A Lovely Young Woman

Green leaf on blue water

'Up the mountain'—the pool at the spring near the Upper Shrine*

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Digesting a Difficult Book

Beautiful redhead with freckles

Fanny at almost-13

Fanny, who will be 13 in August, is about to leave for Daylight, the almost-inaccessible mountaintop home of the Ancients, with her mentor, Sister Alma Rose, and Henry, the man she knows she will someday marry. Fanny has learned only recently that she is a reincarnation from the Ancients. She will live with them until she feels that she is ready to serve among the “Lowlanders,” doing the healing and peacemaking work that will become her mission.

coffeecup wingding

I am packed to go “up the mountain” — indefinitely, although Mama and Daddy will be allowed to visit because they’re “special,” and I can come home as often as I want, maybe via magic carpet, I’m not really sure. Sister Alma Rose and Henry will be taking me. Henry will stay as long as I do; Sister Alma Rose is keeping mum about her plans.

Saint John of the Cross, 1542-1591

Saint John of the Cross, 1542-1591

While we are waiting to leave, Sister Alma Rose has assigned me to read The Metaphysics of Mysticism, A Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross, by Geoffrey K. Mondello, a book of which “the goal… is unabashedly epistemological.” Whew! What if it had been gastronomical? Would I have been forced to eat the book? Would it have eaten me? And tidied up afterward?

It is heavy going; the author uses a lot of words such as solipsistic. And only occasionally can I infer the meaning of an unfamiliar word from the context, because the context is full of words such as refractory (not to be confused with refectory, which is where St. John and his fellow Carmelites went to eat dinner).

And so I slog along, reading indoors at the computer so that I can easily look up words every three or four sentences, until it is just irresistibly gorgeous outside, when I lug the unabridged dictionary out to the garden or go read on Sister Alma Rose’s porch. Sometimes I think she forgets I’m only 12.

Detail from Riding a Flying Carpet, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1880

Detail from Riding a Flying Carpet, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1880

Visiting Cousin George

Mama was an only child and so was her cousin George. (Everyone I know just calls him “George,” even my little brothers.) George and his parents— Mama’s mother’s brother and his wife (“Big George” and Jake, I don’t know her real name) farmed outside of Hilltop when Mama and George were kids, so they were like siblings.

Now George lives in Chicago, but he is hardly ever there because he makes huge amounts of money as a freelance photographer who specializes in going with linguistic anthropologists to remote places like Papua New Guinea (where more than 850 indigenous languages are spoken!) and the Amazon rainforest. So when he is in the U.S., which is hardly ever, he comes to see Mama or she goes to Chicago, and since he was at home last week, and I was going to be leaving soon, Mama, Henry, and I all flew to Chicago. Henry bought our tickets, and I still don’t know where he gets all his money, even though his parents are rich, but they don’t know where he is, and I don’t understand that either. I’m sure he’ll tell me when he’s ready to tell me (this is the new, patient, serene Me talking). 

 
 
 

The Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

The Amazon rainforest, Brazil

We didn’t tell George that I am going to Daylight, although if you could tell anyone and not be scoffed at, it would be George. We also didn’t exactly explain about Henry, but George takes everything in stride. His wife, Annette, used to go with him on long assignments, but she and their baby (Annette was five months’ pregnant) died on Borneo, not from some exotic jungle disease or snakebite or anything. She was standing at the edge of a four-foot embankment near a dry streambed when an insect flew into her eye, and she lost her footing and belly-flopped onto the hard ground, and she died of “multiple internal injuries” in a helicopter on the way to the hospital.

Being the observer

This tragedy happened while Mama was carrying me, so the baby, who was a girl, would be about my age. I used to wonder if I might be an unwelcome reminder of George’s unborn child— he always seemed to be scrutinizing me— but Sister Alma Rose has taught me to not be self-conscious but to observe rather than “feeling observed,” and when I started observing George I realized that he scrutinizes everybody, because he is actually interested. George is a person who lives in the moment. As Sister Alma Rose says, George remembers “where he is” (here) and “what time it is” (now). He’s kind and sensitive but not at all sentimental. He probably doesn’t know it, but he practices “mindfulness.”

Sexy blonde with cigarette, leather outfit, and fur stole

Daddy thinks Carla's a spy

George’s girlfriend, Carla, swears like a sailor and is physically the kind of woman who could have been called a “blond bombshell” in an earlier era. Carla might be a little on the flashy side for high society, and you might assume that she was no rocket scientist, but you’d be wrong because that’s exactly what she is, an aerospace engineer who was an associate professor at some university with initials like M.I.T. but not M.I.T., but now she’s a handsomely paid consultant with ultra-ultra security clearance, and she loves to talk but she doesn’t talk about her work. Carla lives in George’s apartment when he’s away and when he’s home. Daddy doesn’t approve, not that anybody asked him.

George is a self-professed Christian who says he has seen God’s grace “up close and personal” too many times to doubt its reality. It was grace, he says, that brought him and Carla together and that keeps their relationship strong though they both travel a lot and sometimes Carla can’t tell even George where she’s going.

Sultry beautiful blond woman

...Dagmar WAS a spy...

Daddy thinks Carla’s a spy. That’s because a long time ago, just before Mama and Daddy got married, there was a woman called Dagmar who was another “blond bombshell,” and she worked at the Diner and chewed gum and had this Bronx accent, and Daddy told Mama, “She’s a spy,” and Mama said, “What would a spy be doing in Hilltop?” and Daddy said, “Keeping a low profile,” and Mama laughed because Dagmar would have stood out anywhere, but it turned out that Daddy was right and Dagmar was a spy for the Russians or the Chinese or something. Daddy said she was less like a waitress than like somebody playing a waitress on television, and the gum-chewing and Bronx accent were “overkill.”

Loving is the main thing

Coffee in a light-blue mug

...a wonderful time drinking coffee...

Our day in Chicago ended too soon. We all had a wonderful time drinking coffee and eating George’s “culinary specialty,” fruit salad made with cream cheese and marshmallow cream and it is just to die for, if everyone had left the room I would have been compelled to eat it all.

As Sister Alma Rose has told me over and over until it finally sunk in, you cannot be loving when you are being an “observee” instead of an observer.  And loving is the main thing. So I got over myself; I relaxed and observed instead of being self-conscious and feeling as if all eyes were on me. It was fabulous, wonderful, liberating… liberating most of all. And when we left, George told Mama he thought I had “grown into a lovely young woman.” I didn’t need George’s approval any more, but it felt good. Validating. “The truth shall make you free.” **

 * Green leaf on blue water, vnwallpapers.com
** John 8:32

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Moving Right Along

Purple Flowering Shrub to illustrate prayer "The Shrub"Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

The Shrub:
Prayer for a Happy Home and for Difficult Transitions

Glory be to you, Creator and Redeemer, Father-Mother of us all

It was as if I’d one leg that had put down
deep, good roots—the rest of me was flailing,
not in an endeavor to escape, No! but to stay
there, stay forever; not for freedom, but for
safety, so I did believe. “I can’t!” I cried. My
tears were shed to no avail, for they (the
gardeners) merely hauled me out, to plant me
in some other yard. I thought I’d die;
however, as it happened, though the roots
were bared and some were torn and I called
out in pain (while they pretended not to
listen, but I knew they cared), the roots ran
broad and shallow, and not deep at all, and I
can keep my foot and all my toes, it seems.

