“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose….”
The Janis Joplin song came on my husband’s satellite radio as we were driving back to
I’d be less than honest if I said that I have no reservations about going to the reunion. I skipped the 30th, after feeling kinda’ like an outsider at the 10th and 20th. My high school, at least at the height of its glory—in the 60s—was full of Golden Boys and Beauty Queens. Beautiful People. It was like practice for Ole Miss, where I went to college my freshman year. So many movers and shakers … I feel like I need to lose 30 pounds and get a book published before going to the reunion! So, the book thing isn’t going to happen. And I’ve been trying to shake this 30 pounds for 20 years. So, if I go back, I go back just like I am. In 3 months and 3 days from today. Several things have helped bolster my courage:
A few months ago I began to reconnect with a few classmates I hadn’t seen or communicated with in, well, 40 years. One of them, who will go unnamed because he would be embarrassed, was someone I was totally intimidated by during high school. I thought he was “too cool” to speak to me, so I would look the other way when I passed him in the halls. Turns out he’s a great guy. We’ve connected a little bit through writing, and I told him how I felt in school and he said, “We were all scared to death back then. It was just a façade… acting cool like that.”
Some folks reading this won’t believe that I felt this way, because I had lots of “honors” in school—I was Secretary of the Student Council and voted a “Favorite” in the Feature Pageant, an officer in the theater guild, business manager of the school newspaper, honors and activities that led to my being inducted into the Hall of Fame. But I was so lonely. Even with a non-stop flow of boyfriends (which I clung to in my insecurity) I never felt like I “fit in.” Thirty-something years
later I would learn some things about myself that explained some of my outsider status—my inability to connect, intimately, with people. But I still struggle to believe it wasn’t because my thighs weren’t skinny. Or my hair wasn’t perfect. Or my—fill in the blank….
So today when I picked up yesterday’s New York Times and read the Sunday Styles section’s article about Susan Boyle, “Yes, Looks Do Matter,” I wasn’t really comforted. The psychiatrists and sociologists and journalists quoted in the article pretty much gave us all a nice big hall pass—an excuse for the judgments we make about people based on their appearance. Even Boyle herself is resigned to it, saying: “There is not much you can do about it; it is the way they think; it is the way they are.”
Okay I get what the NYU psychology professor says about stereotypes being “a necessary mechanism for making sense of information,” but I don’t think we, as fallen human beings, stop at that. I think we go far beyond categorizing. I thinkwe judge. And it causes wounds that can last a lifetime. So how do we break free from those wounds? How do we quit caring what people think of us? Is Susan Boyle immune to it? She’s made a change in her looks since her appearance on
While we were at the beach I read two amazing books. I’m saving one of them to review in June, just before its release. (I got an advance copy.) But I’m dying to talk about how the author also felt this pressure to perform, this hunger for applause, this people-pleasing urge. And how, even at the end, having been through an unbelievable life-changing experience, he still felt that way, to a degree. The experience helped him grow, but he wasn’t a completely different person. He left room for “discovery,” as I discussed in my last post. That’s something I’m working on in my own writing.
So, instead, I’ll talk about the other book I read at the beach, Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. Ron Hall was an upscale art dealer in
This is Denver, with Ron Hall, the art dealer.
It got me to thinking about the slavery I’ve lived in for almost 60 years, and how maybe it’s a slavery of my own making. This caring about what other people think to the point of trying to “achieve” acceptance. But how does one break free of this?
Maybe recognizing the chains is the starting point. And that’s where I am today. Wanting to break free, but realizing that I still believe I have something to lose… which makes me a slave to things I wouldn’t want to lose. Or to things I want but don’t think I can ever have.
Either way, maybe
>“Discovery consists in seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.”—Albert Szent-Gyoryi
When I read that quote in the middle of an article in VIE-people+places by Chris Kent, I knew he had a message for me. Kent is the man responsible for spear-heading the real estate sales here at Seaside since its beginning, in 1981. (Since then Chris has consulted in over 60 communities regionally, nationally, and internationally.) I say “here” at Seaside, because I’m writing this post from Seaside, Florida. Amazing place. It’s a warm April afternoon on the patio at Amavida Coffee. I picked up a copy of VID-people+places yesterday and have been enjoying this article.
Kent wasn’t interested in real estate sales when he met Robert Davis, Seaside’s founder. He had been reading fiction, philosophy, psychology, anthropology… and he found, in Seaside, “a laboratory to test whether people could understand and embrace depth and subtleties presented at a level beyond those found in a typical real estate brokerage office.”
He found all that and more. He found a place that didn’t need “selling” in the traditional sense. Seaside only needed to be discovered, and embraced. As he said, “Our role was shifting from ‘selling’ to acting as guides and interpreters of the physical and cultural elements of place.”
