Monday, April 30, 2012


Iris tectorum, "wild flag"

"Flags," Grandma Skatzes always called them. The rest of the known world of my childhood called the purple spring flowers "irises," but they were "flags" to Grandma.

"Are the flags in bloom yet?"

"The flags are late this year. It's almost Decoration Day!"

"Don't the flags smell sweet?"

As a little child, I could not initially make the connection between Grandma's "flags" and the irises that bloomed in front of the house each spring. I took the word at its literal meaning. I thought Grandma was talking about the heavy flag (with 48 stars as she never got around to buying one with 50) she hung outside every national holiday. When I was a little older and understood she was talking about the flowers, I would print out IRISES in heavy black marker on a sheet of paper. I would pass the paper to Grandma, she would hold it close to her very poor eyes, read the word out loud, then chuckle and say, "Yes, flags. That's what I said." Finally I came to accept "flags" as a quaint phrase from Grandma's past.

That was a long time ago. 45, 50 years ago. I haven't heard anyone else call irises "flags" since, not even my mom or Aunt Ginger, Grandma's last two surviving children.

Grandma and her flags are on my mind because the irises are in bloom right now in Delaware. They are usually a mid to late May flower, but the warm spring brought them out early this year. I walked past a patch in full bloom this morning. "Flags," I thought automatically.

E. B. White, of the same era as my grandmother, called them flags too. In 1946, he published a little book, The Wild Flag, a collection of his New Yorker editorials from 1943-1946 championing a world government. (Andy White was an early proponent and champion of the United Nations, although he felt it fell far short of the ideal goal.)

In The Wild Flag, White proposes, through the vehicle of "a dream" which he had, that the wild flag, Iris tectorum, would be the ideal flag, both literally and figuratively, for a unified government instead of a conventional cloth flag. In the post-apocalyptic world of his dream, there are only a few humans left alive, and each shred of a country has sent a delegate to a convention to discuss the new world order. Each delegate is charged with bringing a cloth flag so that the survivors may choose an appropriate symbol. It is the Chinese delegate who proposes the wild flag: is a convenient and universal device and very beautiful and grows everywhere in the moist places of the earth for all to observe and wonder at. I propose all countries adopt it, so that it would be impossible for us to insult each other's flags...I should remind you that [it] is the oldest flag in the world, the original one, you might say.  December 25, 1943

Andy White was a dreamer and an idealist when it came to world government. He believed the hope of humanity was in coming together without boundaries. He feared the use of nuclear weapons and saw rampant nationalism, in any country, as a threat to peace and progress.

My grandmother, had she ever heard of White, would have agreed. She sent all four of her adult sons and many of her grandsons to war: World War II, Korea, Viet Nam. She had lived through all of those wars and the one before it, World War I, as an adult. All of her sons came home, alive but at least two of them were permanently scarred and forever haunted by what they had seen and done. While she believed in the necessity of war to stop evil, such as Hitler, she abhorred that it had to occur at all. She too believed in the United Nations.

I don't know what either of them would have to say about these modern times, about our post 9/11 world, about the body bags still coming home from the Middle East, about suicide bombers both foreign and homegrown. I have a strong feeling each would be appalled and shocked and fearful of the world in which all of us now live.

But I do know what Andy White would likely say about the flags I saw today, which are not Iris tectorum, but the cultivated type. He would possibly say, "I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority."

And I know what Grandma would say.

"The flags are blooming! Don't they smell sweet?"

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Further Down the Road

Saturday was cold and gray and at times rainy and sleety. I spent much of the morning standing outside at the fire station watching firefighter candidates undergo agility testing. (I sit on our city's civil service commission and we are encouraged to watch the testing procedures.) I meant to stop only briefly. I stayed for over two hours, mesmerized by the intensity of the morning. The candidates are put through a variety of tests, from climbing an extended aerial ladder to finding their way by rope through a blackout room.

The most compelling segment for me was the timed shuttle run, where the candidate had to run 50 yards (each way) from the starting point to the relay point, pick up a different object each time (five total), and carry it back to the start. The last object was a small water hose (with the water pressure on) and nozzle, to be pulled from the relay point to the starting line.

As I learned, it is not the weight of the hose that is the killer, but the frictional drag on the line across that distance of pavement. I watched candidates who had sailed through earlier parts of the test (including the timed run three times up and down two flights of stairs loaded with gear in under two minutes) all but grind to a stop on the last leg of the shuttle run. They would be down to the last ten yards, the last five yards, and have to gut it out inch by inch to make it to the finish line.