Red Clover to illustrate poem "The Shrub - Prayer for Happy Home and Difficult Transitions"

Well, they were not mean-spirited or so
unkind as just to leave me to the task and
drop me any-old-where; they asked, and I
said, “There, please.” There they stopped, and
sent me in with my valises, oh, so many! and
they went away. I didn’t mind so much,
although I wish it all had happened faster, for
I sit here yet with my belongings strewn at
random… nor do my legs, quite tender from
the struggle, function right. The touchy, easily
offended, mewling voice, in protest, whispers,
“This is wrong.” But it’s too late; I silence it.

Blue Sheer Curtain Window Toothbrushes to illustrate prayer-poem

My troubles found me, with that radar that
they have, and seemed to double in the
interim. But by your grace, O God, I shall win all
the little victories and overcome the obstacles,
with them, with the detritus, the unholy mess,
eventually, I’m not sure how, but I don’t need to
be… in you, there’s no uncertainty. This morning,
anyway, I hear a pair of cardinals calling to
each other, far away, then nearer, or else
bolder, and the sun is warm upon my hair, my
neck, my shoulders; it’s enough and more for
now.

Images: vnwallpapers.net
except as noted

Sister Alma Rose Finds God Beneath the Bed

Sunlight filtering through the leaves of a tree

...in the filtered sunlight

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Remembering to breathe

Green, green countryside, dotted with evergreen and deciduous trees, bisected by a paved country road that curves and climbs with the landscape

All roads lead to Heaven

Sister Alma Rose uncharacteristically threw the newspaper down in disgust. Raising her eyes toward Heaven, she sighed deeply.

“I try, Lord. Y’all know how hard I’ve tried. This animosity weighs heavy on me, and I am truly sorry, but I am so very, very weary of atheists.”

Sister Alma Rose is like a deep, clear stream flowing with love. I forget sometimes that she is human, too.

“Sister Alma Rose,” I chided, “you’ve taught me that unbelievers are just on a different road than we are and their journey to God is just beginning.”

Pretty girl, about 12 years old

I, Fanny

“Yes, Fanny McElroy,” she smiled, “y’all are right, of course. Sometimes it just seems like these folks are taking giant steps backward, and if they keep on that way they’re just gonna take one step too many and fall back into the crick, and right now I just don’t feel like fishing them out.”

“You’d better go pray, Sister Alma Rose,” I said soberly.

She beamed at me and disappeared into the house. “And meditate,” I called after her.

Later I found her in the chapel, and she handed me this sheet of paper, covered with her handwriting, which is big and she makes her letters real rounded.

Biracial toddler out with his dad, practicing his walking.

...We cleave to him because we cling to life

IF GOD ISN’T

Some say, “There is no God,” as if they had
looked everywhere, beneath the beds, in every
room, in all the corners and the closets.

Some say, “God is dead,” assuming, one
supposes, that there used to be a God and now
there’s not, perhaps he failed to take his
antioxidants and got pneumonia and
succumbed. Then all the lights went out. Love
fled the universe. How odd I didn’t notice.

Atheist — a scary word, invoking images of iris
petals wilted, sweet-faced shelties’ tails gone
still, and all the patients dying in the hospital.
Cold, cold wind no longer softly stirring leaves
on cottonwoods to start them chattering in
muted voices, whispering the secrets of the
universe, and fluttering, bright green and silver,
in the filtered sunlight. Now the wind is without
mercy, angry, for it’s lost its destination, willful,
but without an object, turning all the foliage
brown for spite, the way a spoiled child might
sweep a tray of heirloom china to the floor and
grasp a moments’ satisfaction in the shattering,
but instantly it passes and the child is discontent
again and looking frantically for more.

But no. Not even this. For if God isn’t, nothing lives.

In the end, it comes down to semantics, if one
knows Love and Life and dares to breathe, which
is an affirmation. Love, and Life, and Inspiration are
his synonyms, whose name is lost in mystery. And
yet we know him by sublime emotion, we could
even find him in the exercise of reason; and we
cleave to him because we cling to Life.

So look for him, ye seekers all, beneath the bed,
in cobwebs, kings and counts and cabbages, and
cups of chocolate. Behold! You’ve found his hiding
place! For if God isn’t, nothing is.

A row of cottonwood trees, probably a windbreak once

...cottonwoods chattering in muted voices

Sister Alma Rose is full of surprises sometimes.

* * *

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Catholic Things

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Father Dooley's temporary church

Father Dooley's temporary church

Religious Differences

Sister Alma Rose is not a Roman Catholic, but she is telling Father Dooley and me that she used to want to be a nun “in the worst way.” (Ha ha.)

“Oh?” Father Dooley says interestedly, raising one eyebrow, which, I don’t know HOW he does that, but of course I don’t know how to whistle, either, though I can do cartwheels one-handed. “What changed your mind?”

I have made Father Dooley promise to always keep me informed of his whereabouts, if one of us moves out of Hilltop, so that when the Pope allows priests to get married I can get to his city on the next plane. Father Dooley's, not the Pope's

I have made Father Dooley promise to always keep me informed of his whereabouts, if one of us moves out of Hilltop, so that when the Pope allows priests to get married I can jet to his city on the next plane. Father Dooley's, not the Pope's

“The wardrobe,” Sister Alma Rose says, “because, really, can y’all picture what I’d look like in one of them outfits? A giant beetle, is what I’d look like.”

Father Dooley laughs and says that many nuns just wear regular street clothes these days, and Sister Alma Rose says that would take all the fun out of it. Like, why be a doctor if you’re not going to wear a white lab coat and a stethoscope?

Father Dooley is spending a lot of time sitting on Sister Alma Rose’s porch this fall because his church, Saints Peter and Paul, had a bad fire and no one can go into the building.

They are having church, or, whaddayacallit, Mass, and, I guess, Confession and Catechism and the Inquisition and the other stuff that Catholics do, in an empty warehouse that used to be Hilltop Elementary School when Mama and Daddy were kids.

But Father Dooley’s paper files and computer and desk, et cetera, all got burnt to a Frito, and he has this lackey priest-in-waiting who is taking care of that little administrative problem while he, Father Dooley, sits on Sister Alma Rose’s porch and drinks Mr. Truman LaFollette’s indescribable lemonade.

The Catechism Lesson, Jules-Alexis Muenier 1890

The Catechism Lesson, by Jules-Alexis Muenier 1890

But Father Dooley is not slacking off, oh, no, he is here on church business, because we are talking about Catholic things, two in particular: (1) the execution of heretics by means of setting fire to them, and (2) the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), which, unlike Father Dooley’s office, is extant.

Transubstantiation is NOT “a way for commuters to get to work”

Lady Jane Grey (above) and Queen Mary each believed that the other's soul was damned. And they MEANT it! The Reformers had piled up a lot of grievances over the centuries during which the Roman Catholic Church had amassed power, money, and land. It was the rule rather than the exception for popes and cardinals to have mistresses, if not secret wives and children. Priests lined their pockets with "indulgences" — money from their Flocks for the wiping away of sins.

Lady Jane Grey (above, looking a bit peaked) and Queen Mary each believed that the other's soul was damned. And they MEANT it! The Reformers had piled up a lot of grievances over the centuries during which the Roman Catholic Church had amassed power, money, and land. It was the rule rather than the exception for popes and cardinals to have mistresses, if not secret wives and children. Priests lined their pockets with "indulgences" — money from their Flocks for the wiping away of sins.

Father Dooley and I have been debating the following question:

Why did Lady Jane Grey have to die?

