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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Fanny in Lust

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Shine a little light

Shine a little light

Whether you accept or reject it, God’s Love for you is permanent. After God has forgiven me, granted me His Compassion and showered His Blessings upon me, then I have to feel at every moment God’s Love. I have to feel that the One who has forgiven me, shown me His Compassion, and blessed me, really cares for me. If I feel that God really loves me, then only can I have true and abiding happiness. The Creator is all love for His creation. But the creation quite often does not feel it or realize it. Since I am part of God’s creation, it is my… duty to feel God’s Love at every moment. Only then will I try to become good, divine, and perfect, and please Him in His own way. Sri Chinmoy, 1931-2007 [emphasis is the editor’s]

I will experience love as a light that begins in my heart and spreads out as far as my awareness can reach; as images arise in my mind, I will send love and light in their direction. —Adapted from The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2004)


I Will Send Love and Light

I guess I’m a late bloomer. I don’t have any bazooms yet, and until recently I wasn’t interested in boys except as pals.

Whereas, Mama told me once, while she was ironing Daddy’s dress shirt with a tender expression people don’t usually wear while they’re ironing, she was eight years old when she fell in love with Daddy.

Nebraska windmill

Nebraska windmill

It was the day he and his brothers were out riding their bicycles and they stopped to ask Sister Alma Rose if they could have some water from her pump. (Sister Alma Rose still has a working windmill next to the house and several more out in the fields, so she can pump water up out of the wells without electricity.)

Mama was drinking lemonade on the porch with Sister Alma Rose, who graciously asked the boys if they’d rather have lemonade instead of pump water. They said, “No, thank you, Ma’am,” and scooped water from the pump into their mouths and splashed it on their faces.

They were about to ride off when Mama asked if she could run over home and get her bike and ride along with them. Isaiah and Jesse just laughed and did some wheelies to show off, then turned and went lickety-split down the hill. But Daddy stayed behind and told Mama she could ride with him if she wanted to. So they crossed the road and got Mama’s bike and went all the way to La Mesa and had cherry phosphates at the Rexall. (From The Ancients, Part 1: Daddy Pete, by Mary Campbell)


Vintage sign, 1920s

Lust is not love

Apparently I am changing hormonally, though it doesn’t show on the outside, as far as I can tell. My (ha-ha) bustline, waist, and hips are exactly the same size, which is about seven inches, and I have to wear belts to keep my jeans from falling down.

It used to be that when I saw romantic scenes in movies I would close my eyes and plug my ears and ask Pablo, or whomever I was with, to tell me when the mushy part was over. Suddenly I am wildly interested in mush, and there is this one part of The Runaway Bride where Richard Gere is just looking at Julia Roberts and the hairs on my arms stand on end.

Richard Gere, Julia Roberts

Richard Gere, Julia Roberts

I have seen this part of the movie about thirty times because my friend Tootie (you do not want to know why she is called “Tootie”) owns the video and we watch it every time I spend the night at her house because she, like me, has just gotten interested in boys as sex objects. (If there is one thing that Sister Alma Rose has taught me, it is that lust is not love.) [Note to Mama and Daddy, if you are reading this, I don’t mean “sex objects” literally, okay, I just mean hotties, foxes… um… heartthrobs.]

So although I am not quite 12 years old I am in lust with David Harkness, whom everyone calls “Lefty” because, naturally, he is left-handed and is a really good baseball player and he throws and bats left-handed but can switch to batting right-handed in the blink of an eye. And all of a sudden, life, which had, for me, always consisted of childhood and was therefore not terribly complicated, got terribly complicated.

So what I did was, so that I’d be able to have sparkling conversations with Lefty, I studied up on baseball, and left-handed baseball players, and especially switch-hitters, notably Mickey Mantle, who played his entire career for the New York Yankees and who was the American League‘s Most Valuable Player three times.

Coming of age


The Persian Gulf (NASA)

Before I got this crush on Lefty, I never, ever thought about what other people thought about me. When I was comfortable with someone, then that someone became my friend. When I was uncomfortable with someone, then I avoided that person. Hilltop Elementary School is so small that there aren’t really “cliques” like those I’ve read about at larger schools… so there’s no “in crowd” and there are no popularity contests. Smart kids seem to hang around with other smart kids because they sort of speak the same language, not because they’re snobs or think they’re better than someone who is great at, say, running track but totally does not get algebra.

Barbie house that costs more than a year of college

Barbie house that costs more than a year of college

Every once in a while a family will move to Hilltop from someplace like the Persian Gulf or Africa, and Sister Alma Rose always knows about it and tells me to be especially kind to their kids, which is how I met Mehrnaz, whose lovely name means “the sun’s glory.”

