart.

Rediscovering those lines didn't draw up a sketch of the place so much as the quiet that filled the space and coexisted with the bird notes.  Whatever was left of high school Sturm und Drang had drained away and left me on an island distant as a mountain valley with the air so clear you could hear cowbells from miles away.    

When I finally emerged from my reverie, I had no idea how long I'd been out there, but John Hazard asked me where on earth I'd been and I was a bit elusive in my answer.  When I reflected on this memory in prayer this week, I tried to imagine God yearning for me to return my gaze to him, but it is challenging to think of the ineffable Creator looking afar with his piercing eyes to see if I have turned toward him yet.

Friday, August 14, 2015

BURNING BRIDGES

“I know now that I have crossed a bridge which burned behind me…the world of sunshine and lollipops is gone, that I have made the first step toward self-understanding; whether I shall finally see reality is an unknown factor and where I go from here is also uncertain.  But the past is lost…irretrievably lost.  How true the clichés!  I can never go back!”  

My thoughts after the accidental encounter with a snow plow were as dramatic as only a high school girl can express them, and rather inaccurate as well, since the first three years of high school were certainly not just "sunshine and lollipops."  But with the resilience of youth, the very next line of my journal (without even a paragraph break!) described the introduction of coed volleyball in gym class:  "I was terrified when I first heard it but it wasn’t really bad, even fun.  The boys just ignored us, even tho’ we were on the same team.”

And, of course, my great consolation was going to Yearbook after school. I had begun to copy the beautiful handwriting of Russell, the literary editor on whom I had developed my major crush. "I live for Yearbook, and our meeting today was fantastic.  There was such a sense of joyful camaraderie, especially at the end when only [a few of us] were left.  We worked and joked...and we all got on famously.  I really, truly felt accepted."  

On the Friday before we left for Christmas break, I announced that “Today was the perfect climax to this past week.  This morning we had a Christmas assembly which was fun and beautiful, especially the band and the French horns, which were nostalgic, and I wished I hadn’t sold the horns we had.  But it was still great.  Then at lunch, [we] had a party at our table; we had a tablecloth, candles, glasses, ravioli, milk, and brownies.  It caused quite a sensation, and everyone enjoyed it.  Then we had a Christmas party in Spanish with a piñata.  I got lots of candy and gave it to the people in Yearbook—also the brownies left from the party.  Yearbook was icing on the cake [or maybe on the brownies].  We finally did finish the book, at least the section to page 107.  We worked until 8:30 pm....The glory and the strain can never be recorded here, but it was delightful."  I’m guessing the glory was more delightful than the strain! 

I remarked that Russ "and I really got to know each other—he got 800 Verbal SAT, 793 Math, 800 on Math Level II and Chemistry Achievement, and 157 on NMSQT—I got 150....  What a guy!  I’m really getting serious about him.  I can’t describe all the puns and Tom Swifties, the excellent captions I wrote, and all the fun we had."  I had finally met someone whom I recognized as an intellectual superior, who had an endearing sense of humor as well. When I watched Star Trek again for the first time in weeks, the character of Mr. Spock paled beside the flesh and blood real boy who had captured my attention.





Sunday, August 9, 2015

A TURNING POINT, "IF THERE IS SUCH A THING"