And the short answer, we agree, is that Lady Jane, a Protestant, made quite a point of NOT believing in transubstantiation and a few other points of Roman Catholic doctrine at a time when a VERY Catholic queen, Mary I, was on the throne in England. (That’s “Mary the First,” not “Mary Eye.”)

Transubstantiation is the alleged changing of the bread and wine served at holy communion into the actual body and blood of Christ.

NOW: It’s not like Catholics believe that the bread turns into, like, skin and fingers and toes and the wine gets all thick and red and has little platelets swimming around in it. Father Dooley says that the substance of the “host” and the wine changes but not their their appearance or texture.

I, personally, do not care, and neither does Sister Alma Rose, who dislikes discussing doctrinal issues.

She says that we all believe in the same God, who created the universe as an expression of divine love, and that God knows and cares about us each individually, and that God makes his love known to us through grace… and if we can agree on that, why aren’t we having a big ecumenical party and celebrating instead of arguing about minor details?

A medieval Mass being celebrated by a bishop

A medieval Mass being celebrated by a bishop

Father Dooley says several things in response, which I will summarize:

  1. Everybody DOESN’T agree with that, what Sister Alma Rose says, and in fact some of it could be considered “doctrine.” (Sister Alma Rose snorts.)
  2. Our actions have consequences: Like, if you stick your hand in a pot of boiling water, your hand will burn.
  3. We are all screwing up (Father Dooley’s words) all the time, acting in unloving ways. Love is a miracle, a gift of grace, and cannot be deserved. If we always got what we deserved, we would be crackers.
  4. Jesus’ life and teachings, death, and resurrection are proof of a higher law, which is that God’s love is greater than the law of consequences; or, rather, that God, through Jesus, paid the piper so that we wouldn’t have to go around weighed down by guilt and anxiety. This only works if we admit we behaved badly (confession) and want very much not to keep behaving badly (repentance), and if we accept the sacrifice (communion) and are grateful for it. That is the freedom Jesus promised; that is the Good News.
  5. We are likely to take communion more to heart — to be blown away by the liberating acceptance of God’s sacrifice for our sakes — if we believe that the bread is Jesus’ body and the wine is his blood, than if we are just eating stale bread crumbs and drinking grape juice.
  6. This is not all just a matter of collecting chits for the Afterlife. Salvation is here and now, overcoming sickness and all manner of other here-and-now penalties for less-than-perfect behavior.

Well, I say to Father Dooley, this is all fine and good, but I still don’t think it’s worth having your head chopped off over. Transubstantiation is not even in the Bible, after all. Jesus said, at the Last Supper, “This is my body, broken for you,” but he was always speaking metaphorically, saying stuff like, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” et cetera.

The  Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, 1498

The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci 1498

The Nine Days’ Queen

King Edward VI of England, William Scrots, c. 1550

King Edward VI of England, by William Scrots c. 1550

Lady Jane Grey was the Queen of England for nine days in 1553, after Edward VI and before Mary I, “Bloody Mary,” as she came to be called. (For more information, see “Historical Background,” below.)

Lady Jane did not want to be queen. She was only sixteen, and she was indeed a staunch Protestant, but a group of greedy grownups, including her own parents, made her marry this awful man, Lord Guilford Dudley, and then persuaded the ruling council to name her queen, and so queen she was, for nine days, until Mary Tudor swept down upon London with several thousand of the faithful, and, voila, Mary was queen and Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death.

Mary and Jane were cousins, and Mary really did not want to execute Jane, knowing that Jane was made queen over her own objections. Mary told Jane she would let her off the hook if Jane would just convert to the True Faith, Roman Catholicism, and to tell you the truth, if I’d been Jane, I would have said, fine, okay, but I would have had my fingers crossed and then I would have gone back to my cozy life of studying Protestant doctrine and having my servants do my laundry and cook my meals. But Jane, a better woman than I, or a more stubborn one, refused.

A 15th-century representation of the Tower of London. Shown is the White Tower, begun by William the Conquerer in 1078. The White Tower still stands, but it is now part of a large complex of buildings that comprise "The Tower"

A 15th-century representation of the Tower of London. Shown is the White Tower, begun by William the Conquerer in 1078. The White Tower still stands, but it is now part of a large complex of buildings that comprise "The Tower"

Jane was mostly concerned with doctrinal issues. She could not accept the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation — plus, she had an illegal English translation of the Bible, and she was studying Greek and Hebrew so that she could read the original biblical texts rather than translations. The Catholic Church didn’t want lay persons reading the Bible at all, because if they read it than they would begin to interpret it.

Verdict: A sad waste of a young life

My debate with Father Dooley is no debate at all, as it turns out, because we pretty much agree about Lady Jane.

“Two things,” says Father Dooley, holding up two fingers so I won’t forget that he has two points to make.

“First, it’s hard for our modern ecumenical way of thinking to understand how radical it was to depart in any way from Catholic doctrine. For centuries, the Catholic church had been the ONLY Christian church, and it was not used to being disagreed with. In fact, when Henry VIII broke with the church, the Pope excommunicated him, and all of England with him. Heaven, according to the church, was not available to those who had been excommunicated.

Death by burning

Death by burning

“Second, even in the context of her time, and I believe she was beheaded in the 1550s, Lady Jane could have saved herself in good conscience. As brilliant a scholar as she was, she was also very young and very new to the heady freedom of Protestant thinking. Even her Protestant teachers warned her that she was excessively dogmatic. It’s very sad, really, especially since Elizabeth would be queen within a few years, and the policy of her reign was one of tolerance.”

Mary Tudor — Queen Mary I, or “Bloody Mary,” as she has become known — was merciful to her cousin Jane in having her beheaded. Before the end of Mary’s reign, almost three hundred “heretics” would be burned on street corners, in full view of the populace.

Eternal damnation

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science

Mary seems to have sincerely believed that her reign of terror was saving souls from eternal damnation — not the souls of those being burned, it was too late for them — but the souls of those who looked on, who heard the screams and smelled the charred flesh.

Sister Alma Rose has no patience with preachers of hellfire and damnation. She believes that we grow spiritually over a succession of earthly incarnations. Thus she does not believe that ANY souls are consigned eternally to hell. She likes to quote Mary Baker Eddy on the subject:

Does Divine Love commit a fraud on humanity by making man inclined to sin, and then punishing him for it? …In common justice, we must admit that God will not punish man for doing what he created man capable of doing, and knew from the outset that man would do. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil.”  —Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 356:25 ff.

To be continued… Praying the Hours (the Divine Office)

The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

Historical Background — The Man Who Would Be Pope

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, was beheaded May 19, 1536, at the Tower of London

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, was beheaded May 19, 1536, at the Tower of London

I have been reading a lot of historical fiction about England (c. 1150 – 1600) lately, and I’ve read, like, five books in a row about Anne Boleyn

—because it’s so much fun to find out which authors think that

  • (a) Anne Boleyn was a world-class B-word (Daddy won’t let me say or spell the B-word that rhymes with witch, but then he also didn’t think that I should be reading about Anne Boleyn because if he had his way I’d still be reading Thomas the Tank Engine and playing with Barbies, which, excuse me, are way more obscene than Anne Boleyn), and (b) Henry VIII the longsuffering husband, as opposed to those authors who think that
  • (a) Anne Boleyn was June Cleaver in tights — no, wait, it was Henry who wore tights — and (b) Henry was a cruel tyrant.
Henry VIII, King of England, born 1491, reigned 1509-1547

Henry VIII, King of England, born 1491, reigned 1509-1547

The truth is that Henry was a spoiled baby, and spoiled babies are often tyrants. But because he was the King of England and not an ACTUAL baby, his tyrannical acts had lasting and tragic consequences, inasmuch as there was no one with the authority to send him to bed without his supper.

