2/20/22: Garden Dreams

Gardens are possible with one daily bit at a time, each day all season long. The first and heaviest task is digging up the 40 foot raised bed. Captain Wing was kind enough to leave his spade outside upon request. (I was very sneaky, and did not explain just why the spade was needed.) To keep from feeling daunted by the task, I set a timer for just 90 minutes. Then I climbed up on the bed and started turning over hunks of soil, chopping them into smaller pieces. The soil is rich but heavy, so I only finished spading about 40% of the bed. Luckily, last year Captain Wing had the forethought to concoct a special mix of shredded plants, wood chips, and mulch in a 20-gallon compost bin. This year he’ll add that to the soil to lighten it up.

Part of today’s spading job was clearing and harvesting the winter greens. They date from last October, when I took some expired seed packets and tossed them all around. Some took root and grew right through our winter as a fresh menu supplement. They are still growing, but it seemed a good idea to clear them all. That way we can have a neat-looking bed, and can rotate in new vegetables. (Yesterday I first pulled and cleaned all the scallions and leeks and a few potatoes. A sample of each made a good dinner with a butter pat on top.)

A pot of winter greens, cleared from a small patch of turned earth.

Here is a sample of today’s harvest: Kale, baby collards, celery, and turnip greens attached to a jumbo turnip. Because our building garden hose is turned off for the winter, I carried the greens up to the fourth floor and washed them several times in bucket after bucket of water, carrying the full buckets back downstairs to pour outside to keep the grit out of the kitchen plumbing.

Here are some of the greens, in Captain’s flower pot.

The trimmed outer leaves below got a final scrub and rinse. Now they are wrapped in brown paper in the fridge. The tough cores and stems were trimmed away; they will go in the stock pot with vegetable peels and seaweed to make potassium broth.

One neighbor stopped by the garden patch and expressed an interest in the spading project. Afterwards I hung a gift bag on his doorknob with a sample of triple-washed leaves wrapped in brown paper with a greeting card. As it turned out, his household was fresh out of greens, and they were pleased to have them for dinner.

Then the 90 minutes was up. An hour later all the washing and toting were done and the greens were put away. Last I washed Captain Wing’s shovel, dried and polished it well, and put it back at his door. Then I lay down on the floor to stretch and straighten my back. Captain telephoned a minute later to express his concern and dismay that 1). I had washed and shined up a common garden spade, and 2). had used it to do all that spading. He laid down the law that tomorrow he will take over the spading project himself.

Next perhaps one of the neighbors can drive me to buy more topsoil.

It’s an amazing piece of good fortune to have that raised bed right outside our building. The whole garden dream is not about food really. It’s about something hopeful and pleasant for the neighbors to look at and talk about. This year it would be nice to plant sweet peas. They grow well in the cold, the sprouts are edible, and children find it fun to watch them grow. Sunflowers would be a cheerful touch too. We’ll see. One bit one day at a time.

Today up on that raised bed toward the end of that 90 minutes there was a peaceful interlude. In the east, fluffy towers of clouds turned bright gold in the declining sun. From the west a little charcoal-gray storm front rushed overhead, full of ice crystals. The falling crystals made a white gauzy veil with soft white noise around me and the winter greens underfoot, with the robins and house finches and juncoes bursting into song.

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2/2/2022: Presentation Day

The feast of the Presentation of the Christ Child is February 2nd.

That’s in the Gospel of Luke 2:22-39, when Mary and Joseph dedicate Jesus in the Temple, 40 days after his birth. The prophet Simeon recognizes the long-awaited Messiah, and sings the Canticle of Simeon or Nunc dimittis. He adds a mysterious prophesy about Mary as well: that in this child’s destiny, a sword is waiting that will pierce her soul. 

In any ordinary year, day means attending Presentation Day Mass. But in 2012, it meant the presentation of me by me to the Temple of the cancer center downtown. A routine annual mammography triggered an urgent letter, referring me to the center for additional imaging. They booked me for February 2nd, at 3:00 pm. 

The prospect seemed a little daunting; so for company I packed my bowed psaltery, and the Mary Frances Coady book With Bound Hands: A Jesuit in Nazi Germany, a biography of Father Alfred Delp (1907-1945). The book made a good waiting room read. It was cheering to discover that its hero found profound meaning in feast days of Jesus and Mary, days like this one.

Father Delp was a German priest, forging through the required 15-year formation period before final vows to the Society of Jesus. His superiors were sometimes surprised by his restless headlong physical energy, impulsive argumentative nature, booming voice, loud hymn singing unhampered by musical pitch, witty quips, flashing grin, cigars. He also had a gift for social connections, especially with the older women who made up his congregation; he took a warm kindly interest in their family news, troubles, and household cares.

Father Alfred Delp, S.J. From maryfrancescoady.com. Photo credit: Jesuit Archive, Munich

The war brought out the best of the young priest’s colorful personality. His extensive social network collaborated to help Jewish refugees flee to Switzerland. After bombing raids, before the all-clear signal, he would charge from the shelter into rubble and flames, shouting to victims trapped underneath, digging them out while ordering the firefighters around. In the pulpit his sermons were so heartfelt and so outspoken that listeners jotted them down in shorthand for discreet circulation. But with only two weeks remaining of his 15-year discernment period, he was arrested. (That timing was a cause of particular grief to him. It haunted him to think that God must have found him unworthy of final vows.)

The official charge was involvement in a plot to kill Hitler; he was a suspect because he knew so much about so many people. But the arrest was part of a larger plan to undermine the German Jesuit order; this outspoken preacher made a prominent target. At the prison, rounds of torture reduced him to what he described in one letter as “a bleeding whimper,” but did not get him to name names or incriminate anyone. He was promised freedom on condition that he give up final vows. Meanwhile, for six months his gregarious energy sat in solitary confinement under glaring lights, handcuffed and chained to a table.   

At Tegel Prison, clothing was commonly laundered by the prisoners’ families. This is where Delp’s legacy was salvaged and preserved, thanks to his rapport with his female parishioners. The women began showing up to demand his blood-stained laundry. The women also checked the clothing seams, extracted tiny tightly rolled strips of paper in microscopic penmanship, and copied out his Advent sermons, prayers, and letters — including a request for medicine for the head prison guard and his child. Then the women would return the clean clothes to the prison, where the same head guard somehow didn’t notice that the laundry contained discreet enclosures of paper, ink, food, and Communion wafers. 

In a Radiology waiting room 67 years later, it was heartening to think of these courageous Catholic women in wartime, smuggling these letters. It was just the right uplift for that 3:00 appointment.