With the locks on all the doors replaced in the house, we were able to schedule a trip to one of the three schools I was still considering.  On the way there, I noted in my journal, “I discovered that I had left my grades at the hotel. Daddy was very mad, of course, but we went back, the interview was fine and they accepted me without qualification.  Then two very nice girls showed Mother and me the dorms.  But my absentmindedness as exemplified earlier has become a real problem.  How can I correct it?  Is there a way?  …I simply must, for the consequences are too often very far-reaching.  Of course if I had not lost the key we would have gone in November.  Period.  But we went this weekend, and it began to snow very hard coming home; the roads were slick.  I still don’t know exactly what happened—we began sliding all over the road, a huge snow plow veered into our lane very slightly.  Then everything began to go in slow-motion.  Unless you’ve really been in an accident, the feeling is indescribable. I saw the snow plow (truck) coming closer to the side window (I was sitting in front).  In those seconds I remember thinking with a mental gasp of disbelief that we were going to crash, and Daddy had never been in an accident and this would spoil it, and what if the side of the car caved in and crushed me, but I knew it just wouldn’t happen.  Then the shock of the blow—it dented the right front fender and bumped the door I leaned against.  It was quite a tremendous force against my arm, but I felt as if I could keep it from denting in.  Then we continued swerving over toward the dividing fence.  I thought, what if we go through it and crash head-on into a car over there?  Instead, the back left corner got dented.  If there had been a car behind us or no divider, we would have been seriously hurt or killed.  And if Daddy had not called upon all his years of good driving and experience the car probably would have gone into a spin and turned over.  Finally we got it stopped on the right shoulder of the road, the truck in front of us. Now that I think of it, the plow didn’t hit the door, but the shock was so tremendous I was thoroughly convinced that it had.  Men got out of the truck and Daddy got out, and they came around to see if I was hurt.... I had received the worst part of it, but fortunately I wasn’t hurt, although one of the men said I was white as a ghost. No doubt.  In that suspended moment when I saw the huge orange side of the truck looming at me I felt as if were coming face to face with Death and pushing it away.  That terrible bump—I could feel the side of the car near the tire go in as if it were a tin can; and it shook the door so it felt as if a huge force were falling against me.  But it was the physical reality of the thing that scared me most.”

At the time, I interpreted everything in terms of the “story” I had been told growing up; my father was nearly invincible and everything he did was right, and the fact that the accident wasn’t more serious was entirely due to his excellent driving skills.  Curiously, many years later when my parents had come to live with me after I was married and had four children, and the subject of that accident came up, my father mentioned that he had gotten a ticket for driving too fast for conditions.  I remember feeling outraged because I had always assumed the accident was entirely my fault because I had lost my purse.  Certainly, we wouldn’t have gone that weekend if I hadn’t, but the police gave my father the ticket, not me!  Despite that, as I reflect on it now, the feelings of guilt are far stronger than the belated outrage, but there are also sprinklings of gratitude that we were all spared any serious injury and were able to get home--after having the fender repaired at a gas station--without any further incident.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

HIGH SCHOOL DRAMA (NOT THE MUSICAL)

By the middle of November, I'd been plunged into a crisis by forgetting my purse at school in my rush to catch the bus. The key to the back door was in it along with my brand new driver's license, and we started getting phone calls to see if we were home. My parents alerted the police, and we had to get new locks on all the doors, and postponed a trip to see one of the colleges I was interested in.  

In the midst of all this, I suddenly realized I had singled out one of the boys in my AP English class to have a real crush on, as opposed to just having heart flutters from interactions with one or another of them.  I characterized it as "nothing serious, a pleasant sensation, although aggravating at times. I've read enough advice columns to recognize a mild case of infatuation--and he is a great kid."  Since he was the Literary Editor of Yearbook, I had more opportunities than just English class to interact with him.  When I showed the Yearbook foreword and its layout to him, the advisor, the editor-in-chief and several other staff members, the reaction was positive, and I was elated.

When he won the Bausch and Lomb science award, my father told me that he had won it when he was in high school, and my best friend gave me a copy of the article in the local paper, which had his picture in it.  I noted that he was very much like my father, "but different enough to make him very attractive to me.  He is very cute, very smart, very adorable, and I just think he's fantastic!"  At Yearbook meetings, I had a chance to talk about more personal things with him and we started to learn more about each other.  On a hopeful note, I remarked that "he's come to respect me more, perhaps to like me a little."  I began to use the article with his picture to mark my place in my journal, "so it will be where I can look at it, but no one will know the extent of my crush."

Curiously, he and I were elected class scholars. I could understand that he would be since everyone assumed he would be valedictorian, but I was new to the school and surprised that enough people even knew who I was to vote for me.  As we went down the hall to get our picture taken for the Yearbook, someone asked if we were the class "Romeo and Juliet," and I remember wishing that we were!

A few days later, my mother called the English teacher to complain about the play that everyone in the class had gone to see except me.  Mrs. Klein deftly defused the situation by telling her that I "was a catalyst in the class--and that everyone was trying to work up to my standards! It also explains why she read two of my papers and none of the others'.  She also said I was a very mature and charming person!  It makes me feel so happy when I find that someone likes and respects me."  As the year crept towards Christmas break, my life at the new high school seemed rather like a book where as I turned the pages I discovered friendships blossoming and romance like a burgundy rose opening in the center of the garden.


