Spots and more spots

Spots and spots and more spots. Let’s see…strep, impetigo, more strep, allergic reaction (Lots of spots) to impetigo antibiotic (no more sulfa drugs for us, thank you very much).

fever

In the midst of, both mutts escaped through the side gate—yes, it had been left open—and upon returning from their adventures, which most assuredly involved eating unknown carcasses and/or fast food litter, went all kinds of sideways in the digestive department over the course of the week. I won’t go into particulars here, except to say that I’ve never experienced vomit that smelled so much like diarrhea. Experience being the key word here, as I’ve spent a good few days on hands and knees with every kind of cleaner you can imagine trying to get the smell out of carpet. Unfortunately, fair Lucy the Grey cleansed herself of gastronomical distress while John and I were on a date at the movies and our equally fair babysitter didn’t find Lucy’s offering because, well, she was busy cleaning up another pile of the stuff off the dog bed. Being the explorer he is, Jonah discovered said carpet deposit in his stocking feet. And tracked it across the kitchen while yelling in disgust.

I have two words for you: enzyme cleaner. But not just any enzyme cleaner. Bac-Out. The stuff is a miracle.

In truth, I wish I could procure some kind of similar product for my brain, to get the stink out, so to speak. In recent months, I’ve taken to just about full-time copyediting and proofreading for various theological/philosophical/biblical commentary-type presses. I am good at the work, but for me to be good at the work, the work requires almost complete self-immersion. Meeting deadlines ain’t my cup of tea; I mean, they are so dramatic. They push my anxiety button, which is an area of my brain I like to avoid at all costs. Even if it means not taking risks. Even if it means failing to do the thing I know I need to do.

The work almost always means a great push at the end to meet the deadline; I invariably come out on the other side of it dazed, if not a little confused (and often hosting a head cold). My capacity for detail having been used up by the work, I forget things like turning off the spigot that is filling my glass with water; taking my child to the doctor for his check-up and immunizations; making my child’s lunch to send to school; sending my child’s lunch with him to school (fortunately, Jonah has charmed the lunch ladies, who seem to have taken him under their wing and bestow upon him piles of cheesy breadsticks).

Blue tongue

Granted, there is a kind of freedom in this obliviousness, a kind of freedom in single-mindedness. For as much as it exhausts me, the work is a simplifying force. As a tender of household, the multi-tasking can take me over. I know what Sylvia Plath means; there’s the sense that I’ve “Boarded a train there’s no getting off,” which is motherhood and womanhood and personhood in a nutshell. But the metaphor breaks down, as all metaphors are want to do. Aren’t we meant to stay on? Isn’t that what love does—keeps us on the train?

Did I say it feels like January? It is not. It is November. As a personal response/survival technique, I have swiped a phoenix charm with a bright blue turquoise stone in its belly from the odds-and-ends treasures John collected in a past life (I found it in the change bowl on his bookshelf). I have found a piece of leather. I have tied it ’round my throat. I have decided I will wear it to get myself to the other side of the cold grey. That blue in the bird’s belly will get me back; I know it will.

fall snow

 

 

 

Postscript

I’ve borrowed the title from a poem of the same name by Seamus Heaney. Because it’s summer. Because so much has happened since last I visited this page. Because it’s summer, and summer is my favorite of favorite seasons and all I want to do is live it.

Part of the so much happening is my general reluctance to continue writing these open letters to the universe. Granted, whose reading really? A handful of dear friends and family and people who stumble upon me through a Google search. Or maybe a picture of my boys that I’ve sent (somewhat thoughtlessly) out into that same universe, which encompasses this crazy world.

Not that I want to give any of it up (as my son pees off the deck for what must be the hundredth time this summer). None of the

…marvels and follies

and longings and lies and wishes

and error and humor and mercy

and journeys and voices and faces

and colors and summers and mornings

and knowledge and tears and chance.

(Lisel Mueller)

********************************

And while it took me almost two months to get back to this post (it being now the first of October), I will send it forth anyway. As writing, no matter how I rationalize it, will always be my way back into the world.

Do click here to watch and listen to Seamus Heaney read his “Postscript,” as it is a fitting gateway into autumn and worth every bit of its one minute and forty-two seconds. Worth quite a lot more.