At 2:55, Radiology Technologist Sarah welcomed me to a changing room. I locked up my things, and put on an ample comfy robe. In the imaging room next door, Sarah marked my skin with inked arrows and adhesive stickers. As a calm gentle medical provider (and a ukulele player herself) she encouraged me to talk about my psaltery while she adjusted the equipment. After our mammography, she forwarded the images to the radiology team for viewing. She brought me to my cubicle to wait while she worked with her other patients.

At 3:15, the radiologists sent Sarah back to me. They directed her to start all over, reworking views from this and that angle. For this second round of images, Sarah stayed positive and calm, cradling our attention moment by moment on only the next indicated task. 

At 3:40, I waited in the cubicle while the doctors summoned Sarah for a conference. They ordered her to start again, same images, now with two more angle views.

At 4:00, Sarah finished imaging round three. 

Then the radiologists conferred for a much longer time. Sarah walked with me back to the changing cubicle and stayed for five minutes. The center saw so many patients that it’s unlikely she had five minutes to spare. But it still remains a golden memory that this radiology technologist sat right beside me and asked me to play her a song.

Then, she explained the next step. The room had two doors. The outer door faced the waiting room. The inner door faced the imaging suite. If I heard a knock on the outer door, that would be Sarah. It would mean that the radiologists decided that my topography looked benign, and I was free to go. A knock on the inner door would be a radiologist, calling me in for an ultrasound. After the ultrasound, the team would tell me the results and options for treatment. It was like the two doors in the Frank Stockton story about the lady or the tiger; but in this version, any tiger would be waiting inside me. 

I sat in the cubicle, practicing my psaltery; that way, if a radiologist had to find me, it might make a nice change for them to be greeted by some music. But the minutes unraveled along and along. It was 5:00, then 5:10, then 5:20. In that soundproof booth the psaltery sounded plaintive, like a whistle in the dark or the music box in a scary movie. I put the instrument away and listened. In the hall, footsteps and voices had disappeared. Did they forget that I was in here?

I huddled up in the corner with my book and went on reading.

In 1944, Father Delp hoped that December 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, would bring some sign that God still had some plan for him. The day brought a visit from fellow Jesuit Franz von Tattenbach, holding a page of Latin text. Delp recognized it as the rite of final vows for the Society of Jesus. To him, it meant that God had accepted his vows after all. It also meant that the Jesuits suspected he would not be leaving the prison alive. To be valid and binding, the vow had to be spoken out loud — in front of a guard who was very wary about this meeting between priests. Fortunately, Delp burst into wracking sobs, rendering his Latin words completely incomprehensible to the alarmed guard. That veil of spontaneous tears gave the priests a moment of space and time to conclude the ordination.  

Thinking about the prisoner calmed me down. He waited and waited too, alone in a little room for a verdict. And not for an hour, but for six months. And not in a thick soft cotton robe, but in handcuffs and shackles. And not for people trained to come and help, but for people trained to damage him and break his spirit. If he were here now, I’d play him a hymn. He’d pray for us both, and from what we know he’d think of something humorous and cheerful to say. What cheerful message might that be?

Knock knock. The waiting-room door! 

I threw it open. There was lovely Sarah, all beaming.  

I tackled a big hug around her. And just in case she needed me to babble at her, I said “Sarah! Sarah! If your news were complex I would be still more huggy and more grateful for all your kindness today. But it is this news instead. So God must have some other ending for me. Maybe it’s a harder ending. Maybe not. Who knows what or when that is? But today, my walking out of here — it does not mean He likes me any better than He likes any of your other patients.”

   “Well, look,” Sarah said. “I don’t get to give good news every day. So I say just run with it. Keep playing that psaltery! Go out there and do wonderful things for yourself.”

I rode the bus back uptown, and got out at my transfer stop. It was getting colder. The wind was picking up. It was too late for Mass. I sat on the bench for the next bus home, took out the psaltery, and played some hymns. One was the Nunc dimittis of Simeon the prophet, with words and melody composed in 1524 by Martin Luther. As someone who started out Lutheran himself, Delp would have known it too:

Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, in Gott’s Wille… In peace and joy I now depart, by the will of God…

People at the bus stop came closer and listened. A little kiddo dropped 35 cents in my music case.

Home at last, a seven hour round trip. What a great relief and a comfort to pull off my adrenalin-soaked clothes and put my compressed magic-markered shape in a hot shower and to peel off the imaging stickers. I fixed some miso soup and tucked in to my blankie roll on the floor. While the wind rocked the trees outside I curled up to read With Bound Hands, all eager to learn the ending.

In 1945, the end of the war was only weeks away. There was a dramatic filmed trial (where is that footage today?). The judge, considered notoriously inhumane by his fellow Nazis, screamed at the accused so loudly that his voice kept wrecking the sound equipment. The prisoner was sentenced to death by hanging. The body was never recovered or returned; Heinrich Himmler issued special orders that it be burned, and the ashes poured down a sewer.

Without a grave, and so no place for pilgrims to visit and pray, no grassroots movement began for his canonization. After the war the remaining German Jesuits were too exhausted to gather the resources to promote and defend his case for sainthood. What’s more, by then questions were emerging about the stance and role of the Vatican and the Catholic Church toward the Third Reich, so the whole affair was quietly set aside. For the name Alfred Delp there is no place in a calendar of saints, or devotional litanies, or on icons. But it’s popular as a name for German grade schools, streets, care homes, and even a postage stamp.

An Alfred Delp postage stamp.

Father Delp wrote farewells to his friends, signing one letter to his mother “Your Big Troublemaker.” To a parishioner, he wrote “Do not let my mother tell ‘pious legends’ about me. I was a brat.” Before the execution, the Catholic chaplain Peter Buchholz visited his colleague to comfort him with the hope of heaven. Delp smiled and said, “In thirty minutes, I’ll know more than you.” 

On the feast day favored by German Jesuits for renewing their vows, Alfred Delp was hanged at 3:00 in the afternoon on the 2nd of February, the feast of a mother who walked up the steps to the waiting Temple, carrying her son all the way.

From “Figures of Advent,” December 1944:
The world is more than its burden, and life is more than the sum of its gray days. The golden threads of the genuine reality are already shining through everywhere. Let us know this, and let us, ourselves, be comforting messengers. Hope grows through the one who is himself a person of the hope and the promise.

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Theotoke Parthene, Khere! (Θεοτόκε Παρθένε, χαίρε)

At the Greek Orthodox Church on Sunday there was a fortunate find on the used book / goodwill offering shelf: a 1962 booklet of all the favorite Orthodox prayers. The book showed Greek text, phonetic spelling, and translation into English. Nice!

