Anne Notations

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter sans sacraments

Easter Day: Nature waves her spring flag of white, blue, and chartreuse.

For the first time in at least 20 years, I had an entirely secular Easter weekend and Holy Week. In 1991, we brought our newly adopted children to Holy Name Church on the East Side of Providence for the early Easter Mass. We weren't officially Catholics yet. The following year we went to Beneficent Congregational in downtown Providence. That fall we made the big decision, had the children baptized Catholic in Brown's chapel by our friend Fr. Howard O'Shea, and became regular churchgoers at St. Sebastian's, the Providence parish we still consider home.

Holy Week was something I anticipated with longing and dread: longing for the ancient rituals and the Passion; dread of the wild sorrow I felt after we said the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" – Jesus's agonized cry from the cross echoed down the centuries and hurt my heart.

This year I have forsaken it all. I don't know why. I missed the build-up from Palm Sunday to Holy Thursday, the inexorable march of the narrative to betrayal and torture, the stricken silence of Friday and Saturday followed by the Easter vigil and its jubilant conclusion. Our former pastor Father Randall had us all shout with joy: "We are Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song!" Amen!

We live a half-hour's drive from St. Sebastian's now, so I rarely make it there anymore. Yet I don't want to attend another church. Our local Catholic church here in Oakland Beach is rich with community spirit, but the choir, alas, makes my teeth hurt and my head ache. Music is a big deal for me and I am too dismayed by the earnest volunteer singers to tough it out. The spirit (mine) is willing, but the flesh is shamefully elitist.

Other changes have undercut my motto that one must practice a faith to "get" it. My husband, disgusted by pedophile clergy and the complicity of the Catholic hierarchy, has left the faith entirely – ironic, since his call back to the Church was what put us all in Catholic pews 20 years ago. The kids, like most college students and 20-somethings, are either agnostic or lazy when it comes to faith these days, a phase I understand well. The Church makes it hard, sometimes, for me to be loyal; Bishop, please, run the Diocese as you wish but keep your church laws out of the State House.

I'm apparently still angry about the changes I neither wished for nor could influence over the past year, and that is poisoning my spiritual inclination, feeding my inner cynic and skeptic.

So: No church this Holy Week, not even today, Easter itself. I miss it in the abstract way I miss young love: wistful for those feelings while accepting that I may never experience them again. In my mind I hear a Biblical exhortation: Pray without ceasing.

On the secular side, this weekend we had fun with eggs and chocolates. Caroline came over Saturday morning for the annual egg-dyeing fun. She loved doing two-tone eggs after Kevin showed her how. We read some children's Easter books about bunnies, ducks, and chicks. Michael presented Caroline with a sweet, tiny Easter cake in the shape of an egg.

Today, Easter Sunday, for the second week in a row Michael and I headed out just before noon with our cameras and took photographs along the shore here. This is when I experienced my own personal "Easter," sharing an activity we enjoy with my husband. Saturdays tend to be rushed as he tries to catch up on local errands and household finances. But these photographic rambles are relaxed, un-fraught with money tensions, a reminder that we can still have fun with one another. We bring Yogi with us; he is such a good dog on the walks, sticking close by us, helping explore the shallows as the waves lap the shores, getting down next to Michael's lens to see what's going on.

A promise of spring greenery erupts on a brisk day.

For now, good night from spiritual limbo.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Move on. Rebuild.

This sign grabbed my attention on Warwick Avenue last month.
What does it mean? Nothing? Everything?

A little over a year ago I learned that my job of 29 years was being eliminated, an event I had anticipated with dread for the entire preceding year.

Nothing personal! Budget reasons!

When your life has been as interwoven with an institution – in my case, my much loved alma mater – for as long as mine was, being cut off like an unsightly carbuncle feels very personal indeed. I was angry and bereft. I tried to be classy – and succeeded some of the time. Privately I was pretty much a mess. In addition to significant financial losses, including a college tuition benefit for our youngest two children and an employer-subsidized pension fund, I lost my career. Melodramatic? Nope; in 2010-11, it's cold reality. Very few employers are interested in a 59-year-old director-level job candidate, especially in my fast-changing field of communications and journalism. I'm now on my second temporary contract job, sans benefits as most such jobs are these days, grateful for the work and dogged by the knowledge that next fall I'll be job-hunting again, this time at age 60.

Perhaps I'm over-sensitive (who, me?), but I have found my mind gnawing on the bitter bone of rejection way more often than I'd expected, and for far longer. My moods have swung wildly, particularly since Kevin left for college in late August. With Michael still working and living out of state, I became an empty-nester – all by myself. It is not how I would choose to live.

Let's be blunt: I have had a year of painful losses, not least the loss of my self-esteem. Regardless of one's career achievements and honors, being laid off sows seeds of deep doubt: I must be a real loser or they would have found a place for me. I was too this (outspoken, wry, ADD-addled?), not enough that (humble, serious, focused?).

