Murder Threats on YouTube

Rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan, dating from ten thousand years BCE

Rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan, dating from ten thousand years BCE

Because of the greatness of your strength,
your enemies, O God Almighty, cringe before you.
Before you all the earth shall bow,
shall sing to you, sing to your name!”
Let our joy then be in you,
for you, God, rule forever.
Your eyes keep watch over the nations;
let rebels not rise against you. —from Ps. 66

Free Speech or Hate Speech?

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Loreena McKennitt 2009

Loreena McKennitt 2009

Sister Alma Rose is appalled. She doesn’t like being appalled. It’s not her style… though she suspects that Loreena McKennitt would be appalled as well.

On May 18 (“The Purest Race” in Sister Alma Rose Has the Last Word), our dear friend Fanny McElroy cited vitriolic antisemitic comments related to a “sophisticated, beautifully crafted” fan-created video found on the popular media-sharing website YouTube. Fanny discovered the antisemitic comments when she added her own comments, praising the video’s creator for beautiful work. The video accompanied  folk-singer Loreena McKennitt’s song “Night Ride Across the Caucasus,” first recorded on McKennitt’s 1997 album The Book of Secrets.

In just a few minutes’ browsing of other videos, Fanny came across murder threats against Zionists, Chinese, and people of unspecified race or ethnicity.

Click here for video, comments, background, and a brief, anonymous survey on how you feel about these threats and other comments. You can, of course, view the information without taking the survey. It is short, however, only four yes-or-no questions; and your anonymity is guaranteed if you choose not to enter your name. 

Children's puppet theater

In keeping with the Caucasus region’s tradition of children’s puppet theater, “Stories from Our Yard” uses locally-designed puppets to deliver its message

What does YouTube permit?

Here is an excerpt from YouTube’s Community Guidelines:

We encourage free speech and defend everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view. But we don’t  permit hate speech (…which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/ gender identity). [Emphasis ours] …Predatory behavior,  stalking, threats, harassment, intimidation, invading privacy, revealing other people’s personal information,  and inciting others to commit violent acts or to violate the Terms of Use are taken very seriously. Anyone caught doing these things may be permanently banned from YouTube.

Wedding dance, Georgia, the Caucasus region

Wedding dance, Georgia, the Caucasus region (Source: ConcordTravel.ge)

Fanny says that the principal subject of McKennitt’s song, according to McKennitt’s album insert, is alchemy, while the video seems to depict a traditional wedding among the peoples of the Caucasus (more at “The Purest Race“).  “The video makes artistic use,” says Fanny, “of what appears to be, but probably isn’t, old black-and-white footage, blurry, flickering… mixed with vivid new footage. Some of the same landmarks appear in ‘old’ and ‘new’ footage, which consist mostly of wedding scenes, dancing, and people on horseback, probably underscoring the continuity of culture over time. It is beautifully done, with — I think the phrase is ‘high production values.'”

Endangered Ateni Sioni church in Georgia dates from the 7th century

Endangered Ateni Sioni church in Georgia dates from the 7th century

The antisemitic comments on YouTube refer to neither alchemy nor wedding, Fanny reports, but rather to the nationalist biases and aspirations of the “Caucasians” (that is, the peoples of the Caucasus).

On May 17, Fanny flagged the comments and reported them according to prescribed YouTube procedure, informing YouTube that the comments violated YouTube Community Guidelines. She resubmitted her objections a few days later. To date (June 8), YouTube has not deleted the comments and has not responded to Fanny’s report.

Fanny writes,

Please. This is important. We are asking you to take a brief (4-item) survey (anonymous unless you choose to give your name) about vitriolic anti-Semitic & anti-Chinese YouTube messages. You’ll see a mere handful of ugly postings, but such messages are abundant on YouTube in defiance of YouTube guidelines.

Is this abuse of free speech? A big unfunny joke? Were the rules changed when my back was turned? Or is it felt that people not allowed to speak openly will go underground? I imagine there’s already plenty of “underground.” Please take the survey and share this request with others. Thank you…. Fanny

MOI, Fanny

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The Purest Race

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

Who Do We Think We Are?

from Fanny’s journal of her time among the Ancients

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

The Caucasus Region, 1994

The Caucasus Region, 1994

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

 

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park

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

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

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

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

There is so much to write about:

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

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

Ethnic Pride and Conflict among the Peoples of the Caucasus

 

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

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus (User:PMX)

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

Crossroads of cultures and continents

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grozny, Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya. Source: trunghocduytan.com

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

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

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

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

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia

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

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

Comments on the video (I am ‘M’)

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

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

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

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

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

dot

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

Pretty redhead

MOI, Fanny the Bilingual

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

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

G – 1 week ago — CAUCASIAN RACE THE PUREST EVER   

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

K – 3 days ago – 23 jews   

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

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

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

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

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

“K” gets around

Different issue, one in which I did not take part   

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

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

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

 

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

   

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

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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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Serenity Shots

A Cottage in a Cornfield, oil on canvas, John Constable 1776-1837

A Cottage in a Cornfield, oil on canvas, John Constable 1776-1837

An Indelicate Incident

The parade of people who march into and out of Sister Alma Rose’s little world is endlessly fascinating. I know why they come, at least some of them: You cannot help feeling safe with Sister Alma Rose. She just sends out these vibes: “Everything will be okay,” or, rather, “everything is fine, as it should be, right now.” She inoculates people with serenity.  

The Hay Wain, John Constable, 1821

The Hay Wain, John Constable, 1821

Sister Alma Rose does not expend energy needlessly, by which I mean, (a) she never worries, though occasionally she catches herself “fretting,” but she snaps right out of it, and (b) she is absolutely unconcerned about what people think of her— not in an in-your-face sort of way; it would just never occur to her to try to crawl into someone else’s brain.  

There’s a book I have not read (there are still a few of them out there) called What You Think of Me Is None of My Business (which is one of those books, like Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow, for which the title is so instructive that you almost feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth without actually reading the book)…. Where was I? Oh, I think that Sister Alma Rose could have written that book, because she doesn’t ever speculate about what people think of her, like, does my hair look okay, or, I wonder if she likes me.  

Book: What You Think of Me Is None of My Business

Terry Cole-Whittaker earned a Doctor of Divinity degree in 1973 and was ordained as a minister of the United Church of Religious Science in 1975. She left that denomination to found an independent New Thought church in San Diego

That being the case, she is never embarrassed. Here is something that happened, which, if it had happened to me then, I was in fourth grade at the time, would have sent me bolting to my room vowing never to emerge, picturing myself at age 73, that eccentric McElroy spinster who hadn’t been seen since the Embarrassing Incident sixty-four years earlier:  

Let me start out by saying that Sister Alma Rose never, ever naps. She is almost never “poorly” with a cold or the flu or aches and pains. I asked her once if she had always been so healthy, in her past lives, and she laughed and said that she had been an invalid during the Renaissance but that in each successive life she gets healthier and happier, which led me to wonder if people are always reincarnated forward in time, and she said that usually, when you die in one life, you are born into another at the same moment, and that she had always lived in this universe, on Planet Earth, which is usual but there are exceptions. I will have to remember to ask Henry about that, and about whether you are simultaneously a fetus and an independently living, breathing human being who is about to die. 

It was about six weeks after Daddy’s accident, a breathtakingly beautiful September afternoon, and Daddy wanted to walk across the road to see Sister Alma Rose. 

PICTURE OF SERENITY. Girl in the Garden at Bellevue, Édouard Manet 1832-1883. Manet, a French painter, was one of the first nineteenth-century artists to approach modern-life subjects [and]... was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism

PICTURE OF SERENITY. Girl in the Garden at Bellevue, Édouard Manet 1832-1883. Manet, a French painter, was one of the first nineteenth-century artists to approach modern-life subjects and represent the transition from Realism to Impressionism (Manet article, Wikipedia)

This was something Daddy and I traditionally did on those rare afternoons when he came in early from the fields, although of course he hadn’t been working since the accident; his brothers were taking care of the farm.  

The Cornfield, John Constable, 1826

The Cornfield, John Constable, 1826

I held Daddy’s hand protectively and we walked across the road, which is still brick as it winds out of Hilltop and climbs and curves to Sister Alma Rose’s farm and then on to La Mesa. We were a little surprised not to see Sister Alma Rose on the porch, shelling peas or whatever it is she does— her hands are always busy— but Mr. Truman LaFollette was washing the grass-green wicker furniture with soapy water, and he looked up at us and almost smiled, he is in general very grave, and said in his deep voice that always sounds rusty from disuse that Sister Alma Rose was in the kitchen.  