Last night after work I was strolling to the library cradling my new book, glancing down every few steps to start learning the Hail Mary, or Theotoke Parthene, Khere! — God-Bearer Virgin, Hail!

Then, running right across 6 lanes of traffic from the gas station convenience store, a young man began staggering and reeling all over the sidewalk.
A deep-level instinct alerted me that he did not have any negative intentions; but he had been drinking a great deal, and his actions and words were not balanced with wheels on the rails. Clearly he himself had no idea how to manage on the street, or how to react when he spotted me. My instinct advised that this encounter could take any of several outcomes. The instinct further directed me not to try walking or running out of the way, but to stop and stand square and balanced, hang on to the little book, and keep that Greek phrase of prayer firmly in mind no matter what.

He got in my face too fast and too close, with an excited monologue about having an item to sell. As he turned away to rummage in his bag, that gave me a moment to reach for some money and hand it over.

He was so amazed at ending up with both some cash and also his belongings that he launched himself at me with a huge hug.

Standing still I gave his shoulder a solid pat, but then drew his attention to the book. For a moment we stood under the street light reading the Hail Mary. He examined the Greek and English in surprise and interest. On hearing my explanation that this very same Blessed Virgin had wanted him to have this money, he went rejoicing, sprinting toward the gas station.

A good outcome, considering. It certainly reinforced the memorization of prayer for me.

Would you like to hear how “Hail Mary” sounds in Greek? Here it is, as the very opening of the prayer chanted here by Mr. Meletios Kashinda.

Θεοτόκε Παρθένε, χαίρε κεχαριτωμένη Μαρία.

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1/9/2022: Treetop

The sun came out on Sunday morning. After our wintry weather spell, that was a wakeup surprise. I ran right out and down the road for a picture of the trees on the hilltop catching the sun.

Two tall conifer trees, from the base looking up at the sky.

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1/9/2022: Granamere’s Children (rewrite)

Jordan in Produce asked me out on a date.

His invitation was a cherished high point in my time as morning cashier for our natural-foods grocery, where each day I’d show up half an hour early to learn the produce and how much it cost. Then I could ring up merchandise from memory instead of flipping through the price binder while the upscale customers fumed at me to hurry.

The produce aisle is where Jordan first noticed me. Soon he started telling how he chose and grew vegetables, citing research from his education at agricultural college. I was all avid ears and admiration; Jordan was living my secret dream of life on a family farm. Meanwhile, our co-workers noticed the two of us in rapt discussion in the break room. They decided that he and I shared a family resemblance: tall, fair, with red-brown curly hair and blue eyes. By then he and I were swapping mannerisms as well, being soft-spoken and attentive with a slow but ready smile. Soon, team members were calling out “Mary! Your cousin needs labels for the produce scale,” or  “Jordie! Your sister needs you to tote bags to some lady’s car.” When they heard of our picnic plan, they said “The Twinsters on a date? How cute is that! Oh wait — is that legal?”

All that week, my spirits soared in anticipation of our outing. I resolved to make it a great day for Jordan. I figured that on a picnic a man would expect a healthy ample smorgasbord of home cooking, as a courtship display to show how a girl will treat him once they are married. For most of the night before, I cooked and packed enough food for six people, so that Jordan could choose the foods he liked best. The forecast called for rain, so for our uphill hike to the picnic grounds I chose a no-nonsense heavy lumberjack shirt; sole-slappy sneakers that would look no worse soaking wet; voluminous combat “gas attack” army trousers with drawstring; vinyl chaps tied at the thigh; and to conceal it all, a long hooded capelike slicker. To save Jordan the effort of getting out of his car, I stood outside under the eaves half an hour in advance, holding our food. By then the rain was an Atlantic northeaster with high winds. When my punctual escort drove up on time, I was soaked to the skin. In the plastic satchel, the multiple paper wrappings were so sodden that I feared we’d be foraging our chicken legs off the floor of his car. 

   “Would you stop at Unity Church?” I asked. “I have Tupperware left there from a potluck. I’ll run in for it, then repack all this.”

   “Church?” Jordan checked his rearview mirror, signaled right, pulled over, downshifted, braked, and turned to me with unease and regret in those blue eyes. “I… don’t do church.”

   “Oh no, they won’t have services today,” I explained. “Saturday is just Course in Miracles book club upstairs. I’ll duck into the basement, and grab my containers.”

   “But… no, you see… I… I really don’t do church,” he repeated. “At all. No church.”

   “Sure. You can stay put here. I’ll just be a sec,” I promised.

At the parking lot, we saw that Course in Miracles Club had a remarkable turnout. Cars were everywhere. We had to park a block away for my dash in the driving rain. Tense yet still chivalrous, Jordan accompanied me to the dark basement. With fogged rain-sluicing eyeglasses and sopping hair, I groped through the meeting rooms to the kitchen and grabbed my jumbo punchbowl piled high with plastic containers.

A side door opened. Lights clicked on. A child six years old or so peered in, looking intently at Jordan, at me, at Jordan, at me. “Excuse me. Are you both…” The sight of us perplexed him. “Are you two relatives?

No wonder this observant African-American child thought two tall lanky auburn/blue Whites might just be related; our team certainly did. If this had been a grownup, I’d have said “Nah, we’re just people picking up our Tupperware. Enjoy your book group! Bye!” But because every young person deserves respectful validation, I said “People often ask us that. We do look like relatives, don’t we?”

   “Elijah!” A young African-American man looked in the door. “The young lady just told you that she and the gentleman are relatives. Who are we, to ask questions?”

   “Yes, Dada.” Elijah turned to me. “Miss, I’ll show you the way; you can come with me.”

   “Thank you!” Relieved to follow Elijah’s short cut, I rushed up the dark stairs. I was so eager to start our big date that I did not wonder why these members wore matching black suits and black ties with black polished shoes just for a New Age book club.

Elijah held the door. While stepping through I turned back to smile and nod at him. Then, still mopping my hair out of my eyes, I faced front and saw a coffin. The coffin proceeded step by step straight toward Jordan and me, borne up by pallbearers.

Clearly, our guide Elijah, reprimanded for asking whether Jordan and I were related to him, had ushered us to the sanctuary for family seating — front and center, facing the congregation.

The pews were packed. Everyone looked resplendent, in suits and dresses, gloves, scarves, pearls, pocket watches, brooches, corsages, dotted veils, and trimmed hats. Not so the two storm-tossed Caucasians. The hapless sidekick had turned whiter than usual as he plastered his back to the wall. The Clem Kaddidlehopper minstrel figure stood frozen, punchbowl in arms. To stop drenching the carpet I struggled out of my slicker, then recalled too late that the poncho was a vast improvement over the rest of my getup.