One candidate fell to his knees, then rolled onto his side just a few feet short as the clock ticked down. Firefighters and candidates alike were shouting encouragement: "Get up! You're almost there! Dig it out! Dig it out!" He couldn't. When the tester called time, the candidate struggled to his feet, made it to the grass, and then fell to the ground again. He pounded the earth in frustration, planting his face in the grass and looking for all the world like a ballplayer on the losing team just after the last buzzer in the final NCAA basketball tournament.

His anguish at falling short was acute.

When a candidate washes out at the agility test, there are no "do overs." The candidate is done. Before one leaves, however, the Chief meets with that candidate for an exit interview. John Donahue, our Fire Chief, is superb and I suspect he does no small amount of counseling to help the candidate come to grips with the failure. Certainly this one, by the time he left, had a calmer look on his face and gave the Chief earnest thanks. The anguish may have still been there, but for now it was tempered.

Cold finally drove me away. After picking up Warren at the office, we came home to spend the rest of the day doing home-based things: instruments (Warren), laundry (me).

The anguish of the young candidate stuck with me all day. The situation with my mother, who is showing increasing signs of significant cognitive impairment, is moving to what I am calling "the next stage." Other people outside the smallest family circle are starting to notice things are amiss. Dad is starting to look haggard. Over the last several days, I've had lengthy phone and email conversations with two of my brothers regarding where we are now at. Dad has finally acknowledged that he is wearing down. We are looking into support groups. These conversations are necessary but draining, and I hang up or log off from them worn down myself. They are fraught with the possibility of misunderstandings even when we are all on the same page, because we are all filtering the story through our own relationship with our parents.

And then there is the mourning that I am doing and suspect my brothers and dad are too. It is hard to watch mom disappear. Add to that the complicated relationship I have had with my mother--a relationship I will not be able to go back to and finish smoothing out--and I worry that I am not up to the challenge of being a good enough daughter.

It is enough to make me fall to my knees and pound my frustration into the earth.

By Saturday night, I was tired and anxious and my chest was tight. So I turned to food--not to eat, although I did that too--but to make, to cook, to bake. Supper was a container of ropa vieja I found in the freezer (wisely set aside weeks ago by the Suzy Homemaker I sometimes internally harbor) that was just the right size for supper for the two of us. The house was scented with the pickling spices from the candied dills I made that afternoon, laced through with the cinnamon of the sauteed apples I'd prepared for homemade apple dumplings. Warren brought in a bucket of wood scraps for the fireplace and late into the evening we ate warm apple dumplings and watched the flames churn.

By happenstance, I am reading right now Making Piece, by Beth M. Howard. It is a memoir of "love, loss, and pie." (You know why I am reading it: pie.) I will not review it here, other than to say it is a keeper. But as I read it last night by the light of the fire, I realized that what I had been tasting all day was loss.

While the last of the apple dumpling dissolved on my tongue, I thought back to the candidate who had washed out that morning at the agility tests. His anguish was real and immediate. His grief was right there on display for everyone to see. But by the time he left, the Chief accompanying him out and sending him off with a hearty "Good luck," the candidate had regained his equilibrium. He waved at the firefighters and candidates who wished him well, and headed for home.

When I think about what we are facing as a family with mom, I feel not unlike that candidate. The clock has run. We don't get a "do over." It is time to come up off my knees, it is time to head further down the road.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month in the United States and for the last three years of blogging I have tried to call attention to it.

This year, April almost slipped away (Warren is thinking whew!) but fortunately my good friend Kate at Haiku-ca-choo! set an assignment last Monday that fit me like a glove: OK, Group, this is a weird one. Write a nonsense haiku. (Inspiration could be "The jabberwocky," for example.)  Below are my contributions for the week.

Three Haiku Based Upon Carroll and Lear

Jabberwock in a 
pea green boat, runcible spoon
for quince in moonlight.

Slithy toves afloat
with pea-green sails to the hills
of the Chankly Bore.

Uffish thoughts while
at the goblin market: where
is the pea-green owl? 

Two Haiku Based Upon Rossetti and Carroll

Goblin men, mewing
like a cat, crawling snail-like,
lugging golden fruits.

