The Purest Race

The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus
The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

Who Do We Think We Are?

from Fanny’s journal of her time among the Ancients

There are more than 50 ethnic groups living in the [Caucasus region]… a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, including Europe’s highest mountain (Mount Elbrus).  

The Caucasus Region, 1994

The Caucasus Region, 1994

North Caucasus  comprises… Russia (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Adyghea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai).    

 

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

South Caucasus comprises… Armenia, Azerbaijan (including disputed Nagorno-Karabakh), Georgia (including disputed Abkhazia and South Ossetia)    

The village of Tindi, in Daghestan, in the late 1890s.

Tindi, Daghestan, late 1890s. "This region of the southern Caucasus is home to a mixed population, the majority of whom are Muslims (mosques and their adjoining minarets can be seen to both the left and right of the village). The photograph was taken by M. de Déchy, who returned from the area with large collections of plants, fossils, and photographs." Wikipedia, "Peoples of the Caucasus"

There is so much to write about:

How we traveled here (dirigible), Henry, Sister Alma Rose, Henry, Mr. Truman La Follette’s mama, how the Ancients’ communities remain hidden (not sure if I can even put this on paper, except to say that technology is both a help and a hindrance), Henry, how you can Pray Without Ceasing and still walk around and not bump into things, Henry….   

But I am going to begin with what is foremost in my mind (other than Henry), which I am trying to understand without passing judgment, which I am just beginning to study in preparation for being a Peacemaker of the Ancients, which was triggered by the YouTube dialogue at the very end of this little essay, which concerns…   

Ethnic Pride and Conflict among the Peoples of the Caucasus

 

I did not know that I was living a sheltered life. I believed that representatives of all manner of humanity came and went via Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green wraparound porch. I believed that “ethnic pride” was the kind of warm but not profound satisfaction I get out of my Scots heritage or the healthy awakening of pleasure in one’s own racial or ethnic background.   

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus (User:PMX)

I also believed that YouTube was a website where people shared videos (ranging from very polished to I-just-bought-this-camera-47-minutes-ago) and laughed or gagged and then moved on. Which it is, and I am a big YouTube fan, and I am certain that since I reported the comments you will soon read if you just hang with me here a minute they will be expeditiously removed from YouTube, we can all continue to be big YouTube fans. (You will get a hernia if you try to diagram that sentence.)

Crossroads of cultures and continents

Maps and photographs of the Caucasus sometimes make it appear to be not an area that you would just stumble upon or where you would be stumbled upon, given the altitude and the rough terrain. If I wanted to hide, I might say to myself, “I think I’ll just pop into this little village here, elevation about forty-five-hundred feet and inaccessible by road during the winter and tucked nicely into this deep gorge where it’s practically invisible, and no one will ever find me.” 

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

But I would probably be wrong, because I would not have taken into account (a) the invention of the helicopter, and (b) the region’s unique geography: its position at the virtual dividing line of Europe and Asia and also, historically to some extent, between Christian and Muslim cultures, though in parts of the Caucasus adherents of Christianity and Islam have peacefully coexisted for a long time; the region’s proximity to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Volga River, all important for shipping by virtue of being filled with water; its wealth of natural resources, including oil and other minerals; and its inexplicable popularity among tourists who evidently collect musculoskeletal injuries instead of postcards on their vacations.  

During the many decades that the Caucasus was part of the Soviet Union, hardly anybody with a normal job like “weed control inspector” or “dentist” had ever heard of Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia, unless one of those places happened to have a crabgrass or tooth-decay emergency that the Soviet professionals couldn’t handle, although that would have been unlikely in the extreme since, as I understand it, the Soviets basically marched the folk down out of the mountains, shouting instructions in whatever language had won the coin toss, and settled them in posh hotels to wait out the dictatorship.  

Tellingly, when the Soviet Union collapsed in, um, 1991? “a dozen or so families” decided to go back to what is literally a medieval fortress and village called Shatili, whose appearance is picturesque (see photo above) but bodes ill for coziness on those long, cold, high-altitude winters, though I could be mistaken, but I doubt it and under no circumstances will I go there without Sasha the Ski Patrol Samoyed. It’s just that, in the winter, once you’re there, you’re there, and that’s kind of the way it is until that bright summer day that signals the approach of autumn, and it seems that if you try to leave then you could be trampled by herds of trekkers taking advantage of the fine weather to photograph each other at their destination (Shatili) and then galloping back down the mountain with their overheated Samoyeds panting along behind.   