One of the gentlemen seated by the podium rose, and with kind hands on my shoulders gave me his own seat. He stepped to the microphone and opened a profound prayer of blessing on the assembly and his parishioner. He raised a touching tribute to the courage and sweetness and humor of this loved one and her wonderful influence on generations of family. Then other congregation members began standing to contribute their own recollections of their beloved matriarch, their Granamere. They told stories of gratitude and sorrow and joy.

At the edge of the minister’s seat I waited on tenterhooks, begging God for help in easing us out of here and leaving this family in peace. But meanwhile, with their testimony the open hearts of Granamere’s children opened my own heart. They tapped in to the loss of my two grandmothers years before. In this sacred space, a state of true mourning set in, moving me to copious tears. 

   “And now, Dear Family and Friends.” The minister turned to Jordan and me. “See how this young couple came to pay their respects. What a gift! Sister, come up here. Tell us how you met Granamere, and your memories.”

At that I wept so hard that I could no longer breathe, let alone share anything coherent about anyone. With Jordan hard at my heels I bowed to all, and ran sobbing out the door.

In the car, on our drive to the park, Jordan and I watched the road in delicate restrained stillness. His silence looked like inert shock. My silence was remorse. My sensitive companion had trusted me to understand that he did not do church — yet was dragged in to needless distress by my buffoon-caliber foolishness. His tactful restraint, with no word of reproach, should have earned a retroactive merit badge for the Eagle Scout sash he’d earned back in school.

We hiked up to the park shelter and shivered in a gale force horizontal rain, eating a cold drumstick apiece. We squelched back to the car for the trip to my group house. After a chastened and subdued parting I waved goodbye with the sinking sense that Jordan might never ask me out again.

Next day, our store manager invited me to turn in my apron and try some other career. Jordan joined a self-awareness training program called The Forum, and moved off to new friends and new interests.

Tonight an online search by his real name and hometown and alma mater turned up no trace of him at all. All I know of Jordan now is that after me, his dating life could have gone nowhere but up. My better-looking Doppelganger deserved happier times with the right person.

To the family from Unity Church: I am so sorry for disrupting your beautiful memorial. Your mercy toward me was a splendid tribute to your Granamere. To this day, in customer service work, it inspires me with patience when distraught implausible people burst across my path from the northeasters of life.

And you, Granamere: God grant we meet one day. Bright Memory to you!

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One New Year’s Eve

Moving Day!

Bill and Sarah pulled up with my boxes and me, to move in my stuff and then take me shopping for groceries and household goods. But then the downpouring rain turned to sleet. So with hugs and assurances of speedy return they leaped in the van for an arduous trek back to their seaside home. 

In an off-season housing market, just to stand here with bag and baggage waving goodbye in the freezing rain was a fantastic stroke of good fortune. It came about when a tenant moved out of a studio apartment, leaving a pile of trash and thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. Frank in Maintenance alerted Ella in Management. While Ella talked to Frank I walked in to her office, heard her half of the call, and wrote a check for first & last month and security deposit. Ella asked me for a one-month advance for phone and electricity, showed me the unit, and handed over the keys.

The apartment had small narrow rooms all in one line: kitchenette, bathroom, central room, alcove closet. Their windows faced west. Across a little courtyard, there was a close view up at six floors of windows full of neighbors with their TV and meals. In winter, the studio had shadowed daylight from 10:00 to 3:00. The other 19 hours, there were timed floodlights giving our courtyard an evocative Stalag Newsreel look.

I dedicated the apartment as a refuge of prayer and introspection, naming it Little Beje after Corrie ten Boom’s wartime sanctuary for refugees. I moved the boxes indoors, opened Bill & Sarah’s housewarming present, and laughed. They’d given me their mascot! Mr. Snakey was an inflatable nine-foot boa constrictor from the Museum of Science. Set up on my sleeping bag, he looked impressively lifelike.

Next I flicked on the light switches one at a time, then plugged in the refrigerator. Nothing happened. The landline phone, plugged in to its jack, had no dial tone. But thanks to Frank, the floors gleamed with fresh polyurethane varnish. The walls were slathered with fresh paint. So were the windows; they were sealed shut. The oil radiators had no off valve. They poured out dry heat and the roasted rancid-blood essence that hinted at cockroaches lurking in the pipes. The whole floor was crunchy with grout bits or paint chips. I grabbed a box lid as a broom and cleared the center room at a walking squat, moving each box at a time. Opening the hall door for light and air showed that the bits and chips were fumigated cockroaches — not lurking in pipes, but lying on their backs with folded multiple arms. That was great incentive to sweep the place corner to corner. Wrapping my hands with soggy advertising circulars from the lobby I scooped the whole rout into a garbage bag, then slipped and skidded across the courtyard to the dumpster. 

The gas stove worked like a charm. So did the faucets, but the water smelled like paradichlorobenzene mothballs. After running the kitchen taps for twenty minutes I made tea, took a sip, and gagged it into the sink. Then I slipped and skidded to the Store 24 on Beacon Street, and was thrilled to find distilled water, crackers, spongy grapefruit, and figs on the nearly empty shelves. With the Sunday blue laws, the store could not sell liquor. But the men in the long line snapped up soda, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, scratch tickets, and magazines in brown paper from behind the counter. Unlike me, they had spent their weekend not packing, but monitoring the weather service. 

Whiteout snow hit on the way home. There I stored the grapefruit on the cold bathroom windowsill. In the radiator heat I had to lock the door and drop all my clothes on a chair. To protect the pipes from freezing I turned on all the taps to a trickle. I washed up, and fixed oatmeal and tea while snow hurtled past the Stalag lights. Then for good air I put some clothes on, opened the hallway door, and set up for the night in the doorway with sleeping bag and Bible.

We had three blizzards in five days. The streets were silent; no people, no traffic noise but sirens, no trolleys on the Green Line. From a pay phone, a 40 minute round trip clamber away, I called my boss; he’d had to close up shop, and told me to stay home until after New Year’s. Other businesses were closed too. The drifts were 5 feet high. On side streets the plows could clear only one central lane both ways for cars and pedestrians to share, with blackening snow walls that lingered until April. Frank worked all hours on the roof chopping ice, or fixing burst pipes for tenants with no heat, or plowing snow from the doors. He promised to get my windows open soon.  