Henry established the Church of England, as separate from the Roman Catholic Church, with himself as the Supreme Head.

He’d been waiting six years for the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn and make her queen and force her by intimidation and other methods that hardly ever work to have healthy baby boys.

Finally, tired of waiting for the Pope, he said, in effect, “I’ll just make up my OWN church and marry Anne and dissolve the wealthy monasteries and seize all their stuff.”

But he, Henry, did not mean for church doctrine or worship to change at all. He was not in sympathy with reformers such as Martin Luther. The English Reformation, however, got away from him. Once started, it couldn’t be stopped.

* * *

The Succession

Tudor_succession_diagram(2)

Jane Seymour, Queen Consort of England 1536-1537

Jane Seymour, Queen Consort of England 1536-1537

When Henry died, AT LONG LAST, his only legitimate son, Edward Tudor, became Edward VI, King of England.

Edward, whose mother was Jane Seymour (Henry’s third wife; she died a few weeks after giving birth), was only nine years old and he didn’t really run the country… a bunch of greedy grownups made all the political decisions.

But Edward was a committed Protestant and so while he was king the real Reformers in England were more active.

At age fifteen, after he had been king for only six years, Edward died of a lung disease (probably tuberculosis).

Then all hell broke loose.

Henry’s elder daughter Mary Tudor was next in line in the Succession (the list of who gets to be in charge of England when the current ruler dies; see diagram above), but everybody knew that she would restore Catholic rule and persecute Protestants, of whom there were growing numbers.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of Louis XII of France and then of Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk; Mary and Charles were the maternal grandparents of Lady Jane Grey

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of Louis XII of France and then of Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk; Mary and Charles were the maternal grandparents of Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Henry’s sister Mary, and she (Jane) had a legitimate claim to the throne if you took the position that Mary Tudor and Elizabeth, who was next on the list after Mary, were bastards (sorry, Daddy), which, technically, they were since Henry’s marriages to their mothers had been annulled.

As explained above, Lady Jane was basically manhandled to the throne by the evil John Dudley, First Duke of Northumberland, the father of Guilford Dudley, whom Jane was forced to marry. When the time of reckoning came, father and son were executed along with Lady Jane, though I doubt whether Queen Mary had many regrets about ridding the kingdom of those two.

Guilford’s brother Robert Dudley, First Earl of Leicester, was cut from different cloth. He was a man of intelligence and character (the rumors that he killed his first wife, Mary, have been judged by history to be false). He and Queen Elizabeth had been childhood friends, and it is generally believed that they had a lifelong love affair that was never consummated.

Eventually he married Lettice Knollys, a granddaughter of Lady Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister.

I, Fanny

I, Fanny

Will Guilt Make You Good? (conclusion)

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Pembrokeshire, Wales, by Skellig2008 via Flickr

Pembrokeshire, Wales, by Skellig2008 via Flickr

Every Tiny Leaf

This, as I have said, is a true story, and, as I hope you will recall from Part 1 of this story, because I am NOT not going to explain THE ENTIRE EPISODE all over again, Sister Alma Rose and her friend Elizabeth Anna Stratton (who is 65 years old) and I went to the 7:30 a.m. service at the Presbyterian church last month because Elizabeth Anna is trying to decide whether she wants to come back to Hilltop and live in the wonderful house in the country that she inherited from her parents, who are deceased…

Elizabeth Anna's house outside of Hilltop

Elizabeth Anna's house outside of Hilltop

…and the minister giving the sermon, who I hope is just an interim minister whose term of service ended yesterday, because if she is not, the only people left at the Presbyterian church are going to be the hard-of-hearing, no disrespect intended, inasmuch as the Rev. Ms. O’Donnell is the kind of minister who preaches austerity out of the left side of her mouth while the right side is practicing conspicuous consumption at Bergdorf Goodman, otherwise maybe I could buy into the guilt trip she was laying on the…

…“complacent middle class,” which is pretty much all of Hilltop — …[while] families are being driven from their homes and living in filthy camps where children starve, and little boys are being abducted to fight in revolutions they don’t understand, and young men and women are smoking crack cocaine, and mothers are selling their daughters into prostitution in exchange for money to feed their addictions

and maybe I could drop everything and go take care of all that, and still arrive before the bell on Monday morning at Hilltop Elementary School, where I am in seventh grade — IF the Rev. Ms. O’Donnell had, herself, not been wearing six or seven hundred dollars on her back and driving a beautifully restored 1957 Thunderbird convertible (for which my own mama would sell ME [but only to the nicest people]), although I suppose it is possible, theoretically, in the Land of the Seriously Deluded, that the Rev. Ms. O’Donnell’s clothes and the car were borrowed and she actually returned them to the borrowee that very morning in exchange for her hairshirt and pack mule.

Elizabeth Anna's sickroom

Elizabeth Anna's sickroom

Well, we were not questioning the tragedies she spoke of, which are all too real, but after we left the church, Sister Alma Rose was mostly concerned about Elizabeth Anna, who in her youth had suffered what I’m told was called at that time a “nervous breakdown,” brought on by guilt starting when she was a little girl, and prolonged by anxiety that caused her to not speak for six months and to be unable to leave her parents’ house for five years, and for THAT story you can read Part 2, because I am done with the recap that I said I was not going to provide in the first place.

Letters to Vietnam

Elizabeth Anna had invited Sister Alma Rose and me to have lunch at the family home, which I had seen only from the outside, but I had prepared myself to be cool and sophisticated and to not gawk at the seriously fabulous interior, where the first thing we saw was a fountain, the kind you want to throw pennies into, which was covered and surrounded with one-inch ceramic tiles, dark blue and shiny, but I did not gawk, I only gaped, which I was not aware of until drool landed on the toes sticking out of my sandals. I estimate that seventy-five thousand oak trees and three hundred thousand ceramic-tile trees gave their lives for the floors and the wainscoting and the bathrooms, et cetera, in that house that was not so much IMPRESSIVE as it was simply BEAUTIFUL but in a COMFORTABLE way that doesn’t make it feel like a museum but rather like a cozy living space that happened to have cost 78 bazillion dollars to build.

Acacia leaves and thorns; photo by Stan Shebs

Acacia leaves and thorns; photo by Stan Shebs

During lunch, which I will not even begin to describe… well… no, I won’t even start…. During lunch, Elizabeth Anna told me that Sister Alma Rose had visited her many times while she was housebound, and I interrupted and said, “I’ll just BET she did,” and Sister Alma Rose gave me a Look but Elizabeth Anna just laughed, and went on to say that Sister Alma Rose had told her (which you will know if you know anything about Sister Alma Rose) that every tiny leaf in the universe is necessary and has a purpose, and the tiny leaf is not asked to be a rock or a stream but to do its necessary Leaf Job, and that it is the same with people, and that we must try to find where our Talents and Desires and the Needs of the Universe (which, Sister Alma Rose pointed out, is the same thing as the Will of God, though I am not sure what the antecedent of which is) coincide, so that some people are saxophone players and delight themselves and other people that way, and some people are called to serve the Indigenous People in the Amazon rainforest, and if that is their calling you could not pry them away with, um, whatever large things are out there that are used to pry people away from their calling.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

While Elizabeth Anna was recovering at home, she started writing letters to men and women serving in Vietnam, because the war was going on at that time, and she wrote thousands of letters, she lost count at two thousand, but I don’t mean to say that she wrote to thousands of different people, because many of the letters were sent in reply to those she received, and over and over again the writers told her how much her letters meant to them, that her letters were all they had to look forward to, and it was the knowledge that she was meeting a need AND doing something deeply satisfying that, more than anything else, made it possible for her to think that it was all right for her to be taking up space in the world, breathing air, eating paté, and so forth, and I am joking about the paté, but I was going to say, before I became enamored of my own rapierlike wit, that Elizabeth Anna received several proposals of marriage, all of which she regretfully (as she wrote to her correspondents) declined, because she did not plan ever to marry, and she never has.