Saff Onlee

[Translation: Staff Only.] So reads the sign on the door to the boys’ room. Part of an elaborate scheme involving Santa Claus, elves, reindeer (I think), and the requisite naughty and nice lists. Perusing those lists, it seems a greater honor to have made the naughties. Go figure.

After a visit to the cemetery on Memorial Day, it was priests and monks. Though G was disappointed he couldn’t climb the mound with the stonehengian-cross-monument at its peak (as is his custom), the sight of a Roman Catholic priest observing a Memorial Day service inspired them. Of course, they Both wanted to be a priest, but we only have one black robe. In an attempt to avert a great disturbance in the Force, I exploited G’s love of holy bread and announced that he should be the monk (we have a brown Jedi robe) who passes out the bread after communion (which plays into a favorite book of theirs—The Holy Monks of Mount Athos—in which the monks make the bread, which plays into the upcoming event of our good friend M-A teaching us all how to make prosphora). Yes, sometimes a mama must play All her cards at once. Upon arriving home, they quickly bedecked themselves just in time to parade before one of their favorite babysitters (We’d like to give a shout-out here for Kelsey-K!). The ever-versatile plastic skull chalice proved itself, once again, indispensable. I tore up some white bread, and the boys were serving the Eucharist in no time.

priest frontpriest back

This past weekend, we acquired an additional black robe, which I doubt G will ever get his hands on. I suspect this is okay with G, because the original black is a silky long Gryffindor number. The new black is a particularly fetching/versatile piece that J got his hands on Saturday when we spent the morning walking our neighborhood garage sales. Calvin Klein. Yep. CK. Though J does not know it was originally intended as a lingerie cover-up, he seems to instinctively understand its purpose:

Then there’s this: “Guess who I’m being?! Han Solo in carbonate!” Not exactly sure how that’s possible, but we’ll roll with it.

voldie swings 2
[A version of Voldemort (inside the turban of Professor Quirrell) swinging Indiana Jones style.]

Turn

I should not be writing this. I should be editing a manuscript about theological aesthetics, which is why I’m writing this. Also, a writer can only go so long without writing because, well…it’s that whole circular logic thing.

The boys are breaking in a new babysitter, or maybe the new babysitter is breaking in the boys. In either case, they seem a good match. The difficult thing about summer is the lack of morning down time. The boys pretty much wake up in full speed (especially when they don’t have to go to school), and though I hide in my bed pretending sleep as long as is conscionable, once the train leaves the station it’s damn near impossible to get off. All that to say, even though I’m at my desk needing to work, I am unable to work. My energies are splayed.

Have you heard that people, across the board, are less stressed at work than at home? So says the most recent study, and I am inclined to believe it because I need a reason to believe that I can find a way to balance more editing work with the bookstore work and home work and yard work and mama work that quite sufficiently fills my days thank you very much. I’m also inclined to believe it because when I am able to work, uninterrupted, for several hours, I experience something more than mere satisfaction. It’s half of wholeness. The working life gives the life of leisure meaning (as I begin to write in the “dissertation-speak” of the manuscript I am editing). In the words of German philosopher Josef Pieper, “The ultimate meaning of the active life is to make possible the happiness of contemplation.”

I turn to my work. I turn back to my children. I turn to my love. If I’m lucky, and smart, I turn to myself. I know—all this turning is like to make a person dizzy. Which, sometimes I am. But, there’s this:

Who among us has not suddenly looked into his child’s face, in the midst of the toils and troubles of everyday life, and at that moment “seen” that everything which is good, is loved and lovable, loved by God! Such certainties all mean, at bottom, one and the same thing: that the world is plumb and sound; that everything comes to its appointed goal; that in spite of all appearances, underlying all things is—peace, salvation, gloria; that nothing and no one is lost; that “God holds in his hand the beginning, middle, and end of all that is.” Such nonrational, intuitive certainties of the divine base of all that is can be vouchsafed to our gaze even when it is turned toward the most insignificant-looking things, if only it is a gaze inspired by love. That, in the precise sense, is contemplation…

As the poet Rachel Hadas says it:

…We recognize the people whom we love,
or love what we respond to as our own,
trusting that one day someone
will look at us with recognition.

