Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Oh, I Will Miss This Woman

"Molly Ivins, the liberal newspaper columnist who delighted in skewering politicians and interpreting, and mocking, her Texas culture, died today at her home in Austin. She was 62."

Last year at this time it was
Wendy Wasserstein. We are losing some of the great ones at awfully young ages.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Conversations That Happen


Hallway in Orthodox Jewish School. Smart and Funny Crooked Grin Tenth Grade Boy, whom I taught for two years, is bubbling over with excitement as he waylays Preoccupied Teacher.

"Ms. C, the most amazing thing happened in drivers' ed."


"I was sitting next to this kid, who, it turns out, goes to a Catholic school, and when he saw my kipa he started asking me all kinds of questions."


"He wanted to know all about my religion, and what we do, and where I go to school, and why, and he was really interested."

"He probably was. Did you have a good time talking to him?"

"It was great. He really didn't know anything about Judaism at all, and I got to explain a lot."

"I imagine that you did a terrific job. It's too bad he hasn't studied Judaism in his school; I'm sure he has to take Religious Studies. Now did you do the other part of the conversation?"

"What do you mean?"

"The part where you ask him about his faith and life and school."

"Uh, well, no."

"Well, that's your assignment for next week in drivers' ed. If you are going to engage in this conversation, it needs to go both ways."

"OK! I'll come back and tell you what happens!"


Same scene. Same characters.

"So, Ms. C, I did what you said, and I talked to that kid again!"

"And how did it go? Where does he go to school?"

"Famous Soccer Jesuit School. But he doesn't really know much about his religion."

"Really? What do you mean?"

"He couldn't really explain it. He said he goes to mass -- that's what you call it, right?-- once a week, and to prayers a couple of times a week, but that was about all he could say. He really couldn't explain any of the beliefs."

"Did you ask him why he goes to Famous Soccer Jesuit?"

"Because his parents made him."

"So of the two of you, you were far better prepared to discuss your life and beliefs and practices, and you're the one who has made some significant choices in your life?"

Smart and Funny Crooked Grin: "Yeah."


Teachers' workroom. Same characters.

"Ms. C, I need to ask you a question."

"Umm, I'm on my way to a meeting. Walk with me in the hall and you can ask me on the way."

"This is a longer question than that."

"OK, why don't you tell me what it is and we'll see."

"Well, you know I am doing a lot of investigating and exploring right now, and trying to research a lot of things."


"So I wondered, would you explain to me why you believe what you do?"


Now Not-So-Preoccupied Teacher is registering that he has asked, "Why?" and not "What?"

"You know, that IS a longer question than I was expecting. That won't fit into a short walk down the hall."

"I told you."

"OK, well, I really have to go to this meeting. But I would love to have this discussion with you. When we have real time for it."


A week later. I have figured out the answer. I told him today that he'd better come back soon.

Monday, January 29, 2007

30/365: Scotland as Viewed from from British Airways

Our church Session celebrated its annual (sort of) Robert Burns party this past week-end. I will spare you the raucous behavior, the poetry readings, and the dramatic presentation and evisceration of the haggis. Let's just go back to Scotland.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Why Church? (I)

It's in the windows.

The reason I go to church. You can find it in the windows. And in what surrounds them. In the buildings.

Chartres Cathedral is not like other buildings. For one thing, it has been built at least five times and, if in nothing more than your imagination's tracing of its earliest outline beneath the current stone floor, you can submerge yourself in 1500 years of worship there. Probably even more, as it is argued that perhaps the Druids were there first.

Chartres has stone carved into a myriad of possible formations. Arches, buttresses, pillars, columns, walls, window frames, statues, towers, stairs, massively placid, airily fragile.

Chartres has the labyrinth. THE labyrinth.
A few weeks ago, in sadness and turmoil over my grandmother's death and the family chaos it unearthed, I went to a local Catholic college early in the morning to walk its model of the Chartres labyrinth. Back and forth, and half way round, and back and forth. . . . The labyrinth at Chartres has served similar purposes for centuries.