That’s what I’m doing this week, on vacation in next-door Seagrove Beach, and also hanging out here at Seaside as much as possible. Listening to local music while enjoying great food and wine on the patio at Café Rendezvous one night… watching sunsets on the beach other nights… reading some really good books (more on them in another post) … and taking a bit of a break from writing. But still thinking about my work… my essays, and especially my memoir. Thinking about how it needs more discovery.
Discovery is an important element in creative writing, whether fiction or nonfiction. The writer leaves something for the reader to discover… and even for herself—the writer—some room for discovery is essential to keep the story alive… open, not so tightly wound. This is really difficult for me. I like everything wrapped up neatly. Yeah, I’ve never been comfortable with loose ends. But I’m learning. And the beach helps. Several people have asked me what the bumper sticker on my car means: the waves represent the ocean, and sowal means South Walton County, home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
I’m posting from Amavida Coffee in Seaside ‘cause there’s no wi-fi in our condo this time…
But it’s a great excuse to hang out in Seaside… and buy more pearls from Wendy and Jean-Noel Mignot at their shop, La Vie Est Belle , which is right next door to the Café Rendezvous Wine Bar.
and then I was even more impressed when the woman started doing pushups! Well, at least I did an hour walk on the beach every morning. And of course hubby got in his 5-mile run everyday on the bike and jogging path of nearby “highway” 30-A.
Tonight we’re headed to Stinky’s down on Santa Rosa … after enjoying “just one more sunset” in Seagrove…
We’ll be heading home on Monday, and I’ll get back to regular email, blogging and Twittering… but you know it’s been kinda’ nice to be less attached to it for a few days. This may be the most relaxed I’ve been in a while….
>Only 9 more days of National Poetry Month left, and I’ve barely given it a mention this year! It’s not because I haven’t been thinking about it… and reading it… and reading about it quite a bit. But two things happened yesterday to prompt this post:
My first brush with Cairns’ art happened last May, when I discovered his book of paraphrased mystical writings, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life. I blogged about it and excerpted from it here. So, if you’re interested, Cairns is speaking at St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral in Oxford at 5:30 p.m. on May 2, and again on Sunday morning. A bit of info from their announcement:
On Sunday, May 3rd, Mr. Cairns will be featured at the adult forum. He will read briefly from his poems and/or memoir, followed by a Q & A.
Poets & Writers always has some great stuff in it, and this issue did not disappoint. However, since I write prose rather than poetry, I always head for any craft articles about memoir and essay, and also interviews with agents and editors. I won’t spend any time commenting on my reads in this issue, but instead would like to congratulate two friends on their awards which are announced in P&W:
Dinty Moore, with whom I studied at the Creative Nonfiction Conference last year, won the 2008 Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize for his essay collection Between Panic and Desire, which I blogged about here. Congratulations, Dinty!
Kind of like the monks “munching” on God’s word during the day.
Holt quotes Clive James’s book, Cultural Amnesia, where he declares that “the future of the humanities as a common possession depends on the restoration of a simple, single ideal: getting poetry by heart.”
It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within.
>Christ is Risen! Today is Pascha for Orthodox Christians all over the world… including my brothers and sisters here at St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, where the celebration is ongoing with today’s “Agape Vespers,” egg hunt and picnic. But let’s back up to yesterday:
Holy Saturday afternoon brought a heightening festive spirit to the kitchen at St. John where a few of the women in the choir gathered to practice new music and “help” the others who were preparing the Easter Soup. Many thanks especially to Kim and Mindy, my main cooks… but also to Christine, for squeezing all the lemons!
And finally, at 11 p.m., we gathered to begin the Feast of Feasts. It was raining, so we weren’t able to do an outdoor procession this year, but that didn’t dampen our joy. At. All.
Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered!
A sacred Pascha today hath been shown unto us:
a Pascha new and holy,
a Pascha mystical,
a Pascha all venerable,
a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer;
a Pascha immaculate, a great Pascha;
a Pascha of the faithful;
a Pascha that hath opened the gates of Paradise unto us;
a Pascha that doth sanctify all the faithful.
Come from the vision, O ye women, bearers of good tidings, and say ye unto Sion:
receive from us the good tidings of the Resurrection of Christ; adorn thyself, exult, and rejoice, O Jerusalem, for thou hast seen Christ the King come forth from the tomb like a bridegroom in procession.
The myrrh-bearing women in the deep dawn stood before the tomb of the Giver of life; they found an angel sitting upon the stone, and he, speaking to them, said thus: Why seek ye the living among the dead? Why mourn ye the incorruptible amid corruption?
Go, proclaim unto His disciples.
This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad therein!
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Both now and
ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
the tombs bestowing life.
I was missing my children… I think this might be the first year that none of my three grown kids were able to come home for Pascha, so I was especially clingy to my 6-year-old Goddaughter, Sophie, who obliged with lots of hugs and smiles all weekend.