Laura turns and tastes.
Lizzie saves her without a 
vorpal sword in hand.

Four Haiku Based upon Garth Williams' Illustration of "The Three Little Kittens"

Three little kittens 
gobbling down pie, mittens now
soiled. Scolding to come.

Three little kittens
gobbling down pie, saw the red
fish and ate it too.

Three little kittens
gobbling down pie, mittens now
soiled. Why the bunny?

Three kittens are the
goblins, the blue fish, the toves--
with their mittens on.

Two Haiku Based Upon Seuss and Carroll

Horton heard the blue 
fish shriek as the fox (sans sox)
sauteed it to green.

Had Sam picked up 
the vorpal sword, uffish or
not, I would chortle.

As I have noted before, poetry fascinates me, poetry holds me. Poetry is to me what music is to Warren and at some level I think he understands that, roll his eyes as he might at poetry. When I look back at what I have written over the last three years, my first Poetry Month post says it best. The poems are waiting: ripe, warm, inviting.

Go read a poem. 


Friday, April 27, 2012


The day started with shattered glass.

Not a broken window. Not a car wreck outside where a windshield popped.

Nothing so dramatic as that.

No, it was a dropped juice glass, a rather sturdy one that, along with its few remaining siblings, had been dropped dozens of time over the last decade without any consequences.

Today, it slipped from my hand, hit the edge of the cereal bowl, chipping it as it struck, and then threw itself into a thousand pieces out of remorse.

We say "don't cry over spilt milk." We throw a pinch of salt over the left shoulder when we spill salt. But I am not aware of any similar household incantations for a shattered juice glass. The nearest I can approximate is the breaking of glass (usually a lightbulb) at the end of a Jewish wedding, but no one shouted "Mazel Tov!" when this glass broke.

I had not yet served up the oatmeal in the aforementioned cereal bowl, so I did not have to toss breakfast and start over. I instead picked up the largest shards, set them aside, and then set about wiping down the counters. I keep paper towels for the sole purpose of greasing baking dishes, and used up several of them in cleaning up the fractured pieces.

As I wiped, marveling at the pattern of the breakage, Horace Rumpole came to mind. Back in the old days, back in the television days of my life (so you know we are talking wayyyy back), I would watch "Rumpole of the Bailey" faithfully on PBS. No matter what the case before him, Rumpole always found a way to refer to the Penge Bungalow murders, his first unled case, and to his brilliant analysis of the bloodstains that formed the basis of his successful defense. As I studied the scattershot, I thought that even Horace Rumpole would have been hard pressed to make sense of this.

Finally, the last sweep of damp paper towel came up without a cold sparkle. I tossed the glass pieces out, Leo McKern's voice faded from my ears, and I poured another glass of juice.

In movies, especially the lavish ones of days gone by, you sometimes see an actor smash a wine glass in the fireplace, either with a hearty toast or a bitter curse. I can't imagine Warren smashing any glass in the fireplace under any circumstances. I can't see myself picking pieces of glass out of the fireplace the next morning. So I guess it is for the better that my life's circumstances are such that it is only a juice glass on a kitchen counter.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Offering Up

We offer up thanks. We offer up praise. We offer up our hands and our hearts and our willingness to serve in those ways that God sees fit.

Jewish women baking challah for the Sabbath offer up a bit of the dough. Hindu women preparing meals for their families offer up a serving of each dish as part of prasadam. Kwakiutl women would offer up thanks to the cedar tree when removing bark for household use. 

We humans have a long history, all the way back to burnt sacrifices, of offering up gifts to the gods we serve. It is coded in our genes; it is coded in our belief systems.

I was thinking about this several nights ago as I was trying to fall asleep. It been one of those out of sync days when nothing went really wrong but nothing felt really right either. Warren and I had unintentionally grated on each other's nerves more than once. The chores I had meant to do were still waiting. Now it was Sunday night with the week looming ahead and I had accomplished nothing.

You know, that kind of day. 

As I lay in bed that night, I tried to put myself in a better frame of mind so I could fall asleep. As Warren brushed his teeth, I thought of all the wonderful qualities he brings to our marriage. 

It didn't matter; I was still irritated. 

As he turned out the light and the darkness settled over our uneasy quiet, I moved to my blessings list and tried to start through the alphabet, hoping my heart would take over and lift my mood.

No go. 