Grozny, Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya. Source: trunghocduytan.com

I did uncover— after much searching, avoiding anything written using an alphabet in which all the letters look like cursive W’s as well as “ergative-agglutinative languages [such as Chechen,… Ingush and Bats, which are members…] of the Nakh branch of the Northeast Caucasian language family” [Chechen (depending on the dialect) can have up to 60 consonants and 44 vowels, not to mention geminate fortis stops, ejectives, ligatures, aspirations, frigates, and so forth (Wikipedia)] — a concise and (as far as I can tell) factual article using the familiar Latin alphabet with no diacritics, thank God, there are times when a diacritic could just throw a person right over the brink — with paragraphs excerpted below that account in part for perennial conflict in the Caucasus (as if it weren’t enough that there is less than a 10-percent chance that you will ever be in the same room with five other people who speak the same language and dialect as yours, even in your own home).

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

Since the region is among the oldest settled regions on earth and populated by peoples speaking languages related to no others in the world, it has a great deal of history which extends far back into ancient times.  During the Soviet period history was either suppressed or forced into a rigid, dogmatic framework which left most Caucasian peoples feeling cheated of their past, but deeply concerned about their identity and their roots.  With the collapse of communism, they are free to repossess their history and explore their roots….   

Each ethnic group has its own version of its origin and its past and these, more often than not, conflict with neighbors’ versions.  There is, thus, a great deal of argumentation about history.  More often than not, current problems are debated in terms of ancient texts, archaeology, and even legends and myths.  Intriguing and entertaining as such argumentation may be, it tends to exacerbate and obfuscate conflicts rather than facilitate settlement of them. —Paul B. Henze, “Conflict In The Caucasus: Background, Problems, and Prospects for Mitigation,” CircassianWorld.com, accessed May 18, 2010   

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia. Photo: Tripwolf. Text: VisitGeorgia.ge. "The major part of the territory of Georgia is mountainous, therefore some of its regions like Khevsureti, Svaneti, Tusheti, Pshavi, Mtiuleti, Khevi ans Racha are hidden is high mountains. Each of them has its own history and traditions but they all have something in common: Americans cannot pronounce their names without extensive mouth surgery. NOT! Just seeing if you are paying attention. "Travelling in the mountains is an experience for live! Little has changed there since the Middle Ages. The fields are still worked with the scythe, and the ox and cart still remain the usual mode of transport. The people in the mountains live in a world of their own. They are proud and haughty as they have never had a master ruling over them. Even the continual aggressions of the enemy could not break their bellicose character. Although Christians, their religious practice still includes some pagan elements. Of course, ancient customs and traditions are very closely followed. In some parts the blood feud was observed even in the 20th century."

My research revealed little in the way of ethnic antipathy directed at Jews in particular, though there was some discussion about what constitutes genocide and there were isolated comments by Armenian sympathizers making light of the Holocaust or dismissing it as fiction.  

Comments on the video (I am ‘M’)

I have learned just enough about the Caucasus to understand how dismally ignorant I am. Just before I left Hilltop, however, Father Dooley and I spent hours discussing the history of the century preceding World War I, in which conflict, eastern European nationalism — in particular, Yugoslav nationalism, which no longer exists because the Yugoslavs, as a nationality, were a fiction, being actually composed of Serbs, Croats, Herzegovinians, and other peoples who couldn’t get along, and today, a century or so  later, there are so many splinter nationalist and ethnic groups* that some individuals have to be members of two groups at the same time — and so I was especially disheartened by the irrational and possibly inflammatory comments you are about to read, and in semi-real life, too, stirring what I suppose are similar chauvinistic passions.

* Some of the groups are just holdovers from antiquity, we postulate. 

Do I think that I, at not-quite-13, have more wisdom than “K” or “G”? Not necessarily, because I have never lived in the way described above under the photo of Bakuriani, that is, in a world of my own with no master, nor am I “bellicose” by nature. We puny weaklings learn early on that there are better ways to solve disputes. We also develop a sense of humor, which, perhaps, “being bellicose” and “having no master” do not facilitate. 

