Sunday, April 25, 2021

GAUDY NIGHTS AND DAYS

Recently, I finished re-reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, the third in a series of four novels about her detective, Peter Wimsey and  Harriet Vane, the woman with whom he falls in love. It has always been my favorite of the four, although the last, Busman's Honeymoon, is a close second, and has one of the funniest scenes I have ever read.

Gaudy Night is set mostly at a fictional woman's college at Oxford and looks with a scholar's eye at the potential conflict between a scholar's work and one's responsibility to one's family. It could easily be expanded to an examination of what has been called work-life balance, which is being re-examined after a year of the pandemic lockdowns when working and studying at home have become prevalent and many of the things that were taken for granted are suddenly up for grabs.  I can remember when my beloved husband's company moved from the San Diego area to Orange County, and he negotiated to work from home 3 days a week, to avoid the hour and a half commute each way.  He told the CEO, that he thought he could be more responsive with that schedule than many lawyers could be when they were in an office where the CEO could walk in and talk to them whenever he wanted.  Every CEO balked at his suggestion but after a couple of weeks in which he exceeded his commitment, nothing more was heard of their concerns.  Now many companies are finding that having most or all of their employees working from home has not limited their ability to do their work.  

The question in Gaudy Night was not so much whether people should be able to work from home, but whether the integrity of one's scholarship was of more value than a person's commitment to his or her family.  

The woman who was the guilty party in this book gave an impassioned defense of what she had done. "You wouldn't have cared. You killed him and you didn't care.  I say you murdered him. What had he done to you? What harm had he done to anybody? He only wanted to live and be happy. You took the bread out of his mouth and flung his children and me out to starve. What did it matter to you?.... Couldn't you leave my man alone? He told a lie about somebody else who was dead and dust hundreds of years ago. Nobody was the worse for that. Was a dirty bit of paper more important than all our lives and happiness? You broke him and killed him--all for nothing."

In these days when lies and half-truths are being published and promulgated everywhere and people who differ with the prevailing philosophy are attacked as intolerant, it might be a good idea to look at these issues again and see which barricades we are willing to die upon.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

SONG OF SENSES

One of my daughters told me that a way of focusing mindfully is to pay attention to what comes to you from each of the senses. I began with my walk along the horse trail near our house, and the first sense that attracted me was the sense of smell. I recognized the fragrance of honeysuckle, and stopped to smell the blossoms on the fence; I had never noticed that there was a honeysuckle vine there, but the perfume clued me into it quickly. Further along, there was an orange tree close enough to the trail that I could stop and smell the tiny white blossoms and inhale one of my favorite scents in the world.  

As I continued my walk, I noticed winged seeds on the ground, like the winged seed that played an important part in the movie Soul. In all the years of walking the horse trail, I have never seen those particular seeds. I wondered whether a new tree had been planted--although they were quite large and didn't look like the seeds from a sapling--or if the winds we've been experiencing recently had blown them from a greater distance.

My sense of taste has been delighted many mornings recently with an orange freshly picked from my tree when I have gone out to be sure that I inhale my own orange blossoms as long as they last. They have almost all dropped from the navel orange tree, but the Cara Cara is still covered with them, and the lemon tree has an abundance of almost pink blooms that are almost as sweet.

I discovered fluffy white cylinders of soft fibers that will become red cylindrical bottlebrush blooms later on, and I rubbed my fingers on the last of the yellow broom blooms that look like tiny koosh balls.  

Finally, when I had finished my walk and opened the window to practice my horn, and I played a minuet to a recording of my granddaughter playing the piano part, the male house finch who shares nest duties with his wife, sat and sang with me while I was playing. It was a melodious accompaniment and I look forward to the peeping of tiny house finches when the eggs are hatched.

Becoming aware of how many of my senses are engaged just in the course of one day has filled my heart with thankfulness for how many blessings are poured out over me. May I be alert to their presence in my life!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

TRAVELING TO EMMAUS

Easter Wednesday is my favorite day, liturgically, of the entire year.  It is during the Octave of Easter and is filled with the joy of the Easter Season, and the two readings for the Mass of the day combine to make a special day.  

The first reading tells how Peter and John were going up to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem when they encountered a man over 40 years old who had been crippled from birth and was brought every day to beg at the Beautiful Gate.  He asked them for alms, and Peter looked intently at him and told him, "Look at us." The beggar paid attention to them, expecting to receive something. Peter, however, said, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk."  When Peter took him by the hand and raised him up, his feet and ankles immediately grew strong. Then he "leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God."

The first year I became aware of this passage, I had filled in as lector at the last minute. I was myself in my forties, and I imagined what it would have been like to have been crippled my entire life and suddenly to have been healed. I was sure that I also would have been leaping and jumping and giving praise to God right there in the aisles of the church!

