Sunday, December 25, 2011

All my heart

There are ornaments and bric a brac to commemorate "Baby's First Christmas" or a "Just Married" Christmas and other such happy occasions. But I suspect it is the sad Christmases we remember best, the Christmas celebrations that come in hard times or when times are changing.

Tonight was one such Christmas, as the news slipped through the people gathered at church that someone, elderly and well-loved, had suffered a massive stroke and was not expected to live. It came to me between the two children's services that are the focus of my energy for much of November and December. And in the second service, the same words I had heard only 90 minutes earlier became more pungent, more clear, more true as I thought about this woman's life and her husband's loss.

Our lives on earth end, though God made us for eternity. This God incarnate we sing of tonight, this infant, died too, but leads us through death to life eternal. This God knows and understands our suffering, our grief, our loss.

Generation after generation sings of this, tells of this at Christmastime, and despite death, despite sadness, rejoices.

All my heart this night rejoices,
As I hear, far and near, sweetest angel voices;
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing,
Till the air, everywhere, now their joy is ringing.

Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
Soft and sweet, doth entreat, “Flee from woe and danger;
Brethren, come; from all that grieves you
You are freed; all you need I will surely give you.”

Come, then, let us hasten yonder;
Here let all, great and small, kneel in awe and wonder,
Love Him Who with love is yearning;
Hail the star that from far bright with hope is burning.
(Paul Gerhardt, 1656)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To whom we belong

Today was my father's birthday. He died 28 years ago, which is almost half my lifetime ago. He died when he was my age. Yet I still have a vivid picture of him in my mind, one brought to life today by much Bach and Handel. I stood in front of my children's choir, listening to the introduction to "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion." I marked the beat and bounced slightly on my left foot and knew at once it was my father in me, it was what he would have done, the way he would have done it. Amazing. Last week this same choir sang this same piece at for a chapel service at the college next door. One of the students who was there told her friend, who is my son's girlfriend, that someone who looked an awful lot like Kris conducted the choir--his mother? Amazing what we carry with us, what we pass on. Amazing how we can recognize these marks of who we are and to whom we belong.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Sunday in Advent

A pre-dawn trip to the airport on the First Sunday in Advent. It is the end of Thanksgiving weekend, the busiest of airport days, and the college student is returning to school for three more weeks before another plane trip home for the long Christmas break.

We leave the house hurried, purposeful, drive south on Austin through Oak Park, Chicago, Cicero, small-ish houses lining the patched street. The lights and glare of the Stickney sewage plant rise in the distance. We jog east to Cicero Ave. to get to Midway and the sewage gas smell seeps into the car. The departure lane is crowded at the airport, with mostly young people piling out of cars, heading back to their youthful worlds after a few days back in the nest, lazing on the parental sofa. A hug, "love you," and he's gone.

I change the radio station to WFMT as I drive back home via Cicero Avenue, the great north-south artery of the city of Chicago. It's the church musician's hour on the classical station, "With Heart and Voice," a program of organ and choral music appropriate for the church year. I'm listening to choirs sing Advent hymns, "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending," and other biblical Judgment Day imagery as I drive in the rain through the unnatural light of expressway interchanges and big box store parking lots, the darker pavements passing racetrack motels and old factory neighborhoods.

What kind of Advent imagery would one come up with for this setting? A large Christus Victor looming over Cicero Avenue seems kitschy or almost cultish. What is it we look for in a reign of Christ, in God's kingdom, in a second coming in our age of steel-reinforced concrete and dawn drowned out by street lights? What signs?

Back home I sit down in the big chair near the living room bay window. The pink dawn is creeping into the sky over the houses across the street. I'm curious--will the electric candles I put in the windows last night actually shut off when daylight comes? The boxes claimed the sensors would turn them off, but at $2.99 apiece (and half off after Christmas), I'm not expecting much. It is shaping up to be a grey day, and the feeble lightbulbs on these candles may stay on all day. Does a prudent virgin unplug them, not waste the electricity, or do I let them burn from now until Christmas?

I decide that they will stay on, and in that instant, silently, the bulbs turn off.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


It is raining the steady watery drip of not-quite-winter. It is not such a hard rain that it will rain itself out and end before the sun goes down. But it is more than a drizzle. I thought twice about taking the garbage out to the alley and decided last night's pizza box could wait by the back door until the raindrops stopped.

It is very late in November, meaning the Thanksgiving trappings are disorganizing, ready to be returned to the basement closet and the upper cupboards until next year. The best of the leftovers are eaten, but there is soup to be made. Other households are putting up Christmas lights--or did so yesterday, before the rain. But here, where German family tradition and church liturgical practice enforce Advent waiting, the dining room table is naked. The Thanksgiving cloth has been washed, folded and put away. The Christmas cloth is in the bottom of the drawer, needing ironing. It seems wrong to spread so much red cheer, right there in the middle of the house where food is served and the family gathers for Christmas Eve dinner. So it stays in the drawer and the table gathers stuff.

I went out shopping this morning. I am not unaffected by the economic pull of Christmas, the potential for bargains, the desire to celebrate connections with gifts that bring warmth or delight or new experiences. I set out with a few clear and practical goals and hope that delightful surprises waited out there. I came home with nothing, confused about sizes and what to buy. I resolved to do my shopping online, where I can walk away from the screen (well, not as easily as I'd like), where I do not have to face the piles of worthless stuff in the store aisles.

The lessons for tomorrow, the first Sunday in Advent, have Christ returning through heavens rent wide, stars falling, the Son of Man coming in clouds, gathering the elect from the four winds (Mark 13:24-37). I suppose today is just quiet enough, just miserable and gray enough to welcome that kind of excitement, that kind of clarity. Take that, you miserable department stores! Take that, you online retailers and the junk mailbox! Short circuit, you droning television set, chronicling petty materialism and false conflict between families!

Christ will come again--that's what we say in Advent, what we affirm in the eucharistic liturgy. But at the moment, the kingdom, like the red tablecloth, is in the bottom of the drawer.