What I do know is that I am not fundamentally my nationality, my gender, my role in the family, my race, or any of the other qualities that Eckhart Tolle characterizes as “content” (emphasis on first syllable: CON-tent). Someone else has said that nothing you can know about yourself is your Self. Makes sense to me. 

Note that (1) The video referred to was a song about alchemy to which a fairly spectacular Caucasian video had been attached. The song itself is immaterial to the “debate.” (2) I have rearranged most of the comments into chronological order. (3) When you see the word Caucasian below, it will always refer to “Peoples of the Caucasus.”

dot

 3 months ago (?) — I`m very proud to be 100% caucasian! Caucasus will be free from russian Occupants. Our people will never give up to fight for freedom. Long live Caucasus!   

Pretty redhead

MOI, Fanny the Bilingual

3 months ago (?) — Georgians and all Caucasians always had to fight for the freedom. I think, that also this time it will not be peacefull, but the TRUTH is on our side. That gives me hope, that we`ll win.   

M – 1 week ago — [My comment addressed to creator of video, who did not participate in this conversation] I don’t know what is wrong with the 23 people who did not like this video. It is stunning. I just don’t know how you did it! You have L_____’s amazing song…, with YOUR beautiful video… which appears to relate to weddings, one long ago and one contemporary? And you make it work so well! I love the men’s dancing — They are the peacocks, the women are in the background. Thanks for this!    

G – 1 week ago — CAUCASIAN RACE THE PUREST EVER   

M – 3 days ago — Please. No one can control where they’re born or who their ancestors are. Your people and mine have been massacred because a bunch of people REALLY, REALLY did not like what we represented. And what do Jesus and all the wise prophets admonish us to do? Forgive. Emanate peace, not war. Who needs more wars?   

K – 3 days ago – 23 jews   

M — 3 days ago — Blaming the Jews is SO 20th-century. Isn’t it time we picked another scapegoat? How about the Congregationalists?   

K – 3 days ago — Not at all. The jews aren’t “scapegoats”, they are the aggressors.   

M – 3 days ago — ALL of them? My dentist? The kids I went to school with? Sweet Rabbi V_____ who brought me matzos and pineapple preserves when my family had nothing to eat? I truly, genuinely, with all my heart wish you and your people well, and I can understand (trust me) your feeling for this land that has been continuously occupied by your people perhaps longer than anywhere on earth. But the soul is more important than the tribe. No two souls are alike.   

K — 3 days ago — “ALL of them” ? Yes, of course, all of them, to the extent that they are jews. If Sweet Rabbi V_____ was so sweet with you I bet all my 20 $ that I own in cash that you are a jew. A rabbi is someone who knows the unholy jewish literature. He can prove to you that you must be cattle if you are not a parasite and that you are required to give up your property to them b/c all the wealth of the earth must be turned over to ugly tribal beelzebub. Thanks anyway for the reply.   

M — 45 minutes ago — I’ll take the $20 in quarters; I need them for the laundromat   

“K” gets around

Different issue, one in which I did not take part   

H – 3 days ago — You deserve to be killed
but I think you know that already
   

O – 2 days ago — Zionazi – I received your private love letter, in which you wrote: “I want to slit your throat open can you tell me where you live so I can slit your throat” I have a vehicle so why don’t you tell me where you live?  There are no bus stops for you near my house.   

K – 2 days ago — The United States look like they are on their way out and those wars for the jews help a lot. They tell the soldiers that the Afghans aren´t human and that´s why they are able to massacre them at a whim. It is the attitude of the kosher parasite who lives by his unholy and insane religion. If you aren´t a parasite then you must be his cattle.   

 

These comments were still in place this morning (Tuesday), though it had been only about 12 hours since I flagged them. And may I say something schoolmarmish and utterly irrelevant here? *** The last two syllables of antisemitic rhyme with critic. *** Please do not refer to a man as a chauvinist unless you really do mean that he is “fanatically patriotic.” *** Thank  you.   

   

Photo sources
Kaukasus Reisen— Flora in the Caucasus, a Botanical Journey to Kazbegi, Bakuriani and to the Black Sea Region, June/July 2009
Tripwolf, Bakuriani   

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Burning Bridges

Journal of a Departed Friend, Part 3

Aristotle's **Metaphysics** (image by Peter Damian)

Aristotle's **Metaphysics** (image by Peter Damian)

Sister Alma Rose recently received part of a journal from the year 1985 that was bequeathed to her by an old friend. Here is an excerpt:

natdingbat2

There is nothing permanent except change. —Heraclitus

 

Heraclitus, 535-475 BCE, by Johannes Moreelse

Heraclitus, 535-475 BCE, by Johannes Moreelse

 

O ye ancients, you had no idea! You, Heraclitus, what did you know in the sixth century BCE of lasers or nuclear power or even of sewing machines and polyester?