Friday, July 24, 2015

LONG LASTING KINDNESS

It's interesting that the first mention in my high school journal of one of the boys in AP English class was that he was "really great, so considerate."  The very next day, I mentioned that he was "really going all-out to make me feel welcome--not because of any great interest in me, but because he is by nature considerate."  I remember that he was our basketball star, yet he seemed down-to-earth and accepted with grace the ribbing of several of his classmates who seemed to pepper everyone in their circle with ongoing sarcastic comments.

In October, my mother called his mother to see if I could get a ride with him to school for a bus to a Shakespeare play we were going to see for AP English.  Of course, I was mortified and terrified he would think I was forward, but in fact he was one of the first to get his driver's license and he took several other students as well.  He was outgoing and easy to talk to, and seemed perfectly delighted to drive a station wagon full of seniors to and from school.  

I didn't stay in touch with him after we graduated, but when my beloved husband died, the first thing I saw when I went to the funeral home for the viewing, was a stunning bouquet of yellow roses on the table with the guest book.  When I read the gift card, I was amazed to read that it was from this friend from high school.  That touched me so deeply and confirmed that my first impression of him as considerate was true; kindness was essential to his character and expressed itself in a tangible gesture that left an indelible impression on me over forty years after we had last seen him.  






Thursday, July 16, 2015

ENRICHING MARRIAGES

When we were preparing to become a presenting team couple for Worldwide Marriage Encounter, we were sent to a weekend training session that enhanced our own relationship as well as giving us more tools to help other couples with good marriages strengthen their relationships.
I had become afraid to fly when we moved to California, but God gave me the grace to get on the plane to Houston where the training took place.  

We basically experienced the Weekend again, but at an even deeper level, and learned how all the talks work together to give the couples who go on a Weekend the best possible experience and the most powerful renewal of their marriage. One of the most enlightening experiences was having the participants divided into groups after a personality analysis, so everyone in the group had a similar personality style.  In my group, called the catalysts, we wrote all over the newsprint, with arrows, balloons, and very messy script.  My husband's group, by contrast, was filled with thinkers, who made a neat list of the things they wanted to record, and thought a long time about exactly how they wanted to say it. It was a good reminder that there are many different kinds of people in the world, that we are often married to someone who thinks and reacts in ways that may not make sense to us, but that we're called to appreciate our differences and learn to communicate across what might seem to be a great chasm of misunderstanding.  

Communication is at the center of the Weekend.  We learn to listen with our hearts, without judging, and to express ourselves in more loving ways so we can fall more deeply in love, grow in intimacy, and mirror God's love for his people. There were couples and a few priests from all over the country and all of us had a desire to share the gifts we had been given with couples whose marriages are "just fine" and see them blossom into husbands and wives passionately committed to each other, whose love overflows into their families and communities.  By the time we left, when we ran into several couples from the training weekend at the airport, it felt like a celebration of a family reunion where we all shared a common faith and a mission to help other couples realize how powerful their love can be in revitalizing their families, churches and society.

Friday, July 10, 2015

MOOT COURT

Moot Court is an event that probably only those who have been to law school and their wives or husbands have even heard about.  Students take part in simulated appellate court proceedings, drafting briefs and participating in oral arguments. As opposed to a mock trial, which would include testimony by witnesses, presentation of evidence and cross-examination, moot court centers on the application of the law to evidentiary assumptions which the students will have researched prior to their oral arguments.

The judges for moot court can be law professors, attorneys, or members of the judiciary. Judges can ask questions at any time during the presentation, and students must respond. They need to understand the facts of the case, their arguments, and the arguments of the opposing side.

When I sent a card to my husband's moot court partner and his wife on the occasion of their wedding anniversary recently, it reminded me of the agony that led up to the day of the actual arguments, as they reviewed together and prepared for that momentous occasion. (As I thought of it, I was again grateful that my husband had encountered this young man on the first day of law school, because he taught him how to study, something he had never needed to do in high school, and didn't do much of in college.) I think it was their last year of law school; it seemed to be gathered up with finals and graduation practice and even a little bit of spring fever.  I went with my father-in-law and the father of my husband's partner and my memories are all gray: it was evening, the room seemed dark where the arguments were presented and my recollection is that every man was wearing a gray suit.  I had given up my gray nun dress so I was probably the only spot of color there.