So, I’ll leave you with these images…
Because, even as a writer, I still agree,
>My cup runneth over. So much going on—I could fill several blog posts. The only thing to do is combine several items that each deserve their own post. [Reminder for blog newbies: click on anything that's underlined to link to more information.] I’ll begin with another book review:
The Unbreakable Child by Kim Michele Richardson
“Who wears the face of God?” This question is asked, silently for the most part, about a half dozen times throughout Kim Richardson’s gritty memoir about the abuse she suffered at the hands of the nuns and priests in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Kentucky in the 1960s. First she asks her attorney, William F. McMurry, and later she asks the Catholic Church’s attorneys. She asks Father Lammers, the priest who abused her, her older sisters, and numerous other orphans. With years of pent-up emotion she finally asks God, Himself:
“I’m so disappointed in you, God…. You forgot to tell the world, I was supposed to be a princess, God, a princess!”
Finally she concludes that her attorney, the one helping her, is actually the one who wears the face of God for her, all the while declaring that “only the innocent child could wear the face of God.” Her innocence, and that of the forty-four other children, now adults, who received a monetary settlement from the order of Roman Catholic nuns for decades of abuse, could never be restored, but, as McMurry says in his Afterword, “Kim’s book will empower all of us to look beyond the cloak of secrecy of any institution responsible for the protection of children.”
It’s a scary thing to confront evil when it’s embedded in the church. One of Kim’s sisters, a cancer survivor, backed out of participation in the law suit near the end because of this fear, saying, “Have you ever thought, Kimmi, God will punish us if we punish the Catholic Church and their priest and brides of Christ? Maybe I’ll get the cancer back.”
My own memoir-in-progress contains elements of abuse, so I thought I was ready to read Kim’s story without flinching. I was wrong. I flinched. I wept. I raged. But most importantly, I took some personal steps towards forgiving those who hurt me—and those who allowed it—because of Kim’s amazing journey of forgiveness. I also took a long, hard look at my own dysfunctional ways of dealing with my abuse, compared with Kim’s commitment not to give in to the things that ultimately destroyed one of her sisters, who followed their own mother’s path of drug and alcohol addiction.
I read with admiration as Kim “wavered between guilt and rage” and even felt compassion for the nuns themselves, “the dysfunction of these innocents.” I read with amazement as she told of keeping her silence about the abuse, even from her husband until she began the depositions. “I felt as if I were abandoning God, my soul. I prayed for forgiveness. I wished I could talk to God about it… but my voice screamed silence…. And with age came more silence…”
The Unbreakable Child moves seamlessly between the graphic scenes of a nightmarish childhood and the present depositions and interactions with her attorney, her husband, and her grown siblings. The scenes within the orphanage are written without judgment. She just tells the story, almost as if she were writing fiction, and lets the story reveal the truth—emotional and actual—to the reader. So, from a literary point of view, Unbreakable Child is creative nonfiction done well, a beautiful example of the old adage, “Show, don’t tell.”
Kim’s on her first book tour now. You can read about it and see photos on her blog. Just before her book launch, she took time to speak with me on the phone at length about my own writing, sharing wisdom from her experience dealing with agents, editors, publishers, and lawyers. A generous woman, on top of being creative, brave and …. yes, unbreakable. Kudos, Kimmi!
Next, Holy Week Continues…
Last night was Holy Unction—the service of anointing with holy oil for healing—the Holy Wednesday service in the Orthodox Church. I lit a candle for Kimmi, and thought about her a lot during the service. And when the priests anointed me with the oil of healing, I thanked God for these good men who love and protect their people, unlike the priest who abused Kimmi. One of the three priests anointing us tonight was my husband, Father Basil. That’s him in the picture. My six-year-old Godddaugher, Sophie, slept in my arms for much of the service, but woke in time for the anointing. I explained what was happening, and she said, “So, the holy oil on my hands will help me not to hit? And the holy oil on my mouth will help me not to say bad things?” She gets it. If only the nuns and priest at Kimmi’s orphanage had gotten it.
Today is Holy Thursday. Read my post from last year for info about dying eggs red and be sure and read the comments at the end for important tips from Erin and Anne Marie! This afternoon we’ll celebrate the Last Supper, and Jesus’ act of washing His disciple’s feet.
Then we’ll have a meal together in the fellowship hall. Afterwards we’ll return to the nave for the Twelve Gospel Readings that tell the story of Christ’s crucifixion.
And then comes Holy Friday. I won’t be blogging on Holy Friday this year, but you can watch videos and see photos and read about last year’s services here. There’s Royal Hours. Then the women and children decorate the bier, and in the afternoon there’s the Taking Down from the Cross. And Friday night is maybe my favorite service, the Lamentations.