A G.I. in Vietnam

A G.I. in Vietnam

Her parents worried that Elizabeth Anna might be plunged back into her depression when, as was inevitable, some of her correspondents were killed, but her Trained Psychiatric Nurse, wonderful Eleanor, told them that it was more likely that Elizabeth Anna would be happy that she was able to help them while they were living, which indeed turned out to be the case, and then Elizabeth Anna wrote letters to their families. Elizabeth Anna told us that sometimes she knew that someone had died, because that person had written regularly and then suddenly stopped, but more often the people whom Elizabeth Anna wrote to had asked a buddy to be sure to write to Elizabeth Anna if  “something should happen” because they wanted her to know that they loved her, in the way that you can love someone who has shared her life with you in letters and has let you share your life with her, and more often than not the “buddy” became Elizabeth Anna’s correspondent.

After the war, people continued to write to her, but she told us she was glad when the letters stopped, because it usually meant that the person had resumed “a meaningful life” back at home, though not always, so Elizabeth Anna always sort of checked in on those who stopped writing to make sure that they weren’t suffering from what we now know as PTSD.

Memorial Chapel, Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Memorial Chapel, Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Then, for about three years, Elizabeth Anna and Eleanor traveled, visiting the veterans who had become her pen pals who were having a rough time, making sure they were getting good care, which Elizabeth Anna very often paid for herself, partly as a tribute to Eleanor, who had helped her, Elizabeth Anna, so much during the dark night of her soul; and when Elizabeth Anna showed symptoms of making a veteran’s despair her own, she had Eleanor to remind her of what her “boundaries” were, because, as has been said, Elizabeth Anna would be of no use to anyone if she were once again sitting in her bedroom not speaking and eating nothing but Gerber vanilla baby pudding.

Back into the light

After Elizabeth Anna’s father died, she and her mother and Eleanor went to live in Wales, which was something Elizabeth Anna had always wanted to do, and for a while Elizabeth Anna didn’t do any Good Deeds, at least in a scheduled way, the three of them just traveled, touring castles and having picnics in the wonderfully picturesque Welsh countryside, and hiking, and taking a boat to Ireland, et cetera.

St. David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales

St. David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales

And Eleanor ended up marrying a Welsh gentleman, who was in business with sheep, I mean, of course, that his business had something to do with sheep, and then Elizabeth Anna’s mother died after an illness of just a few weeks, when she was “in hospital,” as they say in the U.K., and for the next five years Elizabeth Anna stayed in that village, just a five-minute walk from Eleanor, and lived in an old cottage and gardened in the summer, and did whatever it is that Welsh people who live in old cottages do to stay warm in the winter, but, summer and winter, Elizabeth Anna volunteered in that hospital, visiting and talking with people of all ages who were going to die. And if they were afraid, Elizabeth Anna told them that there was nothing to fear, because she, herself, had died and had been for a while in a black tunnel where she could not see anything but the dark, and that the Grace of God had pulled her back into the light, which had been there all along, and then she had never known such joy, and it had never left her.

And now I am afraid that Elizabeth Anna will go back to Wales, because she has Eleanor and many other friends there, but I told her while we were eating lunch that, even in Hilltop, home of the complacent middle class, there are people who are suffering the long, dark night of the soul, but that if she decided to go back anyway, could I live in her house?

Elizabeth Anna

Elizabeth Anna

* * *

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I, Fanny

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Hair Wars

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File:BattleofSluys.jpeg

The Hundred Years' War: Battle of Sluys from a manuscript of Froissart's Chronicles, Bruge, c.1470

[Edward III of England, who reigned 1327-1377]… was, in most ways, a conventional king, mainly interested in warfare….
He declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1338, starting what would be known as the Hundred Years’ War.
Wikipedia

14th century manuscript initial depicting Edwa...

14th century manuscript initial depicting Edward III of England (seated) and his son the Black Prince (kneeling). Image via Wikipedia

[Edward, the Black Prince] would fight for a brother knight or undertake the rescue of a degenerate king like Pedro [“the Cruel,” deposed king of Castile] even if it cost the lives of thousands of common men…. Thomas B. Costain, The Last Plantagenets

Peace begins with one person but spreads like warmed syrup. When I connect with my neighbors, they return it in kind. Ivory Harlow

Our most important task is to transform our consciousness so that violence is no longer an option for us in our personal lives, that understanding that a world of peace is possible only if we relate to each other as peaceful beings, one individual at a time. Deepak Chopra, “A New Age of Peace” (interview)

The Battle of the Barbers

Diner similar in style to Dixie's; photo by Jeff Boyce

Diner similar in style to Dixie's; photo by Jeff Boyce

There are no gangs in Hilltop. We have a police department, which is Clyde Peoples, and he spends most of his time at Dixie’s Main Street Diner, jawing with the retired farmers who drink coffee at the diner all morning and then go home to plague their wives in the afternoon. At least that is what Mr. Truman LaFollette says they do.

(I don’t know why Dixie calls her diner “Dixie’s Main Street Diner,” because it’s not like there’s a “Dixie’s Fourth Street Diner” or a “Dixie’s Sycamore Road Diner,” there’s only one Dixie’s and everybody knows it’s on Main Street, but maybe she just doesn’t like the alliteration of “Dixie’s Diner” or maybe she’s trying to make her diner sound important, which it already is, everybody goes there, for Pete’s sake.)

In Hilltop, gays and straights, Jews (seven) and Christians and Muslims (nine), North Africans, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, even Gypsies (Romany) (nine or ten; they come and go), all live in peace and harmony, and it’s not because the people in Hilltop are any more virtuous or noble than the people in Houston or Philadelphia. Although I do think that Hilltop’s being in such a lovely setting, with mountains in the distance and streams and the Turkey Hill River, and lush farmland and miniature forests, and Sister Alma Rose’s big old farmhouse overlooking it all, just makes people happy to be alive, if they stop to notice how beautiful it is.

Hilltop environs

Hilltop environs — the view from Sister Alma Rose's porch

Antique hot-water tap

Antique hot-water tap

Hilltop is also a prosperous town, and the ancient red-brick buildings on Main Street, with their transoms and their white-tile entryways and their wondrous bathrooms with the toilet tank high on the wall, and to flush you have to pull a chain, and some of the tanks are covered in oak. Where was I? Oh, the buildings in our little downtown are in beautiful condition, no loose bricks with the mortar gone, the old floors sanded and sealed and shined. But our town wouldn’t be thriving as it is if people were hateful and discontented, because, well, as my daddy says, angry people expend a lot of energy being angry and they don’t work as efficiently and they are sick more often, et cetera.