Chartres has the towers. Sun and moon. Asymmetrical. Unbalanced. A surprise. Like human life.

Chartres has the portal statuary. It seems endless. I'm not sure how many statues grace the exterior of Chartres. More than hundreds, each unique. Each one, like all the rest of the building, crafted by an unknown individual, by someone who labored for months to create something of his own that would blend into a structure so vast that only the occasional visitor's eyes would light in appreciation on his particular contribution. And only those who care to explore at length would understand that the stone stories on the outside live in relationship with the glass stories on the inside.

And yes, Chartres has the windows. There are no other windows on earth like the windows at Chartres. The blue is not like any other blue. The stories, elaborated in ways that speak to us hundreds of years later. The conversation between Hebrew and Greek Bibles. The reminders of the near-destruction of that conversation in the twentieth century.

Last summer, I wrote, "As far as I'm concerned, a cathedral has everything ~ God, us, faith, history, prayer, war, music, light, darkness, joy, despair, clarity, chaos, solidity, spirit ~ and Chartres is the best one of all. "

I've been in lots of cathedrals. Attended mass in a few, heard concerts in several more, and wandered around many. I've spent two days, only two, at Chartres, the one that says, "Come back. This is you. This conglomeration of belief and question, of mystery and chaos. Come back. Come back."

Mostly, and oddly enough in light of what I've just written, I worship in Presbyterian churches. And most of them do not resemble Chartres at all. Sparse. Brick or clapboard on the outside. Bare walls on the inside. Clear glass windows. Not a statue or shard of stained glass anywhere in or on the building. One tower, elegant in its simplicity.

Oh yes, the Puritans have been here.

I love my church. I love its heritage, straight from Plymouth to the Western Reserve of Connecticut. I love its stark beauty. I love what it says.

It says clarity. The Protestant claim is to the clarity of the Word of God. The lines of the pulpit and lecturn are straight, clear. The windows are straight, clear. God is not told "slant," as Emily Dickinson would say. The voice of God is a clear voice, the words of God are clear words.

God is, after all, Word. In the beginning, God creates through words. In the beginning Christ is logos, Word. Words distinguish us from all other creatures. A Presbyterian church is about words. Words that we speak and words to which we listen. God seeps into our very beings through words.

I love them both. The windows of Chartres and the windows of the church that I call home. The collection of color and chaos that merge in the light to tell the story one way. The open clarity that tells the story another.

My own story is both.

Friday, January 26, 2007

26/365: The Little Lakes III

Another image from a couple of years ago ~ but it looks the same today.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

25/365: Morning

The car needs to be cleaned off for the fifth time in 24 hours. This time the snow is damp and heavy, and there is ice underneath. I click open the doors of the red Corolla so that I can grab the scraper and turn on the windshield wipers and rear window heater.

Gregorian chant pours fluidly from the CD player into the dark and gray morning. I stand in the snow with the monks.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

22/365: This One IS For Paul

Glasgow Cathedral Guild Window

In honor of Paul, who will retire from his distinguished ~ we think ~ teaching career at the end of this week: Let's begin the celebration!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

21/365: Cemetery III

Skip This One, Paul

Major church week-end.

Session retreat from Friday night through Saturday afternoon. (The Session is, for want of a better description, the decision-making body of the local church in our denomination.) Eighteen church elders and two pastors off to the Catholic retreat center where we went last year ~ beautiful facilities and grounds and wonderful food. Really an excellent community retreat: lots of opportunity for getting to know one another in a spiritual and scriptural context, something on which we spend far too little time. Sadness and concern, as two men left early, one to accompany his dying mother on her final journey, and one to be with a brand-new granddaughter in a grave medical crisis. Laughter, especially on the part of those of us repeatedly reminded that we have no gift whatever for singing. Lots of genuine learning and some surprise as a few of us realize that we are in our third year of a three year term and finally understand, more or less, what we are doing.