This was followed by the Gospel telling the story of the two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus, discouraged and heartbroken after the death of Jesus, whom they had hoped was the Messiah. Now their dreams were shattered and their hope was gone and the rumors that some of their friends had seen Jesus alive were simply delusions; no one could come back from such a brutal death. Although traditionally this passage was interpreted as two of Jesus' male companions, Fr. Chuck Gallagher, the founder of World Wide Marriage Encounter, envisioned them as a married couple. Only one of them was named, and after I heard him discuss it, I could easily imagine a husband and wife talking over their disappointment as they walked away from Jerusalem. When a stranger approached and asked them what they were talking about, one of them asked if he were the only person who hadn't heard about what had happened to the prophet from Galilee. When he pointed to every passage from the prophets in Scripture that explained what had happened, the couple were so intrigued that they asked him to come in and stay with them since it was getting toward evening.  As they shared their meal, he took bread, blessed it and broke it, and vanished. In that moment they recognized who he was.  It was this passage that both my daughter Mary and my spiritual advisor had suggested I ponder throughout Lent, and as we approached the end of the Lenten season, I had written the missing poem that Mary had been asking for almost since she began helping me with my chapbook.


PORTAL OF LIGHT

Trudging back home in despair

our hopes and dreams threadbare,

we’d thought he was the one

but then he was tortured and killed.


We plodded along, tears in my eyes,

disillusionment on your face,

our strength nearly gone.


A stranger approached, we slowed

and moved over to let him pass.

“What were you talking about?” he asked.


Irritation stung me. “Are you the only man

who doesn’t know what happened in the capital

three days ago? How the man who inspired

us was nailed to a cross and crucified?

We had thought he’d save us but he died.”


You added, “Some of our friends

claimed they’d gone to the tomb

and couldn’t find his body—maybe stolen

by enemies.  I don’t know.” 


Then he began to unroll the scrolls of prophets,

to illuminate verses from Torah to Malachi

revealing the suffering servant, the paschal lamb,

the leader to gather the nations, the great I AM.


We were spellbound. “Don’t leave us—

it’s evening, getting dark, come eat with us.”

He sat silent at table, then pronounced Berakah,

broke the bread and vanished.  Then we saw.


Weren’t our hearts on fire?

Weren’t we drawn within his flaming heart

before you took off on your journey through space

like Perseverance roving off for Mars?


Unlike the landing watched by the silent room 

of expectant, breathless engineers,

you’d no telemetry to transmit 

photos from your new universe

but with all my soul, I believe: you did land,


artisanal, received with love that glows

within the sparks lighting up your soul

blazing with the name he signed

and freeing you to shine.




Sunday, April 4, 2021

REDISCOVERING HAPPINESS

This week, I was driving half an hour to physical therapy for my shoulder, which had been bothering me for several months, after a fall. It's a drive I've made innumerable times since we moved to the San Diego area 37 years ago.  For some reason, as I drove along the divided parkway, dotted with trees covered in pink and purple blooms, I unexpectedly realized that I was happy.  I have had moments, hours, and days of happiness since my beloved husband died, but I can usually point to a reason--a member of my family or a friend is coming for a visit or I finished a big project that had been hanging over me for a long time.  My trip to France with my son in 2019 was a wellspring of happiness, both in the anticipation, in the actual experience, and in the delightful memories afterward.  But on this particular day, I was just going through the routine of things I needed to do on an ordinary day, and happiness burst upon me suddenly very much as my orange tree had gone from a couple of blossoms to a vast cloud of white with a fragrance that carried from the back of the house all the way to the front yard.

This happiness carried me through Holy Week, as I reflected on the many people whose friendship has sustained me in the years since my beloved husband died. I looked forward to being with my two oldest daughters and their families, as well as my son. I am very conscious of the fact that this year I can attend the Easter Vigil at my parish instead of being home alone and watching the Mass being live-streamed. In addition, I won a raffle run by the Knights of Columbus for reserved seats and parking spaces for the Easter Mass of my choice. Every other year for the past 12 years, I was playing French horn in our church choir and had my own chair.  But this year, I came to the Vigil, and found my seat, with a pot of tulips next to it and an Easter card from the parish staff saying that they were glad my name had been chosen.  My daughter and her family's reserved seats were just outside, since they haven't been vaccinated and felt safer sitting there.  All of us had front row seats for the blessing of the new fire and the Easter candle, and for the Baptisms and Confirmations of the catechumens and candidates, among whom were many children, with the little girls in their First Communion dresses and the little boys in small suits. By next year, I hope our choir will be back together in church, but we will then be sitting at the full length of the church from these special moments. This year, it was wonderful to be celebrating them together and being so close as lives were transformed and joy radiated from their faces. It was an Easter I will always treasure.