A huge storm has pounded its way ashore here in the Pacific Northwest. Fortunately, it is not freezing out there. Driving will be hazardous, but not suicidal. I will be out in the elements, keeping my car on the road, avoiding the largest puddles and most splashing trucks, being distracted by the storm outside the car - distracted from the unsettled weather inside my chest.
This morning we will bury Luke.
We loved him. I loved him.
He did not let us know much about his personal life. It had already cost him too much, and he didn't want to bother us with it. He protected us from it, I think. He did not want anyone to pay attention to it.
Luke played the organ at church. He was there for every Sunday and holy day of obligation. He was there for every special service. He worked around the parts that needed repair, using what would work instead of bothering others to fix anything - in the organ, in the parish ... he didn't insist. He worked. He loved us.
I am remembering conversations I had with him. We were friends.
I am remembering the times I was in the choir loft when he was. I am remembering his uncanny ability to move all over that loft in utter silence. He could pass out sheets of music and give directions to the singers and pay attention to the service at the altar at the other end of the church, even though the rood screen and statues hide it so fully from the view from up there. He responded to something in the room. He knew when to do what, and he never missed a step and he never made a sound. We heard only music.
This morning we will pray the prayers of absolution. We will breathe the incense and listen to the music played by his fellow organists and sing the hymns for him. We will sing to God for Luke, our brother. Our friend. Our cantor - the one Luke trained - he will sing the Ave.
And later, in the afternoon of wind and rain and storm and chaos all around, as the last of the leaves blow off the trees and stick to our legs and shoes in the graveyard, we will commit him to the ground and to God. Quiet in the storm. Rest in the blowing rain. It suits him.
At the end of his life he was in agony. A cancer had taken hold of his brain. I have been praying for him every day for months now, asking God to release Luke from his body. It was broken. It was making too much noise.
Today we let him go.
Be at peace, Luke. We love you. I will try to sing this morning. But it may not be quite possible. It will be possible to pray. Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord. Light perpetual shine upon him.
As a rule, we Americans definitely need a little consciousness-raising about the state of the world beyond our own borders. No need to try to prove our need - it's obvious. We expect things like drinkable water and safe places to sleep. We think of these things as normal, and we forget how much better our situation is than the situations where people are regularly starving, under siege, and in danger.
However, it is a logical fallacy to posit that A is not B : therefore A is not C. The two propositions have very little to do with each other, in fact. That my neighbor beats his wife and kids doesn't really change the evil done by him to his employees. Two evils. Two inequities. Two situations of oppression and wrong. That is what we are looking at in those pictures.
And this brings me to my point. We, in this land of the free and home of the brave, in this land of land - and money - and expertise - and resources of all kinds - we have a very embarrassing problem we have to solve. We have PLENTY - and we have plenty of it. What are we supposed to do with it? What is it for? Once we've accepted the fact that there are places with so much less than we have that it takes the breath away ... are we supposed to live like them in order to help them? (Some of us do exactly that as often and as completely as they can.)
But what of the wealthy? What of us who have things? Stuff? House and goods and plenty and food and health and enough money for a turkey on Thanksgiving? How ought we to live? Some options are ...
Embrace the sucker!! Go for the gusto! Consume! Gather up! If you've got it, flaunt it. Use your gold card, your keyless entry, and your shiny, sparkling cache of prestige and just wallow around it in. The lifestyles of the rich and famous are to die for. Eat! Eat! Eat! And drive the most ostentatiously enormous vehicle you possibly can.
Has there ever been an era like ours, when so much has been worn so vulgarly by so many? Besides ... I'm pretty sure we've been well and duly warned about this choice.
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (The Gospel according to St. Luke)
Okay, so, if go for the gluttony isn't an acceptable response, how about its opposite? What if we could all be monks and nuns? If we all took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and we lived in cloisters and we didn't procreate ... oh. Yeah. That's a problem.
We need professed praying people, I believe. We need them to answer their vocations to pray for the rest of us, for one thing. If you think that's a cop-out and isn't any kind of work at all, then you don't understand the life of prayer. It's work. I think it's necessary work. But if we all do exactly the same kind of work, our collective work won't work for the collective. Somebody has to do the temporal work in this temporal world.
So THAT's my question. How do we do ordinary, temporal work in an era of science, technology, conveniences and plenty? Can we?
One thing is for sure. Workers who pay the taxes that build roads and inventors and laborers who fill the land with fiber optic lines and computers and cars and trains and maps and books and copy machines ... these people are worthy of their hire. Wealth has to be proportional, not just opportunistic, if a nation is going to prosper and advance. In this era of our history as a nation, we need to take stock of our deeply fascinating belief that wealth and purchasing power are the measure of humanity. We have to stop envying wealth if we are to begin treating it as the responsibility it is.
For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.And then, maybe then, maybe when we remember that wealth equals responsibility, maybe then we will remember that the least of these are the brethren of our Lord ... and therefore they are our brothers, too. Maybe we will learn one day that plenty is good for everyone if only we will share.
Awhile back, I heard the cultural anthropologist, Mary Catherine Bateson, speak at a gathering around her newest book, Composing a Further Life. In the context of our elders demanding to be heard about subjects other than a hand-out, an entitlement, or some other self-interest, while making the point that it is the elders who ought to have the wisdom to help lay plans for a viable future, she began to speak about "access."
(As an aside, she also said, "age brings wisdom ... but only if you've done your homework.")
To illustrate the concept of having "access," she drew the lines between the civil rights movement (access to the political process by those not in the racial majority), the women's movement (access to equal pay for equal work), and the Americans with Disabilities Act. None of these things, she asserted, were about privilege. These were movements that demanded access to the wider world, and the special concessions, changes, alterations in the status quo which needed to occur were not the elevation of a particular group to protected or privileged places. These were changes needed for us to make the playing field functionally level.