Yet here am I, thinking that, as the song says, "we need a little Christmas," even if it's a long way from the sacred (and too-busy) night of December 24. Something should begin to make things new, or make them look new, or at least stop the rain. There's the knitting work I did yesterday--Christmas presents on the needles, yarn untangled and ready for casting on. Today--candles, lights, something to sound out the expectation of glory to God and peace on earth.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Eve

Over the weekend, in a keep-on-knitting couch-potato stupor, I watched a hostess-y program on Channel 20, (the lesser of the two Chicago-area PBS stations). This woman and her husband were rehabbing a giant early 1900s vacation house in the mountains and were planning to host Thanksgiving dinner there for their children and grandchildren. It had the usual rehabbing quandaries of matching moldings and heating the place mixed with recipes and table decorations. This skinny older woman walked through everything in her granny-jeans and J. Jill t-shirts. choosing lighting, then chopping and mixing and pouring stuff into an oven dish while ad-libbing about how all these good flavors were making memories.

She irritated me. Partly it was the pitch and flatness of her voice. (You want to be my friend, cultivate some resonance in your speaking voice.) But more than that, I was shaking my head at how she reduced family and memories and Thanksgiving to just the veneer of the whole thing--the food on the table, the "sense of bounty" evoked by tucking oranges and lemons and butternut squash into the greenery winding down the middle of her dining table. And how pumpkin swirl cheesecake would--I dunno--make everyone feel fulfilled, rather than just plain full.

I've been hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house for fifteen years. It is a day full of memories. Some of them are even memories of flavors--like the gravy from a couple years ago that had a cup or so of red wine in it. I think it was merlot. I'm having a glass right now--opened the bottle tonight so it will be ready when I need it tomorrow. The chardonnay last year did not produce the same results.

My Thanksgiving memories are mostly made of people, the continuing characters of family in my life, and of eras, what we've all lived through together. There were years when the kids were excited to help me set the table. (Alas, no more.) There were crazy years with Lon, and before that, not-so-crazy years. There were the years when Eliza and Kurt were small and I did as much cooking as possible already on Wednesday, because I just never knew what was going to happen at the last minute. Now my children and the nieces and nephews are grown up, or something close to that, and we listen carefully to what they have to say over dinner, eager to know that they are people of good judgment, happy, thoughtful, and useful in the world.

Of course, you couldn't put all that shared history in a one-hour television program, not even on PBS. And you can't create your own version of a life to be thankful for based on directions from someone else. You've got to live your life in order to be grateful for it. You've got to trust God and the people walking alongside you. Trust the wine to flavor the gravy, one way or the other.

There's a turkey basket sitting in the middle of my dining room table, a close cousin to the stupid chicken collection on my kitchen windowsill. It's empty--I should fill it with something, but I don't know what. It's a goofy thing, but I enjoy it, just like the little "jug of pilgrim air" sitting uncorked on the sideboard--something that came from my grandmother's house.

I would rather have these familiar things than a table fit for photography.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Option C

As predicted by me (for I know myself well), my extra time on my writing project is going toward option C:

C) Use the extra time to obsess more about doing your best work and meeting all the expectations you attribute to others but that are really your own.

To be honest, I'm not obsessing about doing my own best work so much as I'm obsessing about writing something really good, which at the moment would seem to demand that I write something better than my own work, because what I thought sounded pretty good at 8:15 this morning now sounds like I took a quick (and happy) trip to an easy finish, with much quoting and paraphrasing of material I'd already paraphrased elsewhere.

An hour later . . .

Fixed it. Made the whole thing much more complicated. Another C) option. More and better blogging when this project is finished, which it has to be by Friday!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Share something on Sunday

Rabbi David Wolpe in Slate

"[A lot] of the good that religion does in the world goes unreported—not because people are prejudiced against religion, but that’s just the nature of reporting the news. You don't say, “Once again today, a religious aid worker saved someone's life.” That just doesn't make the paper. Religion is more complex and does much more good than people assume. Every single study in America shows that people who are part of religious communities participate in civic life more, give more money not only to religious charities but to secular charities, are more likely to help someone who's homeless, and more likely to help someone who's destitute. Religion does an enormous amount of good. Even though there are certainly egregious counterexamples, they are more flashy than persuasive."

It is so easy to be cynical about what religion does. It can be divisive, deluding, depressing. But as the good rabbi says earlier in this interview, it's not "religion that makes people do bad things . . . it’s being people that largely makes people do bad things." All the more reason for religion to focus on what God is doing, even though it's hard for us to see, than on what we're doing, or how we're doing it, or how we're describing it. And when we try to tell what God is doing, we need to do so modestly, because any one story of ours is only a small part of God's story.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Good enough

What do you do when the deadline you thought was on the 14th turns out to be the 18th?

A) Continue as planned, finish early, and be ready to start something new that much sooner?

B) Slow down on the project so that you again find yourself working hard to finish at the last minute?

C) Use the extra time to obsess more about doing your best work and meeting all the expectations you attribute to others but that are really your own?

I'm hoping I choose A, but it could be C.

Is "good enough" a good statement or a troubling one?

Friday, November 11, 2011


Maybe it was the double-shot of espresso mid-morning, but I had one of those days when at some point I recall that bipolar disorder runs in my family and I stop and make sure I'm not moving into a manic phase myself. Lots of ideas, lots of experiences (but didn't spend any money, no grandiose ideas, and was able to complete all but one of the tasks on my list for the day--which is really A-plus for me, since my single-day lists usually have enough items on them to last a week.) Mainly I was just so glad it was finally Friday, and without much other reason than that, it was just a happy day.

Every Friday I visit the Senior Kindergarten class for fifteen minutes of combined religion and music. We sing songs about Jesus and being a Christian, and we sing them in ways that reinforce the musical skills I teach in their Tuesday music class. It's November, so giving thanks is a good theme for a lesson. I went in planning to teach the doxology ("Praise God from whom all blessings flow"), but I also talked about Paul. We discussed the introductions to Paul's epistles yesterday in my Bible study group, the introductions in which he says "I give thanks to God for all of you." I think giving thanks can make one, if not a happier person, one who is better able to float through the trials and vicissitudes of life--the petty annoyances, the routines that drag you down, and the really big things that send you hurtling in directions you hadn't planned at all. Giving thanks to God keeps you focused on what God is doing, which is a source of hope and movement, or just contentment.

