Will Guilt Make You Good? (conclusion)

Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

Pembrokeshire, Wales, by Skellig2008 via Flickr

Pembrokeshire, Wales, by Skellig2008 via Flickr

Every Tiny Leaf

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

Elizabeth Anna's house outside of Hilltop

Elizabeth Anna's house outside of Hilltop

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

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

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

Elizabeth Anna's sickroom

Elizabeth Anna's sickroom

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

Letters to Vietnam

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

Acacia leaves and thorns; photo by Stan Shebs

Acacia leaves and thorns; photo by Stan Shebs

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

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

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

A G.I. in Vietnam

A G.I. in Vietnam

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

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

Memorial Chapel, Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Memorial Chapel, Walter Reed Army Medical Center

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

Back into the light

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

St. David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales

St. David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales

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

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

Elizabeth Anna

Elizabeth Anna

* * *

To correspond with servicemen and -women overseas, contact AdoptaPlatoon

Please pray with us! Request Prayer and Pray for Others. Visit our updated prayer page with audio prayers by Marianne Williamson and Jaqui Duvall… and links to Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office), text and audio

I, Fanny

I, Fanny

FREE downloads from The Ancients, Part 1: Daddy PeteUnfamiliar Territory; and Write Better Right Now. Just e-mail Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net for username and password

Sample diverse blogs at Alpha Inventions, Condron.us

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The Secret of the Equanimity of Sister Alma Rose

Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

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

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

The Fall of Wales and the Meaning of Courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aber Falls, Wales

Aber Falls, Wales

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

[General view, Aberdovey, Wales] (LOC)

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

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

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

Yes, I am making a point, which is:

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

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

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

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

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

Beaumaris Castle in the mist

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

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

Reincarnation in art

Reincarnation in Hindu art; image via Wikipedia

Intestinal fortitude

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

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

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

A mitred Adhémar de Monteil carrying the Holy ...

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

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

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

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

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

Cow pucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The joy on the other side

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

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

Baby boom

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

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

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

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

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

Extra blueberriesfield_of_wildflowers_istock

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

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

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

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

* * *

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]