What of moving across the North American continent four times in ten years?

What of endemic divorce or heroin addiction or John Holmes, radioactive fallout, toxic waste, latchkey children, the microchip?

Integrated circuit of Atmel Diopsis 740 System on chip showing memory blocks, logic and input/output pads around the periphery

Integrated circuit of Atmel Diopsis 740 System on chip showing memory blocks, logic and input/output pads around the periphery

The Duke Prosper Oak, Belgium (photo by Jon-Paul Grandmont)

The Duke Prosper Oak, Belgium (photo by Jon-Paul Grandmont)

They have cut down the oak tree outside the bay window of the house where I grew up.  I suppose that it was causing problems with the plumbing or leaks into the basement. But it is surely gone, as are the mother and father who raised me there, the neighbors who chased me away from their rosebushes or held me on their laps and told stories, the misanthropic widow whose porch was always dark on Hallowe’en.

Little boys' walnut cache

Little boys' walnut cache

There is now, behind our house, a walnut tree, and every year the walnuts are not cracked and eaten, but gathered and stockpiled by little boys who pretend to be squirrels or chipmunks, or else the boys are pirates and the nuts become rubies and gold nuggets.

So many losses and so many gains, and who can slow the whirl to add them up, properly weighted, and say, “I have more,” or “I have less.”
“Time is a sort of river of passing events,” Marcus Aurelius has said, “and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing  brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”
The Maria Valeria Bridge, connecting Hungary to Slovakia (photographer, Alan Ford)

The Maria Valeria Bridge, connecting Hungary to Slovakia (photographer, Alan Ford)

Well, maybe so, but I do a lot of swimming upstream and down trying to change things and being bashed with flotsam and jetsam in the process. I like the thought of the river, though, despite the bashing; it makes better poems about life than do caves and sailing ships.

Have you ever considered, Heraclitus, that maybe nothing changes except what is permanent?

* * *
River, when I stand aside and watch, billow up and pull me in.

rose_yelllow_lowell_thomas_by_elucidate
The Ancients, Part 1 — Daddy Pete

Sister Alma Rose Prays for Actualization

Undertakings

“Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the Lord.
“Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God.
—Isa. 66:9


Bless, O God, the pure ideas of the heart that come
on sympathetic winds and germinate on fertile ground
within. Help us nurture them; protect them from a
summer day too hot, a storm too violent.
And make them sturdy, to withstand
the well-meant cautionary words of relatives and friends who
want us to be safe and wish to spare us disappointment.

Make in each of us a garden well supplied with sun and rain, and
teach us husbandry. May we be strong and clear of sight, and thus
not lightly swayed from our intentions; if we are convinced that you
began the planting as a gift of work and purpose, may
we not abandon it.

How will we know a grand idea from a flight of fancy? I think
if it is heaven-sent it will be eager and exuberant. Perhaps its fruit
will heal the sick or feed the hungry, shade the weary, school
the wise, or simply yield delight, a place of loveliness radiant
with love, a feast for pilgrims’ eyes.

——————–

Read more prayers and poems in Unfamiliar Territory, by Mary Campbell.

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Photo © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

 

 

Sister Alma Rose Prays for Ben

Finding Joy in the Middle

All kinds of people find their way to Sister Alma Rose’s farmhouse on the hill above the little town of Hilltop. If the day is fine, she sits in her green wicker rocking chair on the big wraparound porch with the pine floor painted grass-green, and Mr. Truman LaFollette, who’s seven feet tall if he’s an inch, serves real lemonade, fresh-squeezed and cooked with beet sugar, then mixed with the purest, coldest well water on Planet Earth. Something about the hill and the house and the porch and the lemonade and Sister Alma Rose, who is serenity itself, draws people who need to tell their stories, and if there’s anything Sister Alma Rose knows how to do, it’s listen to people’s stories.

