Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Trading writers

My friend, Harriet, and I are constant readers. And once in a while we trade writers since there is, after all, a finite number of wondrous writers in the world--not that Harriet or I have exhausted that by any means. But we like the same sort of writers, mostly mystery, but not always, and we can send each other down paths of great enjoyment by sharing writers.

We had lunch before Christmas and I was able to tell her of Laura Lippman, who writes about Baltimore, where we're going tomorrow. And Harriet, God bless her, told me about Louise Penny who writes about a Quebec  detective named Gamach. I've read three already and two more are waiting for me at the Cheshire Library an email just told me.

I like the Canadian feel of the Penny novels. Everything is a little more subdued, less frenetic and less violent than American writers or Scandinavian writers (God knows--so dark are those!) or even the British. Gamach is almost too thoughtful and kind and introspective, but not quite.

When I was on a tour of the Holy Land more than a decade ago with a group of Episcopal priests, one Bishop and a couple of lay-folks, our guide would laugh at each stop we made because of the questions the people wanting to sell us stuff asked her. I asked her what they were asking in Hebrew or Arabic and she told me this: "Everywhere we stop, they think you are all Canadian. You just don't seem like Americans to them."

Ever since then, I've wondered if Episcopalians should be Canadians? A tad more reserve and less noisy than other Americans.

I'd almost like to be Canadian--but it's cold enough for me in Connecticut, Quebec, from the Penny novels is a tad too brisk.

Laura Lippman and Louise Penny--if you like literary mysteries (like P.D. James, may she rest in peace) try them out, by all means.

Harriet and I give them two thumbs up.

That should seal the deal....

Going to Baltimore

We're leaving in the morning to go to Baltimore to see Josh/Cathy and the girls.

So I won't be back here until Friday night to tell you how it went.

So, from the bottom of my heart--"Happy New Year!" to each and everyone of you who drop in from time to time on this blog where I ponder whatever I ponder at the time.

Monday, December 29, 2014

No one ever read this

This is one of my earliest posts and I just noticed no one ever read it. Maybe I posted it again but I'm not going through over 1100 pages to find out. I just hope someone reads it now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Church Time

I want to write about my concept of 'church time'. This concept and belief comes from over 30 years of being a parish priest. This is what I notice when I seek to explain 'church time' to people: most clergy acknowledge it as vaguely interesting but bogus. Most people just don't get it because in our culture 'time' is an absolute: an hour is like every other hour, a day just one more day, and months--except for February of course--are equal opportunity time measurements. However, some lay people--most of whom are very involved and committed to the parish--really get it and it gives them comfort as well as understanding.

Here's Church Time in introductory fashion: Most church going folks, even if they are very committed might spend two hours a week in church--one for a Eucharist and one for a coffee hour, an adult ed class, a committee meeting. So, at two hours a week, people spend 104 hours a year in church. That is the equivalant of 13 8-hour work days spread over a year. Imagine having an 8 hr a day job which you only went to one a month or so. I would content that you wouldn't accomplish much because the memory and learning curve would be so compromised and when you showed up for your day of work you would have missed almost a month of what your company was doing. No way to catch up or stay even.

Church Time is like that. I have trouble remembering what I did yesterday, but because I was back at church today, it began to come back and I could move on and make progress. A week has 148 hours (those reliable measures of time). If two or even three of them are spent 'thinking about or participating' in church, that's barely 2% of the weeks hours. Next to nothing. You might expect to spend that much time stuck in traffic in a week--and how much of the stuck in traffic time do you retain to build upon so you might progress and grow and expand????

However, 'church professionals', like me--I sometimes tell people who ask me what I do for a living is that I am paid to be religious--spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about church stuff--worship, music, education, outreach, program, evangelism...on and on. We have, at the least 50 hours a week to obsess on church stuff. Most clergy spend more time than that, let me tell you, because we clergy are so anxious to justify our very existence and being paid to be religious...which we--and most people--would think a silly thing to make a living doing. That's another post right there...But consider this: the 'professionals' spend at least 1/3 of every week thinking about church while even active members spend 2% or so. So, should we be surprised that most church folks don't seem to understand, appreciate, respond to 'church stuff' the way the clergy and staff do? If you spent 1/3 of your time obsessing on cacti and succulents and I spent, at best--who could imagine it--2% of my time in the same study, would you expect me to appreciate the subtleties and wonder of those plants?

"Church Time" requires those of us who get paid to do it to realize that those we work with, serve and minister to simply don't have the 'connection' to the issues we worry and fret and plan and scheme about. Their learning curve is very slow rising--it looks mostly like a straight line! And that is as it should be. So when they forget a meeting or say, "I meant to come to that class but just forgot" we should realize why. Lay folks are wonderful and profound and loving and truly committed to the parish. They simply have other lives, as they should, and don't live, breath, sweat and digest church stuff.

I'll leave it at that until later. But 'church time' helps explain why clergy misinterpret lay folks so profoundly and don't recognize the beauty and grace of their contributions. It also explains why clergy are almost continually frustrated because the enormous amount of time they spend wishing, hoping and dreaming about all the church could do is totally lost on lay folks because they really don't spend much time at all worrying about that stuff.


I don't know about you, but sometimes I'll think of a food or a dish from my childhood and want to re-create it and, this is important, have it taste the way it did back then.

Some of my childhood food memories will never be re-created, could not ever be. My grandmother's raspberry cinnamon buns for example. She made them from scratch and rolled them out and rolled them up and baked them, then covered them with a vanilla frosting and a raspberry syrup she distilled from raspberries I'd picked that day in her raspberry/blackberry patch.

How could I do that?

And most of the childhood treats I try to make turn out bitterly disappointing. Like my mother's ice box cake, which is vanilla wafers, chocolate pudding and whipped cream frozen. How could I mess that up? But I did, big time. Awful.

Same for my Mom's spaghetti and pork chops, which I've tried several times and never came close.

But just Saturday, I did it! I re-created a dish from my childhood that was just right!

Bern bought two smaller turkeys for Thanksgiving because our granddaughters like turkey legs and froze a whole turkey breast, uncooked. She fixed it on the Friday after Christmas because we blessedly had no left-overs from Christmas dinner. Then I decided to fix a Black Baptist turkey sandwich the next day.

There was a black Baptist Church way up on the hill across the street from the apartment I grew up in. After Thanksgiving they made turkey sandwiches and sold them around town. It was on white bread (of course) with mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce and bread-and-butter sweet pickles. I went to Stop and Shop to get white sandwich bread and iceberg lettuce from the salad bar (I had the mayonnaise and bread-and-butter pickles, two staples of my life).

I cut the turkey breast with our top of the line bread knife to get it thin enough, put mayo on both slices of bread, added the lettuce and 6 slices of pickles and the ultra thin sliced turkey and amazing to tell, it was just right.

I was 10 years old, sitting at my mother's kitchen table, eating one of those amazing Black Baptist sandwiches again. Which meant my parents, long dead, were alive for as long as it took me to eat it (and I ate it slowly, savoring the memory, keeping my mom and dad near).

Maybe you can 'go home again', back to the past, at least for as long as it takes to eat a turkey sandwich.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas I sermon

Christmas I, 12-28-14
Emmanuel Church, Killingworth
Jim Bradley
John 1.1-18
That wondrous and poetic gospel is always read on the first Sunday after Christmas. It is almost as if the lectionary were saying to us: “the beautiful, familiar story has been told. The shepherds and angels have gone back to where the belong. Now it's time for 'Theology'!
To get where I want to go today, we have to take a side trip into the Land of Biblical Scholarship. I hope you won't mind.
Scholars agree that Mark was the first of our four gospels written, probably between the years 67-70 CE. Mark was first because both Luke and Matthew (both written in the 80's) doubtless had a copy of Mark before them as they wrote. There is special Luke stuff and special Matthew stuff and they share a second common source--”Q”...for 'Quella”, the German word for 'source'--but primarily the first three gospels follow a common outline. They are even referred to as the 'synoptic gospels', sharing the same synopsis of the story of Jesus. John was the last written—somewhere around the first years of the second century of our era.
In the first three gospels we watch Jesus seeking to understand his mission and determine who he is. But not in John. In John it is obvious from the words I just read that Jesus knows exactly who he is and why he has come.
Think about how the four gospels begin. Mark begins with the coming of John Baptist and his baptizing Jesus. Luke begins with the story of Mary and Jesus' birth. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus going back to Adam before he tells the Joseph story that we combine with Luke at Christmas.
But see where John begins: “In the beginning....” John goes back to creation, before human history, before anything...to the time when only God existed. “In the beginning,” he tells us, “was the Word and the Word was with God” (listen!) “and the Word was God. The Word created all that is or can be. Remember in the Genesis story how God created: he said “Let there be light” and there was light. God created with 'the Word' and the Word WAS God.
For John, there is no wondering 'who Jesus is'. For John, Jesus is God...The Word that took on Flesh.
Here is this remarkable theological notion that God became human. That God came to live among us—to know what it was like to 'be' one of us. One of the hymns today said that Jesus 'knew our tears and our joys'. God came to be one of us so God could love us 'from the inside out', not from the 'outside in'.
And because of that, John goes on to say in this beautiful passage—one of the most beautiful in the Bible—we can become 'children of God'. If the Holy became flesh, then all flesh is Holy.
Someone asked me once what was the single most significant theme in my years of preaching. It is something like this: God loved us enough to take on our flesh and that made all flesh Holy.
And if you and I could stand in that place and comprehend that for only a few moments a day—that we are the Holy Ones of God—it would transform our lives and, in time, transform the world around us.
But we don't do that. We are so hard on ourselves—we worry if we are 'worthy' of God's love...which has nothing to do with it. God loves us. Just like that. Always and forever. We are God's beloved.
My grandmother used to tell us cousins 'don't toot your own horn', don't speak well of yourself, let someone else do it.
One day my cousin, Bradley was looking in the mirror and said out loud, “Bradley, you are one good lookin' boy!”
My grandmother said, “Don't toot your own horn, Bradley!” And he replied, “Mamaw, he who toot-th not his own horn, that same horn will not be tooted.”
I'm not asking you to always be tooting your horn. But I do hope you know what a wondrous horn it is.
We are the beloved of God. God took on flesh for you, and you, and you, and you and for me. In this season of Light and Love, hold on to that wondrous truth.
Hold on to it. Be loved from the inside out. And forever....Amen.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bo's Gift