So you see, people have to get along in Hilltop. Maybe you are the coach of the soccer team that your auto mechanic’s daughter is on, or maybe the auto mechanic is also the director of the church choir you are in, or maybe you are a Scoutmaster, and the son of the vice president of the bank in charge of loans is in your troop. People don’t cheat each other or act snotty when you’re shopping in their store, because there is no anonymity. There’s no place to hide.

The Bridgebase basic bidding system is used co...

Internet bridge; image via Wikipedia

The closest we’ve come to having a war in Hilltop had to do with a recent scheduling conflict. What happened was, Mrs. Washington at the library arranged an Appreciation Luncheon at the Queen Anne Hotel for all the library volunteers and supporters, that is, people who gave money this year, and Mrs. Washington scheduled her luncheon to commence at the same time that Mrs. Bertie’s duplicate-bridge club meets every week, and there are eight ladies in Mrs. Bertie’s club and three of them are library volunteers. Mrs. Bertie was livid because she thinks that everybody in town ought to know when her duplicate-bridge club starts and ends and, if they can’t remember it, they need to mark it on their calendars, along with the names of the club members, to avoid planning any event that might conflict with Mrs. Bertie’s bridge club, which the ladies take turns hosting, and they always have those wonderful little chicken-salad sandwiches in triangles with the crust cut off, and three kinds of bread, including rye, and petit fours for dessert, and so forth.

I want to learn to play duplicate bridge so I can go to Mrs. Bertie’s club and eat petit fours.

Petit fours. Yum. Photo by Wolfgang Meinhart, Hamburg, via Wikipedia

Petit fours. Yum. Photo by Wolfgang Meinhart, Hamburg, via Wikipedia

So anyway, Mrs. Bertie tried to get practically everybody in town to boycott the library, but practically everybody in town adores dear Mrs. Washington, who somehow, incredible as it may seem, was not even aware that Mrs. Bertie had a duplicate-bridge club, but then Janie French from the library called Mrs. Bertie to tell her that the copy of The Other Queen: A Novel, by Philippa Gregory, which Mrs. Bertie was on the waiting list for, was available, and Sister Alma Rose heard that Mrs. Bertie didn’t even refresh her lipstick, which is fire-engine red and unbecoming to Mrs. Bertie, at her age… she just got in the car and drove to the library, lipstick-deficient but absolutely delighted to get her book earlier than expected, and that was the end of the war.

The Other Barber Shop

Even more recently than Mrs. Bertie’s totally unjustified snit, however, Hilltop has found itself divided, against its will, over a conflict so ludicrous that I am almost ashamed to relate it to you, and you probably won’t believe me anyway.

Just a few days ago, a man who is called Henry Hunter opened a barber shop, and above the door is a very large, very conspicuous sign that stretches the entire width of the shop, and the sign says, “The Other Barber Shop” in huge letters. For at least 150 years there has been only one barber shop in Hilltop, and it has always been owned and operated by Mr. Bill, who is himself at least 150 years old.

At Large album cover

Image via Wikipedia

Now, to tell you the truth, customers have been leaving Mr. Bill in a slow trickle for the past year or so, because, though everyone wants to be loyal to Mr. Bill, his eyesight isn’t what it used to be, nor are his hands as steady as they once were, plus he has cut everybody’s hair the same way since about 1958, so if you want to look like a member of the Kingston Trio, Mr. Bill is your guy. He just does crew cuts, you see.

Mr. Bill’s customers have been quietly defecting, finding in La Mesa a veritable plethora of barbers who will cut their hair the way they want it and who won’t poke them in the eye with scissors accidentally.

A traditional red and blue striped pole locate...

Image via Wikipedia

So as soon as Henry Hunter’s barber shop opened, the customers came in droves, apparently believing, though they would soon discover that they were sadly mistaken, that Mr. Bill wouldn’t mind if his old customers didn’t patronize his shop as long as they were taking their unruly hair to be cut by Henry Hunter. This was doubly unfortunate in that Henry Hunter’s barber shop is right across the street from Mr. Bill’s. It is also a very delicate situation, this rivalry, I mean, because Henry Hunter is Mr. Bill’s only son.

Sister Alma Rose has heard about the entire misbegotten affair from Mrs. Bill, who is very worried about her husband because his heart is “hinky” and she’s afraid he will have a heart attack one of these days, that’s how angry he gets at Henry Hunter, his face turns about as red as Mrs. Bertie’s unbecoming lipstick. And of course she’s concerned about her son. She wonders whether Bill’s vicious campaign might actually drive Henry out of business. Secretly, Mrs. Bill wants Mr. Bill to retire so that they can go live in their villa on Corfu. Who knew?

Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea

Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea

Apparently, when Mr. Bill paid his son’s tuition for barber school in La Mesa, he assumed that when Henry graduated he’d come back to Hilltop and work as a sort of apprentice to him, Mr. Bill. But Henry did not want to work for his dad for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the awkwardness of being an “apprentice,” the second-string backup barber, for a man who cuts hair in only crew cuts, and even the crew cuts aren’t looking so crisp these days.

Carry some means

Image by nssf04 via Flickr

Mr. Bill, who has nine or ten loyal customers and nothing at all to lose, except the respect of his son and his wife and at least half of the residents of Hilltop, has begun a vitriolic campaign against his own son. He actually registered to run for the vacant seat on the city council for the sole reason of creating some kind of ordinance that would make his son’s business illegal. Mr. Henry Hunter also plans to run for that seat to keep his dad from getting elected and possibly having a heart attack, although if he had been concerned about his father’s health, he should have known better than to make the in-your-face kind of decision to open a barber shop where Mr. Bill would see it every time he looked out the window.

Sympathy for Mr. Bill is strong, as you might imagine. But Henry has begun working his way through the telephone book, with the objective of calling everyone in town and ingratiating himself and offering them free haircuts. Mr. Bill reacted by adopting the same tactic. The thing is, once people are in their shops, Henry Hunter and Mr. Bill are asking them to sign loyalty pledges. And the town is in an uproar, although the men have never looked so well groomed.

Several employers have asked the mayor to Do Something, because none of their employees is getting any work done, they are having noisy partisan arguments about Henry Hunter vs. Mr. Bill instead. Mayor Atticus Hines, unable to cool things off through his official status, has appealed to a higher authority: He has asked Sister Alma Rose to restore peace and quiet to Hilltop, one way or another.

Peace begins with one person’s outpouring of love

Second Floor, Northwest Gallery. Mural of Peac...

Mural of Peace, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Image via Wikipedia

Now, I know what Sister Alma Rose would like to do:  She would like to teach the two barbers — and everyone else who has aligned with one side and is angry with the other side — about peace, as she has been teaching me.

Peace, I am learning, begins with one person’s outpouring of love. Peace is not a bunch of unsmiling men in uncomfortable suits meeting in The Hague and playing tit for tat with nuclear weapons, truce conditions, and ultimately the lives of men and women all over the world. As Deepak Chopra says (see full quote above),

…a world of peace is possible only if we relate to each other as peaceful beings, one individual at a time

The International Court of Justice—"The Peace Palace"—The Hague, The Netherlands

The International Court of Justice—"The Peace Palace"—The Hague, The Netherlands

The Law of Love

Sister Alma Rose gave me a wonderful little book, which I have read over and over. It was written in 1947 by a lady called Agnes Sanford, the daughter of  Presbyterian missionaries and the wife of an Episcopal priest; and the book is The Healing Light, and here is what Mrs. Sanford has to say about love, and it is so beautiful and true that I have memorized it and say it to myself every morning:

The flow of energy that we call the law of love is the rhythm for which our beings were created, the thought-vibration in which we live and move and have our being.

