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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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

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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A Different Universe

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Henry VIII died at the Palce of Whitehall, 1547

Henry VIII died at the Palce of Whitehall, 1547

Listen to Your Broccoli

Fear is negative energy projected into the future —Charlene Bell, Taking Charge: How to Coach Yourself to Quality Living

ANNE BOLEYN; original portrait is on display a...

Anne Boleyn, 2nd of 6 wives of Henry VIII

There are no rights, only gifts Margaret George, The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers

The sun warmed your shoulders, and you felt glad. Or the wind whipped off the Channel, and you pulled a woollen shirt over your head and rejoiced in every fibre of that wool —Margaret George, The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers

From Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Grace means you’re in a different universe from where you had been stuck, when you had no way to get there on your own. (54)

Anne Lamott - April 24th in Oak Park

Anne Lamott — Image by karla kaulfuss via Flickr

“God” could be considered an acronym [for] gifts of desperation. The main gift is a willingness to give up the conviction that you are right, and that God thinks so, too, and hates the people who are driving you crazy. (2)

[Quoting Mel Brooks, The 2000 Year Old Man] “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.” (21)

The spirit within… [is] the secret place that, as Robert Frost wrote, “sits in the middle and knows.”

Robert Frost's Farm

Robert Frost's farm; image by StarrGazr via Flickr

Be kind, and breathe, and take a walk. (24)

You feel unprotected and small and buffeted by the wind, and this defenselessness is a crack through which fresh air and water can enter. (24)

Tomb of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi; Mevlâna ma...

Rumi's tomb in Kanya, Turkey; image via Wikipedia

All wise people say the same thing: that you are deserving of love,[1] and that it’s all here now, everything you need. There’s the memoir by a Hindu writer, It’s Here Now (Are You?), and one of my priest friends says the exact same thing, so I think it must be true—that when you pray, you are not starting the conversation from scratch, just remembering to plug back into a conversation that’s always in progress. (25)

When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility. (33)

Anne Lamott at Books by the Bay

Anne Lamott at Books by the Bay — image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray—with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing…. As Rumi wrote, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” (37)

Jesus said, “The point is to not hate and kill each other today, and if  you can, to help the forgotten and powerless. Can you write that down, and leave it by the phone?” (55)

One secret of life is that the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day. Another secret is that laughter is carbonated holiness. (65)


[1] I don’t think she really means this. Not “deserving of.” Having read the rest of the book, I think she believes that the act of creation is the motion of love.



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Mother God

Marriage_at_Cana_by_Giotto

The Marriage at Cana, by Giotto

Sister Alma Rose Prays the Rosary and Other Snarfles of Information about Sister Alma Rose

I have decided to be Sister Alma Rose’s Boswell. Please do not snicker, it will make me very cross. Sister Alma Rose is an Exceedingly Remarkable Human Being, and almost everything she does is memorable, probably when she trims her nose hairs it is memorable, although (a) I do not know whether or not Sister Alma Rose has renegade nose hairs, and (b) if she does, I am not present when she trims or plucks or however one extracts nose hairs, and (c) I do not at all like the direction we are going here, enough about nose hairs.

Sister Alma Rose prays to Mary the Mother of Jesus

Rosary

Image via Wikipedia

Sister Alma Rose is not a Roman Catholic but she uses the Rosary in prayer, although not in the approved Roman Catholic fashion, which is very complicated and involves Mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous). My friend Pablo is a Roman Catholic, and he goes to Confession as often as he needs to, even when he has ordinary sinful thoughts, such as, “I could just kill Yolanda,” who is his older sister, and who is so annoying that there are times when I could cheerfully strangle her with her own Rosary, though I believe that that is not an approved Roman Catholic use of the Rosary, and anyway, I only think about it, I would never do it, so how can it be so wrong?

Confessional

Confessional; image by celesteh via Flickr

I have asked God in my prayers to heal me of my antipathy toward Yolanda, who floats around in a miasma of piety and has been known to wear as many as three Rosaries and has consigned Pablo to hell for (a) saying “shit,” (b) refusing to make and serve lemonade for Yolanda and her equally annoying boy friend, Hans, (c) and so forth; but, as I have said, Pablo goes to Confession, and the priest, who undoubtedly knows Yolanda and sympathizes with Pablo, gives him, I don’t know, ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers as his penance, and Pablo, who knows more than the priest does of the depth of his loathing for Yolanda, doubles it.

