Darkness will not cover me Nor will I stumble down rabbitholes that lead only to despair. I still have eyes to see horror And ears to hear lamentations; A brain to move aside the curtain where the wizard stands, naked and unmasked. I will count … Continue reading Still Standing
I was here yesterday.
For the first time since 1990. I was here for a memorial service. But, as it turned out, I was not only remembering a friend who died. I was remembering a part of myself who died here, so many years ago. I remembered singing here in a choir. I remembered speaking here from the pulpit. I remembered candlelight and community. I remembered faces and sermons I loved. I remembered the first time I came here and felt I was home. I remembered the last time I was here, sitting in the back pew because I felt shamed by what my then-husband had done.
Now I have an incredible husband, who sat beside me in not-the-last pew, as I shed tears and remembered.
It might still be my sanctuary, in every way possible.
I went silent after the election, shocked and numbed by what had happened. An orange-faced baboon with the attention span and emotional maturity of a toddler would be putting his generously formed, 70-year-0ld ass in the chair behind the desk in the oval office. I was temporarily paralyzed.
Not anymore. I donated to Planned Parenthood and to a food bank serving Hispanic families. I learned that if you call congresspeople rather than email, you have a better chance of getting your message across, because an aide has to answer phone and report the call. You can be a huge pain in the ass.
I vowed never to accept that things are normal anymore. There has been a shift, and it has changed how we look at this country, at our neighbors. All I can do is save as many people as I can. I will pay more attention to what goes on around me. I will question the news. We are not who I always thought we were. That is my fault, for somehow deluding myself. There is way more hate, and bias, and anger here.
The thing is, I have taken a deep breath. I will do all I can. In the meantime, I have put up my Christmas tree, and found a picture of this incredible, way over the top manger monstrosity, which I think is quite humorous.
We are frightened and torn today, a country more divided than I have seen in my seven decades of life. I know the Irish to be a dark lot, but I am reminded of W.B Yeats poem as I wait to hear the results.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Many years ago, I belonged to a wonderful Methodist church.
It was to be the scene of a huge debacle involving the minister, a number of choirs and singers, a visiting bishop, and some recently refinished church pews.
It had been a hot summer, the sanctuary was not air-conditioned, and the big crowd didn’t help cool things off. The minister’s wife Sarah and I agreed to sit right down in front so we wouldn’t miss a thing.
We sat right behind two rows of a robed youth choir. A tiny, frail little old man politely pushed in next to us, and the service began. Tom, the minister, and the Methodist bishop,sat down up front, Tom practically beaming. The church was quiet, the congregation expectant.
In that moment of sanctity and hope, the frail little man tried to cross his legs. The fabric of his trousers was stuck to the new varnish. He tugged and tugged, and finally the fabric came loose, producing a ripping noise. Sarah and I simultaneously broke into a bad case of uncontrollable giggles.
After seemingly forever, we calmed down. Seconds later, the youth choir in front of us stood, in unison, to perform. There was a large, collective ripping noise, sending Sarah and I into a gale of silent laughter from which we would not recover. Tom’s eyes were wild, his brows knitted angrily at the sight of his wife and me creating a spectacle. We were crying with the effort of not guffawing. People around us, thinking we were overcome by the beauty of the service, patted us comfortingly on the shoulder. We finally wore ourselves out.
As we were filing out of the service, I happened to glance into an empty pew. Apparently, the woman who had sat there during the service had been wearing a floral dress. She had left behind the imprint of the flowers in the pew.
You just can’t make this shit up. Amen.
In 1942, I was born in the same parlor where my grandmother laid in her casket less than 20 years earlier.
Thus the memories of my childhood became entwined with Winchester, Kansas.
My Aunt Ida’s Victorian house stood grey, the paint long gone, its rambling rooms empty after housing a family created by the marriage of German Frank Haas and Irish Estella Kiernan. Across town, her brother Irish Frank Kiernan married Frank’s sister Bertha Haas. What resulted was a dizzying array of “double cousins,” not brother and sister, but all bearing the best and worst of their shared German/Irish heritage. Many of us keep in touch today.
The population of the town was aroud 400. Today, it is around 500, the residents still mostly German and Irish.
Winchester holds many of my childhood snapshots. My Uncle Jim Kiernan owned the gas station. He was an incredibly affable Irishman who would grab your hand and continue to shake it for the duration of the conversation, no matter how short or long. He would always slip me a candy bar and an icy coke in a bottle from the familiar red cooler.
My German grandfather had neat rows of rabbit coops in the back yard, filled with rabbit families I adored and could not stay away from. My mother said repeatedly, “Don’t name them,”but of course I did. I was always devastated when we had rabbit for Sunday dinner.
There was no running water in Aunt Ida’s house. There was a pump outside the back door which tapped the contents of a deep spring. No bathoom inside, and the walk from the back porch to the dreadful outhouse seemed, to my suburban indoor plumbing soul, miles from the house. There were spiders in the corners setting up housekeeping and monsters in the darkness below the seats. There was the minimal luxury of toilet paper.
One of the highlights of a summer visit was outdoor movie night downtown. Wooden benches, fresh popcorn, scary movies that made me run back to the house like satan himself was just a half step behind me.
A porch swing hung from chains. I spent hours there, listening to the mourning doves and thinking the deep thoughts of an eleven-year-old girl.
I loved Winchester, and it loved me back. My people lived there. Great aunts who wore wonderful hats. Cousins everywhere I looked. It was a place I visited on weekends, holidays, and sometimes several weeks in summer. It was a world away,only 40 miles from where I lived and went to school.
Those marvelous people are nearly all gone. But they live in my heart, as does Winchester, to be conjured at will.
Because my middle name is Margaret, I have always felt the pull of Hopkins’ poem as the leaves begin to turn, as we talk about mulching, and the first soup of the early fall bubbles in the kitchen. Life is passing, the days racing by us, calendar pages hurry us along. As I grow older, I realize that it is, indeed, Myself I mourn for, have always mourned for. The cool air, while refreshing, has a chill that gets in the bones and reminds me to hurry, hurry, life is ticking and rushing and will never stop for me. Until it does indeed stop for me.
Spring and Fall
To a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.