I'd like to say that the kids really got into this--being thankful--but I fear it was too much about being, which is pretty abstract for kindergartners, and not enough about doing. Anyway, we moved on to "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice," because that, too, comes from the Apostle Paul. And we sang the song about that, and each child individually echoed the "rejoice" that is sung on the C above middle C, near the top of a kindergartner's comfortable range. It was fun to see their faces as they heard what great singing sounds could come out of their mouths on such an energetic word. We sang the doxology, but by then Sophia was clamoring for a prayer and Ellie Schnack, the kindergarten teacher took over. Sophia wanted to pray for her friend whose dog had died. And we had to pray for Charlotte's mother who was having surgery to fix her ear infection. And then somebody else had a friend whose dog--no, it was a cat!-- had died. Wiggles were everywhere as the children echoed their teacher's petitions, and some wandered off while others thought of more people to pray for. No well-defined ending to the class, but thanks and petitions and praise God from all blessings flow--it all kind of flowed into my day.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Parsley, sage, etc.

Temperatures are dropping into the low-thirties tonight. I wanted to be sure to still have fresh herbs for Thanksgiving dinner. So I headed outside about 5:15 with a flashlight and a paring knife and brought back most of the leaves from the parsley and sage plants. Here's what I dumped on my kitchen counter.
There's a stray tomato in there, so pale it won't have much flavor. I put some in a glass of water in the refrigerator.
I put some in a cup of water on the kitchen windowsill.
I rubber-banded some sage sprigs together to dry.
Kinda looks like that big brown pitcher is using 'em to pretend he's a chicken. It's a stupid chicken collection--why would anyone want to be a part of it? And just in case you're wondering, where's the rosemary and thyme -- I potted them up on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

How is blogging every day like dieting? When you blow a day, you have to get right back at it. Three different false starts, so far. Tried and deleted. In two more minutes it will be tomorrow, and in this kind of a panic I do not have time to write my way to something interesting. Suffice it to say it's cold. I cut my parsley and my sage outside and stored them in the refrigerator tonight for Thanksgiving dinner. I'd upload pictures, but things are moving slowly from phone to computer. It's coled. My fingers don't go fast. Publish.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Not illegals, but people

I went to a forum on immigration policy yesterday. Here's the biggest thing I learned: there's not a big distinction to be made between legal and illegal immigrants--make that documented and undocumented immigrants. A person, we were told, can not be illegal. Only actions are illegal. It's kind of like the distinction I learned to make and then to insist on when my daughter was young: she was a child with Down syndrome, not a Down syndrome child. People who are in the U. S. without official immigration papers are first and foremost people, each with a story of how he or she came to be here, each with hopes and plans, each facing an uncertain future. The document/undocumented, legal/illegal status distinctions are not very useful even in public policy decisions, because of the sheer number of undocumented immigrants in the U. S. and because there aren't a lot of good alternatives to finding a way to allow people to stay here as permanent, legal residents.

What was also striking was how mean and selfish and small-minded people in the U. S. can be toward immigrants, and how this hurts all of us. Fear of being asked for papers, or even of others being asked to produce papers, can keep people from calling the police when their homes are burgled. One of the functions of immigrants in our bad economic times is to be scapegoats, someone to blame, someone to feel superior to--like poor whites in the antebellum south siding with the rich plantation owners, because that at least made them better than African-American slaves.

What was also striking was one of the speakers citing a study (or something) that found that people who didn't know any immigrants were the ones who had a poor opinion of them. People who knew immigrants thought well of them. Kind of like the gay thing. People knowing gay people has made society in general more tolerant of gays.

So we're left not so much with the dilemma of justifying amnesty and a path to citizenship, but with the challenge of changing people's minds about other people, about learning to open our hearts and being generous with what we have. If we started with those values, what could we accomplish?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Just one more hour in the day

This will be dated early on November 6, but really it's still Saturday night. I'm looking back on the day and noting that today getting things done ran ahead of getting new ideas for things to get done (that is, as long as you count the vague idea that the entire house needs a thorough cleaning as just one thing, when in fact it is actually a multitude of things, from wipe off the sticky buttons on the microwave to clean and organize the attic).

Things done all in one day:
Two devotions written (five to go!)
Breakfast with friends
Went to the library
Went to the grocery store; remembered laundry detergent
Dropped off clothes at the thrift shop
Planted bulbs
Potted plants
Cleaned some stuff out of the garage
Did laundry
Loaded the dishwasher
Visited Kris
Did some work
Did some volunteer editing work
Hung up all the clothes that have been lying in the chair for the past ten days
Shopped for Eliza
Shortened pants, also for Eliza

Plus I sat outside on a glorious, golden day.

Just set the clocks back an hour. Amazing what you can do with a 25-hour day!

Friday, November 04, 2011


What was remarkable about today? I listened to fifth graders sing today, in groups of two or three. These are the fifth graders in my fifth and sixth grade choir, and singing for me was part of the term's assessment. It's always a learning experience to work with small groups of children on singing. Here's some of what I learned and wondered about today: Why do they sing so timidly? Their voices barely get past their noses. On the other hand, the sound they make is pleasant, light, inoffensive. It's better for the teacher not to watch too closely when asking children to do funny vocal exercises. It's hard to sing "Pepe le Pew" if catching the teacher's eye makes you start giggling. Singing takes work, physical and mental effort, and some children are more willing to work at it than others. But with some work they can all do better. And there are always a few who surprise you. Sixth graders next week. They're so much older . . . .

Thursday, November 03, 2011


"What do you do with the mad that you feel?" asked Mr. Rogers. I'm sure he had some good suggestions for the preschoolers (and parents) who watched his show.

I think a lot of the mad in people around me lately has been coming out as snark--snide remarks. Perhaps it's because I'm around clever people, and most of us do sarcasm pretty well. In fact, we do sarcasm better than we do honest dealing with fear and anger.

That's true of me. On days when I've got a full head of steam going, I power through the hours high on snark and righteous outrage. It's a cover for other stuff--the sense that the world is all in a mess, that the mess rolls downhill, that I can't do much to change any of it. But complaining and ranting I'm good at.

What was non-snarky about my day?

This morning we ended our Bible study group's discussion of Jonah by looking at Jonah in art. Kathryn put together a slide show on her computer and we saw Jonah in the catacombs, Jonah in the Sistine Chapel, Jonah in Giotto, Jonah in Lutheran artists from Minneapolis. Some were interested in the texture on that big fish, some in Jonah's physique, some in the belly of the whale which was very much like a tomb. The one I liked best--or maybe it's the one with the emotion that matched mine--was a woodcut of Jonah under the gourd, the hot sun pounding down. Jonah is propping up the vine even as he withers angrily in the hot sun.