Caught napping

So we went around to the side door that opens into the pantry and the kitchen is just beyond, and she wasn’t there. I said, “Maybe she’s in the chapel,” which was on the other side of the parlor, so we turned into the parlor, and there she was, lying on that big old scratchy brown sofa with her back to us, and my first thought was that she was dead because I had never in my life seen Sister Alma Rose lying down.  

Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1802

Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1802

Daddy whispered, “I think she’s sleeping,” but I went closer to make sure she was breathing, and just then she woke up and turned her head toward us and started to smile, but the smile was interrupted by a violent sneeze, maybe you have experienced one of those, where the sneeze just takes possession of your entire body, so it wasn’t just an ordinary sneeze, it was one of those HONK fart-sneezes that is impossible to ignore or pretend you didn’t hear, especially since Sister Alma Rose’s backside was still turned inelegantly toward us and also, within a few seconds, something I can describe only as green swamp fog pervaded the atmosphere in the room.  

Peppermint, Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897

Peppermint, Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897— Peppermint is effective in treating certain stomach ailments; discuss with your doctor before using

I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. I didn’t dare look at Daddy. But Sister Alma Rose just chuckled and said, “Well, for pity’s sake,” she said, “pardon me,” and she stood up gracefully and glided across the room and gently herded Daddy and me onto the porch, saying, “Let’s just go out here where the air’s a bit fresher,” chuckling again, and then, obviously not giving it another thought, she expressed great pleasure at seeing Daddy looking so well, and we all temporarily forgot about the HONK fart-sneeze, although I tucked the incident away in my head to tell Mama and maybe Pablo.  

We didn’t stay long, because Sister Alma Rose did indeed have a cold and she said that she thought that she would treat herself and spend the rest of the afternoon in bed, reading or napping and letting Mr. Truman LaFollette fuss over her and bring her chicken soup and peppermint tea with honey.  

Sister Alma Rose recovered quickly, but “the incident” was never to be forgotten, despite Sister Alma Rose’s aplomb. Just the other night, after my brothers, Yo and Angelo, were in bed, Mama and Daddy and I were waiting for Henry so that we could play Scrabble, and I recalled “the incident,” and Daddy blushed like a teenager, and Mama laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks.  

Hampstead Heath, Looking Towards Harrow; John Constable, 1821

Hampstead Heath, Looking Towards Harrow; John Constable, 1821

“I read recently that people ‘break wind’ an average of fifteen times a day,” I said to Mama and Daddy. “I’m actually surprised that people don’t fart… you know, audibly… more often, especially when they eat broccoli or something.”  

“God is merciful,” Daddy said piously, and then grinned and confessed that he’d wondered the same thing.  

“Well, even if Sister Alma Rose weren’t who she is,” Mama said, “and I can’t believe we’re having this conversation— even if Sister Alma Rose weren’t the most gracious and self-possessed human being on this earth, I guess if you’ve lived as long as she has, and so many times, you’ve seen— and heard— it all, and you grow up beyond embarrassment.”  

“I can vouch for that,” Henry said, letting himself in through the screen door and making disgusting fart sounds with his mouth— which I can’t do, it’s mostly a guy thing— and cracking everyone up.  

Clearing the air

I still can hardly believe I actually got these Scrabble letters (“tiles,” I think, is the proper word for them)— maybe Henry switched letters on me with this sleight-of-hand thing he does— but Daddy had made the word L-A-T-E-R and I was able to add F-L-A-T-U to the front of it. Mama and Daddy burst out laughing, but Henry narrowed his eyes at me and said, “It would be O-R, not E-R, if there were even such a word, which there is NOT,” and of course he was right.  

Henry and Daddy have discovered that, by bizarre coincidence, of which, Sister Alma Rose claims, there is no such thing, they both like to smoke a particular blend of perique pipe tobacco. Since perique is grown only in Saint James Parish, Louisiana, it’s not available at your 24-hour convenience store, or, for that matter, anywhere in Hilltop. Daddy was getting it by mail order from a company in Vermont until Henry showed up with an apparently inexhaustible supply, but they still smoke it sparingly, as if it were gold dust. It smells wonderful.  

Lake District Scene, John Constable

Lake District Scene, John Constable

So they were out on the porch sharing a testosterone moment, and Mama and I were tidying up as we womenfolk have done since we all lived in caves.  

Something was off, though. Mama had been unusually quiet since Henry got there, and Henry and Daddy were outside longer than usual, and there was an uneasiness growing in me that I couldn’t explain away. And then Henry and Daddy came inside and we all sat down, and that’s when I learned that Henry and Sister Alma Rose and I would be going “up the mountain” to Daylight on the first of May.  

Blue Ridge Mountain Road

The Road to Daylight

 
 

John Constable, 1776-1837, English Romantic painter

John Constable, 1776-1837, English Romantic painter

John Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) was an English Romantic painter. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home – now known as “Constable Country”- which he invested with an intensity of affection. “I should paint my own places best”, he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, “painting is but another word for feeling”.  

His most famous paintings include Dedham Vale of 1802 and The Hay Wain of 1821. Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, he was never financially successful and did not become a member of the establishment until he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52. He sold more paintings in France than in his native England. —John Constable: The Complete Works 

* * *  

The world's best Mother's Day cards, on 100% recycled cover stock

The world's best Mother's Day cards, on 100% recycled cover stock

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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Daylight

Two Girls with Their Shelties - Victorian Images

Victorian art showing two little girls with their best friends

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The Sacrament of Being a Good Friend to Your Friends

So, Henry has been to see me. Henry from the past, Henry from the Ancients, Henry from Richmond, Henry the Hiker, Henry Morgan McKenzie, Jr., who vanished ten years ago. And being with Henry is the biggest and best thing in my life, and I can’t talk about it.

Girl with art project

Marianna in fourth grade

Oh, I can talk to Mama and Daddy, and Sister Alma Rose, but then I have to go to school and act like I’m interested that Kevin Olander has been walking Marianna Dempsey home after cheerleading. Well, that’s actually not a very good example of trivial junior-high gossip, because I AM sort of interested, because Kevin Olander is very cute and very shy, and Marianna is a real sweetheart and we were inseparable in fourth grade, when we had the same teacher, and she is that rare specimen of junior-high girl who is truly kind and neither knows nor cares what people, in general, think of her.

Sister Alma Rose gives me assignments, and the one I’m working on right now is what she calls the Sacrament of Being a Good Friend to Your Friends. “It takes a little bit of effort to keep up y’all’s friendships with youngsters* y’all don’t run into regularly,” she said, “not counting Pablo, who’s always around. But keep a-hold of those who love and don’t compete with y’all, and the other way ’round, by which I mean y’all want them to be happy and don’t begrudge them their successes. Those friendships are rare, and they’re sacred.”

Sometimes it’s just a real treat to listen to Sister Alma Rose talk.

Peter the Creep

Marianna is the friend I cherish most when I’m feeling… I don’t know the right word— not “excluded,” because I’m the one who’s avoiding people— “separate,” maybe, like I’m 12 going on 57, when I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about spiritual stuff, and meditating especially intensely, and none of this is of interest to my other school friends, not even Pablo.

Marianna is a Christian Scientist and totally into spirituality. She sees everyone as a perfect child of a perfect God who does not create imperfection. But she doesn’t take herself too seriously. I mean, she takes Christian Science seriously, because she’s seen and experienced all these amazing healings, but she says, very dryly, “Fanny, you might find this hard to believe, but I don’t always manifest perfect love.”

A typical American fire escape; SoHo, Manhattan

A typical American fire escape; SoHo, Manhattan

Then she giggles. “I really have to work at seeing Peter Gaines as a perfect child of God.” She doesn’t say “Peter the Creep,” which everyone calls him because he’s just creepy. Whenever there’s a fire drill, he makes sure he’s one of the first kids out so he can stand under the iron-bar steps that are the fire escapes and look up girls’ skirts until one of the teachers makes him go stand across the street in the practice field, which is where we’re supposed to go. And he’s been seen a bunch of times standing outside girls’ houses at night, being a peeping Tom with these high-dollar binoculars he has, including Marianna’s house.

The rest of the time he’s just there, not talking to anyone, sort of shuffling to his classes, and, in each of them, effortlessly committing every spoken and written word to memory and always getting straight A’s. Marianna tried to talk to him once, asking him a question about the subjunctive mood or something, which they were studying in their English class, and he just stared at  her with distaste, “like I was a particularly loathsome beetle,” she said.