This is the recipe in St. John Cooks, originally contributed by Urania Alissandratos, with a few alterations* made by Urania’s daughter Julia and me, from our experience making the soup together in 2008. Also, the amounts have been adjusted for making a large pot to serve at the Paschal feast at church, rather than the smaller pot for eating at home. Suggestions for making it in stages before, during and after Pascha Liturgy are also included.
Ingredients for Avgolemono Sauce: 15 eggs Wash and chop onions, parsley, and cilantro. Brown meat until juices are absorbed. Do NOT drain off fat.* Add 1 stick butter. Add all chopped ingredients and cook until tender. Add enough water to make soup. This is a personal choice, as to how thick you want the soup. Cover and simmer one hour. While it’s cooking, prepare the Avgolemono sauce: Squeeze 12 lemons, removing and disposing of seeds. Dissolve 5 tablespoons cornstarch in ½ cup of the lemon juice. In large bowl beat 15 eggs ‘til fluffy. Add the lemon juice and cornstarch mixture and the rest of the juice from the lemons. Put all of this into a large jar with a lid, or a large plastic container with a tightly fitting top and shake together well. Place in refrigerator for use after Paschal Liturgy. Cool soup enough to place the pot in the refrigerator. This first part can be done as early as Holy Thursday, or as late as Holy Saturday afternoon. It is not recommended that lamb soup be cooked on Holy Friday. (It’s traditional not to cook or eat any food on Holy Friday.) When arriving at church for the liturgy on Saturday night, place the soup on the stove on low and stir. Come into the kitchen once or twice during the liturgy to stir and be sure the soup gets hot but doesn’t boil over. Immediately after communion, return to the kitchen and get the Avgolemono sauce out of the refrigerator and shake vigorously once more. Remove lid. Pour sauce into small saucepan. Gradually add broth from soup so that eggs do not curdle. Finally, add blended sauce and broth from saucepan into large soup pot, stirring constantly. (See why it helps to have more than one set of hands!) Last: Add salt and pepper to taste. It’s better to wait and add these last for two reasons: (1) You can’t taste the soup if you’re fasting on Saturday afternoon, and (2) It’s really better to add salt near the end because it loses its flavor when it’s cooked for a long time. For several weeks now I’ve been watching a mother bird build her nest just a few feet from our front door, on top of a brick column on our front porch, lay her eggs, and sit patiently protecting them through the storms of the past few weeks. To keep from scaring them, I’ve been watching them through the front windows, and taking pictures through the transom above the front door.
(depending upon how meaty you want it)
1 large batch parsley
1 large batch cilantro
4 bunches green onions
2 yellow onions
2 T fresh dill
1 stick butter
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 12 lemons
5 T cornstarch
Ingredients for Avgolemono Sauce:
Wash and chop onions, parsley, and cilantro. Brown meat until juices are absorbed. Do NOT drain off fat.* Add 1 stick butter. Add all chopped ingredients and cook until tender. Add enough water to make soup. This is a personal choice, as to how thick you want the soup. Cover and simmer one hour. While it’s cooking, prepare the Avgolemono sauce:
Squeeze 12 lemons, removing and disposing of seeds. Dissolve 5 tablespoons cornstarch in ½ cup of the lemon juice. In large bowl beat 15 eggs ‘til fluffy. Add the lemon juice and cornstarch mixture and the rest of the juice from the lemons. Put all of this into a large jar with a lid, or a large plastic container with a tightly fitting top and shake together well. Place in refrigerator for use after Paschal Liturgy.
Cool soup enough to place the pot in the refrigerator. This first part can be done as early as Holy Thursday, or as late as Holy Saturday afternoon. It is not recommended that lamb soup be cooked on Holy Friday. (It’s traditional not to cook or eat any food on Holy Friday.)
When arriving at church for the liturgy on Saturday night, place the soup on the stove on low and stir. Come into the kitchen once or twice during the liturgy to stir and be sure the soup gets hot but doesn’t boil over. Immediately after communion, return to the kitchen and get the Avgolemono sauce out of the refrigerator and shake vigorously once more. Remove lid. Pour sauce into small saucepan. Gradually add broth from soup so that eggs do not curdle. Finally, add blended sauce and broth from saucepan into large soup pot, stirring constantly. (See why it helps to have more than one set of hands!)
Last: Add salt and pepper to taste. It’s better to wait and add these last for two reasons: (1) You can’t taste the soup if you’re fasting on Saturday afternoon, and (2) It’s really better to add salt near the end because it loses its flavor when it’s cooked for a long time.
For several weeks now I’ve been watching a mother bird build her nest just a few feet from our front door, on top of a brick column on our front porch, lay her eggs, and sit patiently protecting them through the storms of the past few weeks.
To keep from scaring them, I’ve been watching them through the front windows, and taking pictures through the transom above the front door.