(from the poem, “Recognitions“)

Which is maybe how we start to learn to love the world, recognizing everything and everyone as our own.

But I’m the lucky one who gets to see this:

photo
And this:
photo 2
Dueling Potters anyone?
dueling potters
Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

 

Real Deal

Jonah just came downstairs as Jesus. Robed in Jedi brown and wearing a silky dress shirt of his dad’s as a tunic (how is it that I don’t have a single nightgown for just such purposes?), he is a very pretty son of God. A little more Mary Magdalene than Jewish carpenter, but heck, you make the best with what you’ve got.

As it turns out, that version wasn’t really doing it for him, so the next time he descends, he looks like this:

son of god

Proof that Jesus comes in all shapes and sizes—and has a thing for sweater vests. (It took a lot of convincing to get him Not to wear that towel on our walk; tripping on his way down the stairs helped.) Also proof that Jonah is much less particular about the authenticity of his costumes.  If his imagination says it’s so, it is so. But that doesn’t meant Jesus isn’t real. At compliment time during “closing agenda” at school (circle time for the older set), J complimented Jesus for being in his heart. I’m not sure where he got that terminology, as it’s not the way we generally talk about Jesus at home or at church, but J assured me that he could give Jesus a compliment because he was present (being in the circle is the only prerequisite for getting a compliment): “Mom, he’s in my heart, so he was there.”

Back to the costumes. Let’s talk Gabriel (the boy, not the archangel), who is another bird entirely…

Let’s just say that in the course of a week, the boy has several meltdowns due to a lack of what he deems “realness”—as in, “But I want to dress up as the real Obi-Won Kenobi!…the real Han Solo!…the real General Grievous…” (uh, sorry kid, Grievous is a cyborg; no chance on that one). If G doesn’t match up, component to component, some shifty thinking is in order. The trick is to find a picture On The Internet (because if it’s on the internet, it’s Real) for which I can find a G-approved, authentic, getup. A sampling follows.

indiana

Indiana Jones (aka Junior)

IMG_6117

Pajama Vader

anakin

Anakin the “Redeye” (post-meltdown)

happy hat

Happy Hat Jagger Man (just because)

Blessed are the weak?

I pretty much feel like this today:
daffodil in snow

Everything in me wants sun and warmth. I dream of yellow summer dresses (never mind that I don’t look particularly good in yellow). When I walk, I close my eyes and lift my face to feel what rays I can. I want to feel strong. Strong in my legs and strong in my soul.

But I don’t. Not so much.

My ears still pop with an occasional twinge of pain when I swallow—the remnant of a lingering head cold I haven’t completely fought off. I’m working like mad on an editing project, and I’m certainly not getting enough sleep. While the Holy Week services this week are beautiful, they are also exhausting, and I feel like I must choose between my work, my health, and attending as many of the services I can. I could go on, but I’m tired of listening to myself moan about it.

So it occurred to me as I trudged up a hill I usually don’t think twice about but that was kicking my butt this morning—maybe being weak has an upside.

As a kind of Lenten supplement, I have been reading Shusaku Endo’s Silence. It has been a balm to me, in a strange bright-sadness-kind-of-way. Set in seventeenth-century Japan, it tells the story of Jesuit missionaries and the hidden Christians they serve. Throughout the book, Endo explores the silence of God as the Christians (most of them peasants born into, what seems to be, a life of hardship and suffering) are tortured. The priest need only trample on the image of Christ and the torture will cease.

A Judas figure, Kichijiro, figures prominently throughout. Having apostatized several times, the priest questions him:

“And yet you know how to look after yourself. Mokichi and Ichizo have sunk to the bottom of the sea like stones and yet . . . . .”

“Mokichi was strong—like a strong shoot. But a weak shoot like me will never grow no matter what you do.”

He seemed to feel that I had dealt him a severe rebuke, because with a look like a whipped dog he glanced backwards. Yet I had not said these words with the intention of rebuking him; I was only giving expression to a sad reflection that was rising in my mind. Kichijiro was right in saying that all men are not saints and heroes. How many of our Christians, if only they had been born in another age from this persecution would never have been confronted with the problem of apostasy or martyrdom but would have lived blessed lives of faith until the very hour of death . . .

