Anne Notations

Monday, December 21, 2009

Solstice blessings 12/21/09

1. All three of our children under one roof – ours – for a week.

2. Feeling alive again today after being exhausted and possibly virus-ridden all weekend.

3. Followup to number 2: Having a husband at home, and children old enough, that I was able to sleep for 15 solid hours beginning Saturday at 4:30 pm.

4. The probability, after the weekend's 15" of snow, of a white Christmas this year.

5. In spite of the violent and grotesque behavior by nations and individuals that makes news every day, the certainty that most people in most circumstances – rich or poor, religious or atheist, young or old – instinctively react with compassion and selflessness when another is in need or in pain.

I just read this on RI Craigslist today:

My faith in people was renewed yesterday, big time. My daughter got stuck in her car on Read Ave. yesterday afternoon. She called me and i said i'd get dressed and come and help. By the time i got there,3 gentlemen were digging her out and helping. 10 minutes later,Melissa was on her way. I thanked the 3 gentlemen and followed my daughter to make sure she was ok. I went back to Read Ave to thank the guys again and offer to buy them lunch and they wouldn't even accept the 20.00 i offered. 3 great guys that i can't thank enough! Thank you,thank you!! Melissa's dad

Don't ask why I read Craigslist; I just do, OK? There is a lot of ugliness on the discussion boards there, but also points of light. I paw through the muck and treasure the gems. Left to their own devices (and sociopaths excepted), I really do believe that people are good at heart. A kind word, a helpful deed... these are our gifts to give and receive.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The meaning (to me) of Christmas

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him. …
– Francis Thompson

Linus pretty much nailed it in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" when he cut short the round-headed one's Yuletide dithering and took center stage. "Lights, please." Then he recited the gospel of Luke, chapter 2, with its startling observation: "The glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid." Sore afraid. I love the King James Bible's phrasing. Not "terrified" or "scared." Afraid to the point of pain.

What, you may ask, does fear have to do with the joyous festival of Jesus's birth? Maybe this: A door opened upon searing light – the “glorious impossible” we had never thought to see.

Annie Dillard made this point spectacularly in an essay, "God in the Doorway," that can be found in her brilliant little collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982). I can't bear merely to quote from it; you have to read this piece straight through.

This is my Christmas gift to you. May Annie and her publisher forgive me.


God in the Doorway
By Annie Dillard

One cold Christmas Eve I was up unnaturally late because we had all gone out to dinner – my parents, my baby sister, and I. We had come home to a warm living room, and Christmas Eve. Our stockings drooped from the mantel; beside them, a special table bore a bottle of ginger ale and a plate of cookies.

I had taken off my fancy winter coat and was standing on the heat register to bake my shoe soles and warm my bare legs. There was a commotion at the front door; it opened, and cold wind blew around my dress.

Everyone was calling me. "Look who's here! Look who's here!" I looked. It was Santa Claus. Whom I never – ever – wanted to meet. Santa Claus was looming in the doorway and looking around for me. My mother's voice was thrilled: "Look who's here!" I ran upstairs.

Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus, thinking he was God. I was still thoughtless and brute, reactive. I knew right from wrong, but had barely tested the possibility of shaping my own behavior, and then only from fear, and not yet from love. Santa Claus was an old man whom you never saw, but who nevertheless saw you; he knew when you'd been bad or good. He knew when you'd been bad or good! And I had been bad.

My mother called and called, enthusiastic, pleading; I wouldn't come down. My father encouraged me; my sister howled. I wouldn't come down, but I could bend over the stairwell and see: Santa Claus stood in the doorway with night over his shoulder, letting in all the cold air of the sky; Santa Claus stood in the doorway monstrous and bright, powerless, ringing a loud bell and repeating Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas. I never came down. I don't know who ate the cookies.

For so many years now I have known that this Santa Claus was actually a rigged-up Miss White, who lived across the street, that I confuse the dramatis personae in my mind, making of Santa Claus, God, and Miss White an awesome, vulnerable trinity. This is really a story about Miss White.

Miss White was old; she lived alone in the big house across the street. She liked having me around; she plied me with cookies, taught me things about the world, and tried to interest me in finger painting, in which she herself took great pleasure. She would set up easels in her kitchen, tack enormous slick soaking papers to their frames, and paint undulating undersea scenes: horizontal smears of color sparked by occasional vertical streaks which were understood to be fixed kelp. I liked her. She meant no harm on earth, and yet half a year after her failed visit as Santa Claus, I ran from her again.

The day, a day of the following summer, Miss White and I knelt in her yard while she showed me a magnifying glass. It was a large, strong hand lens. She lifted my hand and, holding it very still, focused a dab of sunshine on my palm. The glowing crescent wobbled, spread, and finally contracted to a point. It burned; I was burned; I ripped my hand away and ran home crying. Miss White called after me, sorry, explaining, but I didn't look back.

Even now I wonder: if I meet God, will he take and hold my bare hand in his, and focus his eye on my palm, and kindle that spot and let me burn?

But no. It is I who misunderstood everything and let everybody down. Miss White, God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Time, tide, and Advent

The seasonal mash-up in the photo above pretty much sums up this November and early December. We've got summer roses blooming merrily next to Christmas wreaths and twinkly porch lights.

