Sunday, December 31, 2017

my New Year's resolutions

I have never not kept a New Year's Resolution. I'll share this year's and you'll see why.

New Year's Resolutions--2018

1. I will not drink Yak milk this year.

2. I will not visit Iran.

3. I will not buy a BMW.

4. I will not run in the New York marathon.

5. I will write on my blog, "Under the Castor Oil Tree" at least 250 times.

6. I will drink Cranberry juice almost every day.

7. I will love my Puli dog, my wife, my two children and their spouses, my four grand-daughters and those friends in my life.

8. I will consume considerable amounts of white wine.

9. I will not vote for a Republican.

10. I will long for Sanity in this time of President (He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named).

See how easy it is to keep New Year's Resolutions...?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

I am not my father

I am not an anxious person.

I am, normally, one of the calmest people you'll ever meet.

I used to be much more like my father. Virgil worried and fretted and was anxious all the time.

Early in our marriage, Bern would say to me, "don't be like Virgil".

I'd be worried or fretting or anxious and she'd say that.

She hasn't said that to me in years.

I am calm and 'present'.

But our so old Puli is making me like Virgil.

We just took him our to pee, Bern and I. It takes us both and a flashlight for the last pee of the night. Never mind that he sometimes pees and even poops in the house, something he's never done before.

Steps are a problem for Bela. And our house is full of steps. Four steps off the front porch. Seven steps off the deck. Thirteen steps up the front and back--though the back steps have a turn nine steps up.

So we 'help' him on the steps, coming up. Sometimes Bern uses a vest with hand holds to help him down the steps. Down is easier than up, but not much.

He eats and poops and pees fine, once we get him down the steps.

But he's always hungry, making our eating a nightmare, throwing him bread with hemp drops on it while he snaps at our hands whenever we move.

And when one of us is cooking, he's there snapping and waiting for what will never come.

And he won't leave my side, most of the time, almost tripping me a dozen times a day.

And he has turned me into Virgil.

I fret and worry about him always.

I'm anxious for him, always.

Mostly it is my grief about him that does all that.

He isn't the dog he was for 13 years.

He is anxious and frightened where he was always alert and aggressive.

His personality has changed.

And I grieve for the dog he's always been. And I'm anxious and worried about him.

My greatest fear is he will hurt himself and be 'put down' in pain.

Bern thinks he'll die in his sleep.

She is optimistic and hopeful.

I fret and worry and become Virgil.

We love Bela so. 13 years is a lot of life to share. His senility and disability jars us so--but in such different ways.

Bern is hopeful. I fret.

So it goes.

And he goes on. Loved beyond knowing and so limited.

I miss him and love him and fret for him all at once.

Friday, December 29, 2017

2 in the top 10

I have this capacity on my blog to see statistics. An amazing thing has happened. Two posts from November are now in the all time top 10 viewed

November 22--"What I do vs. who I be" is #9 and November 8--Putting it all on the line is #10.

Of the rest of the top ten viewed all time, one is from 2011, four from 2012 and three from 2013.

The longer something is on line the more likely it is to be read.

But my readership has grown over the years--a steady upward climb. So, recent  posts have a chance to rise quickly, I suppose.

Just interesting to ponder.

And thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Christmas story not many read

this is from years ago, but worth sharing again this season.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mary's Christmas

I know it's not even Thanksgiving yet. But I want to share with you a story I wrote for Bern for Christmas 2012. I always write her something for her gift and she makes me something--usually art, but once a table shaped like West Virginia--go figure.

But I love this story and hope you do too.

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.....

The cold

The cold now is brutal. You have to develop a very fine-tuned Stoicism to endure.

It'll be zero tonight (F not C, unfortunately) and won't be above 32 degrees again until a week from Sunday. That's what the Weather Channel predicts.

When I told Bern that she did some quick finger counting. "Today is Thursday," she said, "so you mean it'll be below freezing for 10 more days?"

My instinct is always to look on the bright side, but there isn't much of a bright side when nothing outside will thaw at all, not even a little, for 10 whole days.

I may have to start wearing socks.

When I ruptured my quad muscle and had surgery a year ago last September, my right leg was immobilized for 2 months. I couldn't put on socks on that foot and am stubborn enough not to ask Bern to do it for me.

Last winter was milder than usual and I got through it without socks and I've never worn socks from April through September and I just never got around to putting them on.

I've done ok, so far, but this cold snap may break me.

I've forgotten what socks feel like.

But I may learn again in the next 10 days.

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Being a Christian

I  heard a radio program today with a acclaimed secularist who says he is a 'follower of Jesus' though he doesn't buy any of the 'God-stuff'. I found myself agreeing with him much more than I would with most evangelical or right-wing Christians.

Being a Christian in the Age of Trump is much more difficult for me than it was in the past.