I don't remember if it was a competition, as many moot courts are, but I am fairly sure that they were told that they had done well, because we all went out to dinner together afterwards, the fathers congratulating the sons and everyone in a benevolent mood.  It was one more milestone on the way to my husband becoming a real lawyer. His coolness as he delivered his arguments and answered questions was a good predictor of his performance as a litigator after he passed the Bar Exam and started working at a law firm, when it seemed as if real life had finally begun!


Friday, July 3, 2015

DEEDS OF LOVE

Teenagers, along with two-year-olds, can be among the most self-centered creatures on the planet, and as I struggled to adapt to a new, very different school, I undoubtedly thought that my ordeal was the most important event in our family, and maybe even our small town.  I updated my mother each day with all the details of what happened, who said what, and what I thought about it all. She listened patiently, to her credit, and I would often give a summary of what I had told her at the dinner table, so my father and siblings could also be enlightened.

Since he was serving in a fairly high position on one of the stock exchanges, he was especially interested in what I was studying in Economics, and when my teacher found out what he did, she asked if he might be able to come in and give a talk to the class.  When I look back now, I know he was very busy with a huge project at the stock exchange, but he agreed to come in, even though it meant he probably would have to go in to work late that day, and the buses from where we lived in New Jersey to Manhattan ran much less frequently later on.  

However, he appeared on the agreed upon date and gave a talk which I don't remember at all, except that I'm sure he had one of his standard quips and probably most of the class didn't understand much of what he said.  Nevertheless, I remember being very proud to be his daughter; he was a good looking man who spoke with an air of authority as well as a sense of humor.  I imagine I thanked him, but I realize better now that it was a significant sacrifice for him to take the time to write the talk and give it.  I took it for granted then, but I am thankful that he demonstrated his love for me in deeds, even if I am only understanding it now.

Friday, June 26, 2015

ROLLER COASTER INTRODUCTION

Once I survived the upheaval of transferring to a new high school, and then having my schedule twitched so I could take AP English, I faced the array of very smart students in that class.  It was the final period of the day, and my reserves of bravery were dwindling when I went in for the first time.  The others had all been friends for at least three years, and some of them had known each other since kindergarten. They struck me as being intelligent, witty and rather sarcastic with one another, and I felt like an interloper, who quickly found a seat in the back of the classroom and tried to shrink into invisibility.

However, I appreciated the quality of teaching and the caliber of the other students' comments and began to feel somewhat more comfortable in the class. A few weeks into September, to my great surprise, Mrs. Klein chose my essay to read to the class as an example of a paper that had earned a "5," the top grade.  I was pleased, since I felt as if I belonged at last.

When she asked for comments, they were mostly critical.  The one I remember clearly was that I had not supported my arguments with any quotes.  That stung, because it was true.  I don't know that anyone had ever told me I needed to do that, but I never forgot the advice, and backed up every contention from then on with ample evidence from the text, in every class I took.  I remember feeling totally deflated as I got on the bus after class, for not only had my lovely essay been cruelly bludgeoned, but I was sure that none of the students liked me either.

Several months later, when I had gotten to know John Hazard better through our work on the Yearbook, he told me that when Mrs. Klein read my essay, he had thought, "Oh, no, that's really good; I've got to find something to criticize."  He told me that most of them saw me as a girl pitchforked into their midst from a Catholic school, who often wore a gray dress with a white collar and cuffs that looked like a "nun dress," and that I needed to be securely put in my place.  Fortunately, they were all basically good-hearted seniors, and I soon felt accepted and proceeded to develop a crush on each of the boys, one after the other, which was probably the result of having been among girls for three years and having had only Mr. Spock as an object of romantic interest.