A long day in church. Our adult ed program on hospitality in an era of pluralism is going beautifully, today in the form of a gifted and knowledgeable speaker on Hinduism, with EIGHTY people in attendance. How cool is that? We had a fabulous lunch ~ none of that green jello with shredded carrots stuff that has been a staple of so many church meals in my life ~ followed by the annual congregational meeting which, while it has its tedious elements, is really an opportunity for much celebration. Don't let anyone tell you that the mainline Protestant church is in decline or despair.

And tomorrow night, a Presbytery meeting (the Presbytery, also for want of a better description, is the first level of the church above the local; ours oversees about fifty congregations) at which there will be a first discussion of an overture brought by several of our churches to counteract the work done by the General Assembly last summer, which left open the possibility for the ordination of gay and lesbian pastors without mandating same. I am trying to use neutral descriptors because the virtiol over this issue is of, um, some magnitude. I will just say that, from my standpoint, the proposed overture is a disheartening one.

Back to school for me tomorrow, after a 10-day vacation. I am still grading papers. I have, however, finished the ninth grade honors world history exams and, truly, they made me want to cry. They were wonderful. I am surrounded by students who are capable of great curiosity and generosity, and serious learning, too, about cultures and times far from their own. I am really honored to be their teacher.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Friday, January 19, 2007

19/365: Cemetery II

More on Grey's

Lisa is right. The post about last night's episode at is worth a read.

Another part of last night's episode just popped into my head. Meredith is talking to Christina. They know that George's father is going to die. And Meredith notes that her long-absent father is alive and well, upstairs with his second family, but that he means nothing to her. If he were to die, her life would not change. She wonders whether there is something wrong with her jealousy of George, who is about to lose the father he loves so much.

"Yes," says Christina.

At that point, we don't yet know that Christina lost her father long ago.

"Yes," says Christina, because she knows that for Meredith and her father, there is still the possibility of a future. And she is proven right, when Meredith later extracts her first tidbit of personal information about her father: that she inherited her capacity for snoring from him, and that there is a practical solution which may preserve her relationship with Derek. The father who means nothing to her helps her with the love of her life.

George's father at least got to meet the love of George's life, and to encourage George to put aside the baggage destroying that relationship. Christina's never even got to see her grow up.

Random Musings About Aging

I have, not surprisingly, been thinking a lot about my grandmother since she died on New Year's Day. And thoughts about my grandmother, who was 100 years old, lead inevitably to thoughts about the aging process. Yesterday I spent some time with someone who asked about her, and whether she had any kind of life of faith.

My answer? "I have no idea."

I mentioned in a comment to someone else's blog that I've concluded there's a recessive gene in my family that's popped up to express itself in me. A Pilgrim ancestor, one of those who braved the Mayflower voyage only to die two months later on the hard winter soil of what we call Massachusetts. A Methodist bishop, whom my grandfather once described as "the most tedious man" he had ever encountered. And me. Not a promising lineage.

In my family, people don't talk much about religion or faith or spirituality or anything else connected thereto. People don't go to church. At one point in her life (several decades ago!), my grandmother became great friends with a woman who had written extensively about Buddhism. Whether my grandmother herself ever practiced meditation or otherwise engaged herself with Buddhism, I have no idea. She would have considered religious matters to be of an extremely personal nature, and would have been reluctant to say anything which might have been construed as an imposition on others.

But I wish she had. What I would give to know whether and, if so, how, her thoughts turned to God, or whatever might have meant God to her, in that last decade of her life, as her brilliant mind became increasingly trapped in the silence that deafness and blindness bring. Of course, I would like to know her views on everything she considered in those last years, and they are all lost to me.

I would particularly like to know what her advice would have been on how to prepare for very, very old age. As we watch our elderly family and friends, my own generation of friends and I are making an endless series of mental notes, most of them on what not to do. Last night, in response to a situation in which one of my friends had been sucked into providing almost daily care for an aging friend of hers over a long three month period, we concluded that we need to remember not to impose ourselves on others when we become dependent and needy and lonely. It's probably an easy trap to fall into, so advance planning is required.