This point - the functionally level playing field - is one of the points made by development economics expert Ha-Joon Chang, in his book, 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism. His illustration is the foot race. Ready? Set? Go! And all the children across the land are allowed to race. Everyone gets to work hard and strive for excellence and make something of himself. No one is excluded from the American Dream. Everyone has the same chance as everyone else ... except ...
The kid with one leg doesn't have a functionally fair chance. If you were born into chaos and/or poverty, you do not have the same chance as the children of privilege. If your school did not perform in its responsibility to you, you did not have the same chance. Working hard does not overcome all obstacles. It doesn't have that much power. Working hard can do a lot. But it cannot do everything. And this is why we have gradually tweaked and changed and written and rewritten the laws of the land. Most of the time, most Americans would, I think, desire to have an actually and functionally fair chance for everyone. We're willing to handicap the players that need it, and flatten the corners of our sidewalks for wheelchairs, and even go overboard a bit to correct racial bias in the workplace and colleges. We're Americans. We believe in liberty and justice for all, and we know how to fix our problems. Eventually.
In fact, we're good at this! We Yanks can improvise our way into armored vehicles when the unarmored ones keep getting blown up. We know how to make do and mend. We can look around and say, "Too much money is going into the escape hatch of depressed and overwhelmed men on the way home from work! They're coming home drunk and nasty, and beating up their wives and kids!" ... and then make such a wide correction as the utterly unworkable and silly Prohibition years ... and then get over ourselves and fix the correction so that it doesn't make fifty times the problems it attempted to solve.
And that is what we need to do now.
For several decades, we have tried to free up our most success-likely innovators and chance takers. We have been throwing off the shackles of regulations, and giving tax breaks (which were originally agreed upon as "temporary") to the wealthiest of the land. We have made it easier to hire by making workers less protected, and we have made it easier to fire by the same mechanism. States do not have to determine their own livable minimum wage - the feds did that - thank goodness - or else most of the work force in some states would currently be in need of public assistance in even greater numbers than they currently are! We have been trying to throw off all the rules and strictures that keep us from national prosperity, but the result has been more than we bargained for. The disparity between those at the top and those at the bottom has become unsustainable. Again.It is to our national shame and national peril that this is true:
The megarich hold more of the nation’s wealth and collect more of the overall income today than at any time since right before the Great Depression.Henry Ford was right. There is a basic component to success, and it is as true for the nation as it is for the corporation. It is not justice to make a few people rich by means of making a severely under-provided worker class. Justice is provision for a functionally level playing field.
There is one rule for the industrialist and that is:
Make the best quality of goods possible
at the lowest cost possible,
paying the highest wages possible.
that should connect the prose in us
with the passion.
Without it we are meaningless fragments,
unconnected arches that have never joined into a man.
With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve,
glowing against the gray, sober against the fire.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion,
and both will be exalted,
and human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
and the beast and the monk,
robbed of the isolation that is life to either,
E M Forster
Howards End (1910)
Disconcerting. Exciting. Boggling. Nervous and happy and ... odd. Just ... odd.
It's not our first time (thank goodness!). I think we'll be okay. The addition of more people will probably grease the skids a bit, and having sleeping bodies encamped about the house feels ... um ... like a party, I guess. Older than a sleepover party. There will be wine. But still - a party. A shadow of things to come. A hint about the future when they'll "all" show up, and there will also be small children encamped about the house, on cots, couches, and floors. (Please, God, can we finish the house far enough to put in another bathroom by then? Please?)
Anyway ... ready or not, here it comes. We meet another Significant Other this weekend. I am already predisposed to like her, of course. After all, she likes our son. How bad could she be? We like him. (I need someone here to remind me that I'm The Mom. This phase of my life has sneaked up on me - I keep forgetting that I'm supposed to be Old.)
And then, quietly one night, the guests go away and in that silent breath of time, the celebration vanishes. Where there was noise and every color of green ever created, there is now the whisper of the coming of the snows, and the fire of red and yellow and gold flare up. The hillsides are covered with glowing vine maple and red huckleberry (and now the pots and vases in my house are holding that color in my corners and shelves). Some silent army of servants are beginning to move about, putting away the party. They are making the house ready. The family will pass long dark evenings here. The fir trees are reaching into themselves for power. They darken and deepen and talk to each other about the weight of water. Yesterday, I heard them.
And so, today, on a Saturday of duties and tidying and finishing and readying, some spirit that lives near my sternum has begun to untie the strings and open the boxes of winter. Fall is for getting ready for winter. Autumn is painted in the colors of preparation.
All Saints ... All Souls ... Thanksgiving.
Saint Nicholas ... Saint Lucy ... Nativity.
Saint Stephen ... Saint John ... Epiphany.
The candles are nested in their boxes and they wait for lighting. Fire and ice and water and flame. The party is over, and winter is coming. Again.
Apparently, we stopped talking about this topic before I was done running on in my own head. I suspect this to be the case because when I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep at 3:00 this morning, I was thinking of more and more to bring to the discussion. So ... I got out of bed, took a few notes so I wouldn't forget the main points in my head, reminded myself that black tea is a bad idea in the late evenings, and finally went back to bed. This is my answer to the question, should the tax advantages currently being extended to the wealthiest members of our society be stopped? Is it fair to charge the wealthy for being wealthy? Is it fair to make them more responsible for the expenses of our government, more burdened with the cares of others than their less prosperous neighbors?
That's my answer. If you don't really want to fiddle about with my reasons, you can pretty much stop there. That's my actual answer. But if you're interested, these are my reasons.