Friday, June 19, 2015

LIFE CHANGING MOMENTS

God used self-righteous indignation to change my life.  I was beginning my senior year of high school.  After three years of charcoal gray blazers (which only I buttoned because I thought I looked older, more authoritative that way), I was looking forward to the navy blue, "you've made it to the top" blazer at last.  When we arrived at the all-girls' school, we were herded into the auditorium and informed that the schedules weren't quite ready.  Instead of being delighted at a chance to catch up with all my friends, I was incensed that things were not going according to plan.  I always loved the first day of school, and in high school, we got to go to different classrooms and meet different teachers and I was ready to impress them all with my intelligence!

After a full day sitting restlessly in the auditorium, I was indignant at the waste of time, and even more irritated when we were told that we might not get our schedules the next day.  I fumed on the bus ride home, and when I walked into our house, I told my mother that I wished I had gone to the public school after all.  My parents had been encouraging me to switch all summer, since Vatican II had upended the nuns, the catechism, Latin and our psyches, and they resented having to pay tuition at a school that they considered barely Catholic any more.  But since it was my senior year, they hadn't insisted.

My mother, no fool, replied that I still could go to the public school, made a phone call, and the next morning I found myself sitting with her and talking to the guidance counselor at the public high school.  I assured the counselor that I had no desire to take any more science or math, that I would be delighted to take Creative Writing, and because I wanted to go into politics, I'd love to take Sociology and Economics. Only later did I discover that the smart kids were taking Physics and Calculus, AP English and History, and I was in all the dummy classes.

What saved me was Mrs. Cohen, my basic English teacher, who noticed that I got perfect scores on the spelling tests she gave (I had gone to the National Spelling Bee!) and asked if I were interested in being switched into AP English.  The only downside was that I had to give up Creative Writing since they were the same period. When I think of it now, it seems as if the school were indicating that you could be creative or advanced placement material, but not both at once.  So I made the move into the one class where I could meet most of the intelligent students in one fell swoop, but all the changes were so sudden that I spent several afternoons in the nurse's office with severe stomach aches, which were my body's way of dealing with stress.  Mrs. Cohen had also asked me if I'd like to be on the Literary Committee of the Yearbook, and I'd said yes to that as well, so I had another group of students to get to know.  I had gone from being at the top of the heap in my old high school, to a new student who had worn uniforms for three years and had no idea how to dress or where any of the classrooms were in a much bigger campus, and knew nobody except my best friend who lived down the street but was a year behind me.  

At lunch time the first day, I was walking with my cafeteria tray and wondering where I should sit, when a beautiful blonde girl waved and invited me to join her.  She introduced me to several other girls, who were all in my class, and I began to feel a little less alone.  Several days later, she suddenly said, "Oh, there's that John Hazard over there selling Honor Society sweatshirts.  I hope his booth falls down on him!"  I followed her glance and saw a good-looking blonde guy and wondered why she was wishing disaster upon him. I learned later that he was one of the front-runners for Valedictorian and considered a bit too self-satisfied, but I was always interested in intelligent people and later encountered him when I switched to AP English, and then discovered he was also the Literary Editor of the Yearbook, so I had a chance to get to know him better as the year progressed.   

Thursday, June 11, 2015

INTENSIVE WRITING

By Saturday, I could perceive the general structure of the writer's "intensive" retreat.  We would have a writer's prompt, a writing session, and then gather in small groups to listen to each other's writing.  The comments we were asked to make were pointing out what resonated with us and what we wanted to hear more of.  After lunch, we would "dance" to several different songs, and later in the afternoon, we took a walk in silence, a bit of an undertaking for sixteen women!  However, it did enable us to pay far more attention to the beauty all around us rather than thinking up conversational tidbits.

At the end of the first day, I had decided to walk back to the hotel, which was about 2.7 miles away, almost all downhill.  However, what I had not taken into account was the fact that I was carrying a bag with a relatively heavy "vintage" laptop computer, two notebooks, and assorted other writing gear.  The bag was not ergonomically designed, and I spent the walk juggling it from one shoulder to the other and one hand to the other, because the weight dug into me wherever I held it.  By the time I'd made it halfway there, I decided that on the other days, I would either call a cab or see if one of the other writers could give me a lift part or all of the way.  And one of them was happy to do so for me and another writer, and even introduced us to a little store where we could buy snacks and other necessities. So each morning, I took a cab, and each evening, this kind writer brought me down to the street where my hotel was.