Pablo and I suspect that Hans and Yolanda have had Carnal Knowledge of one another and we wonder if she has been forthcoming of this particular sin in Confession; I say no, Pablo says yes.

Hail, Mary, Full of Grace

An Our Father is the Lord’s Prayer, truncated; Catholics use trespasses instead of debts, and then they quit and start over, if they are praying the Rosary.

A Hail Mary is as follows:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Sister Alma Rose prays the Our Father and the Hail Mary when she prays the Rosary, but the resemblance to Roman Catholic tradition ends there. As we all know, Sister Alma Rose’s spirituality is somewhat eclectic, and her praying of the Rosary includes a litany of her own devising. If there were any who dared criticize Sister Alma Rose, they would be strict and solemn religionists and Sister Alma Rose would not care.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Yolanda has been heard muttering words to the effect that Sister Alma Rose is profaning the Rosary, which is silly, because there are no Rosaries in the Bible and a Rosary is an inanimate object with only so much power as the pray-er invests it with.

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Pablo and I sat with Sister Alma Rose on her wonderful porch one Saturday afternoon in October, drinking Mr. Truman LaFollette’s delectable dark chocolate cocoa with marshmallows because it was a bit cool for lemonade. I had my notepad and a Rollerball pen in turquoise, and I asked Sister Alma Rose some questions and she answered them.

Me: Why do you pray to Mary the Mother of Jesus?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, one of the reasons that the Roman Catholic Church has elevated Mary the Mother of Jesus almost to divine status is that many of the peoples whom the Church was trying to convert in the early days practiced goddess worship, often associating the goddess with the earth—and even today we speak of “Mother Nature.” Those long-ago Christian missionaries knew that the better they could weave pagan and Christian traditions, the more likely the pagans were to accept Christianity.

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

I believe that women, in particular, need a feminine presence to pray to, one who represents the feminine attributes of our Father-Mother God. Some people are reluctant to pray to God the Creator; he is too big, he is unknowable. So they pray to saints and angels, who have been blessed with intimate knowledge of God and who will carry the people’s prayers to heaven.

Me: Thank you, Sister Alma Rose. Now then, how do you use the Rosary in a way that is different from how Catholics use the Rosary?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, as you know, I pray Hail Marys and Our Fathers using the Rosary. The circle of beads and the repetitive prayers are a form of meditation, the Our Father or Hail Mary being a mantra.

I would not say that I go into a trance, precisely, but rather that I let go of everything, worries and regrets and anxieties, until I feel purified and made ready to present my prayers to God. Then each bead becomes a prayer, first of praise and thanksgiving, then of petition or intercession—prayers for individuals who are sick, who are in torment, who grieve for loved ones, et cetera—and for myself, to ask God that my endeavors be not willful or prideful but loving and pure. And then I offer prayers of thanksgiving, that God has answered my prayers, knowing my need even before it was presented to him.

Me: Do you feel that you are using the Rosary inappropriately?

Sister Alma Rose: Prayer is never inappropriate.

And thus endeth my interview with Sister Alma Rose, and she proceeds to place two packs of cards on the table because she has promised to teach us to play bridge, because Pablo’s parents and mine play bridge together, and we think it is very grown-up, and it must be fascinating and intense because during bridge is the only time my father smokes cigarettes and takes the Lord’s Name In Vain.

Miscellaneous Playing Cards

Image by incurable_hippie via Flickr

 

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Sweet Surrender

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Joy in cherry commercial

Joy in cherry commercial

Why I can say “Thy will be done”
and mean it

Sister Alma Rose and I were sitting on Sister Alma Rose’s big grass-green wraparound porch with Joy Brown, who has known Sister Alma Rose all her life, just as I have, except that Joy Brown is almost 30 and I am not even half that old.