He was probably uttering snarky remarks about Nineveh and maybe even about the God who chose to save Ninevah.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Meaning in life

Day two of posting every day in November. The prompt over at BlogHer is something along the lines of "If you knew your next meal would be your last, what would you want to eat?"

My response: that's a dumb question. It also gives me the creeps. If I knew my next meal would be my last, I would probably be so preoccupied with whatever was the reason for it being my last meal that I wouldn't much care what I eat. Mortality is a much more absorbing problem than what to eat.

It sounds like a question to ask Roger Ebert in retrospect. And he'd have a good answer, though he'd meander through some other ideas on the way to revealing it.

I just finished a bowl of ice cream, thinking that a hefty dose of sugar would help to calm my slightly over-caffeinated brain. I think there's some misguided visualization in my head, where the caffeine eats up the sugar and they both just dissolve away so that I'm left with no caffeine and no calories. Wishful thinking.

Clearly 10 minutes of corpse pose would have been a better choice though probably I'd lie there with my brain skittering and sparking like a downed power line.

I've got work to do. Thirteen hundred characters on Bartholomew, AKA Nathaniel, for one thing. And other work.

I'm gonna try. Still trying. Trying to do better tomorrow.

A good question to ask myself tonight? I'm thinking, but all that comes out are practical problems: How could I more clearly label the jars of coffee as decaf and regular? When will I get around to loading the dishwasher? What's the most comfortable thing I could get away with wearing to school tomorrow? Not exactly the big questions in life.

BUT as the guy in this video said: the meaning of life is to make meaning of life. And if getting the right balance of caffeine/decaf in a strong cup of coffee keeps me believing in purpose and meaning, well, then, it's important. Loading the dishwasher? Well, that's more about the pleasure I take in seeing a clean countertop (and I do love the countertops in my remodeled kitchen). Comfortable clothes--yep, so I can feel peppy and energetic after all the not-sleeping I'm going to be doing tonight.

I'm not waiting till a last meal to impose meaning on daily life.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Over at BlogHer it is NaBloPoMo, not really a word, exactly, but a stand-in for National Blog Posting Month. The challenge is to post every day during November. I'm gonna try. Not exactly a strong statement of commitment, I know. But jeez, I've got a few other things going on, and many of these are writing assignments. And right now, I would rather be knitting. Still November is a good month for blogging. Death and darkness outside, furnaces cranking up instead, with cooking and baking and some ambitions for making Christmas presents. This is a short post, an inauspicious beginning. But I'm barely awake.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Op. 31, No. 3

Someone who played Chopin remembered me today as someone who played Beethoven. In the sense, I hope, of the heroine of, oh, you know, that Helena Bonham Carter/Daniel Day Lewis movie of that English novel--come on, brain--yes--A "A Room with a View." A passionate young woman, with unruly hair, physically expressive at the piano. Sitting down to play the opening measures of a sonata with fury and intensity, then joining the composer’s passion with her own and rushing on to deeper more nuanced emotion. Was I a girl like that? Or just as someone who nailed Ludwig’s notes one day in a performance where things just came together? I going for the romance, the Romantic, in my soul.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The arc

It was one of those days when I was in and out of the car every couple hours, catching snatches of NPR. The first, this morning between church services, was a report on rape and sexual violence in East Congo. The stories were horrifying. They made me sick. One of the people being interviewed spoke of how alone these women are, how they fear for their life every day, and how they stil have hope that something will get better. It did not make me hopeful. It astonished me that we humans need hope so badly we look for it and delude ourselves with it even in unthinkably awful circumstances. Later, in mid-afternoon, I heard another story. I remember thinking, Sunday must be NPR's day for reporting on everything awful in the world. But I cannot remember what the story was about. And I'm embarrassed to say so. Still later, while shifting the car from one end of the vast parking lot to the other (so much stuff in America, so much laziness), I heard a snippet from the dedication of the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D. C. Quoting the man: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Bend the arc, Lord. Show me where to push and pull.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Big picture

Oh, Frank Rich, I've missed you.

Rich, the former theater critic at the New York Times, went from writing about stories on stage to writing a Sunday NY Timess column about American political culture. His reaction to the week's events often turned the back-and-forth snark of politics into the stark relief of a morality play by Henrik Ibsen. George Bush was bumbling, flawed, dangerous because of his thoughtlessness. Dick Cheney was much darker.

Wikipedia says Rich stopped writing his Times column just this year. It seems longer ago than that. My Sunday mornings have been less bracing. Sitting down at the computer to read Frank Rich before hurrying off to church was like stepping into a head-clearing autumn chill. It woke me up, to the bottom of my brain and back of my lungs.

Rich  now writes for New York magazine, which I aspire to read but don't. Ultimately I'm not a New Yorker and the "New York is the center of the world" raison d'etre of the magazine is too exotic to be part of my regular reading. But this morning I followed a link to Rich's column on the 9/11 anniversary and gosh, yes, he still tell a tale of the decade he wrote about on the Times op-ed page: terrorist attack, tragedy, misdirected war in Iraq, no sacrifice at home, tax cuts, squandered patriotism, political mess, fiscal ruin.

Was it a decade worse than any other in American politics? Or is this what inevitably happens--all things lead to greater chaos? The sacrifices of the Civil War ended slavery, but the political deal that made Rutherford B. Hayes president ended Reconstruction a dozen years later, leaving African-Americans emancipated by the blood of Union armies to be newly enslaved by Jim Crow laws, written by the men who lost the war. A century later Nixon's "Silent Majority" political strategy harnessed the white backlash against the civil rights movement, and the country turned right, to Reagan and Republicans and eventually the mess we have now.

Rich's rhetoric steps back from the moment to take the longer view of a culture critic. But his writing is full of verbs and long muscular active sentences. He is a man of the theater, outlining a Shakespeare-sized epic. But history has no end, no final scene. In a play, and in Rich's commentary, the telling of the story is what appears to matter most, how you wrestle with the material, how you craft the narrative, how you tell the story.

The story is important. We humans hold onto much of what we know in stories we incorporate into our own. We let politicians, self-help writers, pastors, philosophers, friends and teachers tell us stories, some more worthy than others. We go on gut-sense and absorb mostly the stories that affirm what we alrelady feel. And sometimes we're right to do so.