Here's a longer view. Note the autumn chrysanthemums on the steps. Potted geraniums nod their magenta blossoms above a smaller pot of yellow marigolds. Remnants of last night's snowfall dot the grass.

What's going on? Weird weather, that's what. It has been comfortably, if eerily, warm up until last night, with daytime temperature in the 60s, close to 70 a few times. Some of the seeds from last spring's early pansies have sprouted new little plants in the front border garden, one of which winks its shy golden face at me from its berth next to thriving blue-flowering ground cover.

Tonight it's headed into the 20s, so I suppose all balmy weather must come to an end here on the New England coast. When I walked Daisy before church this morning, I had to wear my warm parka, a hat, and a polarfleece scarf. Brrrr!

More perplexing to me than the freakish weather is the speed of time this fall. I just can't get my head around it. Surely a physicist can explain why time seems to bunch and gather and sprint, rocketing us ahead at unnerving speed; and other times (rarely), it expands, crawls, and begets a lazy long day or two. The former condition has prevailed since early fall. Last week I began to date a check "Sept. –" and had to cross it out and start over. Three months out of synch! I wait for my birthday to arrive – but guess what: It was the middle of last month, and I'm fully 58. Thanksgiving? Oh yeah; did that and have the photos to prove it.

Michael and his brothers and nephews toast my late father-in-law, Dan, with his favorite Beck's before Thanksgiving dinner.

We get a little silly while posing for the annual Christmas-card photo!

Dessert straight from Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, NJ, home of TV's "The Cake Boss," courtesy of Michael's brother John.

More time confusion: I find myself informing Melinda on the phone that "Baby" is coming over on Friday. Listen up, Nana: That's no baby – our granddaughter turned four years old last week. Help! Does this mean I finally have to jettison the baby books and toys I've shlepped all these years and that Caroline has now outgrown?

Cousin Jake Lowenstein helps Caroline with her birthday presents.

At any rate, we went over to Leslie and Jon's house for the now-traditional birthday party for our little sweetheart last weekend. Her cousins on Jon's side were adorable and helped her open and play with her new things.

Digging into Mommy's yummy homemade birthday cake.

At Nana and Poppop's house: Big girl Caroline has a friendly visit with Blueberry.

Kevin is applying to colleges, at least nine of them (egads), all with robust majors or programs in journalism and communication. His writing score on the SAT essay was 730, and I rejoice that he shares my gift; I've always been able to make a living with words, and I also derive great joy from reading them and arranging them into articles and posts.

My 17 year old and I are the only people here from Sunday through Friday, with Michael living in Connecticut, Melinda at Syracuse, and Andrés in Ohio. Kevin and I generally get along great; we're alike in many ways (some not so helpful, such as a tendency to oversleep). He seems perfectly happy to attend Brown hockey games with his mother; we've been the most ardent fans together all these years. He also is a lector with me at Mass at least once a month, a service he began in fifth grade, to my utter shock as he was a shy kid then, and has grown into admirably, reading with good cadence and respectful expression from (usually) the Epistles for the second reading. I almost feel as if the balance is tipping from Kevin as Cynical/Flippant Teen to Kevin as Thoughtful Adult. Thank God, truly. I love my boy so very much. There were times these past five years when I couldn't imagine how he'd pull his life together. Now I'm beginning to believe. …

Next September – I can scarcely think these words, much less write them – I'll be alone here during the week save for my pal Daisy-dog and the two parakeets, while Kevin presumably is off at college. After all these years, I will be living on my own for the first time. I'm intrigued and a bit shivery in both good and apprehensive ways. I'll have more of the time for me that I've wanted, to stop after work at Planet Fitness and get some semblance of exercise regularly, to have dinner with a friend now and then, to have a salad for supper and no piles of dishes waiting in the sink. I fear loneliness yet crave a little bit of non-mommy life. Missing Michael all week is hard, but for better or worse I'm getting used to it. Maybe this on/off togetherness is healthy in some way I didn't anticipate. We are close and happy together when he's home, which makes me glad.

Interesting times. And a holy time: Being at Mass today, with the Advent candles by the altar and Father wearing his purple chasuble and the readings so joyous and anticipatory reminded me of how much I love the season. Our new choir director has a gorgeous tenor voice, and when he sang the solo part to "Panis Angelicus" today with the choir and organ, tears welled in my eyes at the beauty and mystery of our faith.

For photos of our autumn skies this past week, please visit my Sunset blog.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Prayer for this morning

Wednesday, 6:55 a.m., walking the dog.

Oh world, I am grateful for this morning.

This morning
The air was windless, clear, crisp, with a tang of far-off rain.

This morning
I walked west into moonset.
The moon was round, flat, pale: a watery block print on lavender.
The moon set over the cove where a hundred geese rode at anchor.
The moon paused atop gray trees that worshipped it with grasping hands.
The moon set.

This morning
The brants warbled as they floated out toward the bay –
an armada of black, white, and gray.

This morning
I watched the moon set. Good-bye, moon.
I turned and watched the sun rise. Good day, sun.

This morning
Beauty rang like a clear sweet bell in my ears.
In my soul.

Thank you for this morning.