Something so heinous

Sunny Victorian parlor

She and I talked to Sister Alma Rose about him one day when we went to her house after school seeking Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incredible limeade.

“How can someone that intelligent be that clueless?” I asked.

“There has to be a reason for a boy to be so warped at such a young age,” she said, “but this is how sex offenders start out. They don’t just change from healthy into sick human beings when they’re 30.”

Sister Alma Rose made us pray for him — I mean, we wanted to, and we did, silently, for quite a while. It was hard at first, because he was, after all, Peter the Creep, and I couldn’t get past that until I thought of him as a newborn, a gurgling infant, a toddler, taking those first, unsteady steps, all bright eyes and wondering at the big, wide world, and reminded myself that his true self was still that fresh and innocent.

I was sure that Sister Alma Rose would go and talk to his parents, and, of course, she did, and they are just regular nice people— they own the sheet-music and musical-instrument store in Hillside— and they were “concerned” about both Peter and his older sister, Alice, who, it turns out, was bulimic, though her parents didn’t know that until after. I can only imagine what family dinners were like at their house. But Peter and Alice were getting good grades and their parents convinced themselves that the kids were just “going through a phase.”

WAKE UP, MOMS AND DADS! Your 12-year-old son has no friends and has no interests and he is a zombie most of the time. Your teenage daughter is five-foot-five and weighs 87 pounds. IS ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION HERE?

Well, after a lot of gentle but persistent pressure on Sister Alma Rose’s part, a lot of patient conversations with Peter and Alice, and a lot of just plain snooping, Sister Alma Rose uncovered something so heinous I don’t even know how to put it into words… so disturbing that she would tell Marianna and me about it only with our parents’ permission and with our parents actually with us, gathered in our cheerful, sunny living room.

Okay, here goes

Interpol Headquarters, Lyon, France. Photo: Massimiliano Mariani

Interpol Headquarters, Lyon, France. Photo: Massimiliano Mariani

Peter and Alice have an aunt and uncle — their mom’s brother and his wife — who are called Hector and Carol Mote and who owned the music store in La Mesa. When the music store in Hilltop came available, the Motes urged the Gaineses to buy it and move from Chicago to Hilltop— which, they assured Mr. and Mrs. Gaines, was such a picturesque small town… so wholesome, so much safer than Chicago.

The Motes’ store was much bigger and busier than the Gaineses’ in Hilltop, because of there being a music college in La Mesa, so the Motes “hired” Peter and Alice, and paid them well, to “help in the stock room” on Saturdays, starting when Peter was 9 and Alice was 10.

But they didn’t work in the stock room. They “worked” in the plush master bedroom of the Motes’ house behind the store, where they not only were sexually abused(1) by the Motes but also were forced to do things with each other, which kindly Uncle Hector recorded on video,(2) and he sold the videos to people all over the world, which made it an FBI matter (also a matter for the U.S. Customs Service and possibly Interpol!) when Sister Alma Rose blew the whistle.

Pretty little red-haired girl with freckles

Me, Fanny

“How could they force them?” Marianna asked, and her voice sounded so strange that my eyes, which had been glued to Sister Alma Rose, slid over to Marianna, looking like a wounded bird between her mom and dad, and her mom had her arm around Marianna’s shoulders and was stroking her hair, and her dad looked dangerous, like an angry wolf might look protecting its cub. Or do wolves have pups? Anyway, Marianna was holding tight to her dad’s hand and very quietly sobbing her heart out.

“With threats,” Sister Alma Rose said gently, “to tell the children’s folks all sorts of lies— that they had caught the children together in bed, or that Alice had seduced her uncle— that kind of thing. And y’all need to understand that the abuse had been going on, during family visits, since before Peter and Alice were even in kindergarten.”

I made it to the bathroom just in time to lose the lunch I was wishing I hadn’t eaten. When I was done retching, Mama cleaned my sweaty face with a warm washcloth and got the mouthwash out of the cabinet. She looked a question at me, and I said, “No, I want to hear the rest.” I rinsed the bad taste out of my mouth as well as I could and went into the living room and sat down on the love seat next to Mama. Daddy, on the other side of me in “Only His” Chair, gave my shoulders a squeeze and handed me a peppermint. What a dad!

Then Marianna and I both started laughing. It wasn’t hysteria, it was our mutual realization— through some kind of cosmic connection, I guess, but it was as clear as a fingersnap— that we’d both been expelling toxins, Marianna washing them away with tears and I upchucking them out. Sorry, but that’s what it was.

Why friendships are sacred

Okay, so now, as I write this, the Motes are in prison, “but folks like them ain’t safe in or out of the penitentiary,” Sister Alma Rose said. She rarely says ain’t any more unless she’s “in a state,” and I was pretty sure she wasn’t losing any sleep over whatever peril the Motes might be facing.

Lexington, Kentucky, is "horse country." Photo: Wes Blevins

Lexington, Kentucky, is "horse country." Photo: Wes Blevins

Peter and Alice were long gone, even before our family conclave. Mama told me that the Gaineses’ house had been sold, as had both of the music stores, and Mr. and Mrs. Gaines were moving to Lexington, Kentucky, where Mr. Gaines’s parents and brothers lived with their families.

“But where are the kids?” I asked, wondering what kind of counseling could erase all those years of abuse and shame and secrecy.

“They’re in the best place they could possibly be,” Mama said with a wistful smile, “the most beautiful place in the world, a place where you take in healing and kindness and wholesomeness with every breath. They’re in Daylight.”

I knew where she meant, the place where the Ancients live when they’re not Out in the World, but I’d never heard it given a name (Henry just says, “up the mountain”), and I’d also never heard of anyone going there who wasn’t from the Ancients, and I told Mama that, and she smiled that wistful smile again.

“I was there,” she said simply. “After my father died, and Mama drank herself to death in front of my eyes and I went to pieces, Daddy Pete took me up. You’ll go yourself, of course, probably sooner rather than later, and you’ll never want to leave, but you’ll know you can go up there whenever you need to, and you’ll be full of zeal to come back and help mend the broken world.”

Asparagus: German botanical illustration

Asparagus: German botanical illustration

A week or so after our gathering, Sister Alma Rose gave a little party in honor of Marianna and me. It was just the three of us and Mr. Truman LaFollette, but we devoured baked salmon and tender asparagus spears and Sister Alma Rose’s famous fruit salad that’s like dessert, and warm, dark homemade bread, and then we had dessert, chocolate mousse so rich that the small piece was almost more than I could handle, although I can pretty much always find room for more chocolate.

Then Sister Alma Rose explained how Marianna’s and my friendship had started something that would bless the world for a very long time. I thought that was giving it more than its due, and started to say so, but Sister Alma Rose shushed me.

“The two of y’all was thrown together in fourth grade,” she said, “but you’ve gone out of your way to keep on being friends. Now, if y’all weren’t who you are, y’all would have paid no attention to Peter Gaines. He was easy to ignore, like everybody else did. Marianna, y’all made an effort to see him for what he is, a perfect child of God. Even so, if y’all hadn’t talked about him with each other, and then come to me, Peter Gaines and his sister probably would have fallen through the cracks. The parents are in denial, nobody else notices or cares, and those youngsters grow up and they’re just full of poison.

The Mother Church; the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston

The Mother Church; the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston

“Now, think not only of them and the hell their lives would have been,” she went on, “but think of the people who might have been harmed by them but who won’t be, now, because of y’all. Think of Peter and Alice’s parents, who will recover because their children got help before someone else was hurt. Think of them two in prison, who won’t be brutalizing any more innocents. And think of all the circles of lives around these, like ripples. Poison travels fast and far.”

“But it’s not like we did something hard or made any sacrifices,” Marianna protested.

“Y’all made a choice,” said Sister Alma Rose, taking Marianna’s hand, and, Lord, I hoped she wouldn’t squeeze it and turn those delicate bones into little bitty Chiclets. “Instead of taking the path of least resistance, y’all chose to notice, to pray, and to act. Poison travels fast,” she repeated, “but love travels faster.”

I decided to wait for another time, when we weren’t celebrating, to ask Marianna and Sister Alma Rose if they were able to see the Motes as God’s perfect, innocent children. It’s still hard for me to use the words love and Peter Gaines in the same sentence. But I guess we did what Marianna calls “the loving thing,” and that, it seems, can change more than just our little corner of the world….

*The first time Sister Alma Rose referred to my friends and me as youngsters, I tried to explain that the only adults who use words like youngster are those who have little or no rapport with kids, which is definitely not the case with Sister Alma Rose. She laughed and said we’re lucky she doesn’t call us younglings, which was au courant before the seventeenth century, when youngster came into general use.