I know I'm lucky compared with so many in this dire economy. Yet I need to be clear about my challenges and, yes, my constitutional limitations. Another person who doesn't also battle chronic depression (13 years now), anxiety/panic disorder (since my mid 20s), and hypothyroidism might have bounced back faster than I.

An old, washed-up float. Formerly afloat.

But listen: I am what I am, and what I am is often exhausted simply trying to stay positive and calm. You can call it weakness, or you can nonjudgmentally call it my lot in life and spare the moralizing. Some days the best I can do is to climb out of the emotional cellar and remind myself I have no choice but to persevere in the face of fatigue, self-doubt, and loneliness. On other blessedly rare occasions the best I can do is to sleep, read, and/or cry for a day. Pathetic? Your call. I need to forgive myself in order to move on.

Giant step forward: A clean, neat, and functional
home office for my freelance career.

Moving on. Spring is a good time for it. All this extra sunlight – when we're not being drenched by mini monsoons – helps my mood a lot. Fussing with the yard and gardens, fixing up my new bike with a dog-walking attachment for Yogi, cleaning the house siding and front porch, finally decluttering my home office and making it freelance-ready while hauling unneeded stuff regularly to the Salvation Army and the library book-sale bin – these are healing pursuits. The swelling buds on our three-year-old lilac bush? Thrilling. The tender beginning or strengthening of friendships away from the easy hothouse of the workplace? Precious. Unexpected succor? Grace.

My online rabbi friend who writes a thought-provoking, often moving blog, published a little book of his original haiku recently. He sent me one as a gift, with a kind inscription that mentions my own writing – praise that gladdens my heart.

Here are two of Neil's haiku that spoke to me this morning. Thank you, Neil.

G-d above made love
filled with little pieces of
big human frailty

We are born temples
We mourn our own destruction
We live to rebuild

Saturday, April 16, 2011


April weather report: Windy and unsettled.

This winter and early spring have brought high winds and high seas to our peninsula, driving the geese farther up Brushneck Cove at times and the bay's detritus up onto our narrow strands. The dogs and I walk the shore three times a day regardless of the weather, so we see these salty offerings in abundance.

A beached jellyfish the size of a luncheon plate lies next to a large, gutted Canada goose carcass. Crab legs jettisoned by seagulls as they gobble the creatures' living meat in midair festoon the high-water line of drying seaweed (and, at least once, appear eerily on our front walkway). I have successfully taught the dogs the commands "Leave it!" and "OUT [drop it]" with the help of their e-collars, and thankfully both have abandoned their offal-eating ways when we're out walking. Goose poop is the latest "treat" they've learned to eschew. Whew!

Last week after winds and waves churned the cove's waters and dumped an unusual bounty of shells, glass shards, and fish skeletons on the sand bar, I saw a glint of glass at my feet and pulled from the wet sand an old half-pint milk or cream bottle. It's from the Norman I. Turner dairy, formerly of Pawtucket, and on its reverse it bears the imprint . A friend who collects old bottles says it dates at least to the 1940s. The thick glass is unchipped or -cracked, marred only by minor scuffing from grazing the Bay's sandy bottom for decades. I scoured it and will keep it as a small flower vase – my unexpected gift from the sea and from the past.

Our most spectacular post-storm discovery was an enormous green channel marker that came to rest on Oakland Beach near Iggy's. The dogs approached, barking, then examined it up close. At home, I notified the Coast Guard via web form, and within hours I received a phone call from a nice young man who thanked me and promised to send a truck for the buoy so it could be reinstalled in the bay.

Two evenings ago, in light rain and fog, I spotted a figure standing near the old retaining wall at the tip of our southwestern point. We got closer and I could see it was a young woman, perhaps 17 or 18, wearing a down vest but no rain gear or head covering, staring at the sand. A backpack lay near her feet.

The dogs and I returned from our walk to find her still standing in the same manner. My motherly instinct told me this girl was troubled. I called out, "Are you OK?" She glanced over and said, "Yes, I'm fine." I didn't believe her, but I could see she wanted to be alone. What sorrow had washed her up on our beach and left her there, soaked and solitary?

It is hard to know when to be persistent in offering help. I decided if the girl were still there in an hour, I would walk back out and offer to listen or to bring her somewhere warm. But by then she was gone. Peace be with her.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Pity party

I have no right to pity myself on these silent Sunday nights – these nights alone when Michael has returned to Nashua and the kids are away at college. Others – friends, relatives, bloggers, strangers – have lost so much more. I have a house! A (part-time) spouse! I have work! I have, so far, health! I have blue water views and grand cloud pageants in the sky above!

Yet I feel sorry for me.

I have no right to indulge in lassitude, to drift from computer to kitchen to couch like a zombie. Time is precious, yet it rushes through my heedless fingers like water before a drought. I should care. I should get off my ass and seize the day, make hay while the sun shines, turn lemons into lemonade, etcetera.

Yet I'm inert.

I should count my blessings. And, really, I do. Honestly, I am grateful.

Yet on these Sunday nights when I'm alone, facing another week (or two) of being alone, inexperienced in the condition of being alone, I can't pretend to be anything other than lonely.