My grandmother herself never sold her house, which became a haven for various members of her family whenever a temporary place to live was required, especially during marital separations. But now it sits there, dilapidated and lost, and needs to be dealt with. Advance planning would have been a good thing. At some point around the age of seventy, you need to look fearlessly into the future and acknowledge that whether you have one year left or thirty, a two-story house will soon be beyond your capacity to manage.

Property. Friends. Family. Faith. They are all as challenging at the end of adult life as they are at the beginning. But are they as absorbing? I don't know. And the only person who might have told me is gone.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

They Got It Right

George: I don't know how to exist in a world in which my father doesn't.

Christina: Yeah, that never really changes.

I knew there had to be a reason why Christina is my favorite character.

18/365: The Little Lakes I

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


We moved in twenty-three years ago today. It was a Saturday, one of the coldest days ever. Sixteen below Fahrenheit. By the time we had finished, with the door having been opened and closed repeatedly all day long, it was about fifty in the front hall. My husband set up our bed and I climbed under a pile of blankets and sleeping bags and barely peered out again until March.

I was so sick.

It snowed heavily several times that winter. Sometimes as I stumbled back to bed from the bathroom, I would hear the sound of the snowblower in front of the house. The Episcopal church parsonage was next door, and the minister's son, who had never met us but had heard that I could barely move, took care of the front sidewalk for us over and over again.

In March as it warmed up and I opened the windows, I discovered that, when one purchases a home, one should first stop by at all hours of the day and night. It turned out that we live on a side street that takes you straight from the 'burbs at the top of the hill to the major university-hospital complex at the bottom. Our little street has rush hours. I lay in bed morning after morning and listened to the world whizzing by.

I was so sick.

In May I took my bearings and walked the dog again. I had about a month in there when I had stopped puking and could still breathe. We had a big dog and I had a big belly. People asked me all the time, "When are you due?" and blanched when the answer was "In three months." I hung the pictures that had been in boxes in the hallway since January.

In the summer I kept walking, but it became considerably more difficult. We stayed in town because my doctor had told me that the babies were likely to come early and that I should honor the fact that we lived five minutes from a Level III NICU. It was an excruciatingly boring summer, and much too hot to hang around our new (actually old, and not air-condiitoned) house. I spent a lot of time floating in the city pool, the only locale in which my whale-sized self could loll in comfort. I did my part for teenage abstinence. Oh, the looks on the faces of the kids whenever I emerged from the water, swimsuit plastered to my belly! ~ I knew that the back seats of cars would be somber places those nights in response to that view.

In August everyone drove me crazy. The doctors wanted to take ultrasounds every five minutes. The breech baby flipped upright and the doctors (my doctors that summer always came in multiples themselves) assured me that he would stay that way; there was just no room in there for those babies to budge. A week later he flipped upside down again. The minister and his wife came over one evening to make sure that we were all right ~ we had unplugged the phone in a desperate move to avoid the calls of the grandparents, and one set of them had somehow managed to convince information to give them the number of our neighbors, whose names they did not know, so that they could check on us.

In early September we brought our first two children home. That was a very scary night, the two of us and two week-old babies. My mother-in-law came the next day and stayed two weeks, but that first night was terrifying. What were we supposed to do if they cried? Where was my battalion of mother-and-child nurses? Couldn't we just move the entire fifth floor women's hospital staff up the hill?

I remember the next few months as possibly the most joyful in my entire life. My friends tell me that I was close to comatose much of the time, and I'm sure that there are, in fact, many stretches of existence lost to me. One of those friends, now a new grandmother to one, asked me recently how you sleep when you have newborn twins. "You don't, " I said. "Not as a regularly-scheduled activity." Of course, there are pictures of me passed out on various chairs and couches, always with a just-nursed infant curled up next to me. But what I remember are long walks pushing a double stroller through a beautifully warm autumn and along a windy December beach in Florida, and hours lying around on the living room rug or on our bed, just watching and laughing with two tiny boys.