Bo's Gift

Mattie knew that Paul was having heavy days. He had always been prone to brooding but it had gotten worse once Bo Freeman came home and even worse since the job interview at St. Martin's down in the capitol city. Initially, Paul had been so excited about the possibility of a new position. He had come home after the initial interview telling her what a good chance he thought he had, how he believed he had impressed the committee, how he could already imagine himself Rector of a thriving parish in a real city.
Mattie listened joyfully, so pleased at Paul's pleasure. But the moment fell apart when he said, “at last we can get out of this two-bit town.” Mattie made sure not to react, but it dawned on Paul what he had said and the thrill went out of him. He talked a bit more, with much less enthusiasm and Mattie knew he had been struck by guilt for what he said. After all, it was 'her' two-bit town, not his.
Mattie had grown up in Deep Valley, as had her parents before her. Paul was from the capitol, a big-city boy as things went in that small New England state. She imagined he didn't even know where Deep Valley was until he was hired to be the priest at St. Luke's straight out of seminary. Though, in all the years, he never said so, she knew he had seen it as a brief stop, a few years before moving on to bigger and bigger churches, perhaps even to be elected bishop some day, like his father had been. But, as Mattie's mother used to say whenever plans were thwarted, “considerations got in the way”.
In fact, Mattie was the consideration that came between Paul and his ambitions. She had always told him she would go wherever he needed to go, but either he hadn't believed her or knew it would grieve her to leave the little town while her aging parents still lived. So, in the first decade or so, he patiently waited, putting his longings for a more prestigious parish on hold. First he waited until Bo finally had to go to the state hospital 50 miles north. Then he waited for Mattie to get pregnant, discovering through that wait that it was his fault she didn't conceive. Finally, he waited for her parents to pass on—first her father and then, five years later, her mother. Before he knew it he had been at. St. Luke's , Deep Valley for nearly 25 years. And, Mattie knew he had already waited too long.
Then, like a unsuspected marvel, Bo Freeman came home and Paul had to wait until the new realities of that homecoming settled down. But now, finally accustomed to having Bo be the child they never had, he felt free to apply for positions in larger places. But by that time he was already over 50 and the sad truth was that churches were always looking for younger priests rather than mature ones. The final interview at St. Martin's had not gone well—had gone horrendously bad, in fact, and hope was lost. Paul told Mattie that in so many words when he got back late at night. She had waited up for him—praying as she prayed...more like thinking hopeful thoughts...that the news would be good. That, his waiting finally over, Paul could pursue his dreams.
But he was morose when he arrived. His eyes were red and swollen and she pictured him in her mind, weeping as he drove home. He said very little, sentence fragments really...”too long in a small parish”...”never showed ambition”...”younger, more exciting candidates”...”our family situation”...”I'm not my father”...”looking for someone who could stay longer....”
Mattie was holding his hands in hers on the kitchen table where they often sat and talked into the night. She was so deeply, profoundly sorry for him, distressed to see him so deflated, longing to be able to give comfort, when those three little words jumped out of the jumble of his self-accusations: “our family situation”. Mattie could imagine it all, the closed door conversations of the vestry at St. Martin's, those doctors and lawyers and university professors and business men and women who made decisions for the largest church in the diocese. Their city ways, their busy lives, their attention to the 'image' of St. Martin's--”Fr. Harden is a good man, a solid priest, and we know how successful his father was here. It might just work, but he is older than we'd hoped for and, well, the family situation....”
They would have never said it out loud, too conscious of political correctness, but they would have thought it and it would have weighed heavy on their minds. How could a priest be Rector of our St. Martin's whose only child was a retarded adult that didn't really belong to he or his wife. No they would have never said it out loud, but Mattie was sure Paul had read between the lines. And though Paul loved her too much to ever hurt her with the idea, Mattie knew it must be true. How hadn't either of them anticipated it? Had they simply become blind to how 'things must look' to strangers? Not that it was the only reason, Paul had been passed over, but it would have entered in. Somehow it was Bo Freeman's fault that Paul was not moving on to receive the much delayed reward for all his loving patience. Mattie's eyes clouded with tears. She thought her heart might break. In the end she was what had kept Paul waiting, her devotion to her parents, her love of Deep Valley, and now, finally her 30 year old promise to 'look after Bo....”

Bo Freeman had been the reason for the first conversation Paul and Mattie ever had, that and church music. Mattie had been the organist at St. Luke's for two years before Fr. Harden arrived. She made an appointment and went in to play for him two days after his furniture had arrived at the Rectory so he could decide if he wanted to keep her on the staff. He stood smiling as she played through a few hymns and a Bach prelude. He started smiling as soon as she hit the first notes and asked her how St. Luke's, such a small church, afforded her.
“Oh,” Mattie said, not so much flattered as intrigued at the 'light up the night' smile of the seemingly somber and serious young priest, “I teach at the elementary school and live with my parents, so I don't expect to get rich on St. Luke's ....”
“Well, you certainly won't,” Paul said, still smiling.
They talked for a while about music matters—Fr. Barnes before him had left hymn selection up to Mattie, using The Choirmaster's Guide to help her. Paul wanted more imput—but so he would, being young and energetic. Dear Fr. Barnes had been with them for 30 odd years—he'd baptized Mattie—and didn't need to 'put his stamp' on the music. That was the term Fr. Harden had used. Mattie found it amusing. So, in the end they agreed she would keep playing and Paul promised to try to give her a raise in the next year.
She was about to go, when he said, “If there's anything I can ever do for you, let me know.” And she realized there was. She got off the organ bench and they sat together in a pew while she tried to explain about Bo Freeman and the promise she had made.
“Sally Freeman and I grew up together. We were inseparable from first grade on,” she told him. “People referred as 'S & M', like the shoe store in the mall. We were planning to go to college together, room together and come back to teach school here in Deep Valley. But none of that happened....”
She went on to explain that during the summer of their Senior year at the regional high school, Sally met a 'big city boy' and he got her pregnant and disappeared. She stopped and apologized, remembering suddenly that Paul Harden was a 'big city boy'. He waved away her apology and she continued.
“It all fell apart, Sally's hopes and dreams,” Mattie told him, “plus, her parents—very strict people—threw her out. She lives in the little apartment above my parents' grocery store with Bo.”
Paul was already familiar with “Holmes' Market”, the only grocery store in town. It was small but well stocked and saved a drive out to the Big Y on the Interstate.
“Then Bo was born,” Mattie went on. “It was clear from the beginning that something was very wrong with him. He's not Downs Syndrome, but it is in that genus of conditions....”
Paul missed the next sentence or two since he was so shocked to find a young women, a product of the small town of Deep Valley, who used the word 'genus' so casually. He knew she was a remarkable musician from hearing her play, but now she was getting interesting.
What came out in the next five minutes was that Sally (the S in the 'S & M' girls—although Paul repented thinking momentarily of the other SM, it obvious hadn't occurred to Mattie) had moved heaven and earth to keep Bo with her. She worked in Mattie's parents store, offered art classes at the local library (“I was the musician and Sally was the artist,” Mattie said.) Paul noticed that she was neither bragging or embarrassed about saying musician and artist. He was not used to such straight forward, confident talking. He had spent his life among those who thrived on irony and sarcasm and figures of speech. People who didn't offer themselves unprotected to the world. Even his father, the popular and thriving Rector of St. Martin's in Capitol City--'sure to be a bishop someday', was the conversation about Paul Harden, Sr.--even his father had never, in all of Paul's life, been so unconcealed as this somewhat lovely young woman was being on their first meeting.
“When I came back from State College,” she continued, “Bo was turning four and the real problems were showing up. He still wore diapers, he didn't speak much and what he said was hard to understand.” She paused, took a breath. “And he was big. A big boy. The last three years, since I've been home, I've helped all I could. And my parents have helped. But then....” Mattie paused, tears rising in her eyes, pain showing in her face, her body slumping in the pew. She was a slight woman who became even smaller for a moment. “Then...,” she continued, voice slightly breaking, “Sally was diagnosed.”
Sally it turned out, had a form of cancer as insidious and irreversible as Bo's condition. She had six months at diagnosis, two months now when Mattie was talking with Paul Harden, her priest, for the first time.
“I promised her,” Mattie said, near sobbing but controlling it enough to talk, “I promised her I would 'look after Bo'. He's a dear child—as innocent and pure as a spring day here in the mountains. And Sally is ready to sign guardianship over to me, but I need some references....I know you don't know me, but a priest's reference would....”
Mattie never finished that sentence because she burst into tears and fell into Paul's arms. He held her, wondering why Seminary hadn't taught him about such things, feeling a vibrant, honest, almost lovely young body against his, hers convulsing in pain, grief, loss. Paul realized he had no idea whatsoever about what to 'do', so he simply held her until the rapids of weeping subsided and she sat up, clearing embarrassed at her out burst, and asked, simply, clearly: “will you write me a letter, Fr. Harden?”
How could he not? Of course he asked her if there were other options for Bo Freeman--”Sally's parents?” “Dead in a car accident when I was a Senior at State College”.
“Siblings?” “She was an only child, like me....” And Paul added in a whisper, “Like me too....”
So he wrote the letter and Matilda Holmes, 25, his age almost to the day, became the legal guardian of Bo Freeman when Sally Freeman died. Paul did the funeral, since Sally's parents had rejected her and their pastor did as well. She was buried in the small graveyard behind the church, a Baptist among generations of Deep Valley Episcopalians. Mattie handled the expenses and the details and then moved into the small apartment above her parents' grocery, so Bo wouldn't have to adjust to a new environment. Every thing Mattie did, from that funeral on, Paul came to understand, was in response to her promise to a dear and deep friendship. A promise not easily made, a promise that had a cost, a promise made in true trust and commitment, a promise that would shape and form, over many years, both Mattie and Paul, and their lives. A promise rooted in the profound depths of love and friendship, a promise that could never be broken—no matter what the fall-out. That was what Matilda ('Mattie') promised to Sally and to Bo. And it was a promise, so unlike the vast multitude of promises of human beings, that would be kept. Cost what it may, mean what it might.
Everything went well—oh, not 'well', but acceptable, for several years. Mattie managed Bo well enough, with her parents' help and the help of others in the little town. Mattie continued to teach, play the organ for St. Luke's and care for Bo. Paul had to admit that Bo was benign enough. Since Mattie was so dedicated to him, Bo came with her to choir practice and church. He was frightening because he was so large and 'different', but the people of St. Luke's accepted him in time. He even grew on Fr. Harden, though Miss Holmes grew on him more. Paul was impressed how Bo would sit by the organ console, leaning against it at choir practice and on Sunday for the two Eucharists. It was awkward and the source of endless gossip, but over the next few years Paul wooed and finally won Mattie. They would be married when Bo was eleven and Mattie and her child born of a promise were going to move into the rectory after the wedding and leave behind the apartment over Holmes' Grocery. Most people agreed, up until then that Mattie's love and devotion could manage the incredible force of nature that was Bo.
Then it happened, a week before the wedding. Just as all the wags and lunch counter philosophers of Deep Valley could have and in fact did predict over the years: Bo, as much as Mattie had sophisticated and tamed and acclimated him to the culture of life in Deep Valley—a culture much more forgiving and accepting than the 'big city' culture that depended on social workers and institutions—did what could have been predicted. Bo set fire to their apartment between the time when Mattie's mother went downstairs to help with the store and the time, only 20 minutes later, but a lifetime in Bo's life, Mattie got home from school, having stayed a few minutes longer to speak with a parent. Bo came home from school—he was in fifth grade though, God knows, he hadn't passed the previous four. “Social Promotion”, they called it back then, in the day, and he turned on the stove after Mattie's mom went downstairs, and it would have been disastrous had Mattie not arrived and put it out with salt, bath towels and great courage born of commitment.
Yet there was no way to keep it from the state social workers. And added to that, Bo had recently hurt a much smaller classmate. Bobby was on the swing and Bo merely meant to give him a push, but Bobby saw him, panicked and fell off the swing. Bo, being 100 pounds heavier tried to pick Bobby up and broke 3 ribs. Fr. Harding had helped soothe over the reaction to that event, but when Bo started the fire, well, the state simply stepped in and Bo went to the hospital in Garden, where he stayed for years and years.
It was in that context that Fr. Harden, having waited patiently for years, married Matilda Holmes.