But the universe is paradoxical and much, much bigger than our little minds. Frank Rich's push and pull rhetoric of American culture and politics is not out there with cosmology, but it's a reminder that the news cycle's won-loss scorecard adds up to something bigger. In his column on 9/11 it adds up to a heightened sense of loss, a nation whose leaders have lost their sense of direction.

In college and graduate school, when I was reading lots of plays (a play a day for a while), I learned to draw a distinction between two kinds of tragedies. There were tragedies where bad things happened and innocent people suffered and it was pitiful and sad. In other tragedies bad things happened to someone because of his own flaws (and yes, these characters were inevitably men) so the character's suffering was his own damn fault but at the end before expiring at center stage he achieved some kind of insight--understanding that was shared with the audience. The implication always was that this second type of tragedy was the higher, better sort--more interesting plays. (The first type, however, tend to make good librettos for opera.)

Looking at the week ahead, with its ten-year commemorations of 9/11, I wonder whether our tragic sense will tend more toward telling the first type of stories or the second type. We crave meaning and insight, so I fear we are in for a fair amount of myth and meaning-making. Rich's New York column, however, is a reminder that recent American history looks a lot more like the first kind of tragedy. Innocent people suffer, and the mighty and powerful profess to care, but learn little.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'm trying to choose a topic for the evening: existential angst caused by imagining eternity OR human behavioral quirks as demonstrated in my cleaning the clutter from the sewing machine.

Read this in the Daily Dish's ongoing discussion "Infinity hurts your brain":

I have been following this thread with interest and have noticed the subject has evoked a general sense of terror in many of the readers who have commented. I should point out that one of the classic hallmarks of intelligence is existential depression of the kind provoked by "infinity."  In fact, in young, gifted, children (and children with OCD or Tourette's syndrome, who are often highly intelligent) existential depression is often triggered by their first encounter with the concept of infinity. 

"Classic hallmark of intelligence," eh? And I thought I was just a weird seven-year-old. I scared myself silly, lying in the dark, unable to sleep, contemplating infinite participation, infinite standing in the heavenly choirs. I liked to sing, yes, but forever?

I finally talked to my dad, who broke the imagination logjam in the dark of the bedroom with the idea that heaven was where God was and God was good and infinite and loved me, and anything God had in store for me for eternity would be something I would like, even though I could not now understand what it might be. 

God understood the not wanting to sing for all eternity. I understood the limitations of my mind when thinking about something as close to God as infinity.

Bless you, Daddy, for showing me ideas of God that went beyond anthropomorphism, that turned God into something more than super-person. (I'm sure he did not want to be condemned to an eternity of playing the organ.)

Flash forward a bunch of decades with that precocious seven-year-old, who has grown up and has just returned from driving her youngest child to college (a child who also likes to contemplate infinity). Last night I decided it was time to clean up the half side of my bedroom that is the sewing machine side. It took until 9:20 for me to work up the sense that I could actually find places for the accumulated stuff. But armed with an empty plastic underbed box found in the attic, I took the plunge. 

I did not take a "before" picture, but trust me, it was horrifying. It hasn't been neat EVER, not ever, not since I moved into this room last fall.

Still, it was a mess filled with hope. The socks, good wool, some handknit, whose heels I plan to darn:

And thrifty generosity: three pairs of pants--khaki, grey and black--I plan to shorten for Eliza (two of them used to be mine, but don't fit anymore; the third pair--such a deal I go at Lands End this summer).

 Creator spirit, help me to find projects for all this quilting fabric, and help me to complete them in my lifetime:

I have a goodly heritage--abundant buttons and button boxes inherited from my mother and grandmother:

And I have sinned. I have, uh, quite a tape measure collection.  

(It's not that I steal tape measures exactly. It's just that if a tape measure is around, I pick it up, run it through my fingers, roll it up and slip it into my pocket as I talk to you. I'm interesting enough that you never know it's gone. I'm absent-minded enough that I don't know it's gone either.)

There is also evidence that I don't keep my promises and that I am a coward. 

I promised to fix the buttonholes on this sweater I made long ago for my mother. Promised to do that at least a year ago. But since it involves making a machine buttonhole in a precious handknit and then cutting it, I can't bring myself to do it. A glass of wine would give me courage, but it wouldn't do much for the quality of the buttonholes.

God, give me the serenity to accept the things that ought not to be altered.

Plenty of theological metaphors available from this diverse and tangled drawer of thread. After a few feeble attempts at winding these spools up again, I took the scissors and trimmed every odd thread that was hanging out of the drawer. Pruning is good for vines. Why not for thread drawers?

"Train up a child in the way s/he should go," says the Book of Proverbs. I and my good friend Susan were trained once. Now, instead of den meetings, we get together for a weekly beer.

I nearly quit at this point, when many things had been pulled out and none had been returned. Signs of the coming kingdom?

And this pile is still there, awaiting another burst of energy (don't ask--but there's some really old clothes in there--I need to separate the sheep and the goats):

Then there's the chicken, representing the stupid collection, which is a blog post in itself: 

This is what it looked like when I was done:

I went to bed satisfied. I no longer lie awake at night contemplating eternity. When I can't sleep, I think about my retirement accounts, which are finite things and more frightening than infinity. Stuff--we need a certain amount of it to live. Stuff that requires managing. But my stuff tells me about myself, the finite me and the infinite soul inside.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nest, leaving the nest

I'm driving my youngest child, Kurt, to college tomorrow, with his stuff. A few hours before we leave, the wife of a friend and colleague will give birth to their second child, a girl, by planned cesarean.

To call this day "beginnings and endings" would lay this almost-empty-nester open to charges of being over-dramatic. But the two events occurring more or less together leave me feeling that eighteen, almost nineteen years can sure seem like a short time.

And since that eighteen-year-old is still out with friends for the last night until Thanksgiving break, I have some time to think. I may doze off, but I won't sleep soundly till he's safe at home for one last night.

I'm not a person who dotes on babies. They don't turn me to mush. No, I hold back, because the pleasure and power of holding a newborn, or a three-month-old, or even a wiggly one-year-old, is not a mushy, sentimental thing. Mother love is something else entirely. I'm struggling to find words that are not cliches. Perhaps that's because there's nothing new to say, or because I'm really not up for poking and prodding myself until I bleed.

People have been having babies for a long time. As I sit here thinking about it, I pull my arms in toward my breasts, my shoulder. More than anything, raising babies is about this physical closeness.