1. Yesterday, all across our land, the plain speech of Elizabeth Warren made headlines and facebook conversations and editorial columns. In case you missed it, here is what she said.
I agree with her. I think we do have an obligation as a social group, a civilization of humans, a nation and a people, to uphold that kind of social contract. Basically, her position is, "We're all in this together, and we ought to act like it."
I hear all this, you know, "Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever." No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there-good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea-God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
2. Now, the chief thing I am hearing in opposition to her position of the unity of our people is this: But that's not fair! People who've earned their money have a right to keep it and do what they want to with it. You can't penalize people just because they have money! That's not fair!
This is what I call, The Argument of the Fourth Grade. This is the sense of "justice" and "fairness" that we are supposed to grow out of. It's adolescent and silly to pretend that all men being "created equal" means that all people are on their own to make their way as best they can, and if the starting gun goes off, and that kid didn't make it to the finish line first, then he's just the loser and that's all there is to it. Never mind that he has only one leg. Everyone gets to run, and so it's a completely fair race.
Fourth-graders are also outraged when they don't get to spend their allowance on whatever the hell they want and still expect other things to be purchased for them. Fourth-graders believe that all money that comes to them through their own lawn mowing, babysitting, trash removal, and garden weeding is discretionary income, and that they should be able to buy what they want and then someone else ought to make it possible to give them what they cannot buy on their own. That's how life works in fourth grade. We're supposed to grow out of that. We're supposed to learn how to be responsible for more than our own pleasures. (And don't say that the rich dude has to use his money to re-invest in his business. That money isn't subject to income taxes. It doesn't count in this matter.)
3. Then there's the argument about a "free market." We cannot restrict the money-makers in a free market, the argument goes, or they will become so discouraged in the making of money that they will stop and the whole thing will collapse.
The problem with this argument is glaringly obvious: there is no such thing as a completely "free" market economy in the civilized world. Further, being a "capitalist" society does not exonerate us from all other moral concerns, and unrestrained profit-making has the potential to turn into a humanitarian assault, as we have learned to our grief and peril on many occasions.
We have child labor laws (and we should); we have anti-slavery laws (and we should); we have laws about overtime and working conditions and sexual harassment. We have also had tariffs on foreign goods in order to protect our own workers and industries (we should). Yes, those laws are a pain in the arse sometimes, and sometimes they go too far and have to be corrected, but we don't really want a free-for-all. We do, in practice, recognize that there are less powerful people in the vast machinery of wealth and business who must have legal protections, lest they be used as machinery.
For a truly eye-opening, forehead-slapping, c'm'ere-and-listen-to-this, learning experience, find and view some video of author and Cambridge professor, Ha-Joon Chang, promoting his book. He's amazing. And he's right.
4. Old-fashioned "liberals," of the sort my parents warned me about ... the Kennedys, for instance, with all their brazen robber baron behavior and profligate use of hookers and the other perks of power, at least understood the concept of noblesse oblige. This concept is a better starting place than "every man for himself," "you make your bed, you lie in it," and "the self-made man." However, I would like to see us get past the power of patronage and the demeaning acceptance of a handout, and graduate all the way up to an understanding of Equitable Load Sharing. Here's why.
- Acceptance of reality helps everyone do what is possible. It is an opportunity to avoid everything from greed to envy because no one is asked to be other than he is. (A person who cannot afford health insurance is not asked to be healthy and report to work or else lose his job, this demand made of him as if he had adequate healthcare. Pretending poor people are rich doesn't make it so; pretending makes it mean.)
- Rather than a power relationship of haves and have-nots, benefactors and recipients, oppressor and oppressed, the paradigm becomes that of a functioning body, or, even better, a choir of voices. A good choir needs chorus, soloists, and all the parts being sung well. Asking the bass to sing tenor is a disservice both to the tenor part and to the sad, embarrassed bass straining for the high notes. In other words, to each as he is able, for the health and success of the whole.
- When the rich carry more of the financial burden of society (more in total load, and more in percentage of income), the poor are free to become better, healthier, more enthusiastic wage earners; without wage-earners, the empires of the rich will collapse. We ignore this basic principle to our peril.
5. The Bible has so many injunctions (and I do mean injunctions - God wasn't giving a helpful hint) for the care of the poor, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the powerless, the blind, the lame, those who have no voice of their own ... the gleaning in the fields not picked too clean, the offering of a cup of water to a child, the clothing of the poor because this is clothing Jesus ... well, all there is to say about this is that if anyone uses the Bible as a reason for a nation to become heartless (and "nobody can tell me how to use my money or who I should spend it on" is heartlessness in the guise of 'merican Ind'pendence), that person is using the Bible improperly. I'm not going to belabor this point.
6. The Peter Parker's Uncle Argument: "With great power comes great responsibility." He was right. It is true. If you have much, of you much shall be required.
We know this! We understand that the abuse of power is an evil. We say things like, "pick on somebody your own size," and we address the problem of bullying, and we have finally learned to make laws stopping bosses from passing out favors in the workplace based on favors in the hotel room. We Americans have a long tradition of giving astounding amounts of foreign aid - because we have it to give - and so we should. We understand this basic idea.
Warren Buffett has said this stuff. Elizabeth Warren has said this stuff. My husband and I have discussed this stuff. Now that I've written it out, now that I've said this stuff, maybe I'll be able to get back to sleep at three in the morning. Thank you and good night.
Ahead of me, there are only dreams and expectations. Ahead of those, there is the mountain of God. And all of the people in all of the times have been walking toward it.
That is how I think of moments such as the destruction of the Twin Towers, a decade ago. There they are, in their molten, exploding devastation, frozen in time. They sit in the place on the plain which was then our Now. Here is ten years later. Here, I can sit at my desk and look out the window and see the little plane flying up the Gorge, reveling in the last shreds of summer. Then, no planes flew.