Time passed, as it always does, like it or not, and it was not until nearly 20 years after Mattie and Paul were married (much to the delight of the people of St. Luke's and the whole village of Deep Valley, loving them both, but loving Mattie more and wondering, some of them, why she would waste herself on such a man—a man without ambition, a man willing to be patient and wait for Matilda Holmes to 'be available'....) At that point in their thoughts, their wonderings would stop. What man wouldn't wait for Matilda? What man with any sense about him wouldn't be patient if patience was what was needed to win such a prize as Mattie? Maybe this 'big city boy' priest knew what he was doing. Maybe he was right to be patient and wait. That's what the people of Deep Valley finally decided—as odd and brooding as Fr. Harden was, if he had the good sense to wait for Mattie, well, how much better could he be?
So their married life began. They were both 30. People talked behind their hands and wondered out loud in the diner and on the street and at the coffee hour at St. Luke's when they would have a child. The widows and mothers of the village looked endlessly at Mattie's waist, but she remained slim almost to a fault, slender in a way most women first admired and then envied.
Matilda's parents wondered too. They waited, as did Paul and Mattie herself. They were patient and waited and when they finally knew—having submitted themselves to intrusive and awful tests—that Paul's sperm count was too low, much too low to induce pregnancy, well, they had waited patiently and then they knew. And they wouldn't be moving soon, Paul wouldn't take a new call because Mattie's parents were growing old and the corner grocery, well stocked and with such variety as it had—was becoming a dinosaur that people fed, from time to time, because it was 'their' dinosaur. But, all in all, the Holmes' Grocery was being laid waste by the 7-ll and the Big Y and a convenience store over on South Street that stayed open later and had a license to sell both beer and wine.
Paul and Mattie shared the aging and death of her parents, shared it equally since they had been truer parents to Paul than his own parents had been. But when both Davis and Alma Holmes were dead and buried, near Sally Freeman, in St. Luke's grave yard, Paul had called his father, now a bishop on the west coast, to ask, tentatively, if there might be some churches in his father's diocese that would be interested in him, Paul Junior.
After an uncomfortable pause and silence, Paul's father said, sadly, Paul thought, “You've waited too long. I'll retire in a few years. I really don't think it would be wise to put your name forward, knowing, as I do, I won't be here to guard you.”
They spoke for a bit longer, but Paul knew, knew fair well, he had disappointed and let down his father by staying so long in Deep Valley, by not being more aggressive or having more initiative, more ambition. Paul's father never understood that his 'staying put' at St. Luke's had to do with waiting for Mattie—someone worth waiting for. Such a thought would have never entered Bishop Paul Harden's ambitious, ironic mind.
That all took place just before Bo Freeman came home. In his years of 'incarceration', as Mattie saw them, at the State Hospital, Bo had learned even more than Mattie had taught him. And a new law decreed that people like Bo, who were able, so far as the state could determine, to live in the community, must do just that.
Mattie had visited Bo faithfully every two weeks for over twenty years. Mattie was, in Paul's mind, one of the few people he'd known who steadfastly kept her word, her promise to Sally to 'watch out' for Bo. She always returned and told Paul all about Bo's progress. She even convinced Paul to go with her two or three times a year and give Bo communion and anoint him for healing.
It was a struggle for Paul at first. He had been glad to share Mattie with Bo in her twice monthly visits, but sharing her and their house with him proved difficult. Bo was well mannered enough, but, at 34 (several years past what the doctors had predicted would be his lifespan) he was large and clumsy and often dropped things and knocked things over. Bo was polite and pleasant and very goodhearted, but he tied them down more than Paul had expected and took so much of Mattie's time and energy. Paul was jealous, he admitted to himself, jealous of the gentle giant who had 'come home' after so many years. The feelings Paul had depressed and disappointed him. It was dangerous, he well knew, to assume he could be as committed as Mattie was to Bo, but he felt guilty nonetheless. The first year was the hardest but the three of them eventually settled into their new life together. Bo called him “Poppy Paul”, having failed to be able to say either 'Father' or 'Harden'. He called Mattie “Matta” and in time Paul would come to use the nickname. Things certainly settled down, but it was another delay, another waiting for Paul. Until they were used to Bo's presence there was no way to look for a new job.
But then, when St. Martin's came open—the place where Paul had grown up and his father had been Rector for so many years. Well, he thought it was FATE calling to him. He no longer dreamed of being a bishop, like his father, but at least, he imagined, he could make his father proud by following in Paul Senior's foot steps. That was why he was so morose and depressed by the rejection. St. Martin's was the domino that knocked down all the others. That was why he became withdrawn and sullen. Mattie didn't seem able to lift his spirits. Bo was merely confused at the way Poppy Paul was behaving. “Poppy Paul sad?” he asked Mattie. She had to admit Paul was very, very sad. “Bo help?” he asked. She embraced the big man, her eyes welling up, “if only Bo could...,” is all she said.
Even Advent couldn't take the weight of loss and disappointment from Paul's shoulders. It had always been his favorite season, but this year, he barely sang the wondrous Advent hymns, celebrated communion with little passion and his sermons were less structured, less poetic than they always were in the Season of Waiting. Perhaps he was through with waiting. Perhaps he thought there was nothing to wait for anymore.
Finally, a week before Christmas, Mattie could take it no more. She found him sitting in the Rectory office in the dark.
“Paul,” she said, “I think it's time you talked to someone. Won't you call Dr. Lewis?” David Lewis was the psychologist in a nearby town who Paul had recommended to dozens of people over the years.
He looked at her. Bo was behind her, in the doorway. Paul got up and moved toward her. “Do you think I'm crazy!” he shouted. “Is that what you think?”
Mattie was startled. She didn't remember a time in all their marriage that Paul had raised his voice to her like that. The shout sent Bo running. In a moment, they heard the front door open and close. Mattie went after him, but when she stood on the porch it was too dark to see where he had gone. Suddenly, Paul was beside her.
“He didn't take a coat,” she said, shivering in the chill night.
“I'm sure he'll come back soon,” Paul said, his voice full of guilt. “He won't go far.”
But a half-hour later, Bo had not returned though Mattie and then Paul had put on warm jackets and went out to call for him.
They were about to give up when Mattie said, “there's a light in the church.”
St. Luke's was never locked. People often let themselves in late at night, turned on the chapel light and sat for a while.
“That's not the chapel light...,” Paul said as they moved toward the door, “it's candles.”
Sure enough, Bo had lit the altar candles. He had also moved the creche figures from the table by the pulpit to the center of the chancel, arranging them just outside the altar rail. Since it wasn't yet Christmas, the figure of the Christ Child wasn't out yet, but as they moved down the aisle, they saw that Bo laying on the floor in front of the little foot-tall statues of Mary and Joseph, holding something against his chest.
“What on earth....” Paul's voice trailed off, beginning to comprehend the tableau before them.
“You see it too,” Mattie said in a whisper.
By that time, Bo had gotten to his feet and came hurrying down the aisle toward them. He gripped, Paul by the arm with one huge hand, in the other he gently held the creche's Angel.
“Come, Poppy Paul,” Bo said, excited. Paul let himself be led up the steps where Bo said, “lay down, Poppy Paul, lay down with Mary and Joseph.” Paul was already on his knees, tears were rolling down his face. He let Bo help him down until he was laying on his side. Then Bo pressed the angel into Paul's hands. “Poppy Paul's Mary's Baby too....”
Paul was weeping quietly. Bo looked anxiously at Mattie.
“It's okay, Bo,” she said, holding back a sob herself. She stood rooted to the spot and watched as Bo sat beside of Paul and cradled his head gently in his huge arms.
When the tears were over, Bo helped Paul to his feet. He looked at the priest with a compassion few would have thought him capable of and asked, “Poppy Paul is Mary's Baby too?”
“Yes, son,” Paul said softly, embracing the larger man, “Yes, my son, I am....”
Mattie held her hand to her mouth. Paul had never called Bo that before. And she could tell as Paul looked at her and held out a hand to her to join their embrace that light had come into Paul's darkness and his life-long waiting was over.
Bo hugged Paul back.
“Easy, son,” Paul said, wincing, “careful with my ribs....”

