Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Mending is on my mind these days.

I am talking about mending in its simplest terms, which is “to make something broken, worn, torn, or otherwise damaged whole, sound, or usable by repairing.”

Mending used to be a kind of old-fashioned idea. Ma Ingalls mended. Marmee mended. Grandmothers mended. Tinkers mended. During World War II, the slogan “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” became a watchword for making sure you didn’t waste valuable food and resources that were needed for the war effort. Mending was a way to support the troops. I still use a pot that was probably mended around that time; my grandfather reattached the handle with a big nut rather than throw it out.

But then we forgot about mending. We got accustomed to tossing the shirt or the pan when it was broken instead of trying to mend. Let’s face it: it was faster and more fun to buy a new one.

In these recession-battered times, however, mending has seen a revival as more and more of us try to get more and more use out of our belongings. The difficulty is remembering how to mend. Too many of us have lost the skill.

I thought of mending the other night as I sat and, well, mended. I had two umbrellas, each with a rib where the stitching had pulled, and a pair of pantyhose that I had poked a toe through. Ten minutes, a little thread, a little stitching, and the umbrellas were whole again and the hose wearable for several more weeks.

When I mend, I sit with a green sewing box that has always been in my life. It originally belonged to my mother. As a little girl, I thought it was the height of elegance, with its green quilted covering. Somewhere along the line, my mother bought a bigger and fancier sewing box, and I inherited the one from my childhood.

I never look at that sewing box without thinking of mending. And sometimes when I think of mending, I mean the simplest definition applied on a larger scale.

Tikkun olam is a Jewish concept of repairing the world to make it whole again. By practicing tikkun olam, we are mending the world. We are making whole something damaged.By practicing tikkun olam, we are also revealing godliness in the world. In Judaism, that is called Kiddush Hashem, or “sanctifying the Divine Name.”

 The Gospels speak to this duty as well:

Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:14-16, The Message)

Richard Stearns, the author of The Hole in Our Gospel makes this point with stunning accuracy: we cannot sit "smugly in our comfortable bubbles and claim no responsibility for the disadvantaged in our world. God did not leave us that option... Faith and work must be put back together again. We must move beyond an anemic view of our faith as something only personal and private, with no public dimension, and instead see it as the source of power that can change the world. Faith is the fuel that powers the light that shines in the darkness."

As with our everyday mending skills, we are too often out of practice with mending the world. We shrink from the task. It is too overwhelming. We forget that we are not charged with righting every wrong.

But mending is a small step. Mending is taking something close at hand, be it a damaged umbrella or a damaged spirit, and repairing the tear. Mending is strengthening a loose button or a shaky friend. Sometimes we use a needle and thread to mend something. Sometimes we use duct tape. Sometimes we use our hearts.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts tonight at sunset. Tonight also marks the start of the High Holidays, the holiest days of the Jewish calendar. The High Holidays are a time of reflection and repentance.

And they are a time of mending the world, one small stitch at a time.

 I'm linking up with Michelle over at Graceful today.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Banned Books

Both my favorite and least favorite national “week” of the year is fast approaching. Banned Books Week begins Saturday, September 24 and ends Saturday, October 1. As I have in the past, I cheer and praise the American Library Association for promoting this event. As always, I regret that Banned Books Week exists.

The ALA is clear as to why we need a Banned Books Week. It “highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.”

Isn’t that a great line? Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.

Intellectual freedom. As far as I am concerned, that is right up there with freedom of religion, another right I tend to hold close to my heart.

As I have often noted, I love reading. As it was for Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird (a book frequently targeted for banning, incidentally), reading is like breathing for me. I love books. Like Thomas Jefferson, I cannot live without them.