>Since my posts earlier this year about finding Order Out of Chaos, I’ve been struggling to balance those 3 goals—write, exercise, organize. In fact, recently I’ve pretty much given up the struggle, and adopted a much less balanced lifestyle: write, write, write. Exercising 3+ times a week has turned into maybe once a week, which has resulted in weight gain and increased arthritis pain, depression, lack of energy, etc. And it seems all I can do to keep the progress I made on organizing from backsliding, when what I really need is to keep going with the projects.
Just today I found Julie Verleger’s “Organized Home” blog, and website, both through Twitter . As I looked through some of her posts, I couldn’t help but wonder, “when does she have time to post and tweet? Does she actually have time to enjoy the order in her own home, her own life? Is she at peace?”
If you keep up with my blog, you know that one third of my goals is actually going well—I’m writing prolifically and continuing to publish essays and not losing hope in querying agents with my book proposal. So… how come I’m not at peace?
Yesterday I found an article in the May issue of Working Mother that spoke to my struggle with balance. It was the cover story, “This is How She Does It,” by Suzanne Riss that caught my attention. Riss was writing about Blair Christie, a 37 year old SVP of a big corporation, who juggles work with a marriage of ten years and mothering two daughters, ages 6 and 3, all while looking gorgeous. I read the entire article, which chronicled Blair’s parents’ divorce, her career path, a high risk pregnancy, her leadership qualities…. Until finally, I got to the last section of the four-page article and read the subtitle, “The Balance Myth.” Here’s an excerpt:
One thing you won’t hear Blair talk about is balance. She prefers to talk about work/life integration. “We have it in cycles,” she says. “Sometimes my home life is very important, and it needs more than fifty percent of my focus. Other times it’s work. It’s about finding the right rhythm.” Blair readily admits that some weeks she never finds the right rhythm, and that’s okay, too. She wishes working parents would be less harsh with themselves.
I think we can expand her words to apply to everyone, not just “working parents.” My kids are grown, and I work at home, on my own schedule, and I can’t seem to find the right rhythm. Or maybe I’ve got it but just don’t recognize it because of feelings of guilt about the areas that are being ignored at the time. Rhythm and balance aren’t really the same thing, are they? Come to think of it, I’ve always had rhythm.
Okay, enough about the whole write, organize, exercise thing. You won’t hear me talk about trying to balance that trio here again. Now I’m going for the rhythm thing. I feel better already! Excuse me, I’ll be right back.
I’m back now. Had to get up and do a little dance. And sing along with this amazing woman, who inspires me to keep plugging away, hoping that one day an agent or publisher will respond the way Simon Cowell did.
Yeah, that felt good, but…. something’s still bothering me. Maybe it’s spiritual. Did you notice that none of those three goals for 2009 was “pray”? But prayer is something ongoing, no matter what other activities are pressing, right? Or at least it should be. One of my favorite theologians is Saint Theophan, the Recluse. In his wonderful book, The Path to Salvation (and his earlier work, The Spiritual Life, which is incorporated into the larger book) Saint Theophan says that man has three levels of life:
spiritual: communion with God, prayer, worship, sacrament, fellowship, “interior work”
intellectual: reading, art, music, philosophy, science, educational pursuits, “mental work”
corporeal: food, housing, clothing, rest, exercise, sex, “physical work”
He says that each level has needs which are natural and peculiar to each person. And while it’s important to satisfy our intellectual and corporeal needs, it’s the balanced satisfaction of them that gives man peace:
Spiritual needs are above all, and when they are satisfied… peace exists; but when the spiritual needs are not satisfied… there is no peace. That is why the satisfaction of them is called “the one thing needful….”
During this Holy Week (for Orthodox Christians, in case you’re new to my blog) I’m trying to refocus my attention more to spiritual things, and as a result, I seem to upsetting the whole apple cart, so to speak. Just take a look at bthe levels of life into which my three goals fit:
Write—intellectual “mental work”
Exercise—corporeal “physical work”
Organize—corporeal “physical work”
All of this, whether kept in balance or not, leaves very little room for “interior work,” during “normal times,” much less during Great Lent and Holy Week, when extra prayers and church services and fasting are called for.
So, what have I learned from all this? I’ll try to sum it up:
Rhythm is as important as—or for some people maybe even more important than—balance when it comes to our intellectual and corporeal lives.
But balance is crucial when you bring in the spiritual life. As Theophan says, “the balanced satisfaction of them gives man peace.” And what kind of peace?