Thursday, December 25, 2014

No need to 'dream' of a quiet Christmas

Mimi came to us on December 23, in time for dinner. Tim had already flown to Florida to be with his parents. Josh and Cathy and the girls had Christmas at home and leave tomorrow early for a cruise with Cathy's parents and 2 brothers and their families.

Christmas Eve I went to Emmanuel, Killingworth for their 5 pm Christmas Eve (lots of strings and organ and piano--a full church--wondrous) and then met Mimi and Bern at John Anderson's apartment for dinner with people we've spent Christmas Eve with for years.

When we got home, we opened presents. Mimi made a generous donation to a 'no kill' rescue in West Virginia, loved her presents and Bern got a story "How the Girls Saved Christmas" from me and I received a painting from her showing our three creatures at Midnight talking. Maggie, the bird, says "heat" (there's a small heater by her cage since she is, after all, tropical. Bela, the Puli, is sitting in front of where his treats are saying "treat". Luke the Cat is at his bowl saying "eat". You'd hope they'd say something more exciting at midnight on Christmas Eve, but it exactly what they would say!

My short story (illustrated for the first time) was about how our granddaughters glasses were magic and gave them powers and they helped Santa save Christmas.

Slept until 9 on Christmas. John came to brunch--just the two of us and Mimi around the table.

Mimi left around 3:30 to go to NYC and catch a flight to be with Tim in Fort Meyers.

It's not to same as having our whole family here (but we did that at Thanksgiving) but a Quiet Christmas once in a while is good for the soul. It really is.

Hope your Christmas--quite or loud--gave your soul what it needed....

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas traditions

Aunt Elsie's card arrived today. She is my last living aunt or uncle or either side. I'm 67 so that's not surprising. Elsie was my mother's much younger sister. Mom would be 105, if she were alive. I think Aunt Elsie will turn 90 next year. My cousin, Mejol, and I went to see her this fall. A great visit.

Elsie Jones Ours always sends us a check for $10 for a pie and ice cream for our Christmas dinner. I would never tell her that $10 isn't nearly enough for the kind of pie and ice cream we eat. I just accept it as a gift and love her for it.

There were 15 first cousins on my mother's side of the family. I imagine Aunt Elsie sends us all $10 checks for Christmas. (Two are dead, but I'm sure that doesn't stop her....)

She sent, as always, a message. It went like this:

Dear Family,

Once again it is time to commemorate the birth of the Christ Child. The years seem to be losing days--so little time between the holidays.

Time again for the pie and ice cream. I hope you enjoy eating it with family or friends. Think of me and say a little prayer for me.

Love, Aunt Elsie

She also sent along a picture of my grandmother, her mother--Lina Manona Sadler Jones. It looks like a school picture for the elderly. I can't imagine where it came from. And Mamaw Jones looks like something from American Gothic. She isn't smiling--which all my memories of her include--her smile.

Mamaw lived well into her 90's and kept escaping from the nursing home--God bless her.

But it just isn't right, her not smiling in the picture.

litter boxes

For those of you who don't have cat companions on your journey through this life, the ONE things that you are blessed by whatever gods there be is this: you never have to clean a litter box.

Cleaning litter boxes is roughly equivalent to mucking out the horses' stalls each day, though I realize there is less to muck out, though it is no less odious. And where horse poop, since they only eat grain, is useful in a couple of ways, the poop of cats, full of animal protein, is useless and smells bad.

One of my few regular jobs is to clean the litter box for our 'last cat' (as Bern calls him) Lukie.

We used to have four cats (one cat short of  'excentric' I'd say) so my regular job was even more demanding since they all used the same litter box, just at the bottom of the back staircase. But as Luke has grown older (just like me) he seems to relieve himself in both ways more often.

Another of my jobs in our household is to take out the garbage and recycling each week.

I'm the garbage man in our home.

I don't mind it at all, really. It is a very rewarding avocation. I get to 'clean up' the messes of our lives. And that, in its own way, a noble pursuit.

In fact (I think I've pondered it before but it worth a new pondering) I think the three highest paying jobs in our culture should be the 'cleaning up' jobs: Day Care workers, trash collectors and nursing home workers.

It's remarkable to me how we don't honor and actually actively degrade the folks who clean up our messes. A trash collector in a union does ok, but they should be paid what partners in law firms make. If they didn't come every week and take the flotsam and jetsam of our lives away we'd soon be swimming in the filth of our own making. But the folks we entrust our children and our elders to are grossly underpaid as well. How our culture works is that we express the 'value' of work through dollars. Yet the people we trust with the beginnings and endings of our lives are not compensated in any way according to the 'value' they give us.

Those three groups of workers clean the litter boxes of our lives. We should honor, celebrate and reward them.

Yet, they do the jobs we don't want to do and are ignored. Too bad for them--and ultimately, too bad for us. You do, in some way, get what you pay for....

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My terrible, awful, no-good, unbearable day + Bern

OK, so Friday night I hardly slept at all. I was wheezy and congested and felt worse than I've felt since I started getting two injections of Xolair every other week. Xolair is something you have to qualify for--you have to have allergies that are off the scale and can be determined by a blood test. (Don't ask me how allergies can be determined by a blood test, my Doctorate is in Theology, not medicine)

{Which reminds me of a question my granddaughter Morgan asked me a couple of years ago while I was watching her draw a picture for me. "Granpa," she said, "are you a doctor too?" Not a bad question since her other grandfather is a medical doctor and her two uncles on her mother's side are either M.D.'s or Ph.D.'--or, in least one case, both.

"I am a doctor," I told her, "but I'm not a medical doctor."

She drew for a while and then said, "Oh, you're a pretend doctor...."

"Actually, Morgan," I told her, "I am...."}

Anyway, after a bad night, I woke up as 7 a.m., tried to eat and couldn't, went back to bed and slept until 2:30 in the afternoon. I ate a little and took some of these blue pills for chest congestion and some Benadryl and laid in bed with my dog for a few more hours. Then I took more blue pills and red pills and went to bed at 9:30 and didn't wake up until 7:45 a.m. when my alarm clock told me I needed to go be a priest.

I ate a little breakfast and drove to Emmanuel Church, Killingworth. By the time I left, I felt absolutely wonderful and have since. So credit blue pills and red pills and Emmanuel's congregation and Xolair, in the long run.

And credit Bern.

When I don't feel well, she is wonderful to me. I was chilling most of Saturday and she kept piling covers on my side of the bed and tucking me in and being kinder than my whining ways deserved.

She took the dog out Saturday night--which is my job--and kept checking on me and asking if I needed anything.

The irony is, when Bern feels bad (which is much rarer than my whiny days) she wants to be left alone. So, I leave her alone. When I feel bad, I want lots of attention. So, she gives me that.

Not a bad recipe for a 44 year marriage, I'd say. Being what your spouse needs you to be makes the years flow along quite well, even if what your spouse needs is exactly what you wouldn't want if the tables were turned.

Marriage 101. We could teach that course.

OK, I'm man enough to admit it....

I just spent 45 minutes of my ever dwindling time on this mortal coil watching the end of the last "Colbert Report" twice and a video of Stephen Colbert breaking character at his own jokes. You could find them easily enough by goggling "The Colbert report". And however fast your time on earth is diminishing, you won't regret it.

What I am ashamed of is that I almost clicked on a video of one of the HOUSEWIVES of somewhere weeping as she told how she had 'accidentally' posted nude photos on the Internet.


Here's my advice, in order of importance:

1) Unless you are George Clooney or Sandra Bullock or Adam Levine or Jeniffer Lawrence, DON'T, do not, never take nude photos of yourself. Not only is nobody interested, it's a crazy thing to do.

2) If you are none of those people and you do (beyond all the realms of logic and possibility) do take nude photos of yourself, take them with a throw away camera, not with a cell phone or a tablet--that way they can't 'accidentally' end up on line.

3) Examine in your heart of hearts and, if you have one, your 'brain' not only why you would take nude photos of yourself, but how on earth they could be uploaded to the Internet by 'accident'.