And then she says, a few pages later,

We become perfected in love by [practicing love]…. The method is so simple that any child can learn it. It is merely to connect in spirit with the love of God, send that love to the other person,  and see him recreated in goodness and joy and peace.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Much research has shown that people respond dramatically to others’ perceptions and expectations of them, so that if we can honestly see someone who seems mean and ornery as not mean and ornery but rather as God created her — full of goodness and joy and peace — then she will fulfill that expectation.

To be continued…




A new age is being born. The day has come when love-power, at the command of ministers and surveyors and children and everyone,  is sufficient to change hearts… in the world about them.

This is the beginning of a new order. It is the dawning of a new day!

Eckhart Tolle, 2005? NOPE! Agnes Sanford, 1947, The Healing Light


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The Secret of the Equanimity of Sister Alma Rose

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The view from Mt. Snowdon, at 3,650 feet the highest mountain in Wales

The view from Mt. Snowdon, at 3,650 feet the highest mountain in Wales

The Fall of Wales and the Meaning of Courage

Omigosh! I have just finished reading a book called The Reckoning, which is by this brilliant author who is called Sharon Kay Penman, who writes historical fiction about Great Britain, and The Reckoning is the third and last book in her series on the Welsh princes…

Chirk Castle (Welsh: Castell y Waun) is a located at Chirk, Wrexham, Wales

Chirk Castle (Welsh: Castell y Waun) at Chirk, Wrexham, Wales, built in 1295 as part of a chain of castles across north Wales, used by King Richard I of England to subjugate the Welsh people and protect the English border

…who were more like kings, really, brave and charismatic Welshmen of the thirteenth century who tried to keep Wales from being absorbed into England, and the readers of these books are ALL OVER that, because the Welsh, with a few treasonous exceptions, are the good guys, who loved their wild, craggy homeland, who had their own language (Cymraeg or y Gymraeg), customs, and legal system — although, however, if the the shoe had been on the other foot and the Welsh had conquered England, we would all be speaking Cymraeg and having to use words such as Abergwyngregyn and possibly Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch,

Powis Castle, originally built c. 1200 as a fo...

Powys Castle, built c. 1200 as a fortress for the princes of Powys, a region of medieval Wales; image via Wikipedia

which is a Welsh town whose name means “the church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the red cave” (astonishingly, there are about five hundred thousand Welsh speakers in Wales), but I digress, I was about to say that there are some four hundred castles in Wales, and it’s no wonder, because in the wars conducted over the sovereignty of Wales, both the English and the Welsh thought nothing of burning a castle to the ground and building a new one on the site, as if you could just slap one together, using stuff that’s lying around the house, and expect it to protect you, your loved ones, your squires, your villeins, your cotters, et cetera, when the enemy gets out the battering ram or sends flaming arrows into the bailey….

Aber Falls, Wales

Aber Falls, Wales

Back to Abergwyngregyn (Aber for short, thank all the saints and angels), which was one of the most secure castles (being remote and surrounded by forests and mountains) held by Llewellyn the Great, who adored his English wife, Joanna, a bastard daughter of King John of England, and they are all of course in the first book, which is Here Be Dragons, while the second book, called Falls the Shadow, is mostly about the French–English nobleman Simon de Montfort and how he led English nobles and even commoners, wow! in a rebellion against the inept and clumsy ruler King Henry III, who was the brother of Simon de Montfort’s wife, Nell, who was totally gone over her husband (Nell was, not Henry III, who loathed de Montford as he would loathe seeping pustulant warts all over his body, only a thousand times more), and Simon was just as gone over Nell, which, that being the case, partly accounts for the astronomical number of children they had, about whom we learn much more in The Reckoning, for example, that Simon and Nell’s daughter, Ellen, marries the Welsh prince Llewellyn the Last (he was, of course, not called that during his lifetime), and they were very happy together once Ellen got out of captivity, having been abducted by pirates and delivered up to King Edward, her first cousin, for a princely sum, and I forgot to say that Nell’s aunt was Llewellyn the Great’s wife, Joanna, and they, Nell and Joanna, were very close friends and knew all of each other’s secrets, plus they were smart and brave and competent and sometimes accompanied their husbands on dangerous missions, et cetera.

[General view, Aberdovey, Wales] (LOC)

Aberdovey, Wales; image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Pablo is reading the Princes of Wales books too, but he doesn’t read as fast as I do, or, actually, to be perfectly honest, he looks up the pronunciations of the Welsh words, and that, of course, slows him down considerably, so he is just finishing Falls the Shadow.

In all these books, people are dropping like flies in battles and skirmishes, as if life weren’t difficult ENOUGH in the Middle Ages there being no penicillin or central heating or proper bathrooms or reliable transportation — without having to go to WAR, which entailed all manner of unpleasantness, such as sleeping on the ground, risking being run through with a sword or starving to death in a siege, but, no matter:
once you were a king, or the equivalent, you always had to be (a) getting ready to fight a war, (b) fighting a war, or (c) cleaning up after a war, and, if there were absolutely no pretext for going to war near home, for example, nobody had borrowed your lawnmower or your chain saw and forgot to return it, you (d) went off on a pope-sanctioned Crusade to kill the “infidels” in the Holy Land.

Yes, I am making a point, which is:

16th-century illustration of Edward I presiding over Parliament. The scene shows Alexander III of Scotland and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Wales on either side of Edward, a meeting that never actually occurred; image via Wikipedia

One of the people in one of the books (I of course will not say who, because I don’t want to spoil your fun) is executed for high treason in the grisly manner described below:

Until reformed under the Treason Act 1814,[1] the full punishment for the crime of treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered in that the condemned prisoner would be:

  1. Dragged on a hurdle (a wooden frame) to the place of execution. This is one possible meaning of drawn.[2]
  2. Hanged by the neck for a short time or until almost dead (hanged).
  3. Disembowelled and emasculated and the genitalia and entrails burned before the condemned’s eyes (this is another meaning of drawn—see the reference to the Oxford English Dictionary below)[3][4]
  4. The body divided into four parts, then beheaded (quartered).

Typically, the resulting five parts (i.e. the four quarters of the body and the head) were gibbeted (put on public display) in different parts of the city, town, or, in famous cases, in the country, to deter would-be traitors who had not seen the execution. After 1814, the convict would be hanged until dead and the mutilation would be performed post-mortem. Gibbeting was later abolished in England in 1843, while drawing and quartering was abolished in 1870.Wikipedia

Beaumaris Castle in the mist

Beaumaris, another of King Richard's fortresses; image by Today is a good day via Flickr

My blood ran cold. I was undone by (a) the unspeakable suffering of the condemned, and (b) the blackness of the human heart that could ordain such a punishment — in this case, that of  King Edward I (Longshanks), who was a revered general in battle… who genuinely loved his beautiful Spanish wife… who could feel pity and sympathy for friends and for strangers… and who could sentence a man to be hanged, drawn, and quartered without batting an eye. In fact, King Edward’s guilt is all the greater because it was he who first conceived of this unspeakable method of torture.