Joy Brown used to live in Hilltop, but she moved to Los Angeles to be in films, and she got the first job she auditioned for, which was a pantyhose commercial, and then she was in a commercial for cherries, but she has risen fast in the “industry,” and she has just been cast as a supporting lead in a Major Motion Picture, which is a secret, and she can’t tell me who the famous stars are who are going to be in the movie, because everything is hush-hush, so I probably shouldn’t be telling you about it, but, oh well, too late now.

One of Joy's "publicity stills"

One of Joy's "publicity stills"

When she lived in Hilltop as a kid, Joy was one of Sister Alma Rose’s “disciples,” as I am, which, all that means is that we buy into Sister Alma Rose’s wisdom. She is our spiritual mentor, and we want to learn as much from her as we can, and besides we meet the most interesting and unusual people, most of them right here in Hilltop,who are Sister Alma Rose’s friends, plus she is fun to be with and she makes me feel safe, like Mama and Daddy do, only even more, because when she tells me that everything will be all right, she really knows, she’s not just saying that to make me feel better.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

So Joy has come all the way from Hollywood to Hilltop just to talk to Sister Alma Rose. I am not officially part of the conversation, I just politely went to sit on the steps when I realized that Joy wanted to talk to Sister Alma Rose about something personal, though I can hear every word they say, and, no, I am not above eavesdropping, especially when I know that Sister Alma Rose and Joy wouldn’t really mind, they didn’t even ask me to leave.

Joy’s spiritual crisis

Joy's next job? Photo by Bidgee on Wikipedia

Joy's next job? Photo by Bidgee on Wikipedia

Joy is telling Sister Alma Rose that she is having a spiritual crisis because she can no longer say to God “thy will be done” and mean it. She has worked hard to get where she has got to in Hollywood, and people are always telling her how wonderful she is, which, she says, she is vain and insecure enough to lap that stuff up like a dog, and she is afraid that God’s will for her might not have anything to do with being a Major Motion Picture star, maybe God wants her to be one of those people who climb to the top of transmission towers to replace light bulbs, or something.

Without a word, Sister Alma Rose went into the kitchen and came right back out with something I had written once when Sister Alma Rose cured me of thinking I knew more about what was good for me than God did. And I did feel a little surge of pride, knowing that I had written something wise that Sister Alma Rose wanted to share.

Why I can say, ‘Thy will be done,’ and mean it

  • Because the best things in my life have been surprises
  • Because I really suck at manipulating and plotting
  • Because I can’t see around the corners
  • Because God can see around the corners
  • Because I know a pinprick’s worth of all there is to be known in the universe, but God knows all of it
  • Because if you are going where God (the Universe, Source, whatever) is leading you, there are signs and wonders along the way
  • Because if you are going in the wrong direction, you must constantly struggle
  • Because sometimes when I am running too fast in the wrong direction, I go off the edge of a cliff, like Wile E. Coyote, but Something catches me, and I do not make a Wile E. Coyote–shaped hole (or a Fanny McElroy–shaped hole) in the desert at the bottom of the cliff
  • Because you might pretend to love, but real love is a gift from the Divine
  • Because if God wants you to do something, God will, in God’s grace, make you passionate about that something, and it will be the thing that you do best and most want to do
  • Because there is total freedom in surrendering
  • Because when I try to Control Outcomes, (a) I get a bad headache and have to go to my room and lie down, and (b) it never works
  • Because I can’t possibly love myself as much as God does
  • Because sometimes it is the only power you have left

cherry_public_domain

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  • The Guru

    Country Road

    Image by annamon (Livin' la Vida Loca) via Flickr

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    Sister Alma Rose is on vacation

    All Paths Converge in the End

    by Mary Campbell

    A real spiritual teacher assists you in finding Yourself. They help you find, not their truth, but your own Truth Within. Teacher is a mediocre word for someone who does this; spiritual sponsor would be a more accurate description. Or reciprociter. Personally, I’d call them Friends and Family, that’s Who We Are. In Equality, who has greater Equality? The one who knows more than somebody else, or the one who shares what they understand? —Will on Care2

    Journey to Bliss

    The gift of any true teacher to his or her student is (1) to impart a love of learning and (2) to supply, or point to, resources… then to sit back and watch the student devour the resources and look for more.

