Of Steadfastness & Intermittent Joy

This is a story of remarkably small proportions.  Of steadfastness and intermittent joy.  Of people who should never have met.   Of memories that have slipped away from view since they were of no particular significance to the world.

This is the brief story of my parents’, Helen & Hal, first meeting.  The black & white photo shown by the title is their first as a couple – a photo booth shot.

Two young people who fell in love during a disagreement.   A tug of war over an overcooked hot dog for a stray cat.  My father was a smart-aleck and my mother could stand her ground.  He loved a fearless wit and she had one.

No, this encounter was not a big event; although if you lean down and peek through time you sense the importance for these two, stranded by world events.  They wanted love and certainty, camaraderie and friendship even as the cup of fulfillment was tipping on its side.  But for this moment, a portal to their private oasis opened…

I barely recall when this convergence happened since I wasn’t there.  Not in person, you see, but in memory. My father enjoyed telling this story and I enjoyed hearing it.  My mother, not so much.  She did, however, add emphasis to the story line, “Harold, that hot dog had been on the grill for hours!  I wouldn’t serve it to anyone!”

My mother was best at tracking the present tense, leaving conjugations of the past for others. My father could vivify events that were dingy from too many washings.

The story of my parents’ first meeting followed me down the years.  I began to remember what I never experienced.  The memory image was the experience.  But my internal memory was only augmented by knowing my parents through the years of being with them as a family.

The meeting took place in the 1940s on the US Naval Base on a barrier island called Squantum in Massachusetts.  Except for mid-summer, the weather on the New England coast was cool with improbable sunshine and constant wind. Weather forecasters called for drenching sun; others rain.  Typical of New England forecasts; always in dispute.

My father chose to expect rain so he wore his Naval cap.  My mother wore a short-brimmed hat to fend off freckles more than droplets.

War was raging in the world which meant it could be any decade, any century.  It happened to be the Second World War and Europe had been bleeding for two years.  In the US, the citizens were waking up to the horrifying need to participate.  The young man, my father, chose to enlist in the Navy.  It was the ‘cleanest’ of the military services, he reckoned. Fate placed him in submarine service.  A claustrophobic’s delight.

The gal, my mother, was barely of an age to permit hiring.  She was 16, young in her years but sure in self-confidence.  She was ready to be in the world after growing up with her grandparents, visiting with her mother on weekends and fending for herself in between.  Her job at the naval air base (defunct since the 50’s but vital then for that worldwide struggle) merited an ID badge with photo image. The girl, Helen, walked from home to her job at the base where she ran a lunch stand.

Hal was born to Irish immigrants.  The healthiest of five, Harold ran errands, fetched bags of food from the rectory, fought street battles with tough kids, and pranked with the horse-drawn ice delivery wagon with his co-conspirator, Leo Francis Xavier O’Toole.  Hal improvised each day to make the most out it.   He was a bit too smart, too restless, too clever for his own good. The parochial school’s principal knew him all too well.

Long after hearing this story, long after these dear participants had retired costumes, played their parts, I found a small, two-inch diameter, ID pin.  A button with a half-remembered image of a smiling face and name, Helen Renshaw.  The pin couldn’t say much since it was inanimate.  But it had survived decades of interference from decay, loss – from days of war, peace, packing, dust mites, carelessness.  The person whose blouse wore the ID pin, kept it layered in a top dresser drawer.  It lived with scraps of bills, orphaned earrings, canceled postcards – the undigested items saved to be sorted – later.

The photo on this tin-backed pin is a miraculous survivor of time’s indifference.   It revealed a girl, calmly smiling, her hair full of wavy, unruly curls.

I found the pin by emptying the drawer’s contents onto the bed.  It was a week or so after her death.  After the funeral. After that lacquer of first-born grief had worn off.   We’d sorted thru papers that the law and banks would need to close a life.  It was picking up this pin that pricked my memory.

I have this wild notion that when we hear someone’s tale, part of the reality of that story dusts our senses, lodges there and grows moss-like around the bric-a-brac details only half-described by the storyteller.  Call out a name of something, anything, and that dynamic presence hops onto our inner stage for full disclosure.  Or, you may say, such is the fanciful workings of our imagination.  So be it…

The story of my parents’ first meeting gave me respect for the magnetic power of the individual heart.  I choose to see their meeting in this way – the universal divine caretaker minding every soul’s sparrow-like travels.