That is what I remember about that eerie day. I remember the silence. I heard no trains. On this side of the Columbia and on the Oregon side, the track were silent. Empty. Still. I heard no aircraft, except the military helicopter, flying low at regular intervals. The highways, too, seemed to have stopped. Thousands of miles away, on the other side of the continent, the towers fell and the government was attacked by forces outside our own and one airline passenger changed the possibility of hijacking forever when he decided to do something in the skies over Pennsylvania. And here, at the opposite ocean, all the sounds of careless freedom stopped.
My first baby and only daughter was about to turn seventeen. She was not here. She had moved to the city to go to community college. To live with friends. To start the adult life she didn't want to wait for. The day the planes stopped flying was already surreal for me. My family was in a tectonic shift. The day of silence thundered in my ears as they were already straining for the sounds of danger in the air.
My young teenage boys, sleeping in their beds when I turned on the television to see what the web was buzzing about. It was not yet time to wake them for breakfast and morning routines. It was not yet time to start our school work. Our math and history books were still on the shelf, and in the new day on the other side of the country, history wrote a shocking chapter in clouds of debris and dust and shattered building chasing people down the streets.
Ten years later, these teenagers have begun their lives as adults, and I have learned to pay attention to my own work because they are paying attention to theirs. Their work is no longer my work. This morning, when the small plane flew below the cloud cover, passing from the east and flying toward the ocean on this side of the world, I turned and looked at the moments and days silhouetted against the broken towers. On that day, no school work was done in this house. The television played the images over and over. The news kept rolling in. Outside, there was an eerie silence. Inside, there was immobilizing shock.
And in the days and years that followed, my life has held shocks and cataclysms, deaths and births, grief and joy. The seasons have turned. Our ferocious firstborn spent nearly half of the decade in the army. A year in Afghanistan. A personal decade of change and exploration with which I could do nothing but watch and be ready to listen. Her brothers have taken their books off the shelves and set out into the wilderness on their own paths, and they, too, have adventure stories to tell. They, too, have planted the years with shocks and recovery, fear and courage, people and relationships and loss.
When I see this decade against the backdrop of that silent day, it is easy to pick out the shapes of the darkness and the shadows they have cast. Easy, but incomplete. The darkness of the decade is not the truth because the truth is bigger than that. Turn. Look. See that the lines and shadows and defining shapes have made a form. The towers fell and the earth was changed. Now, here, in this place where the plane flies in the morning sun, the lines hold the blaze of autumn again. Here, now, we can take the books from the shelves and we can explore the shadowy past and we can look to a future no one has yet touched. A decade ago, we buried the innocent. Since then, millions of resurrections have replanted the earth. Since then, my children have been seeding and reseeding, and I have learned to pray.
by: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
- ILE the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
- Shovel them under and let me work--
- I am the grass; I cover all.
- And pile them high at Gettysburg
- And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
- Shovel them under and let me work.
- Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
- What place is this?
- Where are we now?
- I am the grass.
- Let me work.
And it got into my letters to my new friend, Impossibly Smart David.
* * * * *
He had my address. I'd made sure of that. But I did not have his, and besides - I was the girl. He could write or not write, but I was not going to write first. The girl can't write first
... read the rest over at my new blog, Not Exactly Unnoticed
I suspect that my mother was happier in the summer than in the winter. I think that she worried about our being gone all day during the school year - that it made her feel anxious and maybe even lonely. Whatever it was, as I sit here at my open window on a summer evening, I feel the contentment of all the years of being one of her kids in the summer time. It was good. She loved her home and her kids in summer, and on an evening like this, all buttery and mild as the sun moves closer to the horizon, we might all take a walk down to the school to toss a ball around, or my dad might take the small TV out onto the deck and pop a huge bowlful of popcorn, and watch the Boston Pops as the warm darkness crept in.
It was during just such a summer thirty years ago that my love story began. By the middle of August, I'd had a few conversations with the man I would eventually love and marry. A couple of weeks ago, I told some of our stories to a friend, and she has asked me to write them down. To collect them, and arrange them. To make a book of them. To tell my love story.
Night before last, I asked my husband if he would be okay with that. After all, it's his story too. "Tell away," he said. And so ...
I'm starting a new blog. Come and visit. Tell me what you think.
Not Exactly Unnoticed begins today.
There's no getting around it, no denying it, and no more pretense left. (Right? Never going to believe it again. Come on, self. You've learned it this time. Right? Right???)
Like a midget who keeps trying out for the basketball team, the deaf mute who wants to be in the opera company, the fat girl who wants to be in the ballet or the anorexic who wants to be a Sumo wrestler, I just can't get it through my thick head.
Stephanie doesn't do trivial. Stephanie is flippancy-impaired. Social dancing around it, and smalltalk sparring ... I just can't do it. Really and truly, I want to. I've wanted to for my whole life. It's obviously a skills set, and skills sets are acquirable - right? Wrong. Just wrong wrong wrong. And you know what's even wronger? Trying to get someone else to be serious. The idiot in the audience who objects to the comedian on the stage - that's me. And what's another name for that person? A heckler. I let myself become a heckler this week. (Go ahead ... kick me under the table. I know I deserve it.)
I'd like to think I'm in good company. After all, C. S. Lewis was no intellectual slouch, and he had a highly developed sense of the absurd and the ironic. Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and all the Chronicles of Narnia -- they're pretty solid proof that the man knew humor. And he didn't do flippant either. The junior tempter, Screwtape, gets letters from his mentor - the devil named Wormwood. And (remembering that "the Enemy" he speaks of is God) Wormwood explains this problem thus:
The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, and it is specially promising among the English who take their "sense of humour" so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame.
Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is "mean"; if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer "mean" but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man's damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke. And this temptation can be almost entirely hidden from your patient by that English seriousness about Humour. Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be represented to him as "Puritanical" or as betraying a "lack of humour".
But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it,
Your affectionate uncle,
Okay. Fine. But what do you call a person who knows this and keep trying to participate anyway? Who goes to the show and tries to stop the performer?
A heckler, that's who. A heckler who needs, for some perverse reason, to try to get the performer to be serious. ---- Next time I stand in line for tickets at life's comedy club, will someone please smack me? Seriously. A distraction at best, and a useless and unwinnable conflict at worst, and for what? Sheesh!
Hi, everyone. I'm Stephanie, and I'm flippancy impaired.
Okay, I thought, this is a good chance to try out the idea that naming something has power.
I do not believe that we bring reality into being by calling it forth. If that were true, there would be no atrocities in Darfour, no limbs hacked off by vicious machetes in Sierra Leone, no earthquake, fire, or flood. But I do believe what my music-making son says. "Luck is preparation plus opportunity."
Naming our most honest desires is, I suspect, part of preparation.
We do it all the time, right? We declare an academic major when we are in college. We get pre-qualified for loans, declaring that we wish to buy a house or a car, and sometimes we do this even before we've decided which house or car we want. Even filling out a library card application is an act of declaration before a desire can be realized, even if the declaration and the library card are separated by a very short time (depending on how quickly the library assistant can type the information into the computer). We do this all the time. We set our will in motion by making a declaration.
And so, I did.
I decided to use this blog as an experiment. I want to go to school, I typed into the computer (several computers ago). I want to re-gain my job as a sub at the library (I openly declared in front of WorldWideWeb and everybody - feeling quite brazen at the time). And what happened? A few short months later, there I was, working at the library and going to school. It made me a little dizzy because it felt like it had all happened so fast!
But here's the thing about declared intentions. They are never quite what we thought we meant by making them. Youth teaches us to "pick a goal and go for it," but youth cannot tell us what to do when we've purchased a lemon from the car lot, which breaks down by the side of the road every twenty or thirty miles, despite our complete confidence that this was the car - the one and only car - the one meant for us, why surely this is God's Will for our Lives that we buy this car, this is the one, I know it is. (click on that picture to see some gorgeous photography at kristarella's photoblog)
When we're all in, all our chips on red thirteen, our declaration made and the wheel spins ... and ... the marble lands on black three ... did we mis-hear the voice of God?
When the marriage doesn't work out properly (because the spouse turns out to be a louse) or we change our major three or four times before taking any classes (not that I'd know about that) - does that mean we are working the whole "name it and claim it" game the wrong way?
I don't think so.
In fact, I think that there is no other way to follow your bliss, answer your vocation, or make a damn decision than to say what you want, move into the flow of it, realize that you want something slightly (or very) different, and then change directions, make a new intention, and start again. Life isn't marching in line with thousands of other highly disciplined "farmers" and other troops at the Reich Party Congress, staged for filming, set up in perfectionist glory to show one, cohesive, emotional, monolithic, mighty vision for conquest. That's not life. (It's death, actually. Choreographed, terrible, and perfect.)
Real life is messy. It's improv - in this moment and in the next one, according what what actually happens in the meantime. It's hilarious and aggravating and stunning and wonderful -- and it needs to be composted sometimes so something better can grow. Life is hundreds of practice hours and thousands of mistakes and millions of intentions. It's crash and burn and then realize that maybe, next time, it might be a good idea to see if the clunker's got good brakes.
Sometimes we do pick badly. Sometimes, yes, we really should have listened to older, wiser, or more awake people. But sometimes we do the best we can and stuff still just blows up in our faces. And sometimes (this is where I have always stumbled before) sometimes it is simply time to see what we couldn't see before we started moving, but now we can see, and the reason we can see is because we've been in motion. That's how we got here. And so, now it's time to adjust our goals accordingly.
In other words, just because there is a new life path to follow does not mean you were on the wrong one until now.
I have a new life path to follow. I have three more scheduled days at the library as a sub, and I'm done with that part of my path. I have started to teach again, but this is teaching in ways I could never have imagined when I started going to school. I also still have a degree to finish, and I'm pretty sure that by the time I'm done with it I'll know whether I want the MA to go with it. Goddard College has recently made an advanced degree which fits me like a glove.
Or, I think it does.
I won't know until I get there. You have to try on your gloves to find out if they fit. You have to hike to the fork in the trail before you can choose which way to take.
So this is me, making a new declared intention. I want to be a writer, a writing teacher, and a collaborative writer. I have a writing student, and being her coach has shown me a thousand possibilities I could not see until the act of coaching showed them to me. I have the possibility of collaborative projects coming more and more into sight on the horizon, and I have the necessary map and directions for getting my work published. (damn, that's scary to say!)
Four years ago, I started blogging by making a declaration. I want to go to school, I said. I want to work at the library, I said. Today, I say that this was good. And today I revise my intentions again.
There's some light hitting the path up ahead, and I want to be there.
Season changing, and again there's a huge clock overlaying the world, and the second hand is near the top, and the minute hand is about to click. The scenery has already changed. Everything has changed. For me, everything has changed. Again.
At the parish, we are doing a huge project to organize, format, and use a multi-age, multi-purpose curriculum for children's religious education. This past school year was our first experiment, and it was a stunning success! Those kids learned hymns and catechism and songs and lessons ... they can recite in "choir" with each other, and they watch out for each other like a group of loving siblings. I couldn't be happier about the effort they've put in and the things they've been able and willing to do, and the final presentation for the congregation at coffee hour was a smashing success. But the secret's in the sauce.