    The teacher walks a fine line, as does the writer. At what point does information become dogma? I believe that the tenacity with which some “teachers” impose their views on others has to do with a belief in mortality. “Gotta hurry and get my perpetually angry 35-year-old son on medication, or into meditation and on a spiritual path. His anger is ruining his life.”

    Bristol Maraton, 2006; photo by Steve Gregory

    Bristol Maraton, 2006; photo by Steve Gregory

    But everything snaps into place when you understand that everyone is already on a spiritual path. Your path, and my son’s, will undoubtedly be different from my path, and I can accept that, even be joyful about it, because I know that the spiritual journey spans uncounted lifetimes, and that all paths converge in the end.

    Prayers are powerful

    Many pray for my son and their prayers are powerful. Occasionally I am sad to see my son struggle, every day, just to be. His brother and his sister both seem to have slipped, with varying degrees of ease, into their “place in creation.”

    But I also see spiritual progress in my son, and it has been many years since I have despaired of him. When he was a little boy — who did not know the meaning of serenity — I tried to impose my remedies (my truth) upon him, because his chronic anger and unhappiness broke my heart. This is what mothers do, a lot — try to fix people, especially their children — until they (the mothers) have used themselves up.

    Grace (Eventually), by Anne Lamott

    Grace (Eventually), by Anne Lamott

    So, making a virtue of necessity, I surrendered him to God, I practiced not worrying until not worrying became a habit, and in the process I came I understand that we are all in different places on our journey to bliss, and that there are no wrong paths, merely detours.

    Many people have asked me how I learned to stop worrying, how I ceased feeling guilty and having regrets. Well, as someone whom I once had to study in World Lit. said, “I have been to the abyss.” When a hand finally reached down to pull me out, I promised God that I would always be happy and I would never fret about anything again.

    I have died and been reborn — quite a number of times, actually.

    GraceAnne Lamott writes, “means you’re in a different universe from where you had been stuck, when you had no way to get there on your own.”

    * * *

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    Life 101

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    Sister Alma Rose is on vacation. Mary Campbell is filling in for her this week

    Guest Column: How to Live Right

    by Mary Campbell

    salmon

    ONE — Everybody —  people who don’t even know you — wants to tell you how to live. Some of the stuff is useful and necessary, like YOU DON’T HAVE TO GIVE YOUR BABY A BATH EVERY DAY, and those little fluorescent lamps last forever, but you can’t just throw them in the trash when they DO burn out. Some of it will “resonate” with you, as meditation did for me. But all the advice about spirituality, about exercise, about diet, about environmental responsibility, and so forth, can make you crazy. And they keep changing it…. Omigosh, how many grams of protein have I had today? Oh, hey, this is Alaskan salmon, is that the poison kind with mercury? Were the salmon humanely treated? Shit, I don’t have time to go to the gym. Coffee and red wine are chock full of antioxidants? Who knew? I’m supposed to do my laundry at night? Is this my day to water the grass? Probably shouldn’t even HAVE grass….   RELAX. The way I see it, we have as many lifetimes as we need to get it right.

    TWO — KEEP AN OPEN MIND. How do you know there’s no such thing as a leprechaun?

    Leprechaun

    Image via Wikipedia

    THREE — WRITE DOWN YOUR WILD IDEAS, your bursts of inspiration. You’ll think of a thousand reasons why they won’t work, and you’ll discard them… at your peril. They’re like geysers: They come from the depths. They’re your Self talking to your self. So keep track of them, even if you’re not ready to act on them.

    FOUR — COLLECT SOMETHING, like coins or stamps or antique butter chips (little tiny plates for pats of butter), or colored bottles. See, it’s fun and you meet interesting people, but the best thing is that your friends and family will know what to get you for Christmas and your birthday.