I did incredible amounts of writing, and surprised myself with some of the directions I took.  During the last session, we met with the same group we had started with, and one of the things that several of the women told me was that they wanted to hear more about the love letters that my husband and I had written to each other every day for 30 years.  When I thought of writing more about our relationship and less about my widowhood, I felt like a flower that had just bloomed.  The dead ends that had seemed to appear whenever I tried writing the book I thought I should write vanished, and sharing our life as a couple, with all the struggles and reconciliations and triumphs we experienced as young newlyweds and as our family grew,  seemed to open out before me as the path down which I should wander, with poems and prayers of reminiscence and whatever else appears along the way.  My husband often said that my poems almost seemed too personal for him to want to critique them (even though when he did, he proved to be the best editor I could have ever had), but the ones that are autobiographical will probably say in 20 lines more than I could put into several chapters.  So as I gathered my things, and headed down the three blocks to the train station the morning after the retreat ended, I felt a sense of completion as well as a new beginning for my book.

There were no mishaps on the train going back, I arrived on time, and my daughter picked me up, three of the grandchildren gave me huge hugs to welcome me, I talked almost nonstop about my experiences until we got to her place, and I took off for home, feeling as if I had returned from another planet, grateful for the experiences, and happy to be back to my house, my garden, and my life that is full of meaning and blessings.

Friday, June 5, 2015

THE PIVOT POINT

On Saturday, I scheduled a cab from one of the companies that had been recommended. The driver was on time, and got me to the workshop early again.  I again waited for another writer to appear, only this time she had a familiar face and I knew her name.  I was beginning to feel as if I belonged.

We had all signed up for a half hour of private coaching with one of the writing instructors, and since I had been at the end of the circle, when the schedule got to me, I discovered that if I wanted my coaching session early in the workshop, I would have to sign up for the second coach, so I did, and I met with her early on Saturday morning.  We sat outside on the patio beside the fountain under a perfect sunny sky, and the first thing she told me was "It's obvious that your faith plays a big part in who you are."  I knew from the first writing she shared that she had grown up Jewish, but the gentle way she said this enabled me to relax back into being myself, and I thought of Pope Francis advising us to accept people where they are and it seemed as if she were living that out.  That empowered me to do the same for everyone else on the retreat and learn to listen on a deeper level.

She asked if I were wedded to making my book a novel, and I told her that it had just seemed like the right format, but that every time I tried to write about some aspect of my life as a widow, I ran into a brick wall or a dead end.  Her suggestion was to take the Prayers of Reminiscence, some of which I had shared and use them as links in the book and let them guide me into the structure.  After my session, I first felt as if I had cracked open the shell that was imprisoning me, but later as we were doing our after-lunch free dancing, I realized that what I was experiencing on a deeper level was more like swimming up out of deep water so that I can breathe and see more clearly, and that sense of freedom enabled me to write differently and just experiment with where the various writing prompts were taking me.

Friday, May 29, 2015

INTO THE WILDERNESS

On the first morning of the "writer's intensive," I got dressed, had breakfast, practiced my French horn with the Silent Brass I had brought along since I assumed that no one would like to hear scales and chords and hymns I needed to work on for church played at full volume at 7 A.M.  I got downstairs early, the cab arrived on time and carried me to the home where the retreat was.  I walked up and down the street until another writer appeared, and we entered the gate together.  It was quite a thrill to meet the woman who was leading the retreat; she had interviewed me on Skype for one of her online courses, and I had taken several of them, but to be able to hug her in person was a delight.  The other woman who was co-leading the retreat was also interesting and struck me as being even more intense, and the two women complemented each other well.

There were fourteen women making the retreat, all very different and very different kinds of writers, from a dynamic red head who was a television producer writing her first book to a blonde who shared sections of her young adult fantasy in a delightful voice that carried an edge of humor.  But as I realized that many of the women came with extremely different religious and political views, I started to wonder if I would be an outcast and I could feel myself mentally pulling back from the circle we were sitting in.  When we got into our first reading group, after our first extended period of writing, and two of the women read pieces that reflected unhappy childhoods and criticism of various Catholic components that seemed to have contributed to their unhappiness, I felt under attack, at least indirectly.  When it was my turn, I  read a section about my husband that included the information that we are Catholic, which I judged at least threw down the gauntlet so that they would suspect that I might take random anti-Catholic remarks personally. However, the challenge of writing so extensively, and of being able to listen to intelligent women comment on what resonated with them, and what they wanted to hear more of, carried me through the rest of the day with a deep sense of gratitude.