I remember holding this child who goes off to college tomorrow in my lap, supported by couch cushions, and smiling with so much of myself I was amazed. He made me so happy just by being. Still does, though I doubt he knows it. How could he, until he holds his own child in his arms?

(Note to Eliza and Kris: the same goes for you two, now, though I loved you more fiercely than contentedly when you were babies.)

When I think about leaving this last of my children at college, there's kind of a hole in front of me. I could bemoan  the fact that there will be no one left at home to cook interesting food for. I could recall the late-night piano playing with the repeated chord sequences that drove me nuts. I can even look forward to just going to bed when I'm tired, rather than debating the parenting ethics and practicality of waiting up. But the hole isn't about any of those things. It's the contradiction of loving someone who is me and not-me, who came from me but goes his own way. And carries my heart with him.

There's pink yarn in my knitting bag for the car tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the pictures on Facebook. Great adventures begin tomorrow, for all.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The pre-birthday-dinner post

It's my birthday. Fifty, um, something. I'm sitting at the computer watching birds in the overgrown slippery elm outside the window next to my desk. The glass is covered with anti-glare film, to make it easier to see the computer screen, and the blind is mostly down. It makes it hard for the birds to see me. I've got seven of them within sight, tiny sparrows and some others I'm not sure about, other than suspecting they're young because of their spotted feathers.

How long will they live? A few years? Less than that? The bright red cardinal I've seen around our house for several years now--is he the same bird? Or somebody's grandson?

Next week this foliage will be cut down. The yard's a mess, stuff like volunteer trees got away from me years ago, and my neighbor has house painters coming next week, who need to be able to get at the side of her house. Lorenzo from the landscape company told me "you won't recognize the place." That will be nice, too, but I will miss gazing into the "tree house" from my desk, feeling like I know these birdies well.

Of course, now that I'm trying to take their picture, they've all disappeared. Did someone tweet that there are better bugs to be had elsewhere?

I watched an episode of "Through the Wormhole" last night with my son. It was about humans achieving greater longevity--living a thousand years, even forever. Morgan Freeman's narration made mind-spraining leaps from work on artificial intelligence and graveyard bacteria to aspirations for making the human body, or at least the human mind, last longer. In the final segment, a physics professor, photographed in a New Orleans cemetery, predicted an age thousands of years in the future when humans would merge with God and the universe. His language sounded almost creedal in proclaiming the  communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

J. S. Bach died on this day in 1750, probably of complications from diabetes. Birds with blow-away feathers and tiny, hollow bones flit through the depth of foliage behind my window now, on this warm summer day. Where will they go next week? My life stretches back over half a century to my mother giving birth--my aging mother who I have to pick up from physical therapy in a few minutes. My children whom we will soon meet for dinner eagerly plan their futures--college, marriage, families, homes.

I'm perched on my chair, writing it all down.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Plain happy

Funny. I just read a short article about how to be happier, and already I'm happier. And I did not, believe me, sit down at the computer with hidden wells of happiness just waiting to be tapped.

In fact I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about how unhappy I am, and why that might be, and what I might or ought to do about it. And the effort has left me stuck in my misery, feeling like there's no remedy.

And then I go and read some self-absorbed self-help author's five book recommendations on happiness and not only does my mood lighten, I'm searching for Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson at the library web site and thinking I need to start a knitting group or a book group or a Friday afternoon beer-at-a-sidewalk cafe group. And act happy for the sake of the people who have to live and work with me.

Does this suggest that perhaps happiness will not be found by looking inward? Or that I am more suggestible than most people? Does it all comes down to just suck it up, get over it, do something? And act happy, for the sake of those who have to look at you, work with you, live with you? Within reason. I need more than a shimmering tinsel veneer of happiness -- irritating in others, ironic, overblown and ugly in me.

Striving, said the Buddha, is what makes us unhappy. It's the human condition, it's a lost cause. Being a blob is no recipe for happiness either, but working at something--that's good.

Not much wisdom in this post, not much eloquence, not much poetry. Happiness is plain stuff.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Firing on all cylinders

I'm rehearsing a show these days. I'm the director.

I love directing. It's challenging. You get to work closely with a bunch of interesting, creative people. You get to help them be successful. Sometimes you have to negotiate, but you, the director, get the final say--at least until the show opens and things start to go their own way.

My job as director is to make sense of things. To make sense of the script, of what's behind the script, and of the bigger picture suggested by the script. And to make sense of all the details suggested by the music, if it's a musical (as this show is). You start with words and actions on paper, written by someone  you've never met (at least in this case). You try to understand and think about and pretend all kinds of things that make those words and actions seem real and truthful and believable.

It's not at all like life.

Oh, the goal may be to create something lifelike. What's up on that stage is based on a lot of observation of life. But it's not at all like life.

I know this because this afternoon I went directly from four hours of rehearsal to life. A family backyard birthday gathering. At rehearsal I'm the person in charge, the person who is working full-speed ahead, millions of neurons firing in the brain at split-second intervals.  I try to fill up songs with action: "Food, glorious--also wonderful, fabulous, magical and beautiful--food." March here, march there, march in a semi-circle, march to the front, to the back and up on the table. The song from "Oliver!" is sung by children, workhouse orphans, wan and pale. I have delightful, cooperative children in this show, but they  jump up and down and lose focus when I stop to think. Stress hormones to the max. We moved on from there, to other scenes and a dozen new problems, many of which I had spotted and solved days ago as I prepared for this rehearsal in my backyard. Which isn't to say that the solutions worked when executed by actual people.

When I write, I work at sentences until they match some higher ideal of rightness in my head. When I direct,  I work at scenes and manipulate actors until what I see seems right and smooth and brings clarity in the story. I look at things hard, and then I change them.

Cut to the birthday party: points to me for realizing that I needed to be self-observant and careful and quiet until I wound down a bit. Because what I really want to do is bark orders at people, change the way they're sitting, tell them what to say and laugh too loudly. I am sparkling and commanding, articulate and running the conversation, with knitting needles clicking furiously. The sock on the needles may have saved me. Somehow as the fingers speed through the  twenty stitches on a needle in something under forty seconds, the mind falls under the control of that hypnotic rhythm.