    FIVE — WRITE NOTES, REAL ONES, ON PAPER, or send cards, whatever, in the actual U.S. mail. It might seem quaint, but it’s a thoughtful going-out-of-your-way sort of thing… a mitzvah, if you will. (By the by, I sell GREAT cards for all occasions, including packs of Random Cards of Kindness, at LifeIsPoetry.net)

    Photo by EspritSIX — LIGHTEN UP, IN EVERY WAY. Bring light into your environment – physically, mentally, whatever lifts your spirit: music, flowers, bright prints in pretty frames, lace curtains, whimsical lamps, people who make you laugh. The flip side is, don’t let negative people come in and steal your joy. I allow people with problems ten minutes to vent, and that’s it. Any more than that contaminates your space, and you have to have a priest or shaman or somebody come in and expel the negativity and do a house blessing.

    SEVEN — This is important, and it will serve you well: BECOME AN EXPERT IN SOMETHING OR SOMEONE: Jesse Owens, protein in human nutrition, the Isle of Man, the reign of King Henry VIII, making your own “green” housekeeping products, growing tomatoes, U.S. vice presidents, reiki — whatever turns you on. That woman wrote an entire best-selling book about commas (Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!), for heaven’s sake. I, personally, am an expert on so many things that it’s unmanageable. I need to sharpen my focus and hone my expertise on, say, mindfulness meditation or the use of the em dash. The point is, the object of your expertise is its own little universe, and if you study it to frigging DEATH you will become not only smart but wise. The other point is, it’s satisfying and energizing to keep learning new stuff. And finally, the main point is, it’s a good way to market your “brand,” personally or professionally. You can write articles or books, speak at the Kiwanis luncheon, teach at a community college, put up an authoritative website or blog, sell stuff… the possibilities are virtually endless.

    The Isle Of Man

    The Isle of Man; image by Simon Collison via Flickr

    EIGHT — TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE (Join AAA before you go)

    NINE — (Optional) MOVE TO BISBEE, ARIZONA. Population, about six thousand. It’s one of those arty towns where antique stores and taverns and galleries abound. It’s also the county seat of Cochise County. Bisbee is actually built into the side of a mountain, so it’s charmingly hilly. Only 82 miles from Tucson, Bisbee boasts a much milder climate because of the elevation. Mexico is a stone’s throw from Bisbee. Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880, and named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the adjacent Copper Queen Mine…. In the May-June 2000 issue of Modern Maturity, the AARP highlighted the what they called the most “alive” places to retire in the U.S. Bisbee was a runner-up as one of the “quirkiest” towns in America… Bisbee is noted for its “gay friendliness”….Wikipedia

    Bisbee, Arizona 1990

    Bisbee, Arizona, 1990; image by PhillipC via Flickr

    TEN — (Optional) LET’S GET THE PAPER COMPANIES TO STOP BLEACHING EVERYTHING. Why bleach toilet paper, for example? It’s just going to get yucky. The same with napkins, paper towels, and so forth. It’s an absolutely unnecessary and environmentally harmful practice, and we should start an Internet campaign via e-mail, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc., to get consumers to start demanding unbleached household paper products, as of today.

    toiletpaper

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    Lost and Found

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    Hafez (or Hafiz) the Persian

    Hafez (or Hafiz) the Persian

    You are healed when you can say to yourself, “I matter, I belong, I am worthy, I am safe, I can express myself, I am loved. —Deepak Chopra, The Deeper Wound: Recovering the Soul from Fear and Suffering, 100 Days of Healing

    While I am sleeping, you silently carry off all my suffering and my sordid past in your beautiful hands. —Hafiz

    The Suicide Note

    God is good,” says Pastor Alexis.

    Me, Fanny McElroy

    Me, Fanny McElroy

    Sister Alma Rose’s dear friend Pastor Alexis got ordained as a minister online and started her own church, Pilgrim Chapel, five years ago. Anybody can go there, it doesn’t matter what religion they are or what they believe about God.

    Before she became a minister, Pastor Alexis thought constantly about suicide. “I once was lost,” she says with a grin, “but now I’m found.”

    She wrote a long suicide note ahead of time, in case she ever did take the plunge, so to speak. This (below) is it… in all its sadness and beauty….

    My name is Alexis, and I am sitting on the balcony of my apartment, twenty-three stories above a narrow red-brick street in a quiet residential neighborhood. My art-deco-era building is an anomaly among the tidy old frame and stucco houses with their privet hedges and children’s swing sets.