What is being touted and claimed as 'Christian' these days makes me more than a little nervous.

And I'm an Episcopal priest, for goodness sake. Obviously I am--really AM--a Christian.

But when confronted with the limits of the Christian faith that those on the Right have, I find myself thinking I might be a secularist who follows Jesus.

It is, pure and simple, the teachings of Jesus that I believe in. Love, compassion, caring for the least of these in our midst, forgiving the sinners that we all are, proclaiming hope in a hopeless time and Light in the Darkness. That's how I'm a Christian.

Christians who oppose a woman's right to her own body, that believe GLBTQ folks are sinners, that believe those of other faiths are 'wrong', that do not recognize the holy in every person...well, I have no common ground with them.

Do I believe Jesus died for me? Of course I do.

But I also believe he died for all of us human beings whether we believe in him or not.

If I were not an Episcopalian I would be either a Quaker or a Unitarian-Universalist.

That's the kind of Christian I am.

Don't ask me about Armageddon on the Second Coming or Heaven/Hell, I don't have much of an opinion about any of that.

But ask me if I think living as Jesus taught us to live is the answer and I'll tell you a resounding "Yes!"

And, in addition, I'll tell you a lot of people 'live that way' who would never call themselves 'Christian'.

I meet a lot of 'Christians' who aren't. At least as many as I meet 'Christians' who claim they are.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas in Cheshire

First of all, it snowed in the morning. Less than an inch but still counts as a 'white Christmas'.

Josh and Cathy and the Bradley girls stayed in Baltimore since Cathy's two brothers were on the East Coast from California for Christmas.

Tim and Mimi came on Christmas Eve, early. We hung out and snacked and marveled at Eleanor for most of the day. I did church at 4 pm and met them and Bern at John Anderson's Christmas party. Good friends and food and opening stockings when we got home.

Christmas was different this year--just Mimi, Tim, Eleanor and John and since M/T/E had a 4:30 flight from Bradley Airport to go see his parents and brother--who haven't seen Ellie for 6 months:
we had Christmas 'brunch".

Bern out did herself and overdid the food--a salad of watercress, beets and grapefruit; quiche Lorraine, ham, grits and corn and hot pepper souffle, blackberry bread pudding. Entirely too much food! But great.

M/T/E left at 2:30 and the house and many, many pots were clean and straightened by the time they took off for Florida.

Eleanor is a marvel. She can count to 12 at 16 months. And she counts as she drops things into something else--plastic spoons into a pot, like that. And if she says 'one' and you say 'two', she says 'three' and will alternate but not repeat. And she laughs and laughs and laughs and says "Hi-E" every time she sees you even if you just walked out and back into the room--or she did. So amazing and loving and Tim and Mimi are #1 parents.

The rest of the day scarcely felt like Christmas or Monday. Eating left-overs and staying warm and missing them all--the ones that were here and the ones that weren't.

I wrote Bern some poems and a story about Bela's Christmas Dreams for her real present.

She painted me a picture called, of all things, 'Under the Castor Oil Tree' with me sitting under the tree in my blue "We're Still Here" baseball hat (the Liberal answer to Trump's red "Make America Great Again" hats) reading a book. Which is what I do these days. Two books in three days is my average, but sometimes a book a day.

And at Christmas, I always remember those I'll not see again: my parents and Bern's and her sister, Angie and many, many friends.

It is a day of joy and a day of remembrance and a day of longing and sadness.

All rolled into one.

Joyous Noel to to you all.....

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Dreary day before the day before....

Freezing rain all day in Cheshire. Every thing icy and slick.

Bern put rugs and towels down the back steps of the deck so the Puli could go down at all. He falls more and more and fell on the deck before getting to the steps. Bern mopped the dining room floor and he fell there.

I'm made anxious by his decline--so steep now.

We didn't even clear the ice from my car and Bern's truck.

I went to the car to get something and walked so carefully it could hardly be called 'walking' at all.

More like creeping very slowly.

Tim and Mimi and Eleanor come tomorrow. I hope the ice goes away.

It will be odd not to go for a morning service tomorrow. The three churches I serve--little rural places--decided to forgo Advent IV and only celebrate Christmas Eve. Good call, I'd say. Especially if it's still icy in the morning. Snow is manageable, ice is not.

Stay warm. Don't fall down. If you live where the world is not iced over--good for you!

Merry Day Before the Day Before....

Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Eve sermon

Christmas Eve 2017—St. Andrew’s, Northford

          Sing, Choirs of Angels, sing in exultation….

          Hark! the Herald angels sing, glory to the new-born King….

          It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
          From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold….

          Angels from the realm of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth.
          Ye who sang creations story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

          The shepherds feared and trembled when lo! Above the earth,
          Rang out the angel chorus that hailed our Savior’s birth.