Mehrnaz is about my age, but she couldn’t wait to move to America because in America she would be able to have a Barbie doll.

I had outgrown my Barbie dolls, of which I had maybe twenty (including Air Force Barbie and Ken, who are African-American, and two Native-American Barbies, and then a bunch of other quasi-Barbies made of molded rubber or something).

So I gave them all to Mehrnaz, which made my little brother Johannes cry, and I’m ashamed to admit that it never occurred to me that Johannes would want to play with my Barbie dolls, although they’ve been sitting out in plain sight for years and Johannes never showed any interest in them until they were on their way out the door.

Fisher-Price dump truck

Fisher-Price dump truck

But Daddy, who tries to be broad-minded about these gender-role things, reverted to type and promised to buy him a dump truck, or it might have been a chain saw, I wasn’t really paying attention), and even though some of them (Barbies) had stupid hair because I had tried to cut or style it, and some had dislocated shoulders and compound fractures, Mehrnaz cried and hugged me and Mehrnaz’s mom cried and hugged me.

And they hadn’t even seen the Barbie house yet, or the closetful of other Barbie accessories (including Barbie’s T-bird convertible and the rest of her fleet plus a foot locker full of clothes, with the tiny shoes in plastic zipper bags meant for pills), which Daddy was going to bring over in his truck.

Barbie T-Bird,

Barbie T-Bird,

Boy crazy

But back to Lefty (or “but I digress” —I’ve always wanted to write “but I digress” in a story)… I had known Lefty for as long as I could remember and we always got along fine. Sometimes we walked home from school together — his family lives about a half-mile west of our farmhouse — but it wasn’t like we were boyfriend and girlfriend or anything.

And now I was writing our names in hearts with Magic Marker all over the inside cover of my school notebook and trying out my first name with his last name — “Fanny Harkness,” which isn’t too bad, especially if you consider that I could just as easily have fallen in lust with Tim Ranney — “Fanny Ranney”? I don’t think so — who is very cute, even though Tim’s dad puts a bowl over Tim’s head and cuts his hair so that he looks like Moe in the Three Stooges.

Gregory Peck, Roman Holiday, 1953

Gregory Peck, Roman Holiday, 1953

Suddenly, because of the Lefty thing, I am very self-conscious about my clothes and my hair and about not having any bazooms — and before this I have never had a self-conscious moment in my life, not even when I was in sixth grade and wearing these pretty white corduroy culottes that I had made in Camp Fire Girls, and our teacher, Mr. Lee, who looked like a young Gregory Peck, asked me to go up to the blackboard and solve a math problem, so I stood with my back to the class for a full five minutes working this problem, and when I sat down again, the dear, sweet boy who sat behind me, Larry Levin, leaned forward and whispered that there was a gigantic bloodstain on the back of my culottes. I thanked Larry and raised my hand, and when Mr. Lee called on me I just pointed to the door and he nodded and I stood and picked up my books and backed out of the classroom and kept walking backward until I reached the nurse’s office, and the nurse called Mama, who brought me clean clothes and Towelettes and “supplies,” and I freshened up and changed and went back to class and nobody ever said a word about it.

Puberty bites

I dropped my books...

I dropped my books...

But now I’m stuffing Kleenex in my bra and trying to pluck my eyebrows and wondering if Lefty is in lust with me the way I am in lust with him. So one day I am walking home from school by myself and it’s a day that baseball practice has been canceled, but I don’t know that, and I don’t even hear Lefty walking behind me until he says, “Hey, wait up, cute little Fanny,” which is what he has called me ever since he figured out what a double entendre is, and I am so startled I trip on my own foot and drop all my books, which has happened dozens of times, that’s why Lefty sneaks up like that, only this time, instead of laughing, I am embarrassed and I can’t think of a thing to say, not a thing. Whereas I would normally have said, “How about helping me pick up these books, Creep!” in a friendly way.

Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon, one of the first to identify the process of Bell's palse

Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon, one of the first to identify the process of Bell's palse

But I don’t have the presence of mind to say anything normal, because all kinds of other stuff is rattling around in my head. What’s happening is, I’m trying to see myself through his eyes and I’m wondering if I have bad breath and if any new zits have popped out today, and I can’t even meet his eyes. When I finally think of something to say, it’s totally lame, like, “How come you don’t have baseball practice today?” and I try on this dazzling smile I’ve been practicing, and he looks at me a little oddly and explains why he doesn’t have baseball practice and I’m not even listening because I’m still trying to crawl inside his head to see what he sees when he looks at me, and then, to my total and extreme humiliation, he says, “What’s wrong with your mouth? Hey, I’ll bet you have Bell’s palsy!” And he takes off running, like Bell’s palsy germs are going to leap onto his face. “See you, Fanny,” he calls back. I try to yell after him, hoarsely (he can’t hear me), “Mickey Mantle won the American League MVP award three times.” And as soon as he’s out of sight I sit down on the grassy shoulder of the road and burst into tears and get a few hundred chigger bites on my upper thighs along the edges of my underpants, and I’m thinking, I’m not ready for this, and wondering if it would make me a terrible, mean person if I asked Mehrnaz for my Barbies back.