This fall, I have made it a personal project to read every book awarded a Newbery Medal, the award given annually to the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” The Newbery was first given in 1922, and there are 90 of them out there. As of this posting, I am a third of the way through the list. Even Newbery Medal books are the target of banning attempts, some of them decades after being published. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the 1959 Newbery Medal book, was challenged as recently as 2002 on the grounds that it promotes witchcraft. (Ironically, two strong themes in the book are freedom of religion and the dangerous consequences of suppressing religious freedom. The “witch” is a Quaker living on the fringes of a Puritan colony.) In talking about a challenge to The Higher Power of Lucky, the 2007 Newbery Award book, because it contained the word “scrotum” one time in one sentence, a former chairwoman of the Newbery Award committee called out what we are really talking about: censorship. She criticized schools and libraries banning the book on the basis of one word one time, pointing out “that’s what censors do — they pick out words and don’t look at the total merit of the book.”

There are lots of books out there, ranging from superb to a wretched waste of paper. Some contain ideas and thoughts that I do not endorse or even find repugnant and offensive. But that doesn’t mean I want to ban those books. It just means I cut a wide swath around them when I come across them, or speak out against the ideas they contain.

Last year for Banned Books Week I wrote about a favorite scene in the movie "Field of Dreams." The scene takes place during a school board hearing when a parent is trying to get a book banned. Annie Kinsella opposes her and challenges the audience:

Now, who's for the Bill of Rights? Who thinks freedom is a pretty darn good thing? Come on! Let’s see those hands! Who thinks we have to stand up to the kind of censorship they had under Stalin? [Hands go up all over the auditorium.] All right! There you go! America, I love you. I’m proud of you!

I too am for the Bill of Rights. I too think that freedom is a pretty good thing. And in preparing to celebrate my rights and my freedom, I’m making sure I am surrounded by books for Banned Books Week.

I hope you are too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sharing the Sunrise

Lately there have been many clouds on the horizon. I am not yet ready to write about the clouds, but I can remind myself to share the sunrise.

This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
                                                                          Psalm 118:24 (New American Standard Bible)

Linking up with Michelle over at Graceful today. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

One Decade

Even if we are not all writing about it today, we are thinking about it. Even if we claim we are not thinking about it, we are.

Those of us who experienced September 11, 2001, carry a psychic wound deep inside us. We know where we were when we first heard, where we were when it sank in this was not an accident.

My law partner Scott came to the office some 20 minutes after I did that day and told me he'd have been there sooner but there'd been a plane crash at the World Trade Center. He happened to have a radio in his office and so found a news station. Minutes later he yelled in disbelief as the second plane hit. Then they were saying something about the Pentagon.

By then, I was in Scott's office. We looked at each other. The Pentagon? What the ...?

The first tower came down as Scott and I were driving to my house to get in front of a television set. We both started yelling in disbelief and shock as the radio blared the news. The second tower came down just as we turned on the television, and we yelled again.

Flight 93 had already hit the ground.

Scott's friend, Bob, a New York firefighter, was already dead. His body would later be found in one of the tower stairwells. He died trying to save lives.

My boys were both in school that day. Ben, then a sophomore, spent the day in the same classroom as they suspended the schedule and kept everyone in front of televisions. Sam was at the 5th-6th middle school, and someone decided to keep the story from the students so as not to alarm them. Rumors leaked out all the same, and finally Sam and others learned the story from the gym teacher.

Sam was only 11.

Ben was only 15.

For the next 24 hours, everyone everywhere stayed in front of a television set. Even when I finally slept, I saw the towers peel down in my sleep. The next morning, I snapped the set back on and resumed watching.

Last Friday night I went online and looked at pictures and videos of that day. I was stunned at how much I had already forgotten in a decade.

Two memories I have carried close through this whole decade. The first is the members of Congress addressing the nation that evening from the steps of the Capitol, then singing "God Bless America." Raggedy at first, they finished strong. When I saw it ten years ago, I burst into tears. When I saw it again Friday night, I wept anew.

The other memory is that of Sam creeping into the television room early on the 12th while I watched international coverage. The story was delivered in French; the footage showed military boats racing across the water. Sam watched intently, then turned and asked "are they coming to bomb us too?" When I said no, that was a French story about the US military response, tears trickled down Sam's cheeks and I hugged him hard, my tears falling on his head.