(1) Approximately 15% to 25% of women and 5% to 15% of men were sexually abused when they were children. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances such as ‘friends’ of the family, babysitters, or neighbors…. Wikipedia

(2) Children of all ages, including infants, are abused in the production of pornography internationally. The United States Department of Justice estimates that pornographers have recorded the abuse of more than one million children in the United States alone. —Wikipedia

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country road

'Henry was hiking on country roads, with no particular route or destination'

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Secrets of the Ancients Revealed

Me, Fanny McElroy, age 12

Me, Fanny McElroy, age 12

(Continued from previous post…) So I went home and began babbling to Mama — my little brothers were off spending a few days with Aunt Belle and her monsters, excuse me, her dear little ones, Tigger and Anja, who are just freely expressing their unspoiled innocence when they yank on your hair and stomp on other kids’ toys if they’re not allowed to play with them, and Aunt Belle, who is dear and kind and rather vague and stares in an unfocused way at Tigger and Anja like she’s not quite sure who they are or how they got there, literally wrings her hands — and then I had to start babbling all over again when Daddy came in, but he wanted a shower first, which was probably good because it gave me a chance to gather my thoughts, and then, wearing clean Levi’s and a purple (which is not Daddy’s color, it makes him look sallow) “Kansas State University Athletic Department” T-shirt and holding a bottle of Harp beer, he sat in the blue Morris chair that is Only His (Daddy says that by now the chair is perfectly molded to his butt)…

Antimacassar

My grandmother crocheted antimacassars and placed them on the "headrest" parts of chairs to prevent men's hair oil, specifically "Macassar Oil," from soiling the chair

…and Mama sat beside him in her grandmother Dolly’s overstuffed rocking chair, which I don’t know why she likes it because the upholstery is cow-patty brown and scratchy and covered with doilies and, I swear, an antimacassar, unlike Mama, who was, of course, not covered with doilies but was, rather, aglow in a white sundress with huge red polka dots and who was, uncharacteristically, drinking a glass of Rhine wine mixed with pineapple juice and a dab of peach brandy (a delicious punch she made for the wedding shower she hosted for her piano student Clarissa Whitney earlier that day, otherwise Mama rarely drinks alcohol, but gosh that punch is crisp and refreshing, and yes, I was given permission to have a small sip)…

(I really was)

President Obama delivering the 2010 State of the Union address

President Obama delivering the 2010 State of the Union address

…and she and Daddy held hands and looked at me expectantly, as if I were about to deliver the State of the Union address, so I said, “My fellow Americans,” and then launched into the story of Henry the Hiker and told them, Mama and Daddy, I mean, that he, Henry, is the spit and image of Matthew McConaughey, and about my premonition, and Pablo’s, and the 2000 newspaper article, with the photo of Henry, Ben, and Portia, reporting Henry’s disappearance, and my suspicion, confirmed by Sister Alma Rose, that Henry was one of the Ancients, and then Sister Alma Rose’s cryptic comment, which she refused to elaborate on, that Henry had not come to see her, Sister Alma Rose, but rather to see me, Fanny McElroy, 12 years old last October 4.

“What would he want with me?” I asked in great perplexity. “Oh, I know! He’s come to give me tennis lessons!”

Helen Keller, 1904

Helen Keller, 1904

That was supposed to be a joke, but no one laughed. Mama and Daddy had exchanged “significant glances” a few times, but they didn’t seem surprised by my “shocking revelations.” Sometimes I almost think Mama and Sister Alma Rose have this mental-telepathy thing going, because I can tell Mama about something that happened at Sister Alma Rose’s and it’s like she already knows, though either of them would die before they would betray a confidence, so I’m thinking Vulcan Mind Meld or else a convergence of highly developed women’s intuition.

Pray without ceasing

Growing up, I had known about the Ancients, in the same way you know about stuff like the Italian Riviera, and plantain (the fruit, not the weed), and Helen Keller: It’s out there (except for Helen Keller), and you have a vague idea what it is, and someday maybe you’ll care, but for now it’s just a Frito in the Massive Smorgasbord of Knowledge. In our house, if you had an odd sock, it was, like, “Maybe the Ancients took the other one,” and I used to think of them as Gollum-like creatures who slithered around and stole your homework or fiddled with your carburetor so your truck wouldn’t start — sort of like poltergeists in the flesh.

Portofino, the Italian Riviera; photo, Stan Shebs

Portofino, the Italian Riviera; photo, Stan Shebs

But from time to time I would overhear somebody — Mama or Daddy, Sister Alma Rose or Cousin Dulcie — saying “the Ancients” in a conversation that was respectful in tone, even reverential. So I came to believe that the Ancients were real people and somehow near, and eventually I just knew without being told that Sister Alma Rose and Cousin Dulcie had come from the Ancients, and, of course, dear, misguided Portia, who is fey, which means

(a) slightly insane
(b) elfin: suggestive of an elf in strangeness and otherworldliness; “thunderbolts quivered with elfin flares of heat lightning”; “the fey quality was there, the ability to see the moon at midday” — John Mason Brown
wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

NOTHING AT ALL LIKE THE ANCIENTS: Gollum, as depicted in the most recent film version of The Lord of the Rings

Portia notwithstanding, knowing about the Ancients has always given me a warm, safe feeling, like these almost-angels are keeping an eye on things while we clueless more-mortal mortals lurch around trying to make sense of our lives and, ideally, help other people be more comfortable in their skin, but often not succeeding, as evidenced by the number of times (average 12.7 per day) that you hear someone whine, “But I was JUST trying to HELP.”

Sister Alma Rose seldom discusses the Ancients with me, but she has told me one thing I love: that they literally pray without ceasing — so I can be conversing with Sister Alma Rose, and I have her full attention, but at the same time, in another part of her brain, or maybe in her heart, or her gallbladder (an organ not possessed, according to Wikipedia, by lampreys), I don’t understand the physiology of it, she is praying for me, or praying that she’ll understand what I’m saying, et cetera, and she says that anyone can do this praying without ceasing, you don’t have to be a monk or an Old One, and it brings great peace and health and vigor, and, of course, love, and you never, ever worry. I’m working on that.

Lampreys. People EAT them. There are EYES looking out of those tentacles

Lampreys. People EAT them. There are EYES looking out of those tentacles. Photo: Drow Male

* * *

So when I finished telling Mama and Daddy about Henry, et cetera, Mama announced that she had decided that the time had come to tell me as much as she could about the Ancients, and my heart did a little cardiac happy dance and in my mind was the cover of some magazine like People with Mama’s picture and the teaser “SECRETS OF THE ANCIENTS REVEALED.”

Or not. In any case, I sat cross-legged on the ottoman and scooched it over near Mama and Daddy and waited for Mama to begin. What you will read below are Mama’s words, minus the “ums,” et cetera, though I think she must have been practicing because she hardly had to stop to scratch or sneeze, or lose her place and find it again, or anything….

The Legend of the Ancients

Little girl, all dressed up, playing in clover

'Get in touch with your inner child'

There are many tales about the Ancients, or the Old Ones [see “The Old Ones,” below], and most of them contain at least SOME truth. So shut down your skeptic’s brain and pay attention, with a willingness to be enchanted. “Get in touch with your inner child,” because this is a lovely story, and it is mostly true. I know, because I was there.

The Old Ones, in one form or another, exist in every culture, but this story is about the Old Ones in North America because the author has personal experience with them. It is said that they have been on this continent for at least three thousand years, but the author cannot verify that.

Mountains of the Ancients?

Mountains of the Ancients?

According to one legend, many centuries ago a group of mystically inclined Indians created a village at the top of the highest mountain they could find and dedicated themselves to Knowing God. Since they could not at the same time dedicate themselves to learning the warriors’ ways, they needed to make their homes in a safe, secluded place, and they wanted to be close to the sky.

Over the millenia, they learned the arts and sciences that were revealed to them, and, because God was in their hearts and they were compassionate, some of them left the mountain community and went down to live quietly among the valley people, teaching and healing. 

BlueRidgeMountainRoad-Istock

No one can find them unless they want to be found

A small group of Europeans — just a handful of families, the story goes — with much the same vision stumbled upon the Indian village in their search for a mountain refuge. (No one today seems to know how they got to North America from Europe.) The Europeans and the Indians compared notes, in a manner of speaking, and found that the Europeans knew a great deal that the Indians did not, and the Indians knew much that the Europeans did not, so that by combining their knowledge they became more powerful and more compassionate, and the two communities became one.