Reincarnation in art

Reincarnation in Hindu art; image via Wikipedia

Intestinal fortitude

Pablo and I talked about it, and we had the same thought: to test Sister Alma Rose’s vaunted courage yet again. Sister Alma Rose has said that she is never afraid and she never worries, and it is true that she is the most self-possessed and serene individual I have ever known, but Pablo and I don’t believe that she is NEVER, EVER, EVER afraid or worried, or that she could remain unafraid and unworried in every circumstance, so we are always trying to think of situations in which anyone who wasn’t brain-dead would be terrified.

“Sister Alma Rose,” we’ll say, “would you be afraid if you were about to be lowered into a vat of boiling oil?”

“Of course not,” she’ll reply, not even looking up from the cut flowers she is arranging, or whatever. “I would be too busy praying.”

A mitred Adhémar de Monteil carrying the Holy ...

A mitred Adhémar de Monteil carrying the Holy Lance in one of the battles of the First Crusade; image via Wikipedia

Pablo and I know, you see, that Sister Alma Rose has absolutely no fear of dying. She believes in reincarnation and she is certain that at the moment of death she will be born, literally, as a brand-new baby, and she says that she is rather excited about getting to be a child again, though she is not in any hurry.

But Pablo and I keep trying to find a chink in her armor. “Sister Alma Rose,” we’ll say, “would you be afraid if some thug broke into your house and you were taking care of your backyard-neighbor’s beautiful little Welsh baby, Ggwynwynnedd, and that thug grabbed the baby and held a knife at her throat?”

“No, silly children,” she’ll reply. “I would be supremely pissed off, and I would tear the thug limb from limb and feed his body parts to wild boars.”

Pablo and I look at each other; we have never heard Sister Alma Rose use language that is even the slightest bit indelicate. Then we look at Sister Alma Rose and we see that she is smirking!

Cow pucky

We were pretty sure what she’d say when we told her about the hanging, drawing, and quartering of he-who-must-not-be-named, and asked her whether she would be afraid if she were facing that punishment, imminently.

“I know something about that,” she said, looking rather grim. “There are people who will tell y’all that King Edward was a good king,* according to the standards of his time. Cow pucky! In conquering Wales, he tried to destroy a civilization. He wanted to break their spirit, and he almost succeeded.”

File:Hommage of Edward I to Philippe le Bel.jpg

Homage of Edward I (kneeling) to Philip IV (seated). As Duke of Aquitaine, Edward was a vassal of the French king. Image via Wikipedia

Sister Alma Rose had put on her schoolteacher face, which meant we were going to get a lecture about fear and worry, or about King Edward I, we were not sureShe motioned for to us to sit down, which we did, in the grass-green wicker chairs on her grass-green wraparound porch. She sat too, in her own special chair, which was bigger and stouter than ours because Sister Alma Rose is bigger and stouter than we are. We felt very cozy and safe on the porch, because rain had started to batter the earth with a vengeance, but there wasn’t much wind so we stayed nice and dry.

“God wants his children to live every moment of their lives,” she began, “and when y’all are afraid, y’all are not really living. The great philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti once told an audience the secret of his serenity: ‘I don’t mind anything,’ he said.”

“You’re making that up!” I interrupted.

“I beg y’all’s pardon?” said Sister Alma Rose coolly.

Oops. “…That there is actually someone in the world whose name is ‘Jiddu Krishnamurti’,” I finished lamely.

“There isn’t,” Sister Alma Rose said dryly, “but there used to be. And people named Fanny shouldn’t throw stones.”

Henry III of England, father of Edward I (Longshanks); the word "Edward" at the top of the painting was the artist's mistake; image via Wikipedia

Sister Alma Rose went on to say that the smartest way to endure pain is to not struggle against it. She made quite a point of this, lest Pablo’s and my minds be wandering.

“People who have practiced meditation for years and years know how to bring their pain gently into their meditation, affirming that they are not their pain, and they can step back from it, you see.”

The joy on the other side

“When something threatens y’all, Miss Fanny, Mr. Pablo, the first thing y’all must do is pray, asking to be shown the way around the threat or seeking the courage to go through it, if you must. For y’all’s fellow who was about to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, there was no way around. If he was a praying man, he surely asked God to help him through it. If he was a soldier, he probably wasn’t afraid of dying.

“Y’all have to look at the other side, beyond the pain. If it attacks, don’t struggle; and don’t take y’all’s eyes off the prize.”

Baby boom

“Here’s something for y’all to think on: For every person who is alive now and every person who has ever lived, there is a mother who endured the pain of childbirth — well, except, possibly, for those modern mothers who had epidural anesthesia — but setting them aside for the moment, it’s not unusual for mamas to be in labor for an entire day, even two days, and it is said that there is no pain more severe… and in the past, and even today in certain parts of the world, when a woman goes into labor there’s a very good chance that she, or the baby, or both will not survive. In the millions of years of human history, it’s been only recently that if the baby was, say, in the breech position, the mama could safely have a Caesarean section. Our ancestors  just had to hope that the midwife could reach into the birth canal and turn the baby, and wouldn’t that be a walk in the park for the poor mama.

“And do y’all know what? Women keep having babies! They’re ecstatic when they find out they’re pregnant! They have parties! And all because they’re looking past the pain to the joy on the other side.”

You would think, wouldn’t you, that once would be enough, although Mama has had three babies, and she says that the first one is the hardest and after that they get easier to pop out.

Uh-oh! Sister Alma Rose is looking very grave, as serious as I’ve ever seen her.

“For all of us, eventually, what we’ll see on the other side of pain is death, but only as a doorway to a new and better life. If y’all understand that, then y’all will never be afraid of dying. ‘Y’all shall know the truth, and the truth shall set y’all free.’ Amen.”

Extra blueberriesfield_of_wildflowers_istock

The sermon was over. I felt like applauding, but instead I said, “Mama says everybody should plant a garden and work in it themselves and that way they’ll just soak up life all the time.”

And then Sister Alma Rose said that reminded her that she had almost two pounds of fresh blueberries in the icebox [that’s what Sister Alma Rose calls the refrigerator sometimes] and she thought she’d make some blueberry cobbler but it would be better with vanilla ice cream, so, since it had quit raining, why didn’t Pablo and I walk into town and go to Sandy’s Better Ice Cream and buy an entire gallon, so we did, and Sandy took our money and handed us the gallon of ice cream without a bag, so I said, “Sandy, could we please have a bag to carry it in?” and Sandy said no, we couldn’t, because he was out of bags, so Pablo had to carry the exceedingly cold and heavy carton of ice cream all the way back to Sister Alma Rose’s house, but it was worth it, he said later, because the blueberry cobbler was just out of the oven and nice and warm, which is how it tastes best, especially with ice cream, and there was something about eating ice cream on fresh blueberry cobbler, still warm and fragrant from the oven, with Pablo and Sister Alma Rose and Mr. Truman LaFollette, that chased away any worries I might have been harboring about being disemboweled, with strangers watching and everything, and then I noticed that my slice of blueberry cobbler had about twice as many blueberries as everyone else’s, and Sister Alma Rose winked at me, and I tried to wink back, but I haven’t quite mastered winking, so I’m going to work on it as soon as I get home.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

* Edward was considered an able, even an ideal king by his contemporaries.[204] Though not loved by his subjects, he was feared and respected.[205] Particularly as a soldier did he meet contemporary expectations of kingship, sharing in the chivalric ideals of the age.[206] In religious observance he also fulfilled the expectations of his age, attending chapel regularly and giving alms generously.[7]

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