          It’s all about the angel-song. A dark, chill, starlit night, shattered by the rustle of wings and a sound not heard by human ears before.
          There were shepherds, of course, there to listen. And the mother and babe and dear, good Joseph…and the animals in the barn…. All of it is necessary to bring the Night alive…. But it begins with the angels, with their voices raised in song….
          The first Nowell, the angel did say, was to certain low shepherds in
                   Fields where they lay….

          The angels hovered ‘round and sang this song,
          “Venite adoremous dominum…”

          Angels we have heard on high, singing sweetly through the night
          And the mountains in reply, echoing their brave delight.

          Oh those angels….those angels….and their song….

          Over a dozen years ago I discovered that I had developed tinnitus—commonly known as “ringing in the ears”.
          It began one chilly night when I was on the back porch, letting our then dog, Sadie, out and listening to the crickets. When I came back inside to the warmth, I realized I could still hear the crickets. Then, almost at the same time, I realized what I heard wasn’t crickets—it was below freezing and there were no crickets singing….
          So I went to the doctor and was first examined by his 3rd year Med Student intern. I told the Med Student about the crickets.
          He looked dutifully in my ears and asked: “are they crickets or cicadas?”
          I told him, “Well, I thought of them as crickets, but I guess they could be cicadas.”         
         “It’s tinnitus,” he told me. Then he said, “tinnitus can be quite severe…some people are so troubled by it that they commit suicide.”
          “You can’t tell people things like that!” I said, “What Med School do you go to?”
          (It was Yale, by the way….)

          Looking back, I realized the first symptom was hearing music after the music was over. At night, just before I go to bed, I switch off the radio in the kitchen that is usually tuned to classical music. I’d get half way up the back steps and realize the music was still playing. So I’d go back and check the radio. I must have done that a dozen times before I realized the music was in my head—echoing on long after it ended.
          Which causes me to think about the angel song—how it must have stayed with the Shepherds all the way to Bethlehem and back, how the echoes of that celestial music must have still been in their heads when they laid down to try to sleep…how it must have greeting them the next morning when they awoke at dawn and how it must have lingered through the day.
          How long must that angel song have stayed in their ears? Did the shepherds just get used to it and go on with their lives—or did it sing within them always? How could you ever let go of music like that? Why would you ever want it to end…?
Once, again years ago, In Saturday’s Waterbury Republican American there was a large block ad on page 3 that said: DEAR FRANK, GIVE US ANOTHER CHANCE. I LOVE YOU, BONNIE.
          The pathos and pain of that ad touched me deeply. I could hardly breathe thinking about Bonnie and Frank—their broken relationship, the anguish of it all.  No angel song echoes in Bonnie and Frank’s ears—all they hear is suffering and loss.                      
          It is not a good time to hear the Angel Song. Things collapse around us. The sounds of fear drown out the Angel Song.   
          At this holy time—the birthday of the Prince of Peace—the Middle East is in chaos, hundreds of thousands of refugees have no home, terrorism escalates around the world, climate change threatens us more each day.  The sounds of war and weather drown out the Angel Song.
          Surrounded by the affluence of the richest state in the richest country in the world, we cannot help but see the sharp contrast of the bitter poverty on the edges of our wealth. The cries of need and want drown out the Angel Song.
          And all of us—like Frank and Bonnie—have heartache and pain in our personal lives that tend to distract us—like ringing in the ears—from the Angel Song.
          The writer, Madeleine L’Engle captures all this well. Listen:
                        “This is no time for a child to be born,
                        with the earth betrayed by war and hate
                        And a nova lighting the sky to warn
                        That time runs out and sun burns late.

                        That was no time for a child to be born,
                        In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
                        Honor and truth were trampled by scorn—
                        Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

                        When is the time for love to be born?
                        The inn is full on the planet earth.
                        And by greed and pride the sky is torn—
                        Yet love still takes the risk of birth.

          The clanging of greed, the tumult of war, the sharp cries of injustice, the shrillness of fear—a cacophony of noises drown out the Angel song.
          Yet love still takes the risk of birth.
          Again, the Child is born. Again, the Gift is given. Hope, like a fledgling, spreads her wings within our hardened hearts.
          When is the time for love to be born?
          There is no time but this. And even in this dark time—on one of the longest nights of the year—a Light will shine if we can be the people who take the risk of love.
          A Light will shine if we can let Hope find a home in our hearts and Justice spring new born in our lives.
          A Light will shine if we only still the clamoring of fear and greed and hatefulness long enough to once more hear the Angel song.
          “Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long;
           beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
           and warring humankind hears not the tidings which they bring;
           O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing.”

          Once more, once more as always, Love takes the risk of Birth.

          O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing….

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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.