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”—John 14:27
Tonight is the final—and my favorite—of the three Holy Week services of Bridegroom Orthros. It includes the beautifully penitential “Hymn of Kassiane.” I love this part of the hymn:
Corey Mesler who owns Burke’s Books in Memphis, (with his wife, Cheryl) sent me a copy of his first collection of short stories. It’s called LISTEN: twenty-nine short conversations. Corey is a poet, and his gift is apparent in this diverse collection of lyrical prose, erotic email exchanges, gritty conversations between x-lovers, and interactions that dip into forbidden realms between therapist and hypnotized client. He includes exchanges between the ghosts of musicians past and unorthodox interviews with living artists. Corey captures words fresh from the lips of everyday people and stirs them together with his own dark roux for a spicy hot literary gumbo.
My personal favorite is “Adman.” Maybe because I always crack up when products like fruit and vegetables are advertised as being “fat free,” when they never had fat to start with. Mesler’s “Adman” is point on with his caffeine-free toothpaste, and it speaks volumes to the buyer’s perception of truth, and ultimately, to the Adman’s wife’s perception of him. Good stuff.
Also liked “Punk Band.” Made me think of the lyrics to a Brad Paisley (apologies to Corey) song: If you’re living in a world that you don’t understand, find a few good buddies, start a band. I’m sure much of Corey’s genius is lost on my parochial mind—it’s such a stretch for me to travel with him into the darkness of “The Hen Man,” and I felt guilty relishing the artsy gore of “His Last Work.” But I know good writing when I read it, and this is good. It’s like Jill McCorkle said in “Cuss Time,” when an elderly woman approached her after one of her readings and fussed at her for using bad words: “I wanted to say fuck you, and even knowing it would have been completely out of character for me to do so, I like knowing that I could have.” My point is, I won’t ever write like Corey, and I might even blush a little bit while reading his work, but when no one is looking, I might say, “Wow.”
>Palm Sunday weekend is a festive break between Great Lent and Holy Week for Orthodox Christians. Our festivities were heightened and brightened by a visit from our daughter, Beth, and a friend of hers from school. Beth and Xin are both graduate students in architecture at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. When a number of their classmates took a trip to Xin’s home town—Beijing, China—in March, Xin played hostess much of the time. Beth wanted to return the favor, so she brought Xin home and showed her Memphis. This is Xin. We fell in love with her this weekend, and hope she’ll visit again.
On Saturday Beth took Xin to Graceland. It was actually Beth’s first visit. I’ve only been once… in order to take my in-laws when they wanted to go a few years ago. It’s one of those things we often take for granted—our hometown stars. Xin loved everything about it, from the house to the plane to the museums and gift shop.
Each of these Bridegroom Orthros services has a particular theme. On Holy Monday, the Blessed Joseph, the son of Jacob the Patriarch, is commemorated. Joseph is often seen as a Type of Christ. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by them. In the same way, our Lord was rejected, betrayed by His own, and sold into the slavery of death. The Gospel reading for the day is The Barren Fig Tree, which Christ cursed and withered because it bore no fruit. The fig tree is a parable of those who have heard God’s word, but who fail to bear the fruit of obedience. Originally the withering of the fig tree was a testimony against those Jews who rejected God’s word and His Messiah. However, it is also a warning to all people, in all times, of the importance of not only hearing the God’s word, but putting it into action.
So, here we go… six days of fasting and prayer leading up to Holy Pascha. But first, as promised earlier, the crab cake recipe:
Pat Conroy’s Crab Cakes
· 1 pound lump crabmeat
· 1 lemon, divided
· Salt and pepper
· 1 large egg white
· 5 tablespoons butter
· 2 handfuls baby arugula or butter lettuce
· Extra-virgin olive oil (citrus, if available)
· Champagne vinegar, to taste
· 2 tablespoons capers
1. Put crabmeat in a bowl; pick over for shells. Squeeze 1 wedge of lemon over crab; salt and pepper lightly. 2. In a small dish, beat egg white until foamy. Pour over crab and mix in. 3. Using as little flour as possible (1 to 2 tablespoons), form mixture into four crab cakes. 4. Melt 2 to 3 tablespoons butter in a flat, heavy skillet, until sizzling and just beginning to brown. Carefully add crab cakes. Brown on 1 side until crispy; turn carefully and brown the other side, then remove to a platter. 5. While cakes are browning, put arugula (or butter lettuce) in a bowl. Drizzle leaves with extra-virgin olive oil and toss until coated, then sprinkle lightly with champagne vinegar to taste, and toss. 6. To make a sauce, add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to the hot skillet, stirring to dislodge any crab bits still stuck to the skillet. When butter begins to brown, squeeze in juice of 1/2 lemon and turn off the heat. Throw in capers and toss. 7. Divide arugula among 2 plates, top with 2 crab cakes each, pour sauce over all, and serve.