4) "Accidentally uploading"  ANYTHING WHATSOEVER to the Internet is very close to the distinction I have that is impossible. So, don't tell me that crappy lie.

5) Rather than somehow taking a picture of yourself nude and 'accidentally' uploading it to the Internet, take a nude photo of yourself and send it to who you want to have it (since there is no other reason I can imagine for taking a nude photo of yourself) and put it in an envelope and put an address on it for the one you want to see it and mail it. Unless their is a voyeur in the postal service (which I'm sure they are) who psychically knows your nude photo is in that particular envelope, it will only go to who you want to see it.

6) Finally...Why on earth would you take a nude photo of yourself????

7) Rather than take a nude photo of yourself, go watch the end of the last episode of 'The Colbert Report' a couple of times. 

Doesn't that make more sense?

And you won't have to go on TV to tearfully reveal how you 'accidentally' did that....

Oh, wait a minute...you got to go on TV to reveal your almost unfathomable stupidity...

Well, that's reason enough. I get it now. Continue as you were....


Friday, December 19, 2014

One more thing I don't 'get'

What's up with these inflated, lit-up plastic Christmas lawn decorations?

One of our neighbor has the Grinch and his dog on their front yard. It's kind of cute and interesting at night, but at some point they turn the compressor off and the Grinch and his dog collapse into plastic trash on  the yard and ignominiously clutter there until night fall. Why not leave the compressor on all the time--is it that expensive to run?

There's a house between Killingworth and Durham that I drive past on the way to Emmanuel Church, that has no less than a dozen of the inflatable characters--just about ever Christmas figure you can name is there...but unless I go to Emmanuel for a night meeting I will never see them lifted from the puddles of bright colors they are without the compressor. They are Christmas carnage.

It's no more than litter most of the time on that lawn. Not attractive in any way. It's just one of a multitude of Christmas marginalia that I don't get....'Tis the season to be jolly...not silly....

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Adios and farewell, my friend

For several hours I've been watching back to back editions of The Cobert Report on Comedy Central. At 11:30 p.m., if I can make it until then, will be the last ever live Report from Steven Colbert.

He has been a constant friend and source of satire (so rare these days) for years now. And now he'll take over for David Letterman on late night TV.

I don't watch an inordinate amount of TV, but whenever I can, I've caught Colbert's show, usually the next day, earlier.

I will miss you, my TV friend. Especially since I don't normally watch 'The Tonight Show'. Will you stay 'in character' for that? How could you?

So, I'll miss that 'character' immensely. I really will.

You taught me how truly 'liberal' I am, using that "L-word" with pride.

Thanks for that and all the laughs. Now I go back to muscle up on your old shows since there won't be any more.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It comes too near...what to do?

Two people were killed on our street today at 4:30 pm or so. I wouldn't have known but a friend in Waterbury heard the news: "two people dead on Cornwall Avenue in Cheshire" and called to see if we were alright. I had no idea. I'd been out to buy Christmas gifts and had just gotten home. Cornwall Avenue is a long street down a steep hill from Route 10 to Mountain Road. We're 95 Cornwall Avenue and the killings were in the seven hundred block, at the bottom of the hill something like 3/4 a mile away, past the canal and the grade school.

After she called I went on line to find out more and most of what I found was just what she told me. Two people died down the hill from me and Bern and our lives. Police have said the incident is over and everyone is safe and two people are killed in a house on our street and there is something about children in the house so I imagine a man and woman--a murder/suicide leaving children behind. Alas.

I noticed my friend had sent me an email before I talked with her on the phone, asking if we were all right.

I emailed back something like this: "there goes the neighborhood. At least it wasn't in the Historic district".

I've regretted many, many emails, but none more than that one. It was flip and obscene. People had died and I was joking about it.

I think it was because my whole life-view of "that doesn't happen HERE" had been shaken to the foundations.

Cheshire, Connecticut is a town of 30,000 or so where nothing bad happens. Mostly white and mostly upper middle class, Cheshire is a place where nothing bad happens. Several years ago there was a home invasion that resulted in the death of a mother and two daughters and everyone in Cheshire was suddenly astonished. Things like that don't happen. Even now, back in September or October some time, there is an effort to have people light candles inside white bags--which someone sells you--to remember that event.

We've never done it because my life for 21 years was in the city of Waterbury where people of color were murdered on a regular basis and no one lit candles in white bags that someone sold them to honor those deaths.

Death happens. It does everyday. Sometimes peaceful, surrounded by family and sometimes violently, leaving children behind for whom life is altered forever.

I'll send this post to my friend in an email to apologize for how flip and frivolous I was in my email to her.

Two people died on my street today. I have no details, but it was violent death. More will be known tomorrow. Pain will be great.

And I should never ever, not ever be flip about it.

Violent death came to my street today. I take a deep breath and ponder the vicissitudes of  life. And how precious life is.

Unfortunately, we sometimes need a violent death to remind us of the preciousness of life.

Even in a town where nothing bad ever happens.

Until it does.....

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Help with New Year's Resolutions

It's about that time again...resolving promises for the next year, which, normally are in the tank within two weeks or so.

So, since I've kept every New Year's Resolution I've made sine 1999, I thought I'd share my resolutions for 2015 so you might, you know, see the successful pattern of my promises to myself.


*I will not, under any circumstance, drink Yak milk in 2015.

*I resolve not to travel to Tibet, Bali or Madagascar during the coming year.

*Once again, I will not climb Mount Everest in 2015.

*I resolve not to give money to either Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.

*I will never, in 2015 or ever, buy ivory.

*I resolve not to watch any TV show that begins with the words "The real housewives...."

*I vow not to stand in front of Cheshire Town Hall with the Tea Party people holding a sign that says "OBAMA IS A SOCIALIST" or a flag with a coiled snake on it that says "DON'T TREAD ON ME"

*I resolve not to be intimate with either Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Lawrence in 2015.

*I will not smoke crack cocaine next year.

*I will not put a nude selfie of myself on the internet this year. That I resolve.

*I promise, in the coming year, to take all the IRS deductions I have coming.

*I resolve that I will not shop-lift in the coming year.

*I will not convert to the Mormon faith in 2015.

*I resolve not to wear a clerical collar next year.

*I vow not to win the Nobel Prize in anything.

What's so hard about keeping New Year's Resolutions anyway?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A little child

(I was looking for a particular document in my "document library"--that's what Windows calls it--and happened upon a sermon from 8 years ago, just after my granddaughter twins, Emma and Morgan, were born. Thought I'd share it with you.

I don't listen to Imus anymore, by the way, not since the girls were born--too cynical for a man with granddaughters....)

A LITTLE CHILD (9/24/06)

In the midst of his travels through Galilee, teaching and healing, Jesus encounters a dispute between his disciples. They have been arguing and debating who among them was “the greatest”.
That’s not surprising to me. I suspect it’s not surprising to you.
There’s the story about two old friends who meet after many years and the first friend talks about his success in business and how much money he makes, how big his house is, how many SUV’s he has and how important he is in the community. Finally, he says to the other friend, “Enough about me….How do you think I’m doing?”
I’m a great fan of Imus in the Morning on 660 A.M. radio. Imus is disrespectful, politically incorrect and often obscene. His friend, Charles McCord, does the news. Charles can report the death of thousands from a Typhoon in Asia, a bombing in Beirut and a drive-by shooting in Queens and Imus will say something like, “I didn’t sleep well and have a terrible headache….”
God bless him, Imus is honest and predictable. It’s ALL ABOUT HIM.
The truth is, I’m like that too. It is all about me—whatever comes up, no matter how distant or how horrible—I’ll find a way to have it be about ME.
It’s all “ego” all the time.
Of course the disciples would be arguing and fussing about which of them was “greatest”—more important, most valuable, indispensable.
Harriet Fotter and I were talking this week about what I want to happen in October since I’ll be away on the first leg of a split up sabbatical.
“I want Sunday attendance to double,” I told her.
She looked at me a long time. “Do you really mean that?” she said. “Do you really want attendance to double without you here?”
And I have to admit I had to think about it….
It’s all ego all the time…..

So Jesus gave the disciples a “talkin’ to” and then a living example.
He told them that the one who would be greatest must be servant to all.
Give up your desires, your ambitions, your need to be “the greatest”, he told them. The only way to be “great” is to clean up the messes, follow along behind, take care of everybody else.
Not what they wanted to hear, I’m sure. Not what I want to hear, by the way….
Then he took a little child and put the child in their midst. Jesus picked up the child and held it close to him.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me,” he said, kissing the child’s head, holding the small body against himself, “and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

I spent a lot of time Friday holding Morgan Rhys and Emma Case in my arms, kissing their heads, feeding them bottles of my daughter-in-law Cathy’s breast milk, having them fall asleep on my shoulder, feeling their little, so new, so wondrous bodies against me.
I must admit I’d always doubted all the hoopla about grandchildren. Well, I said to myself when grandparents were going on and on about the miracle of it all, “well, it can’t be that astonishing….”
I was wrong. It is “that” astonishing to welcome a little child into Life and into my life. It is “that astonishing”. That wondrous. That holy.
More than one person has said to me since those two girls—Morgan and Emma were born—“I guess we’re going to have to hear a lot about your granddaughters from now on….”
How right they were.
Your ego goes away when you hold a baby to your chest. Who I am and what I accomplish and whether I’m “the greatest” ceases to matter, absolutely and finally, when I hold those two girls in my arms. It’s not “about me”, any more. It’s about them—welcoming them into the world, into my life, into a lifetime of hope and magic and amazement—that’s all that matters.
Already, in my imagination, Emma is a scientist who will find the cure some horrific disease and Morgan will be an artist, a pianist perhaps, who will bring joy to the world through her talents and gifts. And both of them will know love and heart-break and love again. And they will make the world a better place because they have lived in it.
Jesus was so right….(Well, we expect him to be, don’t we?) It is in welcoming the child that we find meaning and joy and purpose. Ever so often, I see a baby picture of me. We have one on the mantle of our kitchen fireplace. And I also see pictures of me as a child—a skinny little boy with a bad haircut (who am I to talk?) and a crooked little smile.
We are all children, somewhere deep inside. And what Jesus knew and what he told us is true, true, true…all that matters is how we welcome God’s children, how we hold them near, how we make them a part of our community, how we open them to the possibilities of life.
Whatever else the church is “for”; whatever else our purpose as the Body of Christ might be—there is this, this and this most importantly—we must provide “hospitality” and welcome to the little ones who God loves most of all.
And we are all, all of us, “little ones” down deep. We are all the child Jesus embraced in the circle of his disciples. We are all the pictures on the mantles. We are all the Morgans and the Emmas of God.
And how shall we find “greatness”? By welcoming everyone who walks through these doors. By embracing them and holding them near. By acknowledging the possibilities of their lives. By knowing that in welcoming them—the little ones, the strangers—we are welcoming God into our midst.
It is all pretty simple.
And so challenging…so hard….