The day they met, the young submarine specialist 1st class, was with fellow naval buddies.  They’d found a stray cat, skinny, hungry.  My father asked the gal at the foodstall if she would give them the last hot dog on the grill.  It had been grilling for a while and looked too tough to be eaten.  My mother refused to even donate it.  She “wouldn’t give it to a person never mind a cat.”

No, the cat wasn’t fed the over grilled dog.  The conversation concluded and dating began.  Their backgrounds were very different. He was from an impoverished, Irish-Catholic, rather combative, family.  She was raised by strong-willed, no-nonsense New England Yankees of the Congregational bent.

In the decades that I enjoyed their company, I heard mostly laughter, good-natured, respectful, and clever.  Every card they exchanged was signed, I.L.Y.H. – I Love You Hal – I Love You Helen.


Photo taken in front of “Star of the Sea” church in Squantum where my parents were married in 1947.  My cousins, Carol and Frank, along with my husband, Kevin, visited Squantum in celebration of their 60th anniversary.  Hal passed away  9/4/2008 and Helen 8/23/2010.  Still, and always, missed.

‘My Escape’ by Happy the dog

Dear Molly-dog,

I want to tell you about my recent escape but needed to have time at my jailer’s laptop. It’s great that these new models have bark-to-text features. Otherwise, I’m all paws.

We went to visit our treat-giving neighbors, Lyle & Carol, last Sunday – if I remember the day. You know, Molly-dog, days don’t mean much to me. I get up with the sun, wait by my bowl for breakfast and a walk, then play with my gingerbread man toy, take a nap, sit at the front window, ask for some treats, take another walk… Well, you get the idea.

So, while visiting Lyle & Carol out by their pool I hinted that I’d like to poke around the back yard.  (To hint means just stand and stare at whatever you want.)  Oh, Molly, almost forgot.  These neighbors have a bag of treats in the laundry room. Just look in that general direction if you stop by.  They’ll get the hint.

My captors were chatting away while I sniffed around the yard. You’re right, Molly, that’s mean of me. I should use more positive words for my two “owners.” (Owners, ha! I hear them grumble about the vet bills. Heck, I don’t have a bank account.)

The lady, Carol, who is very nice to me, loves my name, thinks I’m cute, noticed that I had disappeared through a hole in their fence.  Yup – and right into the next yard. Yippee!

Now this other yard had two large, peppery-black dogs.  I’ve exchanged barks with them before.  One was a standard poodle, the other, um… I don’t know or care. But they were cool & let me sniff & pee all over the place.  (I could hear my distressed keepers calling out to me – in their sweet, fake voices – but ignored them.)  I think I marked that yard pretty good, too.

It was a very nice visit until my owner-guy, Kevin, appeared with – horrors – a pink leash loaned to him by lady with the two behemoth dogs.  It was Martha Stewart pink – yuck!  Oh, you’d probably love it, Molly, but I thought it was… nasty.

I had to ‘sit’ and listen while these two chatted away.  I was about to be lead out the front door when – yikes – something streaked through the living room.  What was that!! – a small dog??  No, not a dog.  Kinda like a fluffy rat… The lady said it was her “CAT” –

I plan to get back into that yard, make my way into the house, and find that… rodent!   I am very good at barking anyone or anything into submission.

Uh oh, Molly, a certain someone wants her laptop back.  GRRRR… oh, a treat!

See ya kiddo!
Happy, aka The Hapster

Taking Time

I believe in taking time to open and close tubes of lipstick with my mother-in-law, Annie, while going through things to close up her apartment.  I knew that this singular moment would stay with me until I’m closing up my own life. 

My husband’s mother was 89 at the time and she’d fallen after her granddaughter’s wedding reception.   It took months of recovery with surgery and rehab to strengthen her ankle, restore balance.  She knew she needed to exchange her one-bedroom apartment for assisted living.