Sister Alma Rose's virgin oak grassland

Sister Alma Rose's virgin oak grassland

I could barely see Sister Alma Rose’s house from where I was sitting, because of her undisturbed oak grassland that she is so proud of, but I can see Sister Alma Rose, wearing one of the big, flowing gold dresses she makes, so that she looks a bit like an oak herself, and I can feel her eyes on me, and they’re pulling me like she’s a magnet and I’m an iron filing, so I pick up my books and scratch my chigger bites in a very unlustful manner, and I drag my sorry self to her porch, feeling despised by Lefty and practically everyone else in the Western Hemisphere, except Sister Alma Rose and Mr. Truman LaFollette, and of course the latter has already made my frosty glass of lemonade appear and then vanished, which no one the size of a sequoia should be able to do the way he does.

Love is a gift

My face is tear-streaked and I’m sniffling and wiping my nose on the sleeve of the ice-blue boatneck sweater I had worn that day to make Lefty fall in lust with me, but I don’t have to explain anything to Sister Alma Rose. She sees all, she knows all.

Lavender; photo, fir0002

Lavender; photo, fir0002

“Miss Fanny,” she said, handing me a clean, lavender-scented hankie for blowing my nose, “y’all just lost part of yourself in that boy — the watcher part, the observing, outward, interested part. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Miss Fanny together again. Who’s the only one who can do that?”

“I am,” I said miserably, folding my arms on the green wicker table and laying my head down on them, “by the grace of God.”

“And right now y’all can’t put yourself together because parts of y’all are still with David Harkness, thinking about how y’all can look and act and smile and smell like lilacs and otherwise perform for him like a trained seal next time so that he’ll fall at y’all’s feet. Fanny, there are women in this world who can manipulate men into loving them. Praise God, y’all ain’t one of them women. Because if y’all get all tangled up into wanting to be loved, y’all got nothing left to love with.

“Now y’all listen to me, Fanny, because I ‘most never lecture y’all, do I?”

I shook my head, as well as I could with it buried in my arms on the table.

“All right, then. Next time y’all catch yourself trying to be good enough, to look pretty enough… next time y’all start performing… stop right then, and remind yourself that love is a gift; y’all can’t earn it.

Love is a gift

Love is a gift

“Then silently say this prayer, as many times as y’all need to, and I don’t care if y’all are in the middle of a conversation with David Harkness or in the middle of y’alls presidential-nomination-acceptance speech, and y’all look like a blinkin’ idiot, y’all say this prayer silent in y’all’s head. Y’all know the prayer I mean, don’t y’all?”

I picked my head up off the table so I could nod.

“Then say it with me, Fanny.”

So together we said this prayer, which Sister Alma Rose calls my getting-myself-back-together prayer:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore in me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Me, Fanny, just being me

Me, Fanny, just being me

They say that kids hardly ever learn from their elders and that each generation makes all the mistakes that the previous generation made. But from that day to this I have never, not once, tried to shape myself into something I wasn’t in order to win approval or to be loved. I have never, as Sister Alma Rose has said it, “put someone else on a pedestal” made of my “own stuff.” I have, instead, tried to love purely and generously, have tried to radiate love “as far as my awareness can reach,” and I never (hardly) worry about whether I am getting love back in equal measure.

This is not me saying, “Hey, aren’t I just the most wonderful thing!” No, it’s two other things entirely:

  1. It’s easy, and it makes life much more fun, to be one of the watchers instead of one of the watched.
  2. Somebody wise, I can’t remember who, said that most neuroses come from worrying about what other people think of you.

Sister Alma Rose has a framed cross-stitch in her hallway, exquisitely embroidered and decorated, and it says, “Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return. Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it. —Mary Baker Eddy

Harvest moon

Harvest moon

We sat quietly until the moon rose — a huge harvest moon that seemed to fill the eastern sky. “Lookit that,” said Sister Alma Rose. “The Ancients say that if a heart beats pure, the moon can feel its throbbing; and the moon grows strong and governs the tides; and in the end, Miss Fanny,” she said, touching my cheek, “love really does make the world go ‘round.”

Giving Yourself Away

Giving Yourself Away

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