Friday, December 12, 2014

Another Christmas tale...

Mary's Christmas--2012

Here's what Mary knew: hunger, real hunger for the first time in her life; cold, more cold than she could remember; fear, again, a first time feeling, if you didn't count thunder storms; pain, in her feet, all four of them.
And it was dark. She was wandering in an unknown place, trying to remember home and the Man and the Woman and the Girl and the Boy. But her memory was not all it could be. Being in Mary's brain would be like being in a place like a desert, or an empty field, or snow-covered ground with just occasional object to break up the monotony. Mary's brain was like the brain of any Lab/Cocker Spaniel mix, or any Lab's, or any Cocker Spaniel, any dog at all....
Brendan, who was 'the Man' in Mary's mostly empty mind—which registered only basic things: hunger, cold, fear, pain, heat, safety, someone's touch, joy, love--often thought to himself that he would prefer to be in Mary's head than being in Joe's head, the Maine Coon Cat who lived with them. Being in Mary's head, Brendan thought, would be simple, easy, in the moment, verging on Zen. He was not anxious to know what a cat thought. Cats, he thought, always being a 'dog person', though he loved Joe greatly, would have a mind that was Byzantine in complexity, full of traffic circles and cul-de-sac's and dead ends. A dog's mind, Brendan believed, would be basic and uncomplicated and verging on sublime. That, Brendan imagined, would be a comforting place to be for a while, away from the complexities of his own mind, simple and safe. The mind of Joe, a cat's mind, on the other hand, would be risky business, something better avoided, something to stay clear of. Cats, thought Brendan, were inscrutable, foreign, removed. Extricating yourself from the mind of a cat might be something like trying to escape quicksand—the more you struggled the deeper in you would sink.
But on this day, this Christmas Eve, Brendan wasn't thinking such philosophical thoughts. His thoughts were clear and full of terror. Mary was missing and he was beside himself and in mourning. So were the other people in his house—Lydia his wife and Alan and Ellen, their children, 10 and 7 they were. For three days, none of them were functioning at a very high level, not since that night three nights ago (the first day of winter) when Brendan took Mary with him to go pick up some gifts at Macy's in the mall in Waterbury. It had been warm for December and Mary loved to ride in the car. The packages were waiting for him at the service desk—a few things for good friends that Lydia had ordered on line to pick up at the store, already wrapped.
Brendan had left the window down a bit, so Mary could stick her nose out if she wanted, but usually she was fine in a parked car, either curling up in the front passenger seat or stretching out in the back seat of Brendan's Kia to wait patiently. Mary was nothing if not patient. She always snoozed a bit when left in the car. And it only took Brendan 10 minutes to collect the packages and get back to his car in the crowded parking lot.
But the packages were left, still in their bags, on the pavement when Brendan saw the overhead light on in his car and the back door open and no Mary. He ran toward his car calling, “Mary, Mary, Mary come....” But Mary didn't come.
An elderly couple was standing near his car—a Black man and woman in their 70's—the woman was crying into her husband's chest. The man held her gently and looked up as Brendan came running up.
“My dog?” he asked, frantic.
The man shook his head. “We were getting out of our car and saw some boys taunting her through the window.” The man's hair was white and tight to his head, his skin was ebony. “Louise, my wife, yelled at them and then one of them opened the door. Your dog leaped out and ran from them. They were still yelling and chasing the dog, but he outran them.”
She,” Brendan said, realizing as he said it that the gender of the dog didn't really matter. “Mary's a girl....”
“I'm sorry,” the man said, “we tried to stop them....I'm sorry about Mary.”
“Which way,” Brendan asked, “which way did she go?”
The man pointed toward the far end of the mall, toward Sears.
“That was awful,” the woman said, between sobs, “those awful boys...that poor frightened dog....”
“You go look for her, son,” the man told him. “I'll get your bags and put them in your car. Go on, now. Mary needs you.”
Brendan ran through the gathering darkness, calling for Mary as he ran. Several people moved away as he passed, thinking him deranged, which he was. He couldn't think, couldn't reason. All he could do was run through the huge parking lot, calling Mary's name as he ran.
A security guard going off duty saw him and said, “is Mary your daughter?”
“No,” Brendan said, “she's my dog.” He realized he was gasping and that his face was covered with tears. The back of his throat ached as it had when he was a child and was frightened or greatly saddened. He felt as lost as a child, terrified, torn apart, his heart breaking.
“Just a dog?” the security guard asked. “You're this upset about a dog?”
Brendan ran on, he was coming near the end of the mall now, his heart pounding, sobbing as he ran. “She not just a dog,” he was thinking as he called for her, “she's Mary. She's Lydia's dog.”
With that thought, he stopped running. Mostly because he was out of breath, but also because of that thought. Mary was Lydia's dog. Lydia picked her out at the animal shelter. Lydia loved Mary almost as much as she loved her children and, sometimes Brendan thought, a little more than she loved him. Lydia would go to sleep rubbing Mary as the dog slept between them on their bed. Lydia made Mary's food because the dog was allergic to processed dog food. Lydia cut Mary's nails and cleaned her ears and, much to Mary's displeasure, brushed the dog's teeth with a beef flavored toothpaste to get rid of tartar. Brendan walked the dog in the morning and the evening, but it was Lydia who took Mary to her Mazda and drove her to the old Farmington Canal at the bottom of the hill from their house in Cheshire and walked her all the way to Jennifer's bench. There were benches on the canal path, dedicated to people who had died. Jennifer's was the last bench. Jennifer had been a child who died and had loved the canal.
“We have to say hello to Jennifer,” Lydia told Brendan more than once, “then Mary and I come home.”
Suddenly, Brendan couldn't think. It was akin to being inside Joe's mind. Nothing was logical, nothing made sense, there was no way out of what had happened. Mary was gone and Brendan was lost in a confusion of thoughts and emotions. What would he tell Lydia? Then he realized he had to call Lydia and tell her why he wouldn't be home anytime soon—that he'd be searching for Mary in the dark as the air grew more chill, as hope slipped away.
The first call from his cell phone to home had been difficult. His daughter, Ellen, had answered the phone and wanted to chat about her school concert and the special doll—something Brendan had no clue about—that she wanted, really wanted, for Christmas. By the time he got Lydia on the phone he had a modicum of composure back, but she still knew from the tone of his voice and ragged breath, that something had gone off the tracks, something was radically wrong.
“What is it, Brendan?” some anxiety rising in her voice.
“It's Mary...,” he began.
“What about Mary?” she interrupted.
“She's gone....”
After a long silence, Lydia said, “you mean she's dead?”
“No, no,” Brendan told her, that ache back in his throat, “she's missing. Ran away. I can't find her.....”
The whole story took a while to tell, especially since Lydia kept interrupting to ask questions that didn't quite register in his head.
“I'm going to look for her for a while....quite a while. I won't be back for dinner,” he told his wife. “Don't tell the kids yet. Hopefully I'll find her. I don't want them to worry.”
But he didn't find her although he searched every foot of the enormous, very full parking lot. Although he asked dozens of people if they had seen a lab/cocker spaniel anywhere...”looks like a lab only smaller, very friendly, named Mary....” Although he walked several miles of Union Street and Hamilton Avenue in the dark, fearing every moment that he'd find her body on the road—nothing worked, nothing helped. Three calls from Lydia, when he could tell beneath her stoic facade that she was nearing panic, were fruitless. Finally she said, “Come home, we'll try tomorrow.”
He'd called the Waterbury Police and the Humane Society, getting an sardonic reaction from the duty Sargent about “just a dog” and a recording from the Humane Society to call back during business hours. It was nearly midnight when he got back to his car and found, as promised, his Macy's bags in the back seat. He drove home in a stupor that reminded him of college beer nights. It was like he was watching himself drive. Like any active and practicing Episcopalian, he seldom prayed, but on that drive he did, with the kind of fervor worthy of Gethsemane. He prayed for Mary, her safety, her homecoming. He prayed for his family and what this would do to them. He prayed for himself, for his great guilt and regret and pain at senselessly leaving the car unlocked. And, not surprisingly he received little comfort from his prayers. Guilt and Regret are ultimately feelings that require one to forgive themselves. The Almighty has better things to do.
Mary had been on Union Street along with Brendan, but in the other direction. She was not used to cars—except the ones she rode in—and their lights and exhaust frightened her greatly. That's not completely true. Fear isn't an intellectual evaluation for a dog—it is a viseral and physical reaction. The hairs on Mary's neck bristled. She became wary and anxious. She wanted to bark but something in her throat, not un-akin to Brendan's own aching throat, held her back.
Lights flashed—from cars, from Christmas decorations, from small buildings—she stayed close to buildings and finally, totally unable to understand what had happened to her (what took her from dozing peacefully in the back seat of The Man's car to this inhospitable and completely unfamiliar 'place') didn't register at all. What did begin to surface were long unknown and forgotten instincts—DNA deep behaviors to keep her from ultimate harm.
Exhausted, hungry, chilled, she fell asleep in the partially sheltered entrance to a Tattoo Parlor for the night. Her dreams, sparse but active, were troubling, even to her mind that was so nearly vacant most of the time. She dreamed of The Man's car and of the boys who chased her away, of her fear and her misery. Just that.
Thirteen or so miles away, Brendan and Lydia clung to each other. Brendan couldn't eat, could barely think and, like Mary, fell into disturbing dreams. In the morning the children would miss Mary. Already, Joe prowled around as if confused and not-quite-whole. His friend—if cats can be said to have 'friends—was somehow, inexplicably, missing. Incomplete, he scoured the house while Brendan fitfully slept and Lydia held him, slipping in and out of sleep, softly moaning and weeping.
“She's just a dog,” Lydia told herself several times during that long, troubled night. But she knew that wasn't true. She was Mary, she was 'their dog', a part of their family. Mary. And life would not be the same without her.
Mary wandered. She passed many people and many buildings. Down Union Street she went until it became East Main. She stayed closed to the buildings to avoid the traffic. Some people stopped to pet her and she licked their hands. Others—mostly young boys—chased her and yelled at her and one even threw a bottle at her that broke on the sidewalk and she stepped on it with her back left paw and cut herself and began to limp.
Had she been able to know, she was going in the exactly wrong way. Rather than moving toward her home, she moved toward the center of Waterbury, toward the Green. And, by afternoon of that next day, after the night the boys chased her from the car and from The Man, she found the park in the middle of the city. There was dying grass to lay on, and she did, licking her cut paw, resting for a while. Many elderly people were there and many young people. Some stopped to talk to her though Mary only understood a few words. One Hispanic woman noticed the blood on Mary's paw and used a handkerchief she had brought from Guatemala of fine linen and a lace her grandmother had crocheted to clean Mary's foot and pull out a sliver of glass.
Mary licked her face as she worked. And the woman spoke to Mary in Spanish, soothing words, words from another place about the dogs in the stable that first Christmas night.
“I cannot take you home,” the woman told Mary in Spanish, “my apartment has no pets.” Mary did not understand anything the woman told her, but licked her none-the-less.
Several hours later, a bus driver who had stepped outside for a cigarette before he had to move on from the Green, saw the dog and took his bottle of water and poured it into his McDonald's coffee cup and offered it to Mary. She was parched from her journey and drank it down. The bus driver rubbed her head and said a prayer in his native language, Hungarian, for her. Mary understood none of the words, but licked his hand.
An old Italian man came by and shared his sandwich with Mary. She had never tasted the meats and cheeses before, but she ate with gratitude and licked his hand as well.
She had moved from the place beneath one of the trees on the Green and already someone had cared for her wound and someone had given her water and someone had fed her with Provolone and salami and bread. Though she longed for her home and her Man and Woman and Girl and Boy, she had been cared for.
She wandered around the safety of the Green until darkness was falling again and her fear came back. The day was turning cold and she was hungry after half the Italian sandwich and thirst was coming back.
Then a black boy appeared. He looked like one of the boys that had let her out of the Man's car and chased her away into this chaos, so Mary was hesitant when he approached. But the boy was gentle and talked to her in soft words. The boy took off his belt and put it around Mary's neck like the leash she was so familiar with and led her to his home.
It was an apartment on the second floor of a three-family house several blocks from the Green and the trees. There were loud voices from the bottom floor and the sounds of breaking things that frightened Mary. But in the boy's apartment, there was heat and water in a bowl and a hot dog wiener that the boy put on a plate for Mary to eat and eat it she did.
It was strange to Mary that there were no Big People—no Man and Woman—where she was, but water and food was enough. And she slept with the boy in his bed, the second night of her exile from her home.
Deep in the night, Mary was woken by noise in the room next door. A Big Person who was yelling and knocking things over.
“Don't worry,” the boy said to Mary, “that's just my mom coming home. She's a bit drunk, I think. But she won't look in on me. We can go back to sleep.”
And they did.