I wanted to control the family story. To control the stories of everyone there. People are struggling in their lives--sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews, grandmas, significant others and my own children. I want to shape their stories and their struggles and who they are into something that gets resolved and that means something. But on this summer evening they're happy playing bags, or sawing apart a downed tree branch, or showing off the innards of an old upright piano. I want clarity--why do we do these things? To what end? Is everyone okay? Where will it all end?

Not at all like the stage.

It's a summer night. Later there will be a bonfire. The lawn stretches out into gray-green as the sun goes down. The games end. The bugs come out. The young folks relax in their chairs, and the old ones go home to their beds.

And we face tomorrow with the same lonely questions we had at the beginning of this day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Even the Spirit of Truth

A day almost too full to write about. That was today, May 29, the Sixth Sunday of Easter in the year of our Lord 2011. 

No, nothing big on the national or international front (that I know of--haven't read any news since early this morning). But here, on the domestic front, it's been intense.

My son, the graduating high school senior, was the preacher this morning at church, in the annual giving-thanks-for-high-school-students end-of-May service. He, a writer of growing craft, an exacting seeker of truth, spoke well what he had written very, very well. He took something from his life, found it in other people's lives, and applied the Gospel: "I will not leave you orphaned," said Jesus. "I will give you the comforter, the spirit of truth, who will be with you always." 

Know that the spirit is with you always, he insisted, even in times of great change, when you must leave a place or a person or a stage in life, not sure that you will come back, or knowing for certain that you cannot return. He spoke of leaving the Island, the vacation place where he feels close to God and to all that is spirit and truthful. I thought of walking away from a graveside, of leaving a child at college, of facing a future where you simply must try something new, because to do the old thing over and over again and not have it work is crazy. 

Love makes us able to do this, to grieve and move on, to grieve and set someone free, to grieve and wrestle free from falsehood, false selves, a false sense of control. Perhaps the Easter season is so long--seven Sundays--because there is so much from which we need to be resurrected, those of us, at least, who are old, who have seen a half century or more of self-deception, self-protection, greed, fear. 

The text of the final hymn this morning, "We Know That Christ Is Raised and Dies No More," was woven through the sermon preached at my father's funeral, years before my children were even born. Its poetry and swelling tune open up for me a vision of a new creation, a "universe restored and whole." I left church with that ringing in my ears, with that energy in my feet, coming home to a good lunchand a party to honor our graduate. 

With family members behind me, I walked up the steps to our back door and saw broken glass. The window in the door had been smashed. We realized quickly that someone had been in our house. The desktop computer in the back room was still there, but papers that had been piled on the desk were all over the floor. My son charged ahead into the living room. I looked around, struggled to get my bearings in my own home, struggled to find my phone in my purse to call 911. I walked to the front of the house,  saw the empty place where the TV had been, the empty place where my son had left his laptop--the laptop that held the file for his sermon and all his writing from the last year or more. I called the police as  I walked through the downstairs. In my bedroom, the dresser drawers had been emptied. Jewelry was missing. Everything was a mess. And in the back room, there was glass everywhere. 

Outside the rain came down, from heavy gray skies. Inside we were angry and upset and were made to sit in the living room until the cops could search the house, assess the evidence, check if there might, just might be fingerprints. (There weren't.) We listed what was missing--some of which has since been found (the necklace my daughter made for me) and some of which (the PlayStation) we only thought about after the police officers had left. 

One thing that was gone for sure was the exhilaration of the morning--the modest smile on my son's face, my beaming pride, the mastery of the moment, the vision of a universe restored and whole. "Shit, shit, shit," texted one of my friends in response to my message about the burglary. I finished heating up the food, got it out on the buffet, offered beer to those who drank beer, and opened one for myself. And then I led the saying of grace, a loosely-strung, prosaic prayer of thanks for safety and my son and for graduates and God-given talents. It was a feeble prayer, because those words of joy and gratitude were a thing of obligation, or at best, of hope. They were not what was spilling from my heart at that moment. 

And we ate. 

But here's the thing. If you have to have your house burgled, then discover it, as I did, with your sisters behind you on the back steps. They'll clean up the glass, and one of them will point out that at least you've got a better vacuum cleaner than the one she used to clean the living room the night your husband died. The other sister will fold your underwear and sort the t-shirts that were strewn around your bedroom. Nieces and a boyfriend and your brothers-in-law will pitch in. They'll hunt down bits of glass and keep up the conversation. Friends will call and other friends will arrive and listen to the story and sympathize and then help you think about something else. Your son's friends will come over and eat and sit next to him on the couch and then take him out to a movie. Family will linger and talk and clear the dishes and load the dishwasher. And later, after you've posted "burgled" as your Facebook status, another friend will call, and she and her husband will eat supper and come over, and he will fix the window in the back door. And while he drives to his shop to get the laminated glass that will stand up to a baseball bat if necessary, she and you will sit and talk the holy talk of friends who have been talking for nearly twenty years. 

And in all these things, done with love, that new resurrected creation comes to life and grows, and the spirit of truth, always with you, always real, allows you, at the end of the day, to see this. 

Saturday, May 07, 2011

May dressed in gray

I was out walking early this morning, in an almost-drizzle. The sky was gray with pink, and the pale green on the branches overhead vibrated in the cool air. The maples were elegant and sophisticated in their red buds. Close to the ground rose-colored tulips and deep purple hyacinths sang earthy songs, romantic and fleeting. I walked on the sidewalk, next to fences, peering into backyards at flower beds and decks and children's toys left lying in new soft, spring grass.

A sunny morning tells a different story.  Buds are blood-red, flowers regal and arrogant. Trees care for nothing as they burn nitrogen and emit CO2. May sunshine cares nothing for others. It makes its own joy.

But this morning's sky, with so many colors suspended in it, like a rainbow, just waiting to be called to life, could be the setting for any story, every story, whether of lament or contentment, restlessness or hard-won peace.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pile up

Projects big and small are piling up. Some are started, though with short-lived enthusiasm. Many await the development of brilliant ideas. Most will require all-day, if not multi-day struggles, to move them along towards completion.

I fret, I fuss, I wonder what's wrong with me. I have a list, a long, scrawled list, but it's not helping. I've tried periods of chaining myself to the computer (i.e., sitting at the screen, typing whatever just to get something up there, knowing I can go back and fix it, wanting to get up, not getting up, finally getting up to visit the box of crackers in the kitchen; repeat).