As with many if not all of her decisions, this residential choice revealed her bedrock pragmatism.  She selected a nearby nursing home because she’d know people from her hometown of Central Falls, reasoning that “even if I don’t like them, I still know them.”  Straightforward and unflinching, this made sense even if it did sound a bit brutal.  (You understand that this statement was spoken to us, her loyal relations.) 

After months in residence at the nearby nursing home, Annie knew everyone – including the cook who brought her chicken soup when nothing else hit the spot.  Nurses greeted her playfully when she returned from an outing, “So you decided to come back, did you?”  A resident asked if she’d play Bingo that afternoon and when she said no, they asked permission to sit in her ‘lucky’ chair.  She advised one reclusive man to comb his hair even if he didn’t leave his room because “You never know when someone might come by.”

I admired the way she took on life with this certain slant of humor.

After being successfully lodged in this ‘manor’ for a while, the family was called to empty out her old apartment.  It would be given up to the next worthy senior.

One weekend her five “kids” and spouses spent the afternoon sorting and sneezing through drawers of ancient news clips, bargain-shopped clothes and supplies saved for whatever.  Some were useable, much was not.  We’d ferry bag after bag to an 8th floor trash chute, hearing the accumulated years tumble down metal sides. 

During a span of about a half hour, Annie and I inspected her lipsticks collection.  About 20 tubes were stored in a reused plastic bag kept in her top dresser drawer.  I sat on her bed while she stood at a waist-height dressing bureau to judge each tube’s desirability.  For my mother-in-law, under five feet tall, the top of this bureau was her standing desk.  For me, at 5’10”, it was sitting in Mrs. Sears 5th grade class.  Psychologically, too, I was back in school, masking my responses.

“Oh, this is a good color?” was her reaction to almost every metallic tube opened.  If I didn’t agree quickly, she’d follow up, “Don’t you think so?”  It’s tough to distinguish among the cosmetic industry’s rainbow of reddish hues so I found myself hesitating.  I’m an indifferent makeup artist.  But I knew that, whatever the tint, Annie’s smile would be the best enhancement.  That gal could smile with her innermost being.

And this meticulous selection of the saved vs damned lipsticks took place in the midst of a Titanic-like flood of unsorted life cargo.  I suspected that while Annie and I conducted this cosmetic court session, the rest of the family rapidly stuffed items into thick, black trash bags for the hall’s hopper destination.

Still, Annie and I opened and closed the tubes, cast our vote, savored the selected few who would report for later use.

Throughout this apartment cleanse, we’d roll our collective eyes at the sheer volume of stuff.  And we knew that our lives, too, were buffered by things kept for sentiment, for memory’s sake.  Memories are rather neutral combatants.  Their value – or power – rests in us, the reluctant rank of volunteers.  We carry the standard for our ancestors, for our descendants, for the perplexed frame of mind that cannot accept time’s rulership.

And, objectively speaking, the walk down the hall to the chute is not long and the bags are not heavy, but the journey is exhausting. 

We know we’re carting ourselves, our time-fed expectations, along with these parcels of the unwanted and unneeded.  We’re saying goodbye to the comfort of spending time together – special days and unimportant ones.  Of time not really guaranteed to us except by wishful thinking.  Time is a long afternoon nap after the family meal; being awakened by a thunder storm.

At the end of this cleaning, a gnome-like fellow stood in the apartment’s open doorway.  He wanted to know if he could take the remaining things left in untidy piles.  Seems he gathered whatever no one wanted – for those who might.  For us, the exhausted, it was a godsend.

The next day after cleaning out the apartment, Antoinette’s youngest daughter flew home, promising to be back for the holidays.  The holidays would be taking a new turn.  Normality resumed for most of us but for a moment we were standing on one side of life looking over to where we’d be one day. 

Annie passed away on July 4th at the age of 90.   We can’t say goodbye easily, no matter how hard we try.  In a small sense, this posting is my way of spending more time with this most-beloved woman.

I believe in taking time to cherish every moment.

It will be alright

My friend Helen Burke, a great poet whom I’ve known for almost ten years, sent me her poem, “Cutting Up Suits.” Here are the opening lines:

We sense she is tad upset when
We get back from the pub
And find she is cutting up his suits.
Also, his record collection of 30 years
Smashed in the bin.