    The wall that encloses my balcony is three feet high and about eighteen inches wide. I have sat on the wall many times, next to the pots of thriving geraniums and trailing lime-green ivy, my bare legs and feet dangling — half-hoping, half-fearing that someone will come along and give me a small shove. That’s all it would take: just a slight, accidental bump. I believe in reincarnation, and I am ready to be a child again.But I always swing my legs back over the wall, plant my feet on the warm concrete, sit at the pretty white wicker table, and drink the lemonade I have brought out in a large Thermos. I have remembered that there is something left undone. Perhaps I have not dusted, or finished a crossword puzzle, or called my niece this week. If my life is going to end, I want what I leave behind to be tidy.

    I am 59 years old, and I am superfluous.

    * * *

    I had what most people would consider a happy childhood in a happy home. My parents were proud of me (I was an eager learner) and told me I could be anything I wanted to be – a minister, a U.S. senator, an arc welder — anything, as long as it made me happy. They were warm and affectionate, and I knew that I was loved.

    That’s the way I see it when I look back, but there’s a layer of fear, like gray film, over it, as if I’m looking outside through a screen door. The fear began with my mother’s “nervous breakdowns” and my dad’s frequent business trips… with the times Mom spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, or when she’d check into a hotel for the sole purpose of drinking herself as near to death as she dared to go. She was sick for two years, when I was 4 and 5.

    Sometimes, when Dad was out of town and Mom was sitting in the darkened living room, in the overstuffed chair, her legs splayed on the ottoman… drinking red wine, which turned her tongue and lips blue and carried her into oblivion… I pulled a blanket and a pillow out of the linen cupboard on the second-floor landing, dragged them downstairs and into the living room, covered Mom with the blanket, and tried to arrange her limp torso so that her head rested on the pillow. Then I put her cigarettes and lighter in a kitchen cabinet, so that she wouldn’t burn the house down.

    I didn’t know that Mom drank because my sister had a serious heart condition and might die any minute, although she never did… and because my brother had barely survived polio… and because Mom’s own mother had died of pernicious anemia while Mom, too, was ill with polio… and because Dad traveled so much and was unavailable to share all the burdens. I just knew that I felt unprotected when Mom binged and Dad was out of town.

    fcc_outsideI started going to the Presbyterian church two blocks away, alone, when I was 5 — drawn, I think, by the glorious music and the grand old sanctuary with its elaborately carved oak and its sparkling, intricate stained-glass windows, and also by the reassurance of ritual and continuity. The Sunday-school teachers, on the other hand, made Jesus sound like a jail warden, and I was afraid of him, and of going to Hell. But when he came to me in dreams, he wore Levi’s and a plaid shirt, and he was kind and comforting.

    One midsummer evening, my mother announced at the dinner table that she was under doctor’s orders to quit drinking. She smiled broadly, dazzlingly, and said, “I have had my last drink.” It was the happiest day of my life.

    It lasted for a few months, this feeling of security, this belief in happy endings, this euphoria. And then, early one Sunday morning, after I had spent the night at my cousin Lucy’s house, Aunt Cecily dropped me off on her way to church. She watched as I climbed the forty-seven steps to the big tile-floored front porch, and she waved goodbye as I pushed open the gleaming mahogany door, which was never locked.

    I closed the door and inhaled a miasma of cigarette smoke laced with stale beer and something ripe and pungent. I am sure that my heart stopped, and that when it started beating again I wanted more than anything to turn around, go back out the door, and run. Anywhere. Just away from there. Away from what I might find when I turned the corner into the living room.

    In the end, there was nothing else to do, so I stepped into the living room and all but tripped over Mom’s feet. She was passed out, face down, on the ottoman, her toothpick legs sticking out on one side, her head and arms dangling from the other side, a pool of vomit between her hands where they brushed the floor.

    Feelings whose names I didn’t know suffocated me: revulsion, disappointment, panic, and something worse. I think of it now, perhaps melodramatically, as a loss of innocence.

    That summer morning, I had no time to rage or mourn. I knew that my older brother and sister would be of no help; they were still asleep, and in any case they were inured to Mom’s binges. Dad was somewhere in western Nebraska doing a bank audit. I was on my own.