And the sauce has been simmering for a long time. The sauce was not a one-person endeavor. The sauce needed more than one person to stir it. And THIS year another cook signed on for the fun - not just for awhile, but for years to come. Others have pitched in over the years when they've been needed, but none of them could stand and stir like this one does. You know who you are, my friend and sister, and without your creative input, enthusiastic willingness, and determined patience, I could not possibly have gotten those catechumens through a real year of vigorous, traditional Anglican children's instruction. I want to cut loose with the joy of it - to sing like Maria von Trapp in the opening sequences on mountaintops! This team we've formed - it's just so GOOD.
On the home front, we enter a new summer of our lives. This - here - now - this is two adult people who've passed all the way through child rearing and out the other side, and this is the first summer of the New Order of Things. We've done practice runs before. Evenings, or weeks, or school terms without offspring in the house. But this isn't practice. This is it. And now it's summer.
It's summer for us in a lot of ways. We planted and tilled and planted and weeded and tilled and planted and tilled and planted ... and the kids grew up! All at once, it's summer and there's nothing to do but watch what happens in this field we've worked on all these years. Now is not the time to try pulling out the tares. Too much of the wheat may be harmed, and it's not ours to do. Now is the time to let it alone to do what it will. The harvest is coming. (Please, God, send the latter rains.)
Life is like this. It's seasons inside of seasons - a wheel within a wheel, a'turnin', way in the middle of the air. For this family, it's summer. And I've just planted something I've never planted before ... and ... well, did you ever put a seed into the ground and be unable to stop yourself from checking on it several times a day? I feel like the boy in The Carrot Seed.
They keep telling him, "It won't come up." But he's an Idealist and a Dreamer and he knows. He just knows. If every day he pulls up the weeds around the seed and sprinkles the ground with water ... he just KNOWS it will come up.
And it does! It's HUGE. He carts his carrot around on a wheelbarrow because it's gigantic.
And my seed was a marketing idea, and my weeding was the courses I offered but never got to teach at the community center, and my water was hope ... and now I have a student. One perfect student who understands what she's doing and participates with her whole self and is learning to write for self-discovery and follow directions with the most sweetly lovely trust imaginable, and I am beside myself with the possibilities for the seeds I've planted.
Why ... what if ... what if a whole CROP of carrots as huge as my entire self came up? What if?
"To talk of many things:
Like, for instance, the realization now firmly in hand, that neither of us - neither The Great Husband or his wife (that would be me, variously known as "missus," "young lady," and "mom") - has any time left in this life to wait for better health habits. Either we return to being skinnier now, or the whole idea slips further and further from our lives as we have lived them. The cumulative effects have begun their adding and the sum is too near ill health and a painfully slow old age. It's time to deal with this because there is no time left.
Of cabbages--and kings--
And school -- and kids -- and peeling paint -- Of marriages -- and things. See, here's the dealeo. My kids aren't kids, and they're off doing their own lives, and they have decided at last to discount utterly what their parents have learned about interpersonal relationships and commitment and the connection between our souls (so easily shredded, so hard to repair) and our bodies (which seem immortal when we're in our twenties). Okay, fine. That's what the Walrus and the Carpenter have decided. They have to do what they have to do, and if they have decided that their parents are too ridiculously traditional or hide-bound or small-minded or hyper-sensitive to understand how things are in the "real" world, there is nothing left for us to do but pay attention to the many and enormous things we love about these former children of the household. And there is a lot to be happy about.
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
"Before we have our chat;
Okay. I can wait a bit. I know how. The Oysters aren't ready. Then, there's nothing for it. Here I sit. Here I wait. Here I dig and here I play. This sand slips through the glass, with unrelenting certainty, and it doesn't ever flow the other way, but this sand also makes castles and wonders and beauty. Shall I moan that the tide comes in?
And all of us are fat!"
make a musing every morning,
that their lives are dull and flat.
The children never call us.
The house is empty now.
What will I do with all my time
if no one needs me? How
shall I be happy
if my whole day is mine?
The tide turned. The sand caved in. The castle that contained their childhoods is washed out to sea, and our midlife is here, and we are together. And now we are really really good at tides. Oysters eventually produce pearls. That much we know.
They thanked him much for that.
This cracks me up. It's such an unadorned invitation, catering to the whiners among us. I'd be one of those lately. Why? Why? My inner voice is about two and a half years old these days.
I need re-potting. I can tell. I need it for so many reasons, and I feel exactly like this philodendron (is this a philodendron?)
It's root-bound. Its previous pot was good and meet and right and perfect ... until it wasn't. That's me. Prior Learning Assessment at Marylhurst was perfect and good and wonderful and satisfying ... until it wasn't. My current employment feels cramped and stuck and new opportunities are materializing at last. My household routines are gradually finding new reasons and fresh structures, now that we are in a permanent two-person household. Resting and recovering from nearly a decade of one health "event" after another has taken enough of my attention. It's time to stop convalescing and be convalesced! I need a new pot!
The starchy no-nonsense writer at Repotting - Why? says,
Let me give you a word of advice, and if you follow it your plants usually do well.
GROW GOOD ROOTS and the foliage will follow.
I am turning in my Prior Learning Assessment final portfolio. The process of turning it in, completed, ready for final evaluation, should be a straightforward march to victory, but for me, it has not been.
I let it go too long. I didn't just move into the process and then through it to the other side. I stopped in the middle, pitched a tent, and worried. I did a full-on Jonah after Ninevah routine. Wah wah wah. Poor me. I wrote my essays and they were good and I was successful at getting credits recommended and then I wanted to pout about it. Fuss and fret and sit.