Men are born in two categories: the strong and the weak, the saints and the commonplace, the heroes and those who respect them. In time of persecution the strong are burnt in the flames and drowned in the sea; but the weak, like Kichijiro, lead a vagabond life in the mountains. As for you (I now spoke to myself) which category do you belong to? Were it not for the consciousness of your priesthood and your pride, perhaps you like Kichijiro would trample on the fumie [the image of Christ].

I keep thinking about this passage. Maybe I would be strong; maybe I would trample to keep myself or those I love (my children, my sisters, my family, my friends) from suffering. In all, hypothesizing is pretty useless, and the distinction between strong and weak matters little. The strong are just as likely to stomp on the weak as they are to help them. Endo (through the priest Rodrigues) says as much in his definition of sin: “Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious to the wounds he has left behind.”

What matters, what Endo brings up in myriad ways, is that we share the suffering. We bear it together. We try to ease it for each other as we can. In the beginning before the two priests split up, they are able to share the hardships they encounter: “When I was with Garrpe we could at least share our fear as one shares bread, breaking it in two; but now I was all alone in the black sea of the night and must take upon myself the cold and the darkness and everything else.”

Later, the silence is finally broken. The priest hears Christ tell him:

Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross. 

The only way God makes sense to me is Christ. So many things in the world scream at me that God is dead or never existed in the first place. But love is real, as real as weakness. And the upside of weakness is that it can lead to great love.

Present

Finally, birds. Bird song, bird color.

Finally, crocus. Snowdrops. Glory of the Snow. The grass might even need to be cut soon.

glory of the snow

Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow)

Peter Matthiessen died this past weekend. I’ve only read one of his books from beginning to end, The Snow Leopardwhich I recommend. A nonfiction account of traveling the Himalayans after the death of his wife, it’s lyrical and the kind of stark that strips you down to feel more free than bone-naked.

Matthiessen was a longtime practitioner of Zen; The Snow Leopard  is an amalgamation chronicling his physical journey (in glorious, stay-with-you detail), memories of his wife, and his search for the plainest of mystical experiences: the “wholehearted acceptance of what is” (The Snow Leopard, 242). As Jeff Himmelman in The New York Times Magazine puts it, “the various strands of Matthiessen’s journey cohere into a kind of fable, in which the potential for clarity and insight struggles to fly free of the past and the people that he (we) can’t ever really let go of.”

That combination of mountains, journey, grief and . . . how to say? . . . absolute presence is right up my sky-loving alley. And because life is great this way (or is it because my brain, as a matter of course, sees connections between seemingly disparate readings and/or realities?), I must reference here one of my new favorite voices, Emma, of Emma’s Hope Book. Emma painstakingly makes her words and sentences by either pointing to one letter at a time on a stencil template or tapping the same on a qwerty keyboard connected to an iPad. Here she is discussing how she thinks, in contrast with the way her parents think (with whom she is having the discussion). Her father asks her to describe her internal experience, particularly since she only uses internal dialogue when communicating with non-autistic people.

Emma responds: Know that I am almost always happy and take great pleasure in sounds, color, fabric. Everything in life is beautiful if you are able to be here.

Emma seems to be saying she very much lives inherently present to the moment—the way that Peter Matthiessen wanted to live and think, the reason he trained and practiced Zen meditation for so many years. In “The Tree Where Man Was Born” Matthiessen writes,

Lying back against these ancient rocks of Africa, I am content. The great stillness in these landscapes that once made me restless seeps into me day by day, and with it the unreasonable feeling that I have found what I was searching for without ever having discovered what it was. 

Which seems to be a kind of holy Presence. Matthiessen calls it that himself, earlier in Himmelman’s story, when describing an experience he had at the end of a meditation session:

The silence swelled with the intake of my breath into a Presence of vast benevolence of which I was a part . . . I felt “good,” like a “good child,” entirely safe. Wounds, ragged edges, hollow places were all gone, all had been healed; my heart lay at the heart of all Creation. Then I let my breath go, and gave myself up to delighted immersion in this Presence, to a peaceful belonging so overwhelming that tears of relief poured from my eyes.

Grace is all I know to call it. And the reality that healing—real change—is possible.