Twenty-three years ago today we moved in and things didn't look too promising. But except for the puking, it was a very, very good year.

16/365: Early Morning on Recycling Day

Monday, January 15, 2007

Grading Papers and Other Matters Academic

Exciting, huh? I'm not sure what the word is that accurately describes the tedium of grading one paper after another on forms of government, the beginnings of Christianity and Islam, and feudalism and manorialism . . . except that it applies also to the grading of papers on the Constitution and Jefferson and Hamilton, which is what I did last week.

This week I begin a graduate class of my own on Islam, with a visiting professor who comes to us via Georgetown, Oxford, and Chicago. I'm excited about it, but I'm also thinking about the tedium of his life as he grades our papers. We will think they are brilliant, but he won't. I know this from plenty of experience on the other side.

We had a fabulously energetic presentation on Judasim at church yesterday, made a by gentleman who is both a Reform rabbi and a professor of Judaic studies. Unfortunately, the ipod taping of same became, at the last minute, due to the unexpected abscence of someone who actually owns an ipod, ahem ~ my responsibility.

I wonder, if I ever acquire one, whether I will be able to work it.

15/365: Library ~ One-Third of One Shelf of...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

13/365: In The Kitchen


1. It's good to take a few days off.

2. I took the time to read a number of blogs which I seldom reach. I rediscovered a few that I've overlooked for a long time. I'm going to continue updating my link list, which I use to make the rounds. (I subscribed to bloglines months ago, but I never could figure out how it works.)

3. I read a number of conservative Presbyterian blogs. There is so much anger and vituperation out there. I guess I'll keep reading them, because they open the window to a world I seldom encounter in my real life Presbyterian church, but I'm going to cut back considerably on the time I allot to them.

4. I read Chaim Potok's The Promise. I had no idea that there was a sequel to The Chosen until I found it lying around at school the other day. I first read The Chosen when it came out in 1967; I would have been 13 or 14 and I recall the hardback, new from the library, lying on the hall table. As a girl from the rural midwest, I read it for the the story of Danny and Reuven growing up; the Hasidic and Orthodox worlds it portrays and the complexities of Zionist politics it debates went right over my head. Today, as a teacher in an orthodox Jewish school, I read Potok's books differently (and I pronouce the names of the characters correctly). Ironically, it has been my reading of The Promise over the past few days that has cracked open my understanding of the rage expressed by so many of the conservative branch of my own church.

I started reading The Brothers Karamazov. I am embarrassed to admit that this is my first time through. Not a book that any Christian, or any person at all of any belief or no belief should pass through life without at least encountering. And, preferably, embracing.

6. And I started reading a book on the spirituality of John Calvin. Didn't know he had any, did you? That's why it helps to have Jesuit friends; they've read everything. The slender volume cost me some effort and a pretty penny to obtain, and it's tough going, but I figure that after three or four times through, I should have a beginner's undertsanding.

7. The Lovely Daughter and I went out yesterday and used up her gift cards (and then some) and went to see The History Boys. Great movie. Great play.

8. And I discovered a new form of online entertainment: the 365 Project. In its original form, you post a picture a day and ~ voila'! ~ at the end of the year, you have a mini record of what you've paid attention to. More importantly, you do pay attention. Some people are posting short reflections instead. I suppose that I will make my usual muddle of things by starting nearly two weeks late and posting an amalgamation of photos and words. I debated for a few moments about whether to start a new 365 blog, but I have restrained myself. I'll just toss the entries in here. And as I update my links, I'll point you to other 365s as I find them.

9. P.S. (after the mail arrived): I've been admitted to both the Presby seminaries to which I applied. The Lovely Daughter returns to College Far, Far Away tonight so I have her on my mind right now, which means that I can circle around my own decision process from a distance and on tiptoes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"And the world was waking. . . "

Once again I am having early morning dreams, vivid dreams that I remember.