Every morning it was time to break camp, roll up the sleeping bag, and lock the door. Then I dropped all my clothes. (Naturism was soon a necessary automatic reflex, if naturists vacation all alone in small dark rooms.) With the cardboard lid I’d sweep up the cockroaches, re-robe, drop the garbage in the dumpster, and gather some pine twigs on the way back. The pine twigs went into a stock pot of water boiling all day with grapefruit peels and cinnamon to improve and moisten the atmosphere. There was always pease porridge to tend on the stove too, with legumes and seaweeds and grain from my boxes. Then after a dip in the trickling bathtub I’d wash the laundry and dry it on the radiator in minutes. With a pickle crock weight as a hammer I’d tap a wooden spoon all around the window frames, in hopes of a paint gap for fresh air. When the fumes and heat made my head spin, I’d get dressed and stroll a bit on the snow drifts. Then with the Bible and sometimes Mr. Snakey for company, and a bath towel over my head for the draft, I sat in my doorway to study, read, write, and meet the neighbors. 

But where was everybody? There was plenty of bustle in the building across the courtyard, but our floor had no one. Perhaps the other renters were students, at home for winter break? Only a couple of men traipsed through now and then, kicking the advertising circulars into a junkmail-mâché across the floor. I always said hello. They took one look at my setup and kept walking. 

By Christmas the dizziness from the fumes wasn’t going away, even outdoors. The trip over drifts to the dumpster needed a sitting rest halfway through. The cold in the hall felt shivery even with extra bundling up. The heat with the radiators felt feverish even with bathtub dips and clothing-optional living. It was fortunate that I didn’t have to go out, because then a sore throat came along with laryngitis, a cough, and shortness of breath. One night I was resting in the doorway with head wrapped in towels, with a fold tucked down to cover my eyes; the fluorescents had a painful glare, and my stomach queased up at sight of the mâché slush on the floor. It was stained by melted rock salt from the snowplows in two city-issue colors (cotton-candy pink, and inauspicious pea green). 

At about 3:00 am a rustling noise shook me out of a fitful reverie. Peeling back the bath towels I looked around blinking, and caught sight of Mr. Snakey. He was across the hall in the opposite doorway. While stumbling around feeling sick, I must have fallen asleep in the open door of the wrong apartment! In a panic I flailed around to an upright position against the door frame. “Oh no,” I tried to say. But this was my first human conversation in days; my voice was only a whisper.

To my delirious dismay, Mr. Snakey seemed to come alive. He yanked back his head, as would any sensible snake (a nine-foot python, as it turned out) when confronting a chill draft. A man appeared from inside, looming over us in the open doorway. With a few choice words he grabbed the moving snake and slammed the door. I wobbled up to my hands and feet, locked up, crept to the alcove closet, and verified that my boa was right where he belonged. (Yes, an inflatable boa is nothing like a live python, but don’t ask me how at 3:00 am in a fever.) Then, a breakthrough revelation occurred to me: because the bathroom was all tiled walls and floor, Frank hadn’t painted or varnished it! So that night I pulled my sleeping bag into the bathroom, closed the door, and had a restful sleep breathing well beside the trickling tub under a reassuring view of sky slice with star.

That day or next, a cheerful cricket noise rang out in the alcove. Phone service! The first call was from Bill and Sarah. All during the blizzard they’d been telephoning my inactive phone line, wishing they could pick me up to stay with them, or at least drop off some fresh produce; but by the sea the roads were still hazardous, and they’d had flu themselves. 

From then on, people called every day for long insightful conversations. “You are SUCH a wonderful listener,” said one girlfriend. “Nobody pays attention like you.”   
“Perfect conditions for attention,” I explained. “Snowed in. Very little voice. In the dark. No clothes.” 

The phone gave me a new daily ritual: calling the electric company.
   “Mrs. Washington here,” a customer service associate snapped. “Name and address?”
   “Hello Mrs. Washington.” I cleared my throat and croaked at her. “It’s Mary —”
   “Speak UP!” she barked. “How do you spell that?”
   “It’s M –“
   “Is that M as in ‘Mary’?”
   “Why… yes. Here is my address and unit number.”
   “What is the nature of this call?”
   “I paid Management on December 1 for the first month, but…”
   “EXCUSE me! We are under a SNOW EMERGENCY!”
   “Yes Ma’am, I see it out the windows. Just wondering, in a case like this —-”
   “Hold the line.”
After 25 minutes of Muzak, the call disconnected.

So did the other calls. I kept on dialing, night and day.
Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Jefferson, Mrs. Monroe, Mrs. Madison, Mrs. Buchanan all looked up my address and unit, then put me on hold until the call cut off. 

Finally, Mrs. Roosevelt let me know that the guy living here in Unit 3 before me had cheated thousands of dollars out of the electric company, and now they were in no scramble to light up my life. For all they knew, he was hiding behind a curtain and had put me on the phone. Now I would have to prove that I was me, prove that I was not him, prove that I was not in his cahoots, and that I was hereby renouncing all his vain pomps and works. “Only a supervisor makes exceptions. And they are all out with the repair trucks. To speak with one, you’ll have to call back.”

Mrs. Coolidge wanted a letter faxed to her with my previous addresses, signature, date of birth, and social security number.
Mrs. Eisenhower said I’d have to fax her a postmarked envelope showing my name and address. (Not that I had any; all my mail went to my post office box downtown. And I was too sick to walk to the mailbox and mail a letter from me to me.)
Mrs. Cleveland said that the fax needed to show a copy of the cancelled deposit check. (Not that I had one; the month wasn’t over, and the bank statement with cancelled check was going downtown to the same post office box.)
Mrs. Wilson wanted the fax to show a money order with a future deposit of $500. (Not that I could get myself to my own bank, which was probably still closed.)
Mrs. Harding wanted a past bill from some other utility company.
a copy of my lease.
Mrs. Truman wanted a government-issue ID with photograph, and a copy of my lease.

At least waiting on hold made a good meditation and stretching practice. Soon I could hum along to the different classical Muzak pieces while eating dinner or napping with the receiver tucked nearby.

On New Year’s Eve day I called again.
   “Ms. Jackson. State your name & address.”
   “Lo, Ms. Jackson.” I told it to her.
   “What do you want?”
   “Not a thing, Ms. Jackson. I’ve been calling about this account for a couple weeks. This is just to say that any day now it will stop snowing and I won’t always be sick, and then I’ll go out and find an open business with a fax machine and send you all the documents that you would like.”
   “What is the nature of your call?”
   “To say thank you. You have a high-stress job, and you’re saving lives in this terrible weather. And your Muzak! It’s all I have to listen here at home in the dark, and it’s LOVELY.” I started getting tearful. “So thank you. Happy New Year.”
   “Unh.” Pause. “Right. Bye.”

For dinner that day I made split pea soup. An empty potato chip bag turned up in one of my boxes; the crumbs gave a delicious seasoning accent to the meal. 

Eating dinner, I was longing for a church, a place with electric lights and people.