MotherDaughter

They are...

They are still there, in that original settlement. No one — no person, no army, no camera or satellite — can find them unless they want to be found. Small groups and individuals have been led there — escaped slaves and refugees as well as mystics, gifted healers, and gypsies.

They are a beautiful people, physically and spiritually. Many have golden brown skin, wavy chestnut hair, and whiskey-brown eyes, though it is not unusual to see a blue-eyed blond in the village.

Dad Lifting Young Son

...a beautiful people

The Ancients are fully human, though they use more than the five senses you and I were taught about; in fact, all their senses are highly developed, including intuition, the so-called sixth sense, as well as manifestation, healing, and tapping the collective unconscious. They can literally make quantum leaps, and time travel is old hat to them, though, by unanimous agreement, they do not visit the future.

None of this is “supernatural.” It is simply science, advanced knowledge, mastered by people who are in continuous communication with God. The author has been told that as long as the Ancients remain in their mountain home, they age very slowly. They are completely self-sufficient in providing shelter, clothing, herbal cures and other forms of healing, and food. Meditation is a way of life. Prayer comes naturally, easily… it is second nature. Negative stress is practically unknown.

Reincarnation — ‘enormous compassion’

But the mountaintop home of the Ancients is no Shangri-La. Like their “Ancient” brothers and sisters throughout the world, they live in harmony and bear good will toward all people. They dwell apart but journey into the larger world to bring peace and healing. As in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition,

…they are moved by enormous compassion to be
reborn again and again in order to help all
living creatures discover in themselves
complete freedom from pain and
suffering….  —Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
Blonde in Autumn Grain Field

The Ancients are exuberant by nature; Portia is no exception

The mission of the Ancients is to share their gentle wisdom with all humanity, so they come, singly or as families, to live among us, often but not always in rural areas. They are your neighbors, teachers, mechanics, clergy, hair stylists, carpenters, architects, and landscapers.

Some stay for a year, others for a hundred or more. The latter have, apparently, exceptional tolerance for pollution, artificial pesticides, questionable food additives, the blare of media, and the accelerated lifestyle; but there is no question that they age much faster “down here” than “up there,” in spite of the serenity they gain from habitual prayer and meditation, which are, however, powerful protection from mental and physical illness and deterioration.

The Ancients believe, in a nutshell, (a) that the attributes they have developed and strengthened over countless lifetimes can and must be transmitted “down here” to certain people — those who are intelligent, intuitive, and generous of spirit — and (b) that, beginning with these people, peace, love, and joy will spread over all the earth.

Dad carrying young daughter on shoulders

...reincarnated through a family "down here"

The author has been told that from time to time one of the ancients is reincarnated through a family “down here”; such children might or might not remember their past lives among the Ancients. These little ones are usually looked after and mentored by one or more of the Ancients dwelling nearby for just that purpose.

The author has only a vague idea of how all this works, since she was not privy to the secrets of reincarnation among the Ancients. She was told, however, that most “reincarnates,” at an early age, remember their past lives.

The light sensor

The Ancients claim that everyone has, on his or her head, at the crown, a sensory receptor for light. This receptor opens and closes, like an eye, but on the general population it is practically invisible. If there is no hair on the head to cover it and someone happens to notice it, that person thinks little of it, believing it to be a freckle or a small mole.

man-with-outstretched-arms

'Flooding the body with light'

But the Ancients have “exercised” this receptor for hundreds and hundreds of years, for the purpose of flooding the body with light for healing, and it has evolved into a larger circular “discoloration” about half an inch in diameter and very slightly raised. This, apparently, is the only outward difference between the Ancients and “ordinary” people.

Having my head examined

Mama stopped talking and took a sip of her drink.

Fanny McElroy at about age 4

Sister Alma Rose has always known that I was 'unusual'

“Dear One, we’ve been waiting for the right time to tell you all this,” Daddy said, taking my face gently between his hands, “though Sister Alma Rose has been urging us along for the past month or two. You’ve been a happy, well-adjusted child, you see, and there was no need, and a small part of us — a very small part — hoped that she was wrong. But you’ve been drawn more and more to Sister Alma Rose, who’s known since she first laid eyes on you as a newborn that you were… um… unusual.”

My heart was thumping wildly. I was about to be told something important, crossing an invisible line that would change my life, in a good way but also challenging… a quest, maybe, like Frodo’s with the One Ring, but not so dangerous and not, I devoutly hoped, involving a fiery-eyed wizard and the undead on winged chargers.

Brand-new puppies

All must leave the warmth, familiarity, and perceived safety of the womb

For a moment, more than anything, I wanted to stay on the not-knowing side of the line and go on as I always had, but that would be impossible, just as it is impossible for a baby to refuse to be born.

I didn’t want to hear it. I couldn’t wait to hear it. I needed to hear it, because it would lead me to my place in Creation, and nothing would bring more good to the world or more satisfaction to my spirit than doing what God had meant for me to do.

And then I knew. I lifted my hand and held it over my head, above the crown. The feeling of warmth was unmistakable. I slipped my fingers under my hair and I could feel the raised half-inch circle.

“I’m one of them, aren’t I?” I asked, my voice shaking, looking at Mama, then Daddy, for confirmation, and their eyes told me all. “I’m one of the Ancients.”

Young girl happily dancing

One of the Ancients...

Sidebar: The Old Ones—Other Legends

A great many older religions may believe that Old Ones are the beings that existed at the creation of the universe and everything in it, possibly considered to be minor gods or deities or… co-existing with gods…. In The Dark Tower series written by Stephen King, the Old Ones (also sometimes called Great Old Ones) were a highly advanced civilization, called the Imperium, that ruled the All-World many centuries, or possibly millennia ago…. In The Dark Is Rising sequence by the British author Susan Cooper, the Old Ones are agents of the Light, born as men and women, whose task is to prevent the Powers of the Dark from taking control of the world.

“They are immortal but are not Gods and most do not appear different than late middle age humans…. Their abilities include time-travel, shape-shifting, and ability to speak and understand various languages without having learned them….

Madeleine L'engle's Murry Family series

Madeleine L'Engle's Murry Family series

“In Madeleine L’Engle‘s… science fantasy books about the Murry family, [the]… Old Ones are similar to the ones in Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series—humans born with unusual mystical powers and dedicated to a never-ending struggle against the powers of darkness and evil. In both series, the Old Ones are associated with an Old Music.” —Wikipedia

* * *

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Passing Through

Sh-h-h-h: Limeade

Mr. Truman LaFollette's Incomparable Limeade Recipe

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Inhaling God in deep breaths

It was the laziest possible of summer afternoons, and Sister Alma Rose and Father Dooley and I were enjoying Mr. Truman LaFollette’s new recipe, which was new only in the sense that it was limeade instead of lemonade, which Mr. Truman said: weren’t we getting tired of it, meaning his incomparable lemonade, and we emphatically informed him that we were not, and he finally confessed that he was getting a little bored with always making lemonade, and I have to say that his limeade is so crisp and refreshing that I will be a little sorry when he gets tired of limeade and goes back to lemonade, or maybe he will try something exotic, like papaya limeade, which, whatever he concocts will be delicious.

Mr. Truman LaFollette always uses fresh lemons when he makes his incomparable lemonade. They are SO fresh that I think he must have a lemon tree hidden somewhere

Mr. Truman LaFollette always uses fresh lemons when he makes his incomparable lemonade. They are SO fresh that I think he must have a lemon tree hidden somewhere

I was happy and relaxed, but I had a mild premonition that something extraordinary was about to happen. I was just too whipped to have a strong premonition, or else I surely would have. Sister Alma Rose trusts and actually encourages my premonitions. “Heaven is talking to y’all, Girl,” she’ll say.