I have been dreaming about people dying. Young people. People in my family who are alive and well, dying as babies and children.

Those aren't hard to call. There were so many deaths of young people in my family before the oldest generation started to disappear that I think , with the loss of my 100-year-old grandmother, my mind is trying to balance things out in a perverse way that insists on recalling that one of the first to go was my not-yet-year-old brother. As a young mother, I lived with the constant sense of terror that someone could happen to one of my children. I am sure that my grandmother's death has reawakened some of those feelings, which cost me some effort to overcome so that I could parent my children in an atmosphere of optimism and anticipation.

And now, this morning: another house dream! I wrote about these last year, these frequent dreams of finding extra, unfurnished rooms in my house. People rushed in to suggest that they had to do with new and unfulfilled opportunities in my life, which made perfect sense and stopped the dreams. (Thank you, all of you. That was back in the days of numerous comments. I'm afraid that blogger, with its insistence on the process of signing in, has dealt a major blow to online communication.)

Anyway, a new variation on the house dream: this morning, the guys who are supposed to be working on the overhang and soffit (three weeks of promises so far, and they just called to cancel due to the cold) were here, in the basement of all places, and they discovered a whole series of rooms I didn't know about: three bathrooms and five bedrooms, packed with the leftover furniture and boxes and even stuffed animals of the prior owners, who moved out 23 years ago this month. And when I poked my head out of an unknown doorway, I discovered a crumbing and weedy brick terrace next to the house, and the backs and sides of neighboring garages that I did not recognize, rendering me completely disoriented as to my location.

I have some thoughts about this dream, which was astonishingly detailed and colorful . But I know what my thoughts are. I'd love to hear yours.

Monday, January 08, 2007

It's All About...

This might be a bizarre topic for a blog. A blog is, inherently, about its owner. No getting around that. But I think I'll wade right in anyway... .

As many of my friends and readers know, my name is Robin. (Yes, I like Gannet better, too. )

There used to be a local newscaster in these parts whose name is Robin. She became something of a celebrity, in the way that attractive local newscasters do, making appearances at various civic and charity events, rooting for the home teams, showing up on New Year's Eve. Then she married her football star and, after a few local media pieces featuring her careers as mom and home decorator, vanished into that place where mothers of three sometimes go. (What is that place, exactly? Seems like I spent a long time there.)

According to a feature in today's paper. she's back! Almost, anyway. With a new tv show about. . . well, I'm not exactly clear what it's about. But the PR indicates that. . . "It's all about Robin! And her audience!"

Of course, the fact that "it's all about Robin!" sort of caught my eye.

And then I thought:

By the time you're well into the middle of your life, shouldn't it be all about something else

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Six Feet Under Revisited

I'm afraid that a vast amount of graveyard humor occasionally pops up in the context of my family's interactions. It's the only possible response to the spectre of death that sometimes seems to lurk everywhere, the consequence of my mother, brother, first stepmother, and aunt all having died at young ages. We are all too familiar with and still expansively unsettled by the reality.

I grossly offended one of my students a few weeks ago by joking about the fact that in the extremely tasteful and well-maintained arboretum-cemetery where I walk, freshly cleared land is marked by "New Development" signs. I'm sorry, but I think they're hysterical. Casket Condos? What are they thinking over there?

The small rural cemetery where many of my family members rest is next door to my father's house. One day Stepmother Number Four asked where Stepmother Number Two was buried. "Over there," I responded. "Over WHERE?" she asked. "Over there. Next to my mom and brother. Haven't you ever walked over there?" "Over WHERE?" "Sort of just out your front door." It turned out that she had thought I was going to say, "Pittsburgh."

Needless to say, there was much humor -- outright guffawing, actually -- in our family in response to the plight of the grandfather, or what used to be the grandfather, in Little Miss Sunshine.