So I wrapped up warm with a bath towel around my neck and ventured out for the first time in days, down Beacon Street. Eureka! A large community church was open. In an upper floor all the lights were on. I hurried over snow drifts and up to the parish hall. About a hundred people were gathered for the service.

   “You’re here!” The organizers rushed to greet me at the door. “Thank goodness! Wait — aren’t you…? Well, the invited speaker couldn’t make it. Can you lead the meeting anyway?”
   “Meeting?” I looked around and saw the 12-Step slogan banners all over the walls. “Oh sure.” I was expecting a prayer service, but this was fine; I’d led many Anonymous group meetings before, including the mixed-program share-a-thons on holidays. “No problem.” Walking up to the microphone I greeted everyone, and suggested a moment of silence followed by the Serenity Prayer.
   “We welcome you, to this meeting of –” I opened the speakers’ binder. “Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.” I stopped and looked up at the audience.
They looked back at me.
These hundred people came through snow and ice, who knows how far, for my story of experience, strength, and hope with this addiction.

First, in keeping with Program standards of complete honesty, I let them know precisely how qualified I was to serve as their speaker.
Well now.
Then we had us a moment of silence for sure.
Then, they laughed.
Soon laughter rolled through the hall in waves.
People would start to calm down, take another look at me, and start laughing all over again. They laughed until they were weeping, slapping their sides or waving their hands in surrender.
   “Were you gonna walk into just ANY meeting?” one man called out in friendly fashion.
   “Meeting?” I said. “I thought this was Vespers!”

That set everybody off laughing all over again. While they did, I thought: Come Holy Spirit; this would be a fine time to give me an idea of what to tell these good folk. Finally I said “But aren’t we all here for the same reason? Isn’t it just human, to want to find safety and comfort, and also connection with other people? Isn’t that how we got here? Isn’t that how we can come together right now, this evening? We’re not alone; we made it here. We are in good company. We have wisdom and stories to share, and that starts now.”

So people shared their stories and treatment plans and recovery. There was a lot of adversity and courage and wisdom and cooperation in that room. It was a great meeting. And then people joined hands and said the Serenity Prayer, and gathered around with coffee and cookies and punch before saying goodbye. The gathering did my heart good.

That week, my flu got better.
Frank fixed the radiator valves and got the windows open.
Bill and Sarah took me to my favorite thrift stores and then to the Food Coop.
As the snow began to melt, neighbors showed up out of nowhere.
Here I’d been feeling down, thinking everybody else was off on vacation. But no. Some were hiding in their units all scared and wanting their Social Security checks, pain meds, baby formula, chemotheraphy. There must have been some way to help them. If only I’d put up posters in the hallways, or asked Frank to give out my phone number!
After that big snow, one lovely frail couple had to be taken to a nursing home. They’d survived World War II together in Belarus, and were so overjoyed to find a Russian speaker that they begged me to come for a goodbye visit, to have tea and view their photo albums.
What a life lesson for me! There is always more that one can do, to get out and meet and check on our neighbors.

But meanwhile, on New Year’s Eve, the walk home from that SLAA meeting was beautiful. The air was cold and clear. In some places the snow still had some glitter to it. At Store 24, they had bananas and yogurt and lettuce for sale!

Locking my door at home I dropped all my clothes in the dark, put the groceries on the windowsill, fixed some mint tea, and sat watching six floors of neighbors together enjoying their TV shows and parties.

The sound of early fireworks sent me running to the bank of windows. I stretched up against the glass, peering at the scrap of sky in hopes of color and flash. 

Instead, at midnight, the electric company made a judgment call. The First Ladies — Martha, Dolley, Mamie, Lady Bird, et al. — turned on my lights. All of the lights. Happy 1993!

I hit the floor out of public view. I shimmied into my sleeping bag, zipped it up to my chin, teetered upright against the wall, and hopped around in the bag long enough to turn off all the light switches with my chin. Then crawling out of the bag again I moved my yogurt and lettuce from the windowsill to the humming refrigerator. Then I drank a tea toast to the electric company, humming their best piece of Muzak.

You can hum it too. It’s the Intermezzo instrumental interlude from “Cavalleria Rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni.

Happy and Blessed New Year to Everybody!


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New Year’s Eve, 12/31/21

This picture shows a snow scene on water with a clear sky, and tall evergreen trees.

Here was the Eastern sky today at sunset. When choosing one song out of many to fit this scenery on a reflective New Year’s Eve, I gave up and chose two instead. Here they are.

Song 1: “ИНОК” духовный стих

Artists: Лазурно-золотой Берег Запредельного “Azure-Gold Shore of Beyond”

“ИНОК” (Inok, the Monk) is an Old Believer folk song from the Altai region. My Russian isn’t good enough to catch most of the words. But apparently a monk is walking through a green field of flax, weeping and sobbing over his fate. In the refrain, “Cherno-Rizyi” means “O Monk (literally, O Black-Cassock).” The song ends with a prayer to the Theotokos, Queen of Heaven.

The Siberian music group Azure-Gold Shore of Beyond are proficient in many traditional instruments and songs. They also study the teachings of Sri Chinmoy.

Song 2: “Wintergatan Soundtrack 01 – MUSIC BOX, HARP & HACKBRETT”

Artist: Martin Molin

Martin Molin invents his own music boxes and other instruments, then composes music to fit. He and the Wintergatan music collaborative then post the music on their channel.

Off to work on a New Year’s story to post here…

Best wishes and blessings to all of you in 2022! – Mary

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12/19/21: Ferns

It just may be that every character, like every opal, has unique and complex facets.

The unique facet for me just might be the lifelong drive and everyday efforts toward optimal human connections at every level, combined with astonishing social clumsiness. Sure, there is a solid track record as a good grocery customer, model dental patient, friendly neighbor, and great customer service representative. But at anything closer and more significant, things veer right off into hilarity or heartbreak. Interactions that were made in heaven to be the most warm and close and loving and affectionate — well, they turn out more like flotsam that fractures into jagged splinters. It happened tonight, in a simple family phone call that went so cattywampus so fast that maybe it’s time to just quit talking.

And why? Well, the causative shortfalls and flaws abound. It all comes down to being way too naive, too eager, too religious, too literal, too huggy, too shy, too impressionable, too overwhelmed, too klutzy, too bursting with factoids about which nobody else gives the slightest hoot, and too deeply and permanently affected by words or tones of voice that were never meant to be noticed in the first place.

These everyday efforts make for some pretty good stories way after the fact. But meanwhile they add up to a general cloud of melancholic loneliness to carry around. If some little cartoon character (hedgehog, trilobite, whatever) were trudging through life feeling downcast to that degree, he would be followed by a big floating balloon, colored in with just a dark pencil scribble and a trail of bubbles pointing at his head.