That morning, Sister Alma Rose had been up since before dawn “putting up” produce, tomatoes and peas, I think, and Father Dooley and I had ridden our bicycles to Beth Israel, which is the Reform synagogue in Hilltop, where we were taking a class called “The History of Judaism,” which is every weekday morning for three weeks, and I found it absolutely mesmerizing and was spending hours at the library reading everything I could find about Judaism, but on this particular day I had an extra lot of chores to do when I got home, and Father Dooley had an extra lot of confessions to hear, or something, and so we all felt as though we had earned an afternoon of lethargy, except that Sister Alma Rose was sitting at the grass-green wicker table shelling peas, which is her idea of doing nothing, while Father Dooley and I were sprawled bonelessly in the roomy grass-green wicker chairs with green-and-yellow flowered cushions. Or she might have been shelling beans. I remember reading somewhere that peas ARE beans, of a sort.(1)

THE SPANISH INQUISITION. St. Dominic Presiding Over an Auto-da-Fé, by Pedro Berruguete, c. 1495. An Auto-da-Fé (act of faith) refers to the sentencing of a heretic to die by being burned at the stake

THE SPANISH INQUISITION. St. Dominic Presiding Over an Auto-da-Fé, by Pedro Berruguete, c. 1495. An Auto-da-Fé (act of faith) refers to the sentencing of a heretic to die by being burned at the stake

Pablo had come and gone. He is taking French, which he does every summer, and he is in Advanced French now, so he and Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose chatted in French, of which I know only enough to expostulate on la plume de ma tante, a topic that soon loses its charm, but when the conversation changed to Judaism, in English, Pablo got up and cheerfully bid us au revoir and climbed onto his bicyclette and rode off. Not that Pablo is uninterested in Judaism, but we were discussing the medieval Inquisitions, and Pablo is very tender-hearted. He was almost inconsolable when his labrador, Myra, dragged a half-dead gecko into the house. A conversation about the cruelties of the Inquisitions would depress him for a week.

Pablo and I are pretty sympatico, and as he was leaving, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Something’s up.” I nodded soberly.

Pilgrimage

The three of us were lounging in a comfortable, exhausted silence (except for Sister Alma Rose, who is always comfortable but never exhausted), enjoying the light breeze that floated across the shady porch, when we heard the crunch of feet on the gravel driveway, and I sat up and watched as a man approached, waving and smiling, and I knew that he had something to do with my premonition, and I said, “Thank you, Jesus,” in my head, because he was wearing cutoffs over exquisitely muscled legs and a very nice butt, and he had on a short-sleeved lightweight cotton plaid shirt, unbuttoned, that looked like vintage Eddie Bauer, and I could tell from his high-dollar shoes and backpack that he was a hard-core hiker, not to mention that he was neither sweating nor short of breath and he had just walked up a long, steep hill, which I knew because if he had been coming from the other direction we would have seen him on the road.

Peas in pods

Peas in pods. Image from Wikimedia Creative Commons, by Gaetan Lee at http://www.flickr.com/photos/gaetanlee/

It’s not unusual for strangers to visit Sister Alma Rose as they are passing through Hilltop, although usually they are from La Mesa or one of the other nearby towns, and they have heard of Sister Alma Rose, who has something of a reputation as a healer, a wise woman, an oddball, a guru, a saint, or one of the Ancients, depending on whom you ask, but if the person you ask is Sister Alma Rose, she will say she is a farmer. I had never seen this man before, I was positive, because I would have noticed him inasmuch as he looked almost exactly like Matthew McConaughey, or like Matthew McConaughey might have looked when he was nineteen, and I sort of but not devoutly wished that he would button his shirt because my newly discovered hormones were popping like fireworks in my chest. He was quite a package, with his hip, expensive hiker stuff and his suntanned not-too-hairy chest and sunstreaked, longish, curly hair and slightly cheeky grin, and his very, very blue and surprisingly sagacious eyes, and when he approached us on the porch he smiled directly at me and I smiled back and told myself very firmly to focus on him and not on whether my hair looked okay or did I have a parsley morsel on my teeth or was I drooling.

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey, not just eye candy

But when he reached the table he stuck his hand out to shake Sister Alma Rose’s hand, and he spoke to her with something like awe, saying, “Y’all must be Sister Alma Rose,” and I waited to see if he would wince, because Sister Alma Rose’s hands are large and strong and her handshake is legendary, and he didn’t wince but he did raise his eyebrows. The soft, gentlemanly Virginia drawl almost finished me off, though I was able to smile and cock a finger at him and say, “Richmond,” and he smiled back and cocked a finger at me and said, “Bingo.” I’m very good at accents.

Mystical encounters

He shook hands with Father Dooley and then with me, and introduced himself as “Henry the Hiker.” I introduced myself as “Fanny the Drooler,” and he gave me a very fetching wink. Sister Alma Rose graciously gestured to the empty chair, and Mr. Truman LaFollette appeared out of nowhere, which is sometimes disconcerting, especially since he is nearly seven feet tall, with a frosty glass of limeade, and then he was gone before Henry could shake hands with him. When you’re not used to Mr. Truman LaFollette and he makes his ephemeral lemonade appearance, or, in this case, his limeade appearance, it’s a bit like being served by a ghost, and I saw Henry shiver, very slightly, but then he smiled, and I noticed that his teeth were perfectly even and almost blindingly white, and parsley-free, and that he had freckles, for Pete’s sake, and I thought, I am done for.

Patrick Henry delivered his 'Liberty or Death' speech at St. John's Church in Richmond

Patrick Henry delivered his 'Liberty or Death' speech at St. John's Church in Richmond

Because there was more to Henry than dazzling good looks. He was eye candy for sure, but he had an odd kind of quiet vitality, and life just rolled off him in waves. I never thought I’d say this, but even Sister Alma Rose seemed almost ordinary next to Henry.

He had just finished his first year as a seminary student (Princeton, Presbyterian), he told us, with a nod to Father Dooley, as if to say he didn’t have anything against clergy who were other than Presbyterian; and he had heard about Sister Alma Rose through our friend Ben, who had been Henry’s best friend since third grade, which indicated that he also didn’t have anything against black people, which was useful information because southerners sometimes have odd ideas about people whom Pablo refers to as “our darker equals,” ironically, because Pablo is very brown, as is Sister Alma Rose, for that matter.

Pable and I take this road to the library, though it adds a half-mile to the trip

He, Henry, was hiking on country roads with no particular route or destination, he said, other than his journey being in part “a pilgrimage” to meet Sister Alma Rose because Ben had told him that if anyone could help him clear his head, Sister Alma Rose could. His head needed clearing, he explained, because he had entered seminary confidently, with a definite calling, but after a year of study he felt that he had gained a lot of information but had lost his sense of closeness with God.

“I was a strange little kid,” he said, throwing us a killer grin, and, I surreptitiosly checked my chin for drool. “I was always praying. Not conspicuously, like falling down on my knees in the middle of a Little League game, but privately, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and feeling like whenever something was wrong I could go to God and be wrapped in love and made strong. 

“It just came naturally. I’d start to pray, at home or in church, and right away I was just lost in love, and I was surprised when I found out that it wasn’t the same for everyone else. But I was never embarrassed about it, and sometimes kids would call me ‘Holy Henry,’ but they weren’t being mean, so I’d just smile and say, ‘Alleluia,’ or, ‘Bless you, my child,’ or something, and everyone knew it was just who I was.”

He looked inquiringly at Father Dooley, who had been gazing at Henry with a kind of reverence. “Unusual,” Father Dooley said. “Yes, I’d say it’s very unusual for anyone, of any age, to have mystical encounters on demand. In my own experience, God has been accessible enough to keep me inspired… to keep me excited about my work and to enable me to genuinely love and feel honest compassion… and I often know that I have truly encountered God in prayer, but just as often I get up from prayer dissatisfied, as if one of us showed up and the other didn’t.”

I had never heard Father Dooley speak so earnestly, not even in class.

“Oh, yes!” Henry said, obviously grateful to be understood. “That’s just how it’s been with me, almost since I started seminary. The second thing you said, I mean. One of us not showing up.”

Like breathing

MOI, Fanny

MOI, Fanny

To my credit, I like to think, I had stopped seeing Henry as a sex object and had become absorbed in his story and sympathetic with his dilemma. I pray a lot, and I feel loved and nurtured when I pray, but my Close Encounters with God, the kind that Henry had routinely, have been like lightning bolts out of the blue, huge and unexpected and infrequent gifts of grace.

“It’s like breathing,” said Sister Alma Rose, breaking the silence. She was still shelling peas, and I was reminded of Pablo’s mother praying the rosary, a rhythmic, repetitive, tactile exercise, with the added benefit of the peas being living things just off the vines and smelling fresh and earthen.

Sister Alma Rose looked appraisingly at Henry, and then she nodded, as if something she’d suspected had been confirmed. I had the feeling that there was a secret between them, like they were both members of the Scottish Rite or something, but then Sister Alma Rose went back to shelling peas.

Saint Jerome Praying, by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516)

Saint Jerome Praying, by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516)

God always shows up for gratitude

“Y’all can’t be somewhere God isn’t,” she said to the peas, “because there isn’t any such a place. But y’all aren’t always aware of God, just like y’all aren’t always conscious of breathing. Then y’all go to pray, and it’s like y’all are inhaling God in deep breaths, and he fills y’all up and yet he still surrounds y’all.