Nutrients per serving (2 cakes) 485 calories, 53g protein, 11g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 27g fat, 205mg cholesterol, 1,897mg sodium
>This past week I got into a bit of a tiff with a friend on Twitter. She was tweeting about how President Obama was saying America is not a Christian nation, and she was really upset about it. While I understood her concern, my tweet-back to her was about how Jesus said His Kingdom is not of this world, that if it was, his servants would be fighting, and therefore our hope is not based on our nation being Christian. Her reply was just as strong as her original statement: “Of course Jesus’ Kingdom is not USA, but any Nation that wants to have God’s blessing must have leadership that recognizes Him.”
I thought long and hard about her words. I thought about Sodom and Gomorrah. And I began to worry that God might abandon us if our nation abandons its Christian roots… if we actually had Christian roots to begin with. Every day I pray for our leaders, for our country, but even as I ask God to bless them, and us, it’s always with a measure of trust that He holds us in a safer place—in His Kingdom.
A few days ago my copy of “The Burning Bush” arrived in the mail. It’s the monastic journal published by the Dormition of the Mother of God Orthodox Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan, where I have been on many pilgrimages over the past fifteen or more years. (There’s no link to the journal yet, but they’re working on it. You can get on their mailing list to have the journal sent electronically here. ) I always read the articles with eagerness, knowing the beautiful souls of the nuns and priest-monk from whom they spring.
All that to set up my comments on Father Roman’s article about Palm Sunday! He opens by saying:
The earth, the moon, the stars, the galaxies, and the entire universe is made by god, and God is the true king. He is the Emperor and He is the Creator…. It is at this time that we proclaim Jesus the King. Until now Jesus spoke only in parables because He did not want to be revealed…. It is at this time that He reveals Himself to us…. The people of Israel were waiting for Jesus to be an earthly leader. But Jesus did not come to be the King of Israel. Jesus is the King, but no the King of this world: “My kingdom is not of this world….” He tells Pilate….
In a book I read in 1946 when I was a student in Bucharest, the author, a Rabbi, talked about Jesus and why the Jews had to kill him. They recognized Jesus as one of the prophets, but they did not like His philosophy. He explained that the Jews were slaves at that time and they needed the young people to become heroes, to be educated, good soldiers and to fight against the Roman Empire. They did not like the preachings of Jesus Who was teaching: “…love your enemies, do good to him who strikes you….” This kind of philosophy was dangerous for our young generation. And if we look at this from a historical point of view and judge only with our logical mind, we probably can say that the man was right; they did not need that kind of philosophy.
I think my Twitter friend is still anxious for Jesus to be “King of Israel,” which is for her, the U.S. But, as Father Roman goes on to say:
Jesus did not come to be King of Israel or Palestine, He was not a revolutionary, a reformer, a philosopher or a superstar…. According to the existing tradition of the Orient, when a King entered a city riding a horse he was coming as a warrior. Jesus, however, entered Jerusalem riding on a colt of a donkey, He came in the name of peace, not of war; He came humbly…
The same people who on Palm Sunday greeted Him shouting: “Hosanna, Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord”are the same people who Friday sit at the foot of the cross and shout: “Crucify Him, crucify Him” (Lk. 23:21). Why did they do that? Because they were frustrated. Jesus frustrated their expectations. He did not want to be their warrior-king.
And I believe He doesn’t want to be the warrior-King for America, either. As Father Roman explains:
It is important for us to understand that we are citizens of the kingdom of Christ. The kingdom of Christ is the Church, and our emperor is Christ. The President of our nation is in the White House, but our Emperor, the true President of our souls, under whose rule we should be, is in heaven. And as He said to us on the day of His Ascension that He will be with us to the end of our lives, He is with us. And we must feel Him in our hearts, not the physical heart, the flesh, but in our soul. We must feel that He rules there.
As Jesus travels to Golgotha this week, follow Him, be together with Him, suffer with Him because He is with us. God is in us…. During this week, Passion Week, we do not commemorate Christ’s passions and crucifixion, we actually live it. He is in us and we are in Him. He is crucified and we are crucified with Him….
As Orthodox Christians we prepare to travel with Him on that donkey into Jerusalem tomorrow morning, and then to join him, in whatever small way we are each able to, on His journey of suffering during Holy Week, which begins for us Sunday night. (My blog post from last year’s Palm Sunday is here. It has photos, reflections on the Feast, and a poem.)
May God, the “true President of our souls,” bless our journey this week.
>I’ve never served on jury duty. The only time I was ever asked to was the exact week that our adopted daughter would be arriving from South Korea, in November of 1986. I panicked when I received the letter from the United States District Court ordering me to appear. Thankfully it only took a quick phone call and a simple explanation of my situation for me to be excused. That was 33 years ago. So when a similar letter arrived in my mailbox earlier this week, I thought, “Okay, I can do this now.” But the letter wasn’t for me. It was for my mother. All her official business mail comes to my address since I became her Durable Power of Attorney three years ago. I opened the form and began to fill out the questionnaire:
4. Do you read, write speak and understand the English language? I bubbled in the “yes” circle, although it’s a stretch to say that Mom “understands” much of anything these days. Where would there be a place to explain her situation? Ahh… there it was:
8. Do you have any physical or mental disability that would interfere with or prevent you from serving as a juror? I bubbled in “yes” and turned the form over to the “Remarks” section and briefly explained that Mom is 81 years old, has Alzheimer’s, is in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair since her Alzheimer’s prevented her full recovery from a broken hip and two surgeries this past fall.