Turning it in has become just as exhausting as anything else. (Root bound. Definitely root bound.) My final portfolio contains essays for thirty credits. Not forty-five. Saying that aloud feels like admitting to laziness. But the truth is that any amount is good. Forty-five is the maximum allowed. I have written for the maximum desired. I only want those thirty. I'm done. How odd that success feels heavy. This accomplishment feels like laziness. (Root bound. I'm just root bound. I need another pot.)
I turned in my portfolio on Thursday. On Monday or Tuesday of next week, I will find out if there are any last minute details to tweak to satisfy the accreditation people. Then I will wait for the official decision about the credits I've earned. Then I will need to find a way to pay for transferring them to my transcript. And then I'll be done with that part of my life.
My leaves feel dusty and crinkled at the edges. The first part of my degree-getting needs to transition into the last part. I need to write more and work at the library less. I need to spread my decades of experience into new (offspring-free) household routines and pleasures.
Maybe this past winter of our discontented sogginess is ready to be made glorious summer by the sun of Work. New work. The next work. Where I live, it started raining in October of last year and didn't quit until last week, in the middle of May. I started my PLA process three years ago, and didn't quit until last week. I'm ready for a bigger pot and wider work. I've been root bound, over-watered and soggy for long enough - at school and everywhere else.
Repotting why? Because it's either that, or mulch me.
not turn or shy
not try to get away from it
If today I stay
If today I wonder not
why I should be afraid
Why should this happen to me?
God only wants me to be happy
believe the Secret
chant the affirmation
gather some good way
to crawl from this
For months, she fought every plan I had, while her brother taught himself to read, via Green Eggs and Ham, which he read at the top of his lungs, lying on the floor upstairs in the hallway, with his top half yelling into the echoing bathroom. That worked out all right. I had my hands full with his sister, Reluctant Student Sally, down at the table near the kitchen. I'm lucky she didn't strangle me in my sleep, considering that I thought we could start the school day promptly at eight in the morning with a flag salute. (To my credit, I did not continue this insanity for very long, and soon discovered that math really could be learned while the student was still in his pajamas, that a routine didn't have to be bound to a bell system, and that a love of learning is the key to the kingdom.)
We didn't set out to do the homeschooling thing. My husband thought it was elitist, and I was trained to teach in classrooms and I was quite worried over test scores and other measures of academic conformity. Besides, most of the homeschoolers I knew back then were too weird for words. The whole idea seemed absurd until our poor daughter had to put up with such a rotten situation as a tiny little first grader. (Okay, she was not all that tiny. That was part of the problem. A girl tall enough to be in third or fourth grade doesn't get cut a lot of slack.)
Maybe because I didn't really want to homeschool in the first place, and maybe because I'm not all that cutesy as a teacher or a learner - whatever the reason, we didn't post kid work all over the main living areas of the house. We did post it. We just didn't let it take over. I have always needed my nest to be a place in which I can completely relax, and I just can't completely relax with wobbly capital and lower case B's and D's adorning the dining room, or while looking at shelves of notebooks and lapbooks and reading books and math books crammed into a living room area. It's too much like living with a perpetual tapping on the shoulder to have all that stuff staring at me all the time. I needed to be able to put it away at the end of the day (huge paper timeline running up the stairway wall notwithstanding).
Then, one by one, the kids turned 16, and each found a way to meet the wider world. Community college and the local high school, jobs, cars, even dates for the social lion of the family. One by one, they've up and left the house where they finished growing up, and now, one by one I've repossessed their rooms.
the whole house
Yesterday I brought home my first large painting. It's a Kat Ostrow original acrylic. I love it.
Kat Ostrow is my cousin. We met for lunch at Multnomah Falls, and after lunch, I put this portrait into my car and took her (the portrait) for a ride up the Old Highway to Troutdale because I needed gas. And the gas station is next to Home Depot. And Home Depot carries paint.
This is quite a beautiful painting in person. The employees and customers in Home Depot kept commenting on it as I stood there in the paint department, with the huge canvas leaning against the swatch display so I could match colors.
Now I've unscrewed shelves from the wall across from my desk. I'll move the other books and baskets tomorrow. I'll wash down the wall. When it's dry, I'll paint it a deeply saturated dark aqua color. When that's dry, I'll hang this painting.
This is my office in my house.
This is my painting.
Hanging it has reminded me that I didn't want to be immersed in homeschooling stuff, back in the day. Perhaps the kids themselves needed to be able to put it away as well. So, I've been wondering. Why do I want the constant presence of my inner writer's Muse hanging here in my office? Why do I want to decorate around her? Get appropriate lighting and furniture to make this painting the most important thing in the room, when her very self is a call to work? There were no math pages posted, but a portrait of my Muse is going to be hung tomorrow.
With Good Friday's griefs passed through once more, and Easter and spring (and actual sun!) streaming in, we watched episodes of French Food At Home, and I'm more hooked now than I've been on any cookery or housewif'ry show in ages. Laura Calder is wonderful!
Her shows are currently broadcasting on the Cooking Channel, and her "Top Recipes" (all one hundred and eleven of them) are on their site.
For the first time, I am seriously considering owning a whole set of cookery DVDs. She makes my mouth water.
"O My people, what have I done unto thee? Wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against Me."
"Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal. Have mercy upon us."
It's odd to move through Holy Week in this culture. We have no daily parades through the streets, no Passion Plays, not even days off from the world of commerce as we sometimes have for Christmas or Thanksgiving.
But ... this is not a party.
On Palm Sunday, our tiny band of parishioners went outdoors with our palm branches as always, singing, following the cross and incense. The Starbucks customers, as always, bemused by us ... the TriMet bus at the stop across the street giving its passengers a tour of the oddity. This year, passers by on the street came with us as we filed back into the building.