Needless to say, the poet is recounting the crumbling end of a relationship – albeit with Helen’s deft humorous touch.  I’ll be happy to email you the poem if you ask me.

Like many poems & writings I come across, these words send themselves right into my heart. I was taken to a memory, an unplanned visit, to a place I’d never been. And not being in a dream but wide awake, I found myself asking little questions about the details of this memory. The answers, not surprising, were sitting like so many cans of peas or soup with flip-top lids ready for me to open.

And, like all of my memories (I won’t presume to speak for you and your memories), some images are dimly lit, some are ridiculously clear. It is my emotions that are often sharp and relentless. They are the words on the soup can label, highlighted – danger, poisonous if eaten raw or savor as a welcome treat.

This memory had the aborted feeling of the unknown. Even now, I wonder how this experience wended its way through time, how the actors played their parts as time let them unfold. I wanted to know. I didn’t want to know.

Send me the synopsis sometime when I’m not looking for comfort – or justice.

Many years ago in a place now far, far away, my husband, Kevin, and I dropped in on his childhood friend.

As far as we knew everything was alright.

But no.
The house was pretty much empty and you could see dust where once there’d been a chair or picture on the wall.

His friend, whom I was first meeting, was sitting like a clay pigeon at the dining room table – alone.
A pitiful lamp shining on his grim outlook.  “Sheila left me, took the kids, most of the stuff.”

We sat at this empty table, empty of how to react except to cry (in that silent, shocked way) for his upended life.

The phone rang – he politely said to us and to himself, “Sorry. Gotta take this.”

We could hear a child’s voice from the phone he carefully brought up to his ear.  It sounded like a young girl who was trying to speak quietly, sniffling.

Our friend seemed to stand up straighter, becoming the dad his little girl expected him to be.  And, with his best, dad-voice, told his daughter it would be alright.

Make it do. Do without.

As a girl growing up in a neighborhood of Quincy, Massachusetts called Squantum, my mother watched her grandfather, Thomas ‘Grampie’ Murch, sew up a hole in his galoshes. This was pretty much impossible to do, she said, as the overshoes were made of thick rubber. Still, her very frugal grandparent “made do” by repairing rather than buying new. People those days, mom said, believed… 

Buy it New. Wear it Out. Make it Do. Do Without.

Yes, this was the 1930-40’s (the Depression and WWII were on the table). During the early 1940’s when the US was gearing for war, everyone tightened their belts.  I recall hearing about crushing yellow coloring tablets into lard to mimic butter, “We were just trying to hold body and soul together.”  Most families had only one vehicle and that was saved for the drive to work.

My mother, Helen Renshaw, lived with her grandparents Amy and Thomas Murch until her mother, Ethel, remarried and she’d spend weekends with her mother and new step-father, Warren.  Grampie would give little Helen (nicknamed Tweet for her tiny stature) a paper bag with candy to take with her to her mother’s apartment. He’d play the same game with her each Friday, shaking the bag, asking her to guess what was inside.  Both knew, both laughed.

I’ve always wondered about the above-mentioned credo. The Murch clan was ‘Yankee’ through and through and my mother practiced frugality religiously.

This ditty of ‘buy it new’ has New England-based variations. President Calvin Coolidge (Vermont-born, 1872-1933) called them the ‘Four Maxims that made New England great.’  And he was serious about his conviction.  The maxims were also described in 1937 as “the four threads of the New England character.” They are:

‘Eat it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.’

‘Eat it up’ is synonymous with the familiar injunction to finish your plate.  Or perhaps not these days.  For me, it brings up images of my sister Dianne sitting at the kitchen table, alone.   Dinner is finished save for her portion of peas left on the plate. Cold, shrunken peas eventually downed with gulps of milk.

Many dinnertimes were marathons of mandatory consumption.

And ‘wear it out’ has a different meaning for me.  I was worn out by these endurance trials.  Mealtime with psychological struggles encourage indigestion.

‘Do without’ includes almost everything. You ‘did without’ because it was virtuous to do so, or do without…  A mindset fixed on achievement through denial.