I lay there in the dark thinking, "I should be offering up all the gifts of my day, offering up a prayer of gratitude that I am so blessed."

But I wasn't offering that up. All I was offering up was a tangled knot of frustration. It felt like a soggy ball of poorly wound string. All I was offering up was a chewed up wad of gum stuck back in the wrapper but not yet tossed in the trash. All I was offering up was dust bunnies, the big, fat, hairy ones beneath the bedroom dresser that no one has swept under for way too long. 

In the midst of all my blessings, I was offering up dust bunnies and wadded up gum bits. Those were the best I could come up with when I emptied out my spiritual pockets for the day. 

Pretty pathetic.

But you know what? As I thought about offering up the soggy, knotted string, I relaxed. As I visualized the overgrown dust bunnies, I breathed deeper. And by the time I imagined laying down the wadded up gum wrapper as my offering, I was at peace.

Sometimes the best we can do is offer up the scraps and shards of our day. Sometimes we come to God with a dirty dishtowel and a stale doughnut in hand, and then stand there, scuffing our toes in embarrassment at our paltry offerings.

God takes it all the same. Takes it even though it is a torn bit of paper, or a torn piece of our heart. Takes it even though it is a knotted bit of string, or a knotted worry. Takes it even though it is a wadded up scrap of gum, or a wadded up hope. God takes those scraps and bits and discards from us and patiently reassures us they are acceptable.

They're acceptable even though they are torn and dirty.

They're acceptable even though they are bits and scraps.

They're acceptable even though it is all we think we have.

The other night, I offered up my dust bunnies and my knots and my gum wrappers. I offered up my petty irritations and annoyances. I offered up my less than grateful heart and my less than comforted soul. 

And then I slept. Because it was all acceptable.


I am joining up with Deidra and Michelle this week! 


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rediscovering Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Well, not truly "rediscovering." It is not as if I set my knowledge and admiration of Anne Morrow Lindbergh down somewhere and then just walked off and forgot about her. Anne has always been near at hand, my fingertips just grazing a quote or a passage from one of her books. But it has been a long time since I have immersed myself in her works.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh is, in my opinion, one of the two most graceful and lyrical American writers ever. (E. B. White is the other.) Her writing, especially her published diaries and letters, are ones that I have turned to over and over again for almost 40 years. When I was undergoing my two stem cell transplants in the summer of 2005, Anne was on the bedside table in the Cleveland Clinic, along with pictures of Ben and Sam. Whenever I play the "if you were stranded on an island and could only have five books with you" game, Anne is always on my list (along, not surprisingly, with E. B. White).

I first discovered this amazing writer in 1973, while still in high school. A quote from her second volume of diaries and letters, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, was the prompt for a timed essay I was writing as part of a competition: "I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world be wise, since everyone suffers."The moment I finished the essay, I went straight to the library and checked out both that book and its predecessor, Bring Me A Unicorn. I had to find out who this person was.

I ended up taking Anne Morrow Lindbergh to heart and have never let her go.

On the crowded tabletop in front of me are two small books, each bound in red: North to the Orient and Listen! The Wind. These are her two travel books, detailing the early (1930s) global navigation expeditions she undertook with her husband, aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. I'd read them before, probably 25-30 years ago. In between "new" reads earlier this week, I picked them off my Lindbergh shelf to dip into again.

I am not disappointed. This scene, from North to the Orient, is an example why. Anne and Charles have stopped to see her family before setting off on their lengthy and dangerous trip and they have just finished their goodbyes:

The next morning we are off again, I with an extra handkerchief tucked into my pocket. "You will probably need an extra one, you know." That extra handkerchief seemed to set a seal of success on the trip. It made it at once intimate and possible. Hadn't an extra handkerchief taken me to school and back, and put me on the train for college, and sent me out the day I was married? One could go anywhere with an extra handkerchief--especially if it had a blue border.

I came across that paragraph and closed my eyes in delight and memory. It is classic Anne. In the midst of telling us this tremendous aviation tale, she brings us back with a personal moment: a mother insisting on tucking an extra handkerchief into her daughter's pocket. It is the smallest of touches and the bravest of attitudes: "One could go anywhere with an extra handkerchief--especially if it had a blue border."