That day Mary spent on the Green and that night she spent on Thomas' bed, even after his mother came in and made so much noise, Brendan and Lydia were busy. Brendan had a picture of Mary on his I-phone with the two kids hugging her. He quickly sent it to his computer and printed out 100 copies with the following words: “Mary is lost, please help us find her. Ellen and Alan want her back to love.” He added his cell phone and Lydia's to the poster as he printed them out.
Then he and Lydia spend most of the next day putting the posters up on every telephone pole and building and walls around the Mall in in both directions. Ellen went with Brendan and Alan went with Lydia. Each had tape and a stapler and they worked for two hours before they met, as agreed, outside of Sears at noon. No one wanted to eat, so they didn't, separating again—Ellen and Brendan toward the center of town and Lydia and Alan moving away from the city—calling Mary's name, looking for her, longing to have her back.
That same morning Thomas took Mary back to the green, leading her on his belt. In front of the large Roman Catholic church, he let her go, telling her words she didn't understand—“I'll be back after school and if you're still here I take you home again, OK? Mama would be mad to find you in the apartment. So wait for me, OK?”
Mary licked his face and then he was gone. It was the day before Christmas Eve, though Mary could not have known that. All day she wandered around the Green, growing hungry until a kind woman gave her an apple and some bologna. The day was chill but not cold enough to harm her, so she dozed on the grass and waited—for what she did not know. Again boys ran at her and threw plastic water bottles at her, but they did not hurt and her foot was much better, though she limped a bit.
All that day, Brendan and Lydia drove around Waterbury, looking for Mary. Each of them passed the Green several times, but by then Mary was laying beside a homeless man, who smelled strange but not troubling to her. He had given her food he'd gotten from the Soup Kitchen and water in a Styrofoam bowl from the same kitchen at St. John's Church. The man had been sleeping on a bench when Mary found him, smelling of alcohol and human body odor—neither of which is troubling to a dog.
She licked his hand that was hanging off the bench and he woke up.
“Hi, Dog,” he said. “What's your name?”
Mary, of course said nothing. She licked his face.
“What a friendly dog,” he said to her, “and since it's almost Christmas, I think I'll call you Mary.”
At her name, Mary barked.
“So, I've named you well,” the man said. “Let me go to the soup kitchen and get us some food....”
Then he took the twine that held up his pants and made a leash for Mary and tied her to the bench while he went to get them food.
The man talked to her through the day, telling her the story of his life: how he had been much loved as a child in Tennessee and gone to a school called Vanderbilt but had something bad in his brain that caused him to become a wanderer on the earth and someone who never could hold a job or be relied on. But there was something else in his brain—a way of knowing that he neither asked for or understood. “The way I knew your name and the way I know I'll make sure you get home safe.”
Mary understood none of what he said but knew he was a kind and good man and spent the night with him at a place where he led her on the twine that once held up his pants. They slept beneath a bridge with several other people and there was food, generously shared, though not as good as she was used to, and a small fire in a drum that gave some warmth. People there called the man who brought her Joshua. And though the name meant nothing to her, she savored it in her mind and heart.

Back at Mary's home, things were not well. Presents were not wrapped, the tree was only half decorated, No one had been to Stop and Shop to buy food for Christmas dinner. Invitations had been refused. Brendan and Lydia were growing near despair. The children weren't interested in Santa or gifts. Everyone—even Joe—was aching for the want of Mary.
How many miles had they walked and driven? How many thousand of times had they called her name? How terrible was the pain in their hearts?

Christmas Eve for Mary began beneath the bridge. All the people, who smelled so odd to her, were very kind and petted her and rubbed her and called her sweet names.
She and Joshua went to the Soup Kitchen for lunch, just as the day before. And Mary ate well.
In the late afternoon, Thomas, her friend, who had given her a sleep in a bed, found Mary and Joshua on the Green.
He rushed up to her and knelt down and she licked his face.
Thomas looked at Joshua. “This is my dog, I found her,” he said.
Joshua looked at him for a long time.
“No,” he said quietly and kindly, “this dog has a family and tonight we will find them. You were kind and wondrous to Mary and she will never forget that, but she needs to go home.”
The boy stared at Joshua for a long time, first in anger, then in confusion, then in wonder.
“Who are you?” he finally said.
“One who knows things without knowing how,” Joshua told him, “one who will tonight lead Mary home.”
“Why?” the boy asked him.
“Because,” Joshua said. “Stay with us tonight,” he said to Thomas, “stay with your friend and me.”
“Why?” Thomas asked.
“Do you really want to know?” Joshua asked him.
“Yes,” Thomas said.
“All will be well, if you stay with us. Mary will go home and you will be safe.” That is all Joshua would tell him.
Brendan and Lydia had decided they must go to church on Christmas Eve. They needed to recapture their hearts and have Christmas...but most of all, each of them knew, they needed Mary. The decided on the late service at St. John's, the Episcopal Parish on Waterbury's, Green. Mostly they went to the Episcopal Church in Cheshire, but tonight they wanted to be anonymous, they didn't want to have to see their friends and either pretend to be cheerful or have to tell them the story of Mary's loss. They just wanted to be together and sing the familiar carols and listen to the organ and the strings and lose themselves in the ancient liturgy and familiar stories.
Most of the day they had taken turns driving around Waterbury some more, but somehow they knew it would be in vain. They didn't believe they would ever see Mary again when they were honest with themselves. Mostly they sat around until it was time for church. They forgot to turn on the Tree's lights and the kids mostly watched TV with blank eyes, not using their I-pad or going on line at all.
They left for church around 9 p.m. As they traveled, Alan said, “aren't we going to St. Peter's?”
“No,” Lydia told him, “we're going to the big church in Waterbury.”
Ellen clapped her hands, the most energy she'd shown in days, “that's where Mary is,” she said, “maybe we'll find her!”
Brendan sighed. “Don't get your hopes up,” Lydia told her. “You don't want to be disappointed again.”
There was silence from the back seat for several miles. After they turned onto I-84, Ellen said softly, “It could be the 'Christmas Miracle'....”
Brendan and Lydia looked at each other in the dim dashboard light and smiled sadly. Truth was, they didn't believe in the 'Christmas Miracle', but they were somehow heartened that Ellen did.