But today for a couple of hours the floating thought balloon lightened up wondrously, and the pencil scribble inside it turned rosy and sparkling when I made another visit to the Greek Orthodox church. The service was just beautiful, and it was fascinating to see those familiar words written out in a whole new language. The church is very large and very busy with preparations for Nativity. Nevertheless, after service one priest hurried right over and offered to introduce me to the main priest, just in case I needed to talk! Then in the bookstore there was a big welcome and good books and icons and household things to admire and a lovely display for Nativity. (I bought a nice book on the Jesus Prayer, and little Nativity icon cards, and some jasmine incense to keep on the desk at work.)

After that I walked over to the park across the street with an amazing feeling of genuine happiness.

The clouds parted to a bright blue sky, the sun came out, and all the foliage sparkled. The air was perfectly fresh and clean and fragrant. The tall tall pines whispered and swayed. A Hairy Woodpecker (they don’t really have hair, but they really do peck wood) flew right up to me and started tapping around and around a snag tree, piping cute notes and fluttering a little dance and looking all spruce in his tidy black and white suit and red spot. A Labradoodle came rushing to greet me. “He really wants to show you that old tennis ball he’s got in his mouth,” the owner apologized; “he just found it now in the woods.” I gave the dog a good petting and told him “Did you? I love when that happens! I chew on mine too! Who’s a good boy?” and the three of us had a nice visit.

Then came the ferns. Now, it’s easy to find ferns. They are common enough growing in pots in houses. But as indoor plants go, the fern adventure doesn’t end well for the fern. In that close human relationship (owner + ornamental) they just pine away. But out here in the woods they were packed in all over the place.

Here is a mossy tree trunk. These feathery plants growing out of the moss might be licorice ferns.

There were all shapes and sizes, all kinds.

Here’s another fern. I have no idea what kind it is.

They marched along the ground, on rocks, in moss, growing right out of tree trunks.

Here is a fallen tree in pieces covered with thick moss, and more ferns.

In the winter woods, the textures and types of ferns were just a wonder. Here were these beautiful creatures with their unique facets, all faces and fingers, transforming decaying trees into soft luxurious pieces of art. Some of them might even be licorice ferns; I’ve heard that we can dry and pulverize their roots, and the starch is many times sweeter than sucrose. Imagine that.

What a revelation. If ferns can be this healthy and happy in the place that is right for them, then what if God has a place planned out where I can grow in a community too?

Maybe between here today and the Kingdom of Heaven, He has some little place even for me. One where it’s possible to feel safe and happy and close to other creatures who thrive in cold and rain; who take even the splintered jagged flotsam of circumstance, and then spin it into sugar.

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Advent Memory: A Crib for the Baby

Advent for the Catholics is the four Sundays before Christmas. (If you’re a Catholic, this year it’s November 28th through December 25th.) Back at our school with the Sisters of St. Dominic, the four weeks of Advent started off with the most important tradition of all: getting the crib ready for the Baby Jesus.

Here is a closeup view of an appealing little Nativity scene. It is filled with all the figures from a regular Nativity scene, but carved from thin slices of wood. I can’t imagine how they made something this delicate and pretty.

First, we needed to get a cardboard shoe box.

Shoe boxes were special at any time of year. We didn’t buy new shoes too often, not when there was always some kid on the street with bigger feet and we could wait for him to outgrow his shoes and then we could wear them. When we did have a shoe box in the house, our mothers used them to sort S&H Green Stamp booklets or recipe cards or nuts & bolts, and they tied up the boxes with red and white bakery cake box string and made neat labels and stacked them in the cabinet. Even when we did have extra boxes, we kids used them up for crafts right away. For example, you can turn a shoe box on its side so that the top long side makes a ceiling and roof. Then paint the inside blue, glue in some stones, cut out and color paper fishes and plants, hang them on strings to the ceiling side of the box, then tape a sheet of clear plastic wrap over the front. That turns the box into an aquarium, only these fish won’t die after you bring them home.

But shoe boxes were extra handy in Advent, an important time for an important project.

Step 1. The first day of Advent, get in line and follow Sister across the parking lot to church to examine our conscience. It’s always nice to sit there being perfectly silent so we can hear what God might say to us and gives Sister a minute to rest her feet in some peace and quiet.

Step 2. On the way home from school, go to Mr. C.’s shoe store and ask him for any empty boxes. Irving’s Pharmacy next door, with the big glass jars of color dye water in the window, they have boxes too. But we’re not allowed to go into Irving’s Pharmacy because it has one of those modern heavy glass doors, and our moms say we can get our fingers stuck in the door when it closes. But Mr. C. has the right boxes and he has just the screen door, so we’re allowed in there. If he’s not busy with a customer we can put a penny in the gumball machine while we are at it.

Step 3. Think up ideas for new good deeds to add to our life ever day. Like, the very first time Mom calls, run right home for supper or get up for school. Then set the table or make the bed. Carry your plate to the sink and say thank you. If you notice that the wash is dry, take it off the clothesline and fold it up and pick up the clothespins out of the grass. Finish your bread crusts. Say a decade of the rosary every night. Let Dad read the funny papers first because you make Silly Putty prints out of the faces in the comics.

Step 4. After dinner, sit at the kitchen table with a notepad and ruler and pencil. Draw 12 boxes. Then, fill each box by writing in one of your good intentions. Next, cut up the paper to make 12 squares. Put them in an envelope. Use another page or so to write and cut out one square or more for every day of Advent.

Step 5. Decorate your box with crayons or a little colored paper. But don’t be all showy about it. Like, don’t go paint a lot of macaroni shells gold and then glue them on, because Jesus was very poor as a baby and did not have a wealthy bed. And besides, the outside of the box doesn’t matter. What matters is the inside later at the end of your four weeks.

Step 6. Now the real project starts. Every day, pick a good intention paper slip out of the envelope and then work on your good intention. At the end of each day, if you finished your good deed, take that slip of paper and put it inside the shoe box crib. Don’t show or talk about your good deed; it should be a secret between you and God.

Step 7. Every day, carry out another good deed, and put each paper slip in the box. At the end of Advent, if you counted right, the envelope is empty and the box is full of good deed paper slips.

Step 8. At the end of Advent, put the lid on the box and fasten it down with rubber bands from the rubber band ball in the kitchen drawer. Take it to school on the bus.

Step 9. At school, take off the lid and everybody put their boxes under the little fake tree next to the Nativity scene that has all the figures looking at the empty manger. At the end of Advent all of the children’s boxes are full of paper slips! That means each box and all 4 Sundays of Advent were full of good deeds for our families and homes and neighborhood and school. They make the boxes into a soft warm manger bed for Baby Jesus. Then even in wintertime the Baby knows He is welcome in this world.