Anne was born in 1906, 50 years before me, and died in 2001. Her last volume of diaries and letters, covering the years 1939-1944, was published in 1980. She went on keeping her voluminous diaries and writing fistfuls of letters, but I assumed that, other than the excerpts appearing in Scott Berg's stunning biography of Charles Lindbergh, written in 1998, those diaries and letters would never see the light of day. So it was with total shock that I learned that Anne's daughter, Reeve Lindbergh, is publishing her mother's diaries and letters from the mid-1940s to 1986.

The book, Against Wind and Tide, will come out on April 24. I am hoping Reeve edited her mother's words far less harshly than Anne, who often trimmed her own thoughts to appease her husband and maintain the Lindbergh image. The Anne of this newest volume will be an older Anne, a woman I am eager to meet and get to know, especially now that I am in my mid-fifties. I cannot wait to read it.

But for now, I am with the young Anne as she and Charles head north to the Orient. The death of her father, which will happen while they are on this trip, and the murder of her firstborn child, which is only a year away, are still in the future. Her husband is still the great American hero and they are about to undertake a great expedition that no one else has attempted. The hour is golden, the future is bright, and Anne has an extra handkerchief, one with a brave blue border, in her pocket.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

With a No. 3 Pencil

There is a scene in the 1972 novel, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, which I still remember vividly 40 years later (probably because I read the novel so many times as a teenager). Sasha (the title character) is in college and has had an epiphany: time is a continuum, time is interconnected. If she taped a strip of paper around her room, she could fill in the various benchmarks of civilization and thus gain total understanding. Sasha had different colors ink for the different disciplines and planned on using a hard pencil (No. 3) for adding the fine details.

That scene came to mind Saturday morning not because I was trying to divine total knowledge but because I was in that uneasy and uncomfortable state of "under-the-weather-but-not-out-and-out-sick."  I was out with Warren at the time, waiting in the car while he ran a quick errand, and I needed to take my mind off of myself and my sorry state.

So I decided to think of all the blessings in my life so I could stop focusing on how I was feeling right that minute. I decided to list all the things in my life for which I am grateful.


My thoughts went something like this: "A: Alise, Amy, apples, almonds, artichokes; B: Ben, baby, books, baking, Bethany, blue; C: children, community, Cindy, chocolate; D: Don, Dodie, Delaware, doughnuts..."

You get the point.

Only, as I went along, people and things I am grateful for would pop into my mind out of sequence. And then my thoughts went something like this: "I forgot daffodils! How could I forget daffodils? Those go in D. F: family, friends; G: Gerald, giraffes. No wait, I need forsythia in F. And Alice in Wonderland in A."

That is when the scene from Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen came to mind. If I ran a blessings line around the perimeter of a room and started filling it in, I'd have to keep going back to add items. I'd have to use a No. 3 pencil to get a hard, sharp point to be able to do all the detail work.

One room would not contain my blessings line, no matter how tiny I wrote.

Warren came back to the car around L (love, Linda, lilacs...). I'd already gone back numerous times to A through K to add more people and things for which I am grateful, for which and whom I am blessed to have in my life. I never made it to Z (zebras).

Did I feel better after spending some time mentally penciling items on my blessings line? If you are measuring how I felt physically, not really. When I scribbled the longhand version of this post out Saturday afternoon, the jury was still out. It took a nap during dress rehearsal to turn that corner.

But otherwise did I feel better? Absolutely.

I am at my best when I center my thoughts on the wonders of the world around me. I am at my strongest when I reflect upon the gifts that shower down upon me daily. I am my happiest when I remember to breathe a prayer of gratitude for my life, for this life, and all that I have in it.

When I stop and recognize those gifts, give them a name, accept them with open hands, then I am complete.

With or without a No. 3 pencil.


I will be linking up with both Deidra and Michelle on this one.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Date Night

Let me start with the bare facts: Warren and I don't do date nights. Oh, we are out a lot, but with rare exception our evenings out are related to the Symphony, Warren's playing, or his passion for percussion.

So that may explain why the other evening, I kept turning to look at Warren with wonder in my eyes. We were out on a Friday evening, listening to a lounge act in a Worthington area inn.

Date night?

Okay, truth be told, there was an underlying Symphony reason for our being there listening to this singer. He may be performing with the Symphony next season and Warren wanted a chance to hear him live.

And, in the spirit of full disclosure, we had come straight from the Symphony office First Friday that evening, so it really was a Symphony evening after all.