Last night, Serious Husband and Lovely Daughter and I went out to our favorite Italian restaurant, where we engaged, apparently rather loudly, in one of our discussions about our personal desires with respect to our own departures, occasioned by my grandmother's death on New Year's Day. The conversation involved various and strongly worded opinions with respect to cremations, the deposit of our remains (ocean, mountaintop, or both?), the recent sprinkling of our cats' remains, church services, and grave markers. Let's just say that Husband and Daughter are markedly more modest in their desires than Yours Truly, who has ideas about Major Music and who has spent enough time walking in cemeteries to have a firm and extravagant appreciation for the aesthetics of death. The lady at the table next to us was shaking with laughter as she finished her dinner, and got up and said, "I wasn't going to say anything, but you all are too funny!"

One of the cemeteries in which I have spent a long afternoon is located on the hilltop behind the Glasgow Cathedral. I've remarked before on how the experience was a rather exhausting one, as many of the monuments bear testimony, from one side or the other, to the ravages of the Reformation as experienced in Scotland. Celtic crosses abound, and so does the history of John Knox and his followers. The cemetery has been much neglected over the years, and is in the process of being restored, a lengthy and no doubt expensive endeavor.

I don't suppose it's a surprise that I found toppled and ruined monuments as intriguing as those still or newly intact. They bear silent witness to the reality that death is, from this side anyway, an experience of jagged loss.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Epiphany: Glass and Stone

The last day of Christmas ~ and once again, the images come to us from Chartres Cathedral. Since I took the lower one, you can enlarge it for a look at the detail. Very cool, I think.

A few weeks ago it was mentioned in church that the Wise Men came from ~ ahem ~ Iran.

Tomorrow I start off a six-week adult education series at church on The Practice of Community: Hospitality in a Pluralistic World. Lots to think about.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Think: Six Feet Under Soundtrack

Years ago, I stole Florida Scott-Maxwell's The Measure of My Days from my grandmother's library. Although the author was a mere 82 when she wrote it, every page brims with wisdom about the process of aging. I used a bit of it in my eulogy yesterday, in which I tried to recall the woman my grandmother was at various points in her life and also to acknowledge the terrible decline of her last years:

We who are old know that age is more than a disability. It is an intense and varied experience, almost beyond our capacity at times, but something to be carried high. If it is a long defeat it is also a victory, meaningful for the initiates of time, if not for those who have come less far. … [The aged carry the secret that] though drab outside … inside we flame with a wild life that is almost incommunicable.

As for those of us who have come less far, we tried our best and did pretty well. My only suggestion might be that those who have not been legal members of a family for a decade, and who have had no contact with the deceased for longer than that, choose flowers rather than presence as a means of offering their condolences when a funeral service is planned with family intimacy in mind. One who does not heed such a Miss Manners admonition may find herself responsible for racheting stress levels to the almost intolerable.

But perhaps I am unrealistic. My family would not be my family without its uncanny resemblance to certain aspects of Six Feet Under.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The planning for tomorrow's service for my grandmother has largely fallen into place. Although she belonged - I think - to the Methodist church, her real friendships and ties over the past several decades have been with the nuns in a nearby convent and the college they support. So her service will be in the convent chapel, with Sister Dear Friend presiding and she and I delivering the eulogies. We will be a small group, in part due to my grandmother's having outlived everyone else she knew in her own generation, and in part due to my father's inexplicable determination to conclude everything on Thursday rather than Friday. Complicated timing for many people who are only just getting back to work after an extended holiday.

The real complications emerge, however, from the fact that my father has been married four times, divorced once and widowed otherwise. The children from his third marriage will be there, as one might expect and even hope -- my grandmother was theirs as well. One of them is my father's stepchild, one is his step and adopted child, and one is his child with his third wife. All of them did basically all their growing up next door to my grandmother.

Now, it seems, their mother will be there as well.

From what I see, some people are thinking peace and reconciliation. And others are not.


Monday, January 01, 2007

A Sad Beginning

My Beloved Grandmother

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.

John O'Donoghue: Anam Cara -- Spiritual Blessing from a Celtic World