But most of all, the real welcome and the real soft warm place for Him is the change inside our hearts.


About the photo above: This is a very sweet and very thoughtful Nativity present. (The picture does not show how pretty it really is.) I’ve been sad for days, missing the Advent traditions from long ago. But then out of the blue my lovely neighbor gave me this woodcut picture! It is so much better than any shoe-box aquarium I ever made, and such a kind cheering gift, that I want to keep it on my windowsill to look at all year long. Thank you dear! Joyous Feast!

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11.29.21: View from the Bridge

Here is a bridge over water during tonight’s sunset, against a tangerine sky. It’s a different bridge from the one in this post.

On the day after Thanksgiving I stopped to change buses at our little student neighborhood right on the water. It has quaint old houses and gardens and charming unique family businesses and shops and open cafes and fanciful public art. At holiday season the stores put up lights, and play holiday music. Young shoppers flock around with cinnamon rolls and cocoa. Musicians play in costume. Dogs wear reindeer hats and sleigh bells and blinky-light collars. Our magical music store keeps an open door with live or recorded music playing, and a lobby stocked with flyers for upcoming events — like their public open house the first Sunday in December every year where everybody brings a plate of cookies and has fun in jam sessions and playing the different instruments. (I once spent a happy afternoon there in the back classroom, playing all the hammer dulcimers.)

To recover from Thanksgiving I had my heart set on a cheering little stroll on the waterfront street to take in the people and the sights. This year, my hopeful idea did not work as planned. At 4:45 pm, on American peak-retail “Black Friday” and the kickoff to the winter holidays, our delightful mini-downtown was empty. The businesses were closed up. The streets were not full of shoppers or tourists. Even the music store was silent; their bulletin board had no upcoming event flyers, and they’ve called off this year’s open house.

The scene called to mind “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with George Bailey’s daymare vision of the Georgeless wasteland in Potterville. Darkness fell. It was starting to rain. Crossing the footbridge I was all alone. There were only three men around; they were conversing quietly beside the bridge, sitting on the ground outside a makeshift tent. A teenager crossed by on the other side, weighed down by a black trash bag on his shoulder. I forged ahead at a brisk clip, without even stopping to pull out the phone for photographs. I took only a glance overshoulder at the downtown lights, gold and silver on black velvet water.

Then, right in the middle of the bridge, there was a new sign:

No Jumping From The Bridge! Consequences are fatal and tragic.

Wait. What? The logic and sentiment of that public service message stopped me in my tracks. Not only the “fatal” part, but the appeal to reason pointing out that the outcome would be considered tragic to those left behind. It is rare for anyone (outside the world of advertising) to give urgent heartfelt personal counsel to anybody. In this pensive setting, the warning sign struck a caring philosophical tone, like a bedtime story moral read out loud by the little plush animals at Pooh Corner. It was heartening to marvel at the people who designed that municipal sign, processed the metal work, and set it on the bridge in anticipation that someone would need that very message, standing right on this very spot, and that the sign might help. Because you just never know.

That reverie led to four realizations.

Realization 1 of 4: It’s time to give up popular-culture holidays, or at least to give up the appearance that I can transform them into something fun. Secular society in general (and the world of advertising in particular) lays out the expectation that we should all have the supplies and organizational management and social skills to make these days a time of consumption and entertainment. For too many people that’s a heavy yoke to carry, one that leaves too many behind.

This cavalcade of assumptions gives single people a special task: please make being alone look like a great time, so that the rest of us don’t have to feel uneasy around you. The idea is that if single people are mature self-actualized adults, we should not have time to be lonely; we should be too busy on the El Camino de Santiago, whale watch, Vipassana retreat, and of course lots of volunteering. Well, I’ve worked a whole array of meaningful solo activities over the years (including the natural history museum feeding venomous snakes, but that’s another story.) Yet still, the hardest part of any holiday is the crash of sadness afterwards and when eager people ask “How was your holiday? Do anything fun?” And still my default answer is to burst into tears. Then people usually laugh in bewilderment and walk away, and that’s the end of the conversation and/or the relationship.

Well, it’s time to admit it. I have no idea how to be single, and no idea how to thrive at secular celebrations. Because to me, the essence of celebration is coming home at last to the person or people who I’m allowed to love, and who love me. That’s the holiday I’ve always yearned for, because celebrations outside the context of family don’t make any sense.

However, that said — no matter how one feels about holidays, it is still right and good and essential to support other people who celebrate theirs. (In fact, I just baked cookies and want to bring some to Neighbor Livie. Talk amongst yourselves for a minute.) Okay, I’m back. Livie liked her cookie sample. Anyway, it is important to write out and mail cards to those who like cards, bring them flowers, bake them treats, make snow angels and chalk drawings with the neighborhood kids, visit the nursing home, check in on folks who live alone, and whatever else one can do to lighten this time of year for other people. But it’s high time to put to rest the charade that holidays are in any way about me, or about having fun. My dream of love and family may happen only in heaven. So from now on when people ask the holiday fun question I can just say “Thank you, my holiday will be in heaven.” That ought to work just as well as standing there dumbfounded and tearful. All this led to Realization Two.

Realization 2 of 4: Celebrate real holidays from now on instead. That idea led to Realization Three.

Realization 3 of 4: If the most endearing moment in days came from gazing fondly at a Don’t You Even! placard in the rain, then that’s not good. It was time to get off the bridge and get to church.

This is a small picture of the Panagia Portaitissa icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The original is kept at the Georgian Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos. There is also a battery candle, and a bowl of pink incense tablets scented with rose oil.

Since then I’ve been studying articles in pravmir.ru, all about Orthodox Advent. Their calendar year round is a cornucopia of fasts and feasts and Scripture readings and lessons and prayers and hymns and saints to inspire, with something uplifting and beneficial to commemorate every day.

On Sunday, at the Greek church two buses away, the bookstore ladies gave me a warm joyful welcome. I hope that they forget my last visit two years ago, when they inquired kindly about my Christmas and I broke down and wept while blocking the icon aisle. Among the many works of art, household items, and reading materials there were two excellent new books to buy and take home. The store also had incense, all different scents. I gravitated right over to the rose oil, not to burn but just to keep in the prayer corner. It comes in pink nuggets with the sweetest fragrance.

Realization 4 of 4: Now that flower season is about over for the winter, why not start photographing and even drawing pictures of bridges? Bridges are good transition symbols for leaving one place in life and entering another. Maybe these pictures can be nice enough to cheer up someone else.

Because, you just never know.

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