But that didn't matter, once we arrived and sat down. This was live music: not a battery of percussionists, but the crooner and his backup trio (bass, keyboardist, drummer). Low conversations at nearby tables. Soft lights. An appreciative audience. A stand-up bass player who exuded the passion a performer can bring to his craft. The clink of glassware in the bar.

And Warren beside me, listening, watching, smiling at me.

Could that be my husband of three and a half years? Could that be my friend of forty years?

When you are on a date, the person you thought you knew better than anyone else takes on a special glow.

We ordered and shared a dessert: a frozen lemon concoction that we ate slowly. I let every spoonful dissolve in my mouth.

When the group ended their final set, Warren went up and talked to the singer. Of course, he also knew the bass player. And the drummer was an old acquaintance. I wasn't a bit surprised.

The Passover moon hung full in the sky as we left. I linked my arm through Warren's as we walked to our car and said, "We should do this a little more often."

Our marriage will likely never settle into a "routine" because there is nothing routine about Warren's life. Any life which involved hauling (or building) a truckload of percussion at the drop of the hat, while negotiating with next season's soloists, will never be routine. All the same, stepping outside of our comfort zone (well, outside of Warren's world for the most part) from time to time does us good.

As I write the draft of this post, I am sitting in the auditorium of the Renaissance Theater while Warren sets up for a rehearsal with the Mansfield Symphony. Other musicians are starting to drift in. It will be a long evening because we came up early; it will be a late night because home is an hour away. Friday night is another rehearsal. Saturday is dress rehearsal and the concert.

This is not a date night. This is not a date weekend. This is a working night and a working weekend at the end of a long work week. Warren and I always run the danger of circumscribing our lives with being overextended. If I am not careful, I will get worn down and worn out by the late hours, the nonstop Symphony demands, the percussion immersion. I know: I live in the percussion universe and I am married to the Symphony.

But sometimes I need a night that is not those things. Sometimes I need an exotic dessert. Sometimes I need to look at Warren with fresh eyes.

Sometimes I need a date.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Grateful for a Resurrection

I was going to call this post "Ordinary Resurrections," borrowing the title and not a little of the sentiment from Jonathan Kozol's extraordinary book, Ordinary Resurrections. That was before sitting through yesterday's Easter services at Maple Grove United Methodist Church.

By the time we left, long after noon, the title to this blog was changed and so was I.

Yesterday was my first chance to hear the "new" minister, Glenn Schwerdtfeger, better known as Pastor Glenn. Pastor Glenn accepted the call to Maple Grove following the retirement of a dynamic and well-loved minister, Bill Croy. Bill would be a tough act to follow under regular circumstances; with him retiring for medical reasons as he did, I imagine it was all the tougher an act to follow.

I suspect, based on what I witnessed yesterday, Pastor Glenn is up to the challenge. 

I was not disappointed. In fact, I was moved to tears by the sermon, not once but twice. He had me from his opening words: The Easter story begins with Mary Magdalene alone, weeping in the dark. Easter does not begin with joyful hearts and shouts of "Alleluia." It gets to those things, to be sure, but Easter begins with Mary weeping in the dark.

Mary weeping in the dark. What an image. Pastor Glenn went on to talk about the first two questions put to Mary Magdalene by Jesus: "Why are you weeping?" and "For whom are you looking?" From there, he put the question to us: why are we weeping and for what are we looking? He then went on to talk about the meaning of the Resurrection. As Pastor Glenn reminded us, Easter is the power of God to be with you when you weep in the darkness, to open the tomb where your hopes lie dead, to help you see the Lord when you thought only the gardener was there.

Pretty powerful stuff. (And if you want to read the sermon yourself, you can find it here.)

I sat there the first time through, wondering what my answers would be to those question. The second one especially held my thoughts. Then the first service was over and we joined the congregation for Easter breakfast in the church's Fellowship Hall.

When we entered the hall, I saw Bill Croy zipping around in the motorized wheelchair he now uses. With the Bishop's blessings given the extraordinary circumstances under which Bill retired, the Croys have stayed on in the Maple Grove community. So I was not terribly surprised to see Bill and in fact was both pleased and relieved to see him eating and talking with other parishioners. 

What surprised me was Bill coming up to the table where Warren and I were seated, looking straight at me, and telling me he had read my blog abut his retirement when a friend up north called his attention to it. 

He wanted to thank me for writing that story. "No, thank you," I said, thinking of all the comfort and hope I had received listening to him preach. 