My life has changed in innumerable ways, so very many of them for the better, since that terrible day. Our country has changed in innumerable ways, not all of them good, since that terrible day.

My boys are now grown, now 2500 miles away. If something of this magnitude happens again, I will send my swiftest prayers and hopes to their sides.

If something of this magnitude happens again, I will send my swiftest prayers and hopes to this country.

It has already been a decade.

It has already been a lifetime.

It has only been since yesterday.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Guest at Our Tables

"Hope is always a guest at our table."

That line is from Redwood and Wildfire, Andrea Hairston's fantasy novel set in Georgia and in Chicago in the early twentieth century. It was not my typical read; Sam is the one who put the book in my hands and suggested I would enjoy it. (I did, which is why I love it when my children (you too, Alise) give me book titles, as their interests range wider than what I typically read.)  In the book, those words were in the mouth of Clarissa, an African American woman living in Chicago in the early 1900s, speaking of the long road for racial equality. She says them quietly to Redwood, her sister-in-law, who is discouraged by the never ending racial violence that has followed her from backwoods Georgia to Chicago. When Redwood says she has no hope of anything ever improving, Clarissa chides her gently, saying "hope is always a guest at our table."

Hope is always a guest at our table.

I love that line. I love it so much I wrote it out and put it up on our refrigerator. I love to think of Hope, who I picture as a calm, graceful woman, joining us at supper every night.

I think Hope has been gracing a lot of tables lately.

As Amy heads into her fourth week here, she is calmer and less volatile. By her own admission, she is eating and sleeping better. She is starting to look at the bookshelf and pull interesting titles off to look through, perhaps to read. Bit by bit, she is settling in, interacting more, coming and going with the calm assurance that when she returns, she is still welcome and there is a stable roof over her head.

Hope is always a guest at our table.

Next door, Pete and Nancy, retired and just turning 80, have taken in their two teenage grandchildren who were suddenly in desperate need of a stable home. Pete and I talked yesterday and he expressed the hope that he and Nancy would stay healthy until both children graduated from high school. Chuckling, he talked about the changes in their household: the new schedules, the increased grocery bill, the homework spread across the dining room table. Bit by bit, their grandchildren have started to adjust: settling in, getting involved in school, coming and going with the calm assurance that when they return, they are still welcome and there is a stable roof over their heads. 

I bet Hope is always a guest at their table, too.

When the grandkids arrived, there were not enough bikes to go around. I offered Sam's old bike, which he has long outgrown, to the grandson, who has not yet hit his growth spurt and is at that in-between middle school size that some boys linger in for a long time. It fit him well. He sent me a thank you note: Thank you for the bike, I love it and always love riding it, I will always take care of it.

"I will always take care of it." I think Hope goes along for the ride when Pete and Nancy's grandson takes off to explore his new neighborhood.

The weather is changing, reminding us that autumn is almost upon us. I did a lot of household work this weekend, canning and freezing food for the winter yet to come. I baked a pie last night with apples from our local Farmers Market. The apples were described only as "the best bakers," so I am looking forward to the results since I didn't recognize the apple. The kitchen filled with the scent of apples and cinnamon; the sweet smells wrapped around us each time we walked into the house from the outside. 

                            Eat honey, dear child - it's good for you -
                            and delicacies that melt in your mouth.
                            Likewise knowledge,
                            and wisdom for your soul -
                            Get that and your future's secured,
                            your hope is on solid rock.
                                                                Proverbs 24: 13-14 (The Message)

Both Amy and the children next door are gaining the knowledge - the security - that their homes are now stable. When you take that worry off of the table, then it is easier to think beyond the immediacy of "where am I sleeping (or eating, or doing homework) tonight?" Perhaps they can now start to plan for a better future. Perhaps now their hopes are on solid rock. 

We will cut the pie tonight. It is a delicacy that will melt in our mouths. Hope will be right there with us when we take that first bite.

Hope is always a guest at our table.