“And then Henry, he goes to seminary and he learns about the mechanics of breathing and respiration, and how the air supplies oxygen to the lungs, and the oxygen gets into the bloodstream, and into every cell, where it’s exchanged for carbon dioxide, which the blood carries back to the lungs and then it, the carbon dioxide, gets exhaled. Cells can’t live without oxygen, so breathing and all is pretty important.

“But it happens automatically. It’s not a rule. If y’all tried to push oxygen into your bloodstream and then force it into your cells and exchange it for carbon dioxide, and so forth, thinking that if y’all worked hard at it y’all could make it special, maybe sacred, y’all are gonna most likely hyperventilate. Because it’s already been done for y’all. What y’all can do, in prayer, is wonder at it and accept it gratefully and praise God with every breath. God always shows up for gratitude.”

Vanished

For a while the only sound was the slight crackle of fresh pea (or bean) pods opening and the soft plop of peas (or beans) falling into the bowl. Then Henry asked Father Dooley a question about transubstantiation, and thus began a lively conversation to which Sister Alma Rose contributed now and again, and I closed my eyes and listened to the pleasant hum of their voices, like bees in a patch of clover, and when I opened my eyes, Henry and Father Dooley were gone and the sun was low in the sky.

Then Mr. Truman LaFollette was setting a plate of fresh fruit on a romaine lettuce leaf in front of me, with my favorite snack (if we’re not talking hot fudge), sharp cheddar cheese and Triscuits, just within reach.

“Y’all’s mama says y’all can stay for supper,” Mr. Truman LaFollette said, in a voice so seldom used I thought he must have to scrape the rust off. And then he evaporated before I could ask where Sister Alma Rose was.

She appeared a moment later, looking thoughtful, and before she sat down to her salad she carefully placed a yellowed newspaper clipping on the table to my left.

“Don’t y’all be dripping any strawberry juice on that,” she said, and then she bowed her head, so I did, too, and she said, “God of wonders, we thank y’all for the gifts both substantial and mystical that y’all shower upon us, and we ask that y’all help us use these gifts to grow strong and wise and generous. Amen.”

Strawberries

Mr. Truman LaFollette won't tell me where he gets such FRESH FRUIT

I had to bite my lip to keep from giggling as she prayed, first because it always amused me to hear her address the Almighty as “y’all,” and second because her words invoked an image of strawberries and grapes and pineapple falling out of the sky.

“That’s it?” I said, surprised. Usually Sister Alma Rose prays until the food, if it started out hot, is tepid.

“It’s enough,” she said. “Read that newspaper, Missy.”

Without picking it up, I began reading the clipping, at the top of which was a two-column-wide black-and-white photo of a grinning Henry, flanked by a grinning Ben and a bemused-looking Portia, who is the daughter of Mr. Henry LaFollette and Sister Alma Rose’s cousin Dulcie, who had given birth to Portia back when she was Wanton and Wild, which is exactly what Portia is, though Dulcie has turned into a round, comfortable person who smells like talcum powder and who Does Good Deeds. Portia, I thought, was an odd person for either Ben or Henry to know. Sister Alma Rose once told me that Portia is an Aberration, one of the Ancients reincarnated who remembers nothing of her former life and has no idea that she has been sent to do anything other than seduce men and twirl in circles, looking and singing like a fairy child, in the woods.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci ("the beautiful woman without mercy"), a painting by Walter Crane (1845-1915)

La Belle Dame Sans Merci ("the beautiful woman without mercy"), a painting by Walter Crane (1845-1915) that always makes me think of Portia

The story was dated July 28, 2000, and I was startled to see that Henry looked exactly as he had looked that afternoon, even wearing the same shirt (I couldn’t see his butt; unfortunately it had been cropped out of the photo).

Somewhere in Tennessee

‘Seminary student vanishes,’ read the headline. The story went on to say that Henry Morgan McKenzie, Jr., age 19, son of the newspaper’s executive editor and his, the editor’s, wife of twenty-two years, onetime film star Julianne Morgan, had begun a solo cross-country hike just after his classes had ended the second week in May. The photo had been taken as Henry was setting off. As promised, he telephoned either Ben or his parents at least three times a week, but the last phone call had been made on June 2, from somewhere in Tennessee. Of course, law-enforcement personnel in three states were searching vigilantly, blah, blah, blah, but they had found no trace of the missing boy, who had been in excellent health and spirits, with no history of mental illness, blah, blah, blah.

Jessica Lange lookalike

COVER GIRL: Julianne Morgan, a respected actress and Hollywood favorite, before she gave up her career for marriage and children

Scotch-taped to the story was a brief piece published on the five-year anniversary of Henry’s disappearance. There was a small photo of Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie, with Julianne looking youthful and serene and Henry Senior appearing haunted. Their son had been neither found nor heard from, though his mother said that he visited her in dreams and she was at peace, but apparently nobody paid much attention to Julianne, least of all her husband, who said that she was “in denial and receiving psychotherapy.”

I sighed and looked wide-eyed at Sister Alma Rose.

“Poor Julianne,” I said. “But NOT ‘poor Julianne,'” I added, on second thought, “because she knows that Henry is okay. She’s probably thinking, all right, send me to a shrink if you want, but I know something you don’t, and I’d tell you if you’d listen.”

Sister Alma Rose beamed at me, as if I’d proven the unified field theory.

“Ben never mentioned him,” I mused, “or Portia.”

Sister Alma Rose and I both knew that if Ben had been worried about his friend’s disappearance, he would have come to Sister Alma Rose. Therefore, Ben had somehow been in touch with Henry, or knew where he was.

The Angel Gabriel (by Guido Reni) resembles Henry a little bit

The possibilities eddied furiously in my head. Henry had been run over by a semi and had come back as an angel. Henry had been a collective illusion shared by Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose and me. Henry was one of the Ancients.

“Henry is one of the Ancients,” I almost shouted. That explained Portia’s being with him, sort of. And Sister Alma Rose had known. That explained the long, penetrating look she had given him.

“But why did he come to you? Was it just as he said? About wanting to feel close to God again?”

Sister Alma Rose ignored the latter two questions.

“He didn’t come to me, Fanny,” she said, taking my hand and squeezing it and probably breaking nine or ten small bones. “He came to y’all.”

The thing in me that had always thought I was weird and longed to be normal… it seemed to dissolve in that very moment.

“Oh, my,” I said, trying to take it in without knowing what “it” was, but sharply conscious that my hormones were alive and well and having an emergency convocation in what would someday, with luck, become my left breast. “What a world we live in.” And for the first time in my life, I didn’t have the least idea what to do next.

lemons

(1) Common beans can be used for shell (or shelling) beans, which have the pods removed before they are cooked or dried. The term can be used to refer to other species of beans, such as lima beanssoybeanspeas, or fava beans, that have their shell removed before it is eaten. Nutritionally, shell beans are similar to dry beans, but in the kitchen are treated as a vegetable, often steamed, fried, or made into soups. Wikipedia

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Annagrammatica's Unusual Exceptional Remarkable Valentines
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Hayley Westenra, album cover, Odyssey

Hayley Westenra, album cover, Odyssey

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Hayley Westenra, now 22, was an international star at 16

I, Fanny

I, Fanny

I, Fanny McElroy, turned Sister Alma Rose on to Hayley Westenra, now 22, when she became known as a singing phenomenon at age 16 (Hayley Westenra, not Sister Alma Rose). She (Hayley) just gets better every year, as her voice develops and settles down. Because we love you, and because it will technically be Christmas until Twelfth Night, we are including two Christmas videos of Hayley, the first performed with the Choirboys.

Here is a little bio of Hayley from Wikipedia. I could rewrite it, draw from a few other sources, and make it “original,” but… why would I want to do that when Wikipedia does… well, an adequate job all on its own?

Here is Hayley with the Choirboys in selections from the musical OLIVER

Here is Hayley with the Choirboys in selections from the musical OLIVER

Hayley Dee Westenra is a New Zealand soprano, songwriter and UNICEF Ambassador. Her first internationally released album, Pure, reached #1 on the UK classical charts in 2003 and has sold more than two million copies worldwide. Pure is the fastest-selling international début classical album to date, having made Westenra an international star at age 16. In August 2006, she joined the Irish group Celtic Woman, was featured on their Celtic Woman: A New Journey CD and DVD, toured with them on their 2007 Spring Tour, and also was featured on their latest DVD, The Greatest Journey: Essential Collection, released in 2008. She sings… in a number of languages.