I looked at Warren after Bill left. "I'm going to cry," I said, blinking back tears for several moments. As moved as I was by Bill's kind words to me, I had not come to Maple Grove looking for praise. It was a gift, plain and simple, handed with deep feeling and gratitude from Bill to me.

We moved back up into the sanctuary and the second service again. Again, there was the sermon and again I was moved to tears.

Why am I weeping? What am I looking for?

As I have mentioned a few times, and as is obvious from my lack of postings, I have been struggling with writing. I have been struggling with lots of things: my health, my time, having both of my sons, my daughter-in-law, and my grandchild-to-be 2500 miles away, watching my mother fade. And while there are moments when I can look beyond my struggles, too much of the time I am wandering around not really seeing my life, not really seeing anything.

I could be Mary, alone, weeping in the dark.

Why am I weeping? What am I looking for? I kept pondering those words, right through the end of the second service.

And then I received another unexpected gift. A woman approached me; I recognized her as Bill's wife, Dorothy. Independent of her husband's words earlier today, she wanted to thank me for the blog about his retirement.

I started to get teary again. While she thanked me, her voice catching with emotions, I thanked her  and told her of my gratitude at being at that final service. We hugged one another in our tears.

I am always overwhelmed when someone compliments me on my writing. I understand that blogging is the most public of acts in the writing world, but the writing itself is the most private. It is when I get to face myself on the page. I am profoundly grateful when someone takes my hand and tells me my words moved them. That act of kindness gives me the courage to rise to my feet and try again.

And now I come back to Pastor Glenn's questions of Easter morning. Why am I weeping? What am I looking for?

Pastor Glenn preached that the Resurrection was not extraordinary, but that believing in it is. For Pastor Glenn, the extraordinary message of Easter is seeing the Lord in our daily life.

Jonathan Kozol quoted an Episcopal priest in defining what an "ordinary resurrection" might look like. For Jonathan Kozol, getting up and facing life, day after day, despite one's barriers, despite poverty, despite closed doors, was an ordinary resurrection.

And for me? Something opened up inside on Sunday. Call it faith, call it spirituality, call it gratitude. Call it a miracle that I have written this post.

Call it a resurrection.


I'm linking up with Michelle and Deidra both! 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Passing Over Into Easter

As we drove down to Maple Grove Methodist, the church where Warren always plays the Easter service, Warren said, "Look at the moon!"

There was a split in the early morning clouds and the moon, a day past full, hung large in the blue-gray sky. It caught the light of the sun and radiated big and bright before sinking into the bank of clouds in the west. By the time we reached the church, the morning was bright and the sun was risen.

Today, of course, is Easter. As I write these words out longhand, the bell choir is practicing one more time before the musicians and vocal choir run through the program. Warren has finished tuning his timpani. The congregation will start filling the pews behind me shortly.

This has been our Easter ritual for the last six years. Of all the churches I have attended accompanying Warren when he is hired to play, Maple Grove is the one in which I am most comfortable. Since Bill Croy retired in late 2010, a new minister has been installed and I am looking forward to hearing him today.

But my thoughts as we drove were not on Easter, but instead on Passover, which began Friday night with the sunset. In earlier years, a lifetime ago in so many ways, I converted to Judaism and observed many of the holidays, most especially Passover.

During Passover, you participate in a Seder, an evening meal laced with ritual and and readings that tell of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. It has been a quarter century since I attended one; Ben was very young then and exasperated the hosts by running (literally) around the dining room table chanting loudly. But if I sort through my memories, I can evoke a tapestry of Seder moments, richly woven with songs and laughter and chantings. There are the four questions, introduced with the overarching question: Why is this night different from all other nights? There is the sharp taste of maror and the sweetness of charoset. There is the reciting of the ten plagues. There is the discovery of the afikomen and the singing of "Dayenu." There is the evening meal in the middle of the Seder, during which the people sitting around the table share in the communion of one another.

I left Judaism for not as good a reason, perhaps, as I entered it. At times, I miss it strongly. I still hold many of its tenets close to my heart. It is not surprising that I drifted spiritually for a long time after leaving it. It was my dear friend, Katrina, who finally shoved me back into the sea of belief. It was the writers Frederick Buechner and Kathleen Norris who helped me into a boat in that wide sea. And it is this church, in no small part, that encourages me to keep sailing. 

It is Easter morning. Hallelujah.