So she listens. Maybe she asks a few questions. Usually she doesn’t have to. She crochets, or she sews tiny hem stitches on one of the long, silky dresses she makes, and if the needle stops moving, it’s like a question, and then the person goes on talking and the needle starts moving again.

Sister Alma Rose has been around for a long, long time, and there isn’t much that she hasn’t heard. But it’s always a mistake, she says, to jump to conclusions. No two people are alike, she says, and you can’t put them into clumps. Betty’s story might be like Ellen’s story except for one tiny detail, and it’s the tiny detail that makes all the difference.

“Heaven ain’t a factory,” she says. “Human beings don’t have interchangeable parts.”

I guess that’s why people come to Sister Alma Rose. She knows who they are, how they’re different, where they fit in the universe. She hardly ever gives advice. Usually, when they’re done telling their stories, she’ll tell a story back, and it doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything, but everybody who finds his way to Sister Alma Rose’s wraparound porch comes away a little wiser, a little more sure where he’s headed and how to read the signs.

One warm July afternoon, when I was 12 years old and needing some of Mr. Truman LaFollette’s lemonade and the coolness of Sister Alma Rose’s front porch, I sat down on the top step with my frosty glass and watched Sister Alma Rose crochet for a while, and then I looked up into the big old cottonwood tree that shaded the porch, and marveled, as I always do, at the way even a small breeze makes the leaves quiver and show their silver sides. Green, yellow, silver, shimmering in the sun and a breath of wind, and whispering—that’s what cottonwoods do.

I don’t know how long we sat there, comfortable and content, before Sister Alma Rose said, “Miss Fanny, we need to pray for Ben.”

You know Mr. Clean, the big muscular bald guy on the bottle of yellow goop you wash your kitchen with? Ben looks like Mr. Clean, except Ben is dark brown. And much better-looking. I was there, on Sister Alma Rose’s porch, when Ben showed up the first time.

If I’m sitting with Sister Alma Rose when someone appears, desperate to tell his story, she always lets me stay and listen. Whoever it is doesn’t seem to notice me anyway—I used to think Sister Alma Rose made me invisible—and he just talks away, and Sister Alma Rose knows I won’t tell anybody.

So when Ben walked up the long gravel drive that first time—it was early November, just cool enough so you needed a sweater and jeans instead of a T-shirt and shorts, and the cottonwood leaves were turning bright yellow and crisp—I just stayed put on the porch step while Sister Alma Rose smiled at Ben, that smile that makes the rain stop and the sun come out, and he sat down in a green wicker chair at the green wicker table, and Mr. Truman LaFollette appeared out of nowhere with a pitcher of lemonade.

Ben and Sister Alma Rose started out talking about what a fine day it was for November and how long the late-summer roses were lasting and filling the air with their sweetness, and somehow, without seeming to change the subject, Ben was telling Sister Alma Rose about how he’d just been passing through LaMesa, which is a bigger town than Hilltop and several miles down the road—it takes me half an hour to get there on my bicycle—and he’d fallen in love with a crazy woman there in LaMesa, and he’d stayed on, and now the crazy woman was pregnant, and Ben thought he was going crazy himself.

During this conversation, and several others, I learned that Ben had grown up in Philadelphia; that his father was a dark-brown man and his mama was a white woman; that his mama’s family was ashamed of having a dark-brown grandbaby and had made her ashamed too, and so she had up and left her husband and her baby and had gone back to her family in Texas.

Ben told Sister Alma Rose how his daddy, who is dead, had been a good man, a recovering alcoholic, while Ben was growing up. Ben had a bunch of older brothers and sisters who had a different mama, and the brothers and sisters were all “crackheads.” Sister Alma Rose told me later what that meant (I was only 8 then, and the only drug I knew about was penicillin).

Ben didn’t take drugs and he wasn’t supposed to drink liquor because he lost part of his stomach in a drive-by shooting that was meant for somebody else, but sometimes he drank anyway, for days at a time, and at first when he was drinking he’d get crazy mean and then he’d just get sick. And he’d been drinking a lot lately, he said, because of his crazy girlfriend, who either clung to him like he was the only lifeboat in a big scary ocean or else screamed at him and told him if he didn’t go away and leave her alone she’d call the cops and he’d go to jail. And she would have, and he would have, because she’d already told the cops that he was abusive, and as a result of her lies, he was on probation.