    Something in me pitied my mother and was terrified. When I tried to wake her, she rolled over onto the floor. Her arm landed in the vomit, which splashed onto my feet and my white cotton pants, covering most of one leg.

    Dr. Prentice, Mom’s psychiatrist, lived two doors away with Mrs. Prentice and their son, Frankie, who was my best friend. I ran out of our house through the back door, up the alley, through the Prentices’ back yard, and into their kitchen. Dr. and Mrs. Prentice were sitting at their white-enamel table, reading the Sunday paper and drinking coffee. Vomit dripped off my pants onto the shiny red linoleum floor. I stood there panting, unable to speak.

    “Is something wrong with your mom?” Dr. Prentice asked gently. I just nodded, and he got up, kissed the top of my head, and left the room. Mrs. Prentice took me upstairs and helped me wash my feet and gave me a clean pair of Frankie’s pants to wear. She said that I could play in the guest room until Frankie woke up and that I could eat lunch there and play with Frankie all day. I looked out one of the guest-room windows and watched Dr. Prentice, carrying his black doctor bag, walk across the front yard and down the street toward our house.

    An old-fashioned kitchen on display in Dover, Delaware

    An old-fashioned kitchen on display in Dover, Delaware

    Late that afternoon, Dad came to the Prentices’ to pick me up. Mom was in the hospital, he said. Thelma, our housekeeper, would stay with us until Mom came home. Thelma had worked two days a week for us since I was an infant. She was big and brown and solid and safe. She liked to refer to herself as my mammy. That’s the way things were back then.

    Secretly I hoped that Mom would stay in the hospital forever. With Thelma, there were cheerfulness and peace and order. She ironed our sheets, and they felt smooth and smelled wonderful. She baked homemade bread and sweet-potato pie. My clothes were always clean and pressed and folded neatly in my dresser drawer. Thelma vacuumed and dusted, and she scrubbed the blue-linoleum kitchen floor and waxed it by hand, then polished it until it shone. And in the evenings, she sat me on her ample lap and held me tight and told true stories that her grandmother had told her about life in the Old South.

    Mom was in the hospital for a month, and when she came home she’d gained a few pounds and her cheeks had some color that had been missing before. She had medicine she could take if she felt overwhelmed, but she didn’t use it very often. I knew, because when she had taken the medicine she slept late and we had to fix our own breakfast. She didn’t quit drinking, but she kept to her daily limit of two glasses of wine. Dad went to work at a different CPA firm, where the head partner promised that there would be no out-of-town travel.

    At last, when I was about to start school, there was beginning to be an atmosphere of normalcy and predictability in our home. I buried my fear, but it never went away. I was always steeling myself against the next disappointment.

    Our house was a gathering place, as some houses tend to be and no one is sure why. Mom enjoyed a houseful of kids — my sister’s friends, my brother’s, mine. Everyone loved her. She had become strong and healthy and competent. And still I was afraid.

    It wasn’t until I was a wife and mother myself that I understood Mom’s despair. When I suffered my own breakdown at 22, Dr. Prentice and Mom helped me through it. Some time during my high-school years, Mom had become my hero, my role model. Dad had always been my rock.

    Once, when I was in my early 20s, I heard Mom tell Aunt Cecily that, if anything happened to Dad, she knew that I would take care of her. I never had to. Mom died of a stroke when she was 59. Dad had a fatal heart attack five years later.

    * * *

    I married Lou when I was 24, four years before Mom died. Together Lou and I raised three happy, healthy children. Lou was a philanderer, and I knew it, but he was also a wise and loving father and we made a fine parenting team. We needed each other for that, and the kids needed us both, and, for me, that was enough.

    Lou died of cancer five years ago, and I grieved. The children are married, with families and careers. They are scattered throughout the country, and I see them twice a year. My grandchildren are always shy with me at first; they don’t know me, and they certainly don’t need me.

    I am 59 years old, and I am superfluous.

    lemonadeAlmost every day I take my coffee or my lemonade onto the balcony. I sit on the little wall and wonder, with some detachment, what it would be like to just push off with my feet and go sailing into the air. Maybe tomorrow, I think. Today I need to launder the bedding.

    * * *

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