Most of the rest of the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Joshua and Thomas and Mary walked around Waterbury, far and wide. The boy and the man talked a lot. Joshua asked Thomas many things: about school (Thomas loved school and did well); about his parents (Thomas' father was absent and his mother, he told Joshua, “was sad and drank too much”.)
“I know all about that,” Joshua told Thomas.
About six o'clock, Thomas said, “I should go home. My mom will be worried.”
Joshua was silent for a long while. “No, son,” he said, resting his hand on Thomas' shoulder, “she has other things to worry about. You stay with me. I'll take you home when our friend, Mary is safe and going home.”
Thomas started to insist that he should go home. But instead he asked, “how are you so sure Mary's going home?”
Joshua didn't answer for a while. Thomas was used to his silences by now and simply waited.
“I don't know, Thomas, how I know,” he finally said, “just know things. Something's funny about my brain.”
As they got to the Mall parking lot, Mary seemed anxious and skittish, she began to whine.
“Let's turn around now,” Joshua said, petting Mary's head. “Something bad here for Mary.”
The walked back down Union Street.
“My friend Armando got shot in his brain,” Thomas said, reverently, “some gangs were shooting at each other and he was in the way....He died.”
Joshua said nothing. After a while, Thomas continued, “it was a block from my house. I'm afraid a lot.”
A block or so later, Joshua stopped and looked at Thomas. “Something tells me, that's going to change soon. You won't need to be so afraid.”
“What makes you say that?” Thomas asked, further confused by Joshua. Then he realized he'd never told anyone, not even his grandparents or his mother about his fear. He'd never talked to a white person, who wasn't one of his teachers, as much as he'd talked to Joshua that long afternoon.
Joshua shook his head and laughed for the first time since Thomas had known him. “That thing in my head....I can't explain it.”
They were near a McDonald's and Thomas said, “I'm hungry. I bet you and Mary are too. My Grandmother gave me $20 last week. She and Grandpa live in Cheshire. They both used to be school teachers. I could buy us some food.”
Nodding, Joshua said, “get yourself and Mary something and me a small coffee with milk and three sugars. That'll keep me going.”
So Thomas had a Big Mac and Mary had a cheese burger and avoided the pickles and Joshua drank his coffee.
“Your grandparents,” he said Thomas, “they seem like upstanding folks.”
Thomas' face lit up with a smile. “I love them so. They're so smart and so good. My uncle and aunt too—they both live in West Hartford and are teachers too. Something, I don't know, something between my mom and dad made things go wrong for her. She was the youngest in the family, in college, studying to be a teacher like the rest of them and met my dad and then there was me. I just don't know....” The smile had gone. Thomas was sad suddenly.
Joshua sipped his coffee. “I think you're going to be fine, Thomas,” he said. “I think you'll be a teacher...a college professor maybe....”
“That's all I want!” Thomas said. Then he was suddenly embarrassed because he had never, not ever, said that to anyone before, much less a homeless, white man. But it was hard to be embarrassed for long with Joshua. Thomas had never imagined meeting someone like him—white, wise and homeless all at once. He suddenly wondered why he was still here. Surely his mom would be worried. Surely he should go home. But he knew he wouldn't. He wanted to be with Joshua. He wanted to know that Mary was going home for sure.
Joshua finished his coffee and rubbed his face hard with both hands, something Thomas had seen him do before. He was a good looking man, Thomas thought, for a white man. His eyes were very light, gray. He was tall, over 6 feet. And thin, which, Thomas imagined, wasn't odd for someone who ate at soup kitchens. His face was what some people would call handsome, though his hair and beard could use a trim. But what was most amazing about him to Thomas was that he moved slowly but with great grace. And whatever was wrong with his brain was fascinating to Thomas, who, in the secret part of his heart, wanted to be a Psychology Professor.
“Now it begins,” Joshua said, rubbing Thomas' head with his right hand and Mary's with his left. “Let Christmas Eve get serious....” Then he laughed again and they set off, this odd trio, toward the Green.
“We're going to visit the churches of Waterbury,” Joshua told them as they walked.
“Why?” Thomas asked him.
A block later, Joshua answered. “You know what journalists ask?” he said, “the four big questions?”
'When?' 'Where?' 'Why?' And 'How?' is that right?” Thomas said, remembering how in 6th grade he'd wanted to teach journalism in college.
“Exactly right,” Joshua said some twenty steps on. “You are a smart boy. Here's the thing, I can tell you 'when'--when they are having Christmas Eve services; 'where'--at the four big churches down town; “how”--by walking from one to another. What I can't tell you is 'why?' The 'why?' question is always the hardest.”
“Why?” Thomas asked.
“Exactly,” Joshua replied.
The visited the Lutheran Church first. Joshua knew the times of the services, though he didn't tell how. They stood at the door and listened to hymns. It was 7 pm. Then they walked slowly through the parking lot and on-street parking near the church. Nothing happened. Thomas didn't ask any questions and Joshua was obviously giving no answers since he knew none.
At 8 pm it was the Congregational Church. Same routine. Nothing happened.
At 9 they went to Immaculate Conception, the really big Roman Catholic church on the Green. There was only a small parking lot so they wandered the down-town streets. Again, nothing happened, though Thomas was growing impatient.
“What are we doing?” he asked, with a testy sound to his voice.
“I don't know,” Joshua answered immediately, “and please be patient.”
It was a little after 10 pm and they were headed toward St. John's.
“I eat here every day,” Joshua told Thomas. “I like this place.”
Thomas was about to be fed up and leave, going home to what he imagined, on Christmas Eve, would be a very drunk mother who might need his help. But when they walked into the church's parking lot, something happened.
Mary, who Thomas was leading with the twine from Joshua's pants, suddenly bolted. Thomas almost lost hold of the twine.
“Let her go!” Joshua called out. “Let her go!”
So Thomas did.
They found her at a Black KIA in the middle of the lot. She was scratching at the door. Other scratches were there. Those scratches looked a lot like the new ones Mary was leaving in her excitement.
Joshua took the twine from her neck and tried the door. It opened.
“Always lock your door in an parking lot,” he told Thomas, who already knew that.
Mary jumped in. Both Joshua and Thomas rubbed her and got licks beyond counting on their faces. The they stepped back and Joshua shut the door. They waited until the light went out and Mary was stretched out on the back seat before they left.
“So show me where you used to live,” Joshua said.
Thomas shook his head. “I still live there. You are one weird dude.”
Joshua smiled. “That I am,” he said.
“I'm going to miss Mary,” Thomas said, and it was true.
“Where do your grandparents live?” Joshua asked him.
“Cheshire, why?” Thomas replied.
“No reason,” said Joshua, “just wondering....”
It was a 10 minute walk, but Joshua kept his hand on Thomas' shoulder all the way and talked softly to him about things Thomas didn't really understand.
Turning the corner onto Thomas' street was jarring by the three police cars with lights pulsing and a number of well dressed Black people standing on the sidewalk in front of Thomas' building. He recognized them immediately. His Grandparents and Uncle and Aunt.
“What's happened?” he asked Joshua, full of fear.
“We will see,” Joshua answered, “in time we will see.”
As soon as the people saw Thomas they all rushed to him.
His aunt and uncle held him until his grandmother and grandfather replaced them.
Great emotion, hasty explanations, tears of joy and sadness.
It seemed that Thomas' mother had come home greatly drunk and torn up the apartment. Her neighbors had called Louise and Mark, Thomas' grandparents and then they had called his aunt and uncle. All had been at the apartment since then, wondering and worried about Thomas.
What would happen was that his mother was already on the way to an alcohol and drug treatment center. He would go to live with his grandparents in Cheshire until his mom was better and then both of them would live there as long as needed.
It was confusing and horrifying and painful and disconcerting to Thomas, but he knew life would be better for his mom and for him. So he started babbling about Joshua and Mary and the KIA in the church parking lot.
All the four adults who loved him listened with great interest but there was no man named Joshua there. They were confused.
“He kept me safe,” Thomas told them, “and Mary went home.”
His grandmother, Louise, was suddenly interested. “A dog in a KIA? A yellow dog?”
Thomas nodded his head vigorously.
Louise looked at her husband. Their looks matched. “Could it be?” was what the looks said.

Joshua was heading toward the bridge. His friends would be waiting. He would have liked to meet Thomas' family, but in the way his brain let him know what he couldn't explain...well, it was just as well. And it was Christmas Eve, there might be some fruit cake someone had stolen or gotten from the soup kitchen or some do-gooder. Who knew? Actually, Joshua did know, but it annoyed him and he tried to push it out of his mind.
The music had been magical. The ancient liturgy and the Christmas story wondrous. The sermon had been inspiring. And they tasted the Body and Blood of Christ on the very night of his birth.
Yet Brendan, Lydia, Ellen and Alan were still in pain, not feeling the joy and gaiety of Christmas.
Until, they opened their car's doors.....

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.