Here’s the thing about Ben: He’s big and handsome and has a beautiful smile and a beautiful heart, and God talks to him, direct, in dreams. I told Sister Alma Rose I’d do anything to have God talk to me in dreams, and Sister Alma Rose only smiled and said God talks to me other ways. She said God talks to people in their own language, and Ben is a dreamer so God talks to him in dreams.

Ben told Sister Alma Rose that he wanted to go home to his people in Philadelphia—I didn’t understand that, either, but Sister Alma Rose did—but he was afraid for the baby. He was afraid to leave the baby with a crazy mama.

Sister Alma Rose stopped crocheting and looked at him, and he looked back at her, and what those looks said was that God looks after his own and hadn’t Ben been left with no mama and a bunch of crackheads and come out of it sweet and strong and innocent?

Well, so Ben went back to Philadelphia and stayed with one of his crackhead sisters until he got a job and saved a little money and moved into his own place. Every so often he came back to LaMesa to see his beautiful little boy, who has skin like honey and soft hair in silky black curls, and he brought the child to visit us.

In Philadelphia he went through several jobs and girlfriends and apartments, restless, looking for something, not sure what it was. Sister Alma Rose said he was “struggling with his roots,” resisting the pull of his family and his old friends and their way of life. She was very proud of him, and when he came to visit she would tell him some story or another that helped him see a destination, I think.

He was becoming wise. He once said to me, “Fanny, life is simple mathematics. It’s as simple as one plus one equals two. If something is positive—if it makes you feel strong and healthy and good about yourself—then you follow that thing. If something is negative—if it makes you feel weak or sick, if it’s hurtful to you or somebody else—then you stay away from that thing.”

Just the week before, I had sat silently in the shadow of the cottonwood and listened to a little girl not much older than I was tell Sister Alma Rose how her stepfather beat on her and her baby brother and her mama, and her mama wouldn’t leave him or call the police, even when the little boy had to be taken to the hospital, and then the children’s real daddy came to the house with a gun, and when the man came at him with a knife, he shot the man dead. Sister Alma Rose’s eyes gleamed—sadness and anger mixed with satisfaction, I think, that the stepfather wouldn’t hurt any more women or children. Usually Sister Alma Rose just listens, but she put the little girl to bed in her cozy pink attic bedroom and called Cousin Dulcie, who came to “see to” the family, and magical things happened, as they always seem to do whenever Cousin Dulcie is involved.

Anyway, I could understand what Ben was talking about because I knew that some people can’t pull themselves away from the “negatives.” Sister Alma Rose says that a lot of folks can’t accept the good in life because they feel like they don’t deserve it. They don’t understand, Sister Alma Rose says, about Grace.

“We always pray for Ben,” I said to Sister Alma Rose on that warm July afternoon. And, I thought, God had answered our prayers. Ben had found a good job and a steady girlfriend who helped him stay grounded, he had told us. “Do we need to pray extra hard today?”

“Close your eyes, Fanny McElroy, and think of Jesus,” Sister Alma Rose said, and then she prayed out loud for a long time. “God in Heaven, you’ve watched over that boy and lifted him time and time again as he was falling, and kept his heart pure and his spirit strong. Now he’s going to be a daddy again, and that’s scarier and more wonderful than anything that’s ever happened in his life.” She prayed for Ben to be a father like her own Daddy Pete—firm and gentle, wise and humble and willing to learn, and always watching for God to show him the way, “with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And grant him peace, and rest for his spirit, and a light heart. Amen.”

We sat quiet for a while, and then I asked Sister Alma Rose if we’d always have to pray for Ben, or would there be a time when we would know he’d be okay. “Do stories ever have happy endings?” I asked.

Sister Alma Rose chuckled. “Honey, real-life stories don’t have endings, so we have to learn to find joy in the middle. Look there,” she said, pointing to the oak grassland that stretches from her garden to the road. “There’s poppies bloomin’ in the woods.”

Sure enough, a bright red-orange patch had erupted in the shade of the oaks, where poppies have no business growing. I had seen them there before, twice, and I knew them for what they were—a badge of love… a promise of Grace….

And I took a deep breath and drank in the bliss of thick summer air heavy with the smell of roses, and of cold lemonade and clear well water and whispering cottonwood leaves, and it filled me completely, and I thought that if life never got any better than right here, right now, it would be okay with me….