Then under “Grounds for Requesting Excuse” one of three “grounds” was: (2) All persons over 70 years of age. It didn’t say this would be a given, so I wondered if someone was still alert, but over 70, would be excused. At any rate, I filled out both pages of the questionnaire and dropped it on the mail yesterday.
The same day my copy of preserving your Memory: The Magazine of Health and Hope arrived in my mailbox. It’s published by the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. I’ve shared a couple of copies with friends because I find it helpful—short, pertinent, and easy to read. There’s an article about a new book by Leeza Gibbons called Take Your Oxygen First that’s coming out in May, specifically for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Since my maternal grandmother also suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, as did Leeza’s, I’m interested in learning all I can.
All this was on my heart as I drove down to Jackson, Mississippi today for a “pre-Easter” visit with my Mom at her nursing home. (I wrote about last year’s Easter visit here.) Click on the video of Effie’s Bunny Hopper for a laugh. Although I took Mom a basket of Easter candy, she still enjoys watching the Bunny Hopper, a year later.
A young mother with two little girls came by, giving out Easter candy to the residents. Mom was confused, thinking that she should give some of her candy to the girls instead. I guess it is a reversal of roles that one never quite gets used to. Mom was the ultimate holiday person—making a huge deal out of every celebration.
But when we sat quietly for a while, and I managed not to rush to fill the silences, she would stare off into the sky and there’s no telling where she went, as she would say things like, “the numbers are sometimes up, up, up” and her hand would point up, “and then sometimes they are down, down, down.” Later I wondered if she’d been watching the news about the economy, because she added, “I heard something about where we need to put our money. Do I need to be doing something about that?”
“No, Mom. I’m taking care of all that for you.”
“Oh, thank you, dear. You’re such a good daughter.” She was more subdued than usual. The nurses had told me they had increased some of her meds since my last visit because she had become agitated a good bit.
An hour or so went by with only pleasantries being exchanged. She would ask about family members, whose names she doesn’t remember, but her face lit up when I told her (again) that she was going to be a great-grandmother this summer. And that her granddaughter, Beth, was going to travel to Europe this summer. At one point an aide that helps Mom with personal hygiene joined us. She told me how Mom cared about how her slacks and blouses matched and sometimes needed ironing. She talked about how pretty Mom’s hair and skin are, and how Mom had been enjoying wearing a little makeup recently. (I didn’t comment that it was overdone—I think Mom’s roommate gave her some foundation which is two shades too dark!) Anyway, the aid was real attentive, and after a while she asked me, “Has your mom always been so sweet? I mean, was she sweet to you when you were growing up?” This struck me as an odd thing to ask, personal, invasive. But I wondered if she understood that often Alzheimer’s changes people’s personalities….sometimes even for the better. When Mom wasn’t looking, I shook my head, “no.” The aide gave an understanding nod and smiled gently.
A few minutes later the “old mom” peeked back out briefly. A young woman who was considerably overweight walked through the courtyard. Mom looked at her, then at me, and puffed her cheeks out with air in immitation of the woman and said, “They shouldn’t let the big ones in here—they ruin the beauty of it.”
Sigh. So much of my life I felt that that’s exactly what I did—ruin the beauty of her world by being overweight. Her barbs about my weight left permanent wounds, leading to eating disorders, depression, and other issues. But today I tried not to let her words sting. They weren’t directed at me, but at the generic world of imperfect bodies that have always bothered her.
Driving home to Memphis, I thought about a book I just read. A short memoir by Ruth Reichl called Not Becoming My Mother. I received the book in the mail from the marketing department at Penguin Press—it’s actually an advance proof they were giving away on Twitter. Only 112 pages, so I read it in one sitting, and it was refreshing seeing the way another daughter dealt with her mother’s issues—in this case late diagnosed bipolar disease, but also repression by an era and a generation that held women back from their potential. Her mother told her that “once you find out who you are, you will find your beauty. You have to grow into your face.” Ruth’s mother had been told, as a teenager, that she was ugly, and Ruth felt the same way about herself during her own adolescence. She was determined not to pass this on to her own daughter, and her mother’s gift to her was to free her not to become her mother.
I’ve spent most of my life trying not to become my mother. But today, I’m also embracing my own mother where she is, forgiving the past and trying to be thankful for the present. It’s a lot to hold onto all at once… without losing myself in the process.