Today I will work at the library. Throughout the week, there is school work to do. The Great Husband goes and sits at his desk at work every day, and makes the deposits and talks to the account managers and patiently deals with the next interruption - and the one after that. It all just keeps going, and woven into the relentlessness of it all, we will go to church.
On Thursday, we hear again about the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord gave "a new commandment," and so, to show this new Maundy, the priest washes the people's feet. The altar is stripped bare. Bit by bit, each thing we love and use in the worship is taken. Gone. The service becomes more raw. The sounds of the busy world fade away. The Watch begins. For that night and all the next day, parishioners take it in turns to "watch with me one hour" where the holy Presence waits quietly for Friday's sacrifice.
We drive home on Thursday night. The roads are the same. The cars are the same. We need a little to eat before we go to bed. We stop at the traffic lights and speed up to merge. We park near our door and put another bag of pellets into the stove and we go to bed. Warm. Safe. Dry. Befriended and free. Jesus wasn't.
We sleep fitfully and wake at three in the morning. It's dark and cold and hard to move. Mostly in silence, we drive back to take our watch. Each of us, alone with the Presence for an hour. Each of us in prayer. Quiet. Sometimes in tears. We wait.
Breakfast, and a drive home, and a shopping trip for Easter's feast. How is it possible to go to the store and buy groceries? It is as if nothing has happened. This world does not know about the Presence still there, waiting, patient in the glow of candles and the scent of warm wax and yesterday's incense. I act my part and pay the person taking the money and we go to the car again. We drive a lot in Holy Week. Each trip feels just a little more surreal.
Good Friday service goes through me like knives. The altar is bare. "Behold the wood of the cross," the priest intones, "on which was hung the savior of the world." - the melody of this chant more complex and difficult. We answer him, stumbling a little on the tones the first time. "Oh come, let us adore him." He says it again. We answer him again. And once more. And each one, alone in his turn, walking, kneeling down three times, venerate.
The Passion is told - by them, and by us, singing out, "We have no king but Caesar." "Crucify him. Crucify him." We say those awful words. We did this to him. There is no wine in the cup. There is no music at the last. There is no light. We have crucified our king, and we go out into the night, weeping.
This is Holy Week. Every year, not in a movie, and not in a book. This is the Passion of our Lord, and now we move through it again, approaching, weeping.
Last month, Virginia died. She was 98 years old.
It's hard to believe that she was that old. I saw her most Sundays, after she'd attended the early Mass, and I was coming in for the later one. She would be waiting for a kind parishioner to take her home, or she would be calling a taxi. "Hello, this is Mrs. Chester Ott. I would like a taxi at the Parish of Saint Mark, please. Ten twenty-five northwest twenty-first avenue. My account number is ...."
A few years ago, when the new VW Beetles came out, she bought one in bright banana yellow. She drove it without any sort of problem and with a lot of enjoyment. I mean, what's not to love about a bright yellow VW Beetle?
But one day, she read in the paper about a man who'd crashed his car into things, and she thought to herself, "Why, the old fool. He shouldn't have been driving at his age!" ... and then, "Oh dear. He's younger than I am." So Virginia sold her yellow Bug before she became the old fool in the newspapers. That's why she had an account with the cab company.
In recent years, she had acquiesced to using a cane - but that might have been only since her fall and subsequent broken shoulder. She certainly never was seen hunching over or hesitating when she walked. And once her shoulder had healed, she continued on with her several service projects and responsibilities.
Awhile back, after we had both been at the same midweek Mass, we had a conversation. She told me she was sorry she couldn't come to the ladies' luncheon, but that she couldn't do everything she used to be able to do. She wasn't complaining - more just noticing it. It was like she was describing the limitations of a new raincoat, not suitable for colder weather. But she could still read, she said. She was very grateful for that - she still had the full use of her eyesight, and she could read all she wanted to. When I remember all other things she did, I suspect that she did not do much of this leisurely reading during daylight hours.
One day last month, she made a phone call from her apartment in the assisted living complex. She told the nurse who talked to her that she didn't feel quite right. They said she should come on down to the clinic so they could check her out, but she said she would not be doing that. "Do you need an ambulance?" "No. No, I don't think an ambulance is necessary." They sent someone to her room to find out what was going on.
When they got there, they found that she had hung up her phone, sat back in her chair, and gone to God. Peacefully, quietly, and, Virginia-like, only after cheerfully informing someone that she'd be leaving now.
Virginia Ott fell asleep in this life and woke in the next. She has joined the others from our parish who wait for me - this group of smiling and contented people with whom I've knelt to pray. These people who have wished me a Happy Easter and a Merry Christmas - people who have shown me what duty and real happiness have to do with each other - people whose confidence in the goodness of the Lord has taken them through World Wars and widowhood and losses they never fussed over.
Someday I will join them.
Good night, Virginia. I'll see you in the morning.
until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then in thy mercy grant us a safe lodging,
and a holy rest,
and peace at the last. Amen.
Tomorrow morning, I have an interview with the local paper! The Skamania County Pioneer is going to interview me about the classes I'm trying to get started down at the community center, and I very much need to think about what I'm going to say. But, of course, this is the week everything sort of imploded at the library (so I've had a lot of sub hours), and I've got a PLA essay barely started that was due on Tuesday, and this cold, nasty, beastly rain is practically mulching me.
What shall I wear? What shall I take with me for visual aids? I need a list of talking points - catch phrases that will get people interested. It's time to launch Words & Ways for real.
But all I can think about it how very much I hope she does not want to take a picture tomorrow morning. Flattering photos of me ... they're as rare as dodo sitings.