I had decided to walk the three miles back to the hotel so I could time myself, and didn't think I'd have any difficulties, since it was primarily downhill.  What I hadn't taken into consideration was the fact that I was carrying the bag that held my notebooks and a very heavy laptop, which is so old that when I had to have it repaired a few years ago, I discovered that its serial number classified it as either vintage or obsolete.  It wasn't an ergonomically designed bag, either, but cut into either my shoulder or hand, depending on how I juggled it from one to the other.  By the time I got back to the hotel, I decided that I would have to get a ride or take a cab the other days.  There was a delightful breeze blowing, and I would have enjoyed the walk if it had not been for my uncomfortable burden.  I decided to go to the same restaurant where I had been the night before, and had another delightful meal, sitting outside on the patio again, chatting with the waiter, reading my book, and feeling very much in harmony with people passing on the street and the world in general, a comfortable ambience that stayed with me back in the hotel and made it easy to crawl into bed, read a little more, and fall easily asleep.

Friday, May 22, 2015

WAY OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE

I'm back from what was labeled a "writer's intensive," and that is exactly what it was for me, even before I arrived.  My daughter took me to the train station, I checked my French horn, and managed to get my suitcase, the bag with my computer, notebooks, books and pens, up to the second story of the train.  I had a view out over the ocean which was inspirational, ate my lunch, read more of Gaudy Night, and had just texted my oldest daughter that I was thinking of her as we passed through the station where I usually disembark.  Suddenly the train stopped out in the fields, and the conductor announced that they had hit something and would have to investigate.  A little later they said something about a trespasser, and even later they said that he had "passed."

This required the police and a coroner and a very long delay.  I could see officials in uniforms along with Amtrak people walking up and down beside the train.  The man in the seat ahead of me, was calling people he was supposed to meet and canceling his meetings, and that reminded me that I should probably call the hotel and tell them that I would be in later and ask them to hold my room.

There were conflicting announcements about where we would go when the coroner was finished, but eventually the train pulled into the next station, where we all had to leave, since our train crew had to leave and be replaced.  We stood on the platform for nearly an hour, it began to rain, and a few umbrellas went up.  I had brought my down coat with a hood, because the train is often cold and even in Southern California we can have chilly weather.  I was thankful I had dressed that way, since quite a few people were dressed for the beach and they were all shivering.

Eventually, another train came and we were allowed to get back on, and I sat next to a nice woman who assured me that it was perfectly safe to walk from the train station in Santa Barbara to my hotel, so I felt reassured about that. After she got off, there was a huge rainbow over the clouds, and when I finally made it to Santa Barbara, the sun was shining cheerfully. My map had showed that it was .3 mile to my hotel, and I knew it would be an easy walk.
It was sharply uphill, and I was pulling or carrying all my luggage, but I took off, enjoying the ocean breeze.

At one point, I noticed a restaurant that must have been a chain, since we had eaten at one in Solvang, and I continued on my way reflecting on the fun we had had with most of the family together there.  I kept looking at my map, and looking at the quaint street signs as I passed each block, but my street did not appear.  After an hour, I was hot and disheveled, and a kind woman came up to me and asked if I was looking for something.  When I told her the name of the street, she said, "Oh, that's all the way back down there," pointing in the direction from which I had come.

I thanked her and set off again, grateful that at least my path lay downhill this time, although my French horn got heavier with each step, and I spent time changing it from one hand to the other as I trudged along.  After I had been walking for what seemed like forever, I still didn't see my street sign, so I found a man in a shoe store and asked him if he knew where it was.  He didn't, but he had a smart phone, and quickly revealed that I was only two blocks away from my elusive street.  When I finally arrived at the desired street, I realized that the restaurant that had triggered my memories was on that street corner, and the name of the street was on the other side, so being side-tracked led to much more exercise than I had anticipated.