Westenra has performed for dignitaries around the world. She is the youngest UNICEF Ambassador to date and has contributed to charities around the world.

Okay, the next video is Hayley singing “Away in a Manger” with the choir and congregation at Manchester Cathedral. (Get this: “Work on the current building [Manchester Cathedral] began in 1215.” That might make it older than Sister Alma Rose.)

Hayley looks beautiful in her clingy pink dress. I could not wear that dress. One, I don’t have the bazooms to fill it out, and, two, I couldn’t hold my stomach in and sing at the same time. I wonder if the people who “manage” her make her eat celery and plain yogurt and spend two hours a day with a personal trainer. That would be very disillusioning.

Omigosh, my brother is screaming bloody murder, got to go, I’ll be back ASAP….

Sister Alma Rose makes everything okay

I am (obviously) back. Johannes and Daddy were having a game of catch, and Johannes was pretending he was Tim Lincecum and he (Johannes) dislocated his shoulder. Sister Alma Rose got there, to where they were playing catch on the other side of the barn, before I did, which, I don’t know how she does that.

By the time I got there, in fact, she had “relocated” Johannes’s shoulder, which, I certainly do not know how she does that, and she is muttering prayers the whole time, and she says Jesus and Mary a lot, and I’d swear I heard her say Allah, which would be okay, I guess, because, as Sister Alma Rose has taught me practically since infancy, it is “impossible to circumscribe God with a name.” I bet I was the only toddler in Hilltop who regularly used the word circumscribe in conversation.

Judy Garland in TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, 1946

Judy Garland in TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, 1946

In any case, Sister Alma Rose says that she is a healer, that healing is one of the reasons she’s here, alive, on earth, and that it gives her great joy and confers benefits upon others. Some of what I just said are her own words, but I’m not sure which ones… “confers benefits,” for sure.

Hayley Westenra, too, has found a purpose that brings her happiness and that blesses others, Sister Alma Rose says, and we have talked about how easily a person so beautiful and talented can become a commodity, continually manipulated by family members, agents, et cetera, made to perform too much, treated as a money machine, and so forth, such as happened to Judy Garland and ruined her health.

Shed a little light

By the way, Sister Alma Rose does not like it when I say that I “turned her on to” Hayley Westenra,” because, she says, that expression came out of the drug culture, which is one of the few things that makes her really angry, illicit drugs, I mean, and she’s told me gruesome stories about people who shoot up with “jellies,” a liquid form of temazepam, and end up having to have a leg amputated because all the injection sites get inflamed, and one guy, I think in Scotland, died when he tried to inject temazepam into his eyeball. True story.

Well, anyway, I think that the thing that would bring me the most joy and would also benefit others (I’m not sure precisely how, let me get back to you) would be for me to be a backup singer for James Taylor, but by the time I’m old enough, he’ll be, like, 70, and it’s entirely possible that he will not be touring or even giving very many concerts, but I do so much want to be one of those people who harmonize with James on

James Taylor 1999

James Taylor 1999 (photo: Evan Osherow via Flickr). Okay, is it just me, or is there a disembodied hand on James Taylor's shoulder?

Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound…

…and then get to do a little bopping and swaying on the “shed a little light” part. Father Dooley says, with respect to my dancing, that I am a “pretty hip little sister.” Of course, Father Dooley is a priest; what could he possibly know about hip?

* * *

See various Hayley Westenra videos, along with Enya and Loreena McKennitt, at http://www.zgravweb.net/51med_mix.html


Movie Time


Partridge in a Pear Tree Wall Tapestry

"A Partridge in a Pear Tree" wall tapestry (art.com)

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Warm your feet by the fire

The popcorn’s warm and buttery. The cocoa’s thick and rich and… well, chocolaty. It must be time… Yes! It is! … for the annual Sister Alma Rose Semisecular* Christmastide Videorama.

* To Sister Alma Rose, nothing is truly secular. Is there somewhere God isn’t? She doesn’t think so.

First, but not necessarily foremost, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser, whom we adore, in close harmony with nutty variations and a few outright departures. (The song itself — not the Straight No Chaser rendition — might be three hundred years old — no one seems to be sure — nor can anyone say with certainty whether each day’s gift has any particular significance.)

Okay, these next two give Sister Alma Rose goosebumps, but not me. I just sob.

Christmas in the Trenches

“Perhaps,” Sister Alma Rose ventures, “y’all have heard the story of ‘Christmas in the Trenches'”:

Australian infantry wearing gas masks, Ypres, 1917

Australian infantry wearing gas masks, Ypres, 1917

Christmas truce” is a term used to describe several brief, unofficial cessations of hostilities that occurred on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day between German and British or French troops in World War I, particularly that between British and German troops stationed along the Western Front during Christmas 1914. In 1915 there was a similar Christmas truce between German and French troops, and during Easter 1916 a truce also existed on the Eastern Front. —Wikipedia

It is said that after the particular truce described in the song “Christmas in the Trenches” (by folksinger/songwriter John McCutcheon), the soldiers were unable to or refused to fight and had to be sent home. Sister Alma Rose does not know whether this is true, nor does she know whether it makes them heroes or fools (cowards they certainly were not), nor should it reflect on the courage and honor of those who stayed and fought, or of those who do so till this day, God bless them all.

Bing and Bowie

Mama, the musician, likes to introduce this video:

If you’re under a certain age, you need to understand the subtext of this 1977 performance. Bing Crosby — one of the biggest stars of the 1940s and 1950s, and still a popular celebrity when he died in 1977, was very straitlaced and conservative, a strict Roman Catholic, and David Bowie… wasn’t.

Bing Crosby: He could carry a tune

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby’s singing and acting career “stretched over more than half a century from 1926 until his death. Crosby was a best-selling artist until well into the rock era, with over half a billion records in circulation.” (Wikipedia)

Apart from some youthful drinking and indulgence in marijuana, Bing was so squeaky-clean, both publicly and privately, that the public sometimes wished (although it was none of “the public’s” business) that he were less strict with his four sons (from his marriage to Dixie Lee, who suffered from acute alcoholism and who died of cancer in 1952). Two of the couple’s four sons committed suicide, Lindsay in 1989 and Dennis in 1991. Bing Crosby had three children with his second wife, Kathryn Grant Crosby.

Asked what he would write for his own epitaph, Crosby replied, “He was an average guy who could carry a tune.” Well, Bing, if you say so.

David Bowie — Mega-Shocker, Megastar

Iman and David Bowie

Iman and David Bowie; photo by David Shankbone

David Bowie is a highly respected “English musician, actor, record producer and arranger. Active in five decades of popular music and frequently reinventing his music and image, Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. He has been cited as an influence by many musicians and is known for his distinctive voice and the intellectual depth of his work.” (Wikipedia)

His music has been tagged as “psychedelic folk,” “glam rock,” “heavy metal,” and a dozen other styles, some of which he invented. On tour, he has startled even hard-core fans with his androgynous appearance, “ultra” theatrics, and “shocking stage moments….”

He married the Somali-born supermodel Iman Abdulmajid at Saint James Church in Florence in 1992. Their daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones (she goes by “Lexi”), was born in August 2000. The family has homes in Manhattan and London.

David Bowie, "Music's Most Fashionable Man" 2009

David Bowie, "Music's Most Fashionable Man" 2009

Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, Bowie’s son with his first wife, was born in 1971. He earned a bachelor’s degree and then graduated as a director from the London Film School.

Bowie has been notorious at times — for years of heavy drug abuse, particularly cocaine; and for “politically radical comments, saying that Britain could benefit from a fascist leader and that Adolf Hitler was ‘the first super-star.'” Yet Bowie has steadily reinvented his image and his music so creatively that he is said to have progressed from “superstar” to “megastar.” Some who know him well say that the private David Bowie is at heart a family man but that periodically shocking the public is part of his mystique.

Culture Clash

The wildly differing backgrounds of Bowie and Crosby set up a cultural tension between the two that makes their duet all the more poignant — like watching the Crips and Bloods Mixed Chorus, maybe. It’s also helpful to know that “White Christmas” was a huge hit for Bing Crosby — his signature song, in a way.

This video is lovely, and Bing and Bowie are fun to watch. The duet, I think, is overorchestrated, which blunts the impact of the two very different men making music together. Even so, it’s a rare treat. I hope you enjoy it. And a very Merry Christmas to you….

Bing Crosby - White Christmas Album

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