It is a crisis of confidence: can I do all this?

It is a crisis of perfectionism: can I do all this and please myself?

It is a crisis of collaboration: can I depend on others to help me? And oh, gosh, can they depend on me?

Is it all worth doing? What about all the other things there are to do? And what about all this anxiety I feel? What about the waking up at night? And how I can't quiet my brain during yoga.

I write about it. I read what I write. A light bulb: time to cut back on the caffeine again.

Darn. I have rules about coffee. But I cheat.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Warm and whining

Took a walk in the bright 5:00 p.m. sunshine, but the weather app on the phone says "33 degrees, feels like 25." My fingers are frozen, my nose is dripping, and the iPod is playing a jazz arrangement of "O Sacred Head" that is intensely sad.

It's an unsettled world, where what things look like, what they are like and what they feel like don't match up. I watch my kids try to define themselves in these uncertainties--one by asserting loudly that she is an adult now, the other by exploring philosophy and consciousness and his place in time and multiple dimensions of being. Somewhere between them you'll find me, trying to have some kind of a positive effect on them, trying to get through each day's necessary work, hoping to create a life where desire and doing come together happily.

So I walk. Because exercise is good for me. Because I've lost weight and walking will help to keep the weight off. Because usually the rhythmic pounding of my heels on the pavement smooths away the bumps in my brain and evens out the tense places in my heart. 

The earth's tectonic plates have not shifted under my feet, as they did in Japan. I have not felt the waters of a tsunami rise swiftly around my ankles. There is no shooting in the street in my town, as in Libya, no humanitarian crisis. If I had to deal with stuff like that right in front of me, and not so very different from what it looks like,  I might be a person who takes action.

But the things that drag me down, the things I could whine about--meetings to attend tomorrow morning, decisions about painting the house or investing in new windows--are much smaller. They are the problems of someone who is safe and secure in a warm home, with supper on the stove.

And yet, it's hard to know who you are, where you are, what you are, especially when cold winds make you feel trembly or rigid, when growing older leaves you feeling lonely, when you know you are not supposed to accept the wounded world as it is.

Or should you?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Joy to the heart

On Saturday at church we sang, read, remembered and liturgized over the ashes of Mike Meyer, my high school English teacher, friend, and fellow actor/director. And then those ashes were interred in the church's memorial garden, in a biting cold March wind. The gloom has not yet lifted from my heart.

Twenty-seven years ago, on this same date, March 12, we watched as my father's casket was lowered into the ground, while the snow blew around our heads and our feet sank into the frozen muddy grass. Such a long time ago, and I still feel his absence.

Sunday morning's sermon was like ice on a tooth with a cavity. One shock of pain, then another. This was not the preacher's intention. He spoke of couples rehearsing their wedding vows, tears pouring down the face of tough guy grooms. My husband and I said our vows right to each other, from memory, because we felt something that serious should not need prompting. But he is gone now, too, and there is no one to remember that with me. The pastor went on to speak of other tears in church, poignantly. More pain hitting home. I had my phone in my hand, because I was texting the teens to find out if they'd  made it to church. I wanted to throw it--or throw something--at the pulpit. My heart, my gut--they were weighed down enough.

This being Lent, the sermon moved on to mortality, to rehearsing for death with Jesus. Yeah, no need to say more about that here. Christ died for us, we die with Christ. We rise again. It's a way of looking at our lifetime on this earth. It's a way of looking at each day. It's a way of walking through the valley of the shadow of death with hope not despair.

I looked out the kitchen window while making coffee this morning. The houses across the alley reflected the rose-yellow glow of the sun, tricked into rising later by clocks sprung ahead for daylight savings time. The living and dining rooms were filled with this same pink and pale gold color, as if the sky itself had crept through the trees and past the apartment buildings just for  me, to bring me joy.

I think I will look for it again tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

For Lent

For Lent, I will practice compassion. Or try to. Quietly, in my heart.

A while back I read Paul Knitter's "Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian." My previous knowledge of Buddhism came from a high school class in comparative religions. There would be a list of terms (Nirvana, the Buddha), main ideas, history, and a lot of how Buddhism is not like Christianity. The take-away: Buddhism doesn't amount to much specific. Knitter studied Buddhism, not as a scholar but as a practitioner, meditating, working with teachers, and found it opened his mind about Christianity, a mind that had become weary and bored and tone-deaf to decades of church language. He was a Catholic theologian to begin with, and now considers himself both Christian and practicing Buddhist.

One thing I learned from reading his book is that meditation and mindfulness in Buddhism are not for oneself and one's own navel. One practicies these disciplines for the benefit of the world. Compassion is rooted in meditation and quiet. Breath and spirit produce compassion and works of love.

So for Lent, I will work on mindfulness and quietness, and see what grows out of that. A bigger world, I hope. A bigger heart.

"I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me with his arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

February 3, 2011

A blizzard followed by sunshine has left me weary but cheerful. The huge piles of shoveled snow will complicate life for weeks. My shoulders will still ache tomorrow from yesterday's clearing of walks and driveway. The packed-down snow remaining in the driveway will ice over at some point in the next week or two; wheels will spin and it will take a couple rounds of reverse and forward to get going. But gosh, the sun has been out ever since the snow stopped. I had a nice lunch and a nice Harp's with my kids, plus Dan, the birthday boy. We've all been through a lot together. How good to celebrate snow day #2 over brats, burgers, beer and french fries.

Yet there are things I wonder about--things I've had time to wonder about in the last two days. Can those demonstrators in Egypt really change their government? So many thousands of people, assembled mostly peaceably, with reasonable expectations--yet will Mubarak's thugs and the ensconced elite prevail? The world watches, but what can the world do?

I'm reading "Year of Meteors," by Douglas R. Egerton. It's about the year leading up to Lincoln's inauguration. Fire-eaters in the South, fearful of the loss of millions of dollars of property in slaves and of their privileged position, pushed the debate to extremes. What was the North to do? There was no longer any way to agree to disagree.

Where would I have been in that debate? (Assuming it mattered at all where a woman stood!) Moderate and fearful? Wild-eyed and radical? One of those two--I don't seem to be wired for a reactionary. And I was more moderate when I was younger than I am now. But then everyone in America seems to be more one way or the other than they were twenty years ago.

Pray for peaceful change in Egypt. But change, nevertheless. Pray for clear eyes and sunshine after storms.