When I reached the hotel, the clerk who checked me in was extremely helpful in recommending a restaurant very close by that had tapas and small entrees.  I unloaded my luggage and walked the half block to the restaurant, where I sat on the patio, watched people passing by, and had a delightful dinner and slowly felt the stress of the day unwind.

Before I went to bed, I called one of the cab companies that had been recommended, and scheduled a pickup for the morning, since I didn't want to walk the 3 miles to the writer's retreat the first morning since I wasn't sure how long it would actually take me to reach my destination and I didn't want to be late.  It's a curious fact that since my husband died, for whom punctuality was next to Godliness, I have become much more concerned about getting places on time or early, and that definitely reduces my anxiety in all kinds of situations.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

DIFFERENT DIMENSIONS OF BEGINNING

As I started pulling out clothes to pack for the writer's workshop I will be going to this week, I realized that this is something I've never done before, even though I've thought of myself as a writer since third grade when I realized that the Nancy Drew book I was reading did not begin "Once upon a time," and I decided to start writing a story in medias res.
Underlying that realization was the dim awareness that there was power in words.

I took a class in writing poetry before I got married at what was then the New School for Social Research in New York City, from a poet who is still my mentor--and friend--forty years later. At the time, I took a class in poetry because I knew I wouldn't have time to write the Great American Novel, which was my ultimate ambition, but I discovered that I loved poetry and it was the ideal métier for someone who would eventually have six children  I had to write in line-size snatches very often, though over a course of about 15 years I did finally write a novel.  It is languishing with a publisher in Great Britain, and I don't have many hopes at this point that it will be rushed into print.

But the workshop I'm going to is being given by a woman whose online webinars I have enjoyed, and since I have begun another novel, which is interspersed with poetry, and is different from other things I've written, I thought it would be a good way to veer off in a different direction and see where this winding path will take me.  

I have my train tickets and my hotel reservation, directions to the workshop, and I will probably be in better shape when I come back, since I discovered that the walk from the hotel is not a mile, as I estimated, but 2.73 miles.  So I will have to readjust for that, but it's in a beautiful coastal town in California and I can ponder life from a different perspective as I travel to and fro.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

DIFFERENT LEVELS OF GOODBYE

Almost by accident, today I finally took all my husband's suits and dress shirts to the St. Vincent de Paul pickup at our parish.  Usually, I just call them, and they pick things up right at our house, but since the Church had a truck where we could drop things off right after Mass, I decided I'd take a few of the shirts that I didn't feel exceptionally fond of and his suits, and pass them on to someone who could use them.  I had been struck when I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking that it was odd that she couldn't give her husband's shoes away after he died because he'd need them if he came back; although I had no trouble giving away my husband's shoes, I liked seeing his suits and shirts hanging in the closet just as if he might come back and get dressed for work.  But when I took out the shirts I'd decided to give away, I saw a few others that could go, and then I realized that they all had to go together:  no matter how many I kept, he won't come back and I think I am strong enough now to deal with the empty space.  Yet, when I couldn't drop them off after the Mass I went to because the area was full, I felt like crying.  I did eventually get them to the truck later and the thrift shop people seemed very glad to have everything even though I'd put some of my clothes on top because I couldn't look at the ones that had been my husband's.  My deep sadness took me by surprise, so I came home and cleaned out the coat closet according to the principles in a helpful new book I've been reading, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:  The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo.  Getting rid of hoodies and coats that no longer "spark joy" and rearranging the ones that are left was the lift I needed to climb out of the Slough of Despond and get back to crafting a life that I love even if it's not the one I would have chosen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

INNER RECONSTRUCTION

Some time ago, I came across a quote from C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, which has thrown out a challenge to me in how I live my life.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house.  At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on:  you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of--throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.  You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage but He is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it Himself. 

This quote highlights unpleasant things we can experience, and helps us to realize that God can transform us into palatial dwellings if we allow him to go to work in us.  He wants our Fiat, just as he wanted Mary's yes to bearing the Savior, because he has a plan for each of us to bring Christ more fully into the world. As I heard at Mass today on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Mary said yes even though becoming pregnant might have led to her being stoned for apparent adultery.  She said yes even though she could see only one step ahead.  And each of us is called to say yes when the path is shrouded in mist and darkness and only the light of Faith leads us on.