Mom once avoided buying a new winter coat as she made do with the growing threadbare sleeves of her old one. When my father realized the coat’s condition he impelled her to buy a new one that would keep her warm! This was New England and winter was long, dark and cold. I still sense the pain in his voice and expression. It was no virtue for his wife to suffer when, as a fairly successful salesman, they could afford the purchase.

By the way, my mother hated the nickname, Tweet.

More on Silent Cal (Coolidge) about whom I knew almost nothing.  It always seemed to me that there were the Founding Fathers then we jumped to Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and the latest lineup. Calvin was born in Vermont, became a lawyer and served politically in Massachusetts eventually becoming Governor of the state.  He was known for being frugal with words – with a dry wit. When a woman challenged him to say three words he replied, “You lose.”  Not surprising that there’s a collection of his quotes.

His speeches are worth rereading.  In 1914 Coolidge was elected President of the Massachusetts State Senate and gave his “Have Faith in Massachusetts” speech.  The entire presentation is provided by this Coolidge Foundation link.  Below is a famous portion of the speech.  I’ve skipped ahead to the last paragraph which is entirely refreshing given today’s despiritualized milieu:

“Do the day’s work. If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it. If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that. Expect to be called a stand-patter, but don’t be a stand-patter. Expect to be called a demagogue, but don’t be a demagogue. Don’t hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don’t hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong. Don’t hurry to legislate. Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation…

(beginning of final paragraph of speech)

Man has a spiritual nature. Touch it, and it must respond as the magnet responds to the pole. To that, not to selfishness, let the laws of the Commonwealth appeal. Recognize the immortal worth and dignity of man…”

I can’t help point out the ‘do the day’s work’ reminds me of a New England Patriot’s game slogan, ‘Do Your Job.’  And how refreshing to hear him ask the senate to help powerful business better serve the people.  This is a positive take on the more typical, negative condemnation of the business world.

Now ‘stand-patter’ is a term that’s gone out of usage these days but originated in the US vernacular in the early 1900’s.  Also written as standpatter it refers to someone who opposes or won’t accept change.  I’ve heard of it in the context “to stand pat” meaning to not budge, or move, particularly in one’s opinion.  Neither positive or negative in my estimation.

And what about this “expect to be called a demagogue” and “as revolutionary as science” or “reactionary as the multiplication table”?  Makes you think, doesn’t it?  Don’t just arouse emotions with provocative speech but encourage, perhaps, ‘righteous indignation..  In my estimation, comparing public service to be ‘as revolutionary… or as reactionary’ is a call to even-tempered courage.  To drain the fear of rejection or reprisal from actions that are as fundamental as ‘science’ or ‘the multiplication table.’  2 + 2 often equals 4, doesn’t it?

Now, to hear him say, ‘don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong’ is marvelous.  In other words, to merely overthrow the strong will not necessarily ‘build up’ – strengthen, enhance – those weakened by wrongs.  He’s calling for a (radical?) upliftment of both weak and strong; raising both in awareness.  Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) immediately comes to mind.  His Satyagraha movement (the nonviolent resistance to evil) called for moral courage by the Indian populace (disfranchised, suffering through violent suppression of their rights). The non-violent suffering aroused a sense of moral shame in the British ‘ruling class’ (and world-wide indignation) that changed the ruler-subjugation status-quo.

Coolidge echoes the Satyagraha truth in his closing words, “Man has a spiritual nature. Touch it, and it must respond as the magnet responds to the pole.”  As revolutionary as science.

Silent Cal, the little known, often overlooked president.  And he wouldn’t mind being overlooked if his values were recognized and put to use.  In this vein I want to conclude by acknowledging someone who influenced this 30th US president.

About 40 years after graduating from Amherst College, Coolidge recalls principles he learned from his ethics professor Charles Edward Garman (1850-1907) who was also referred to as a ‘Congregational mystic.’

[T]here is a standard of righteousness that might does not make right, that the end does not justify the means, and that expediency as a working principle is bound to fail. The only hope of perfecting human relationships is in accordance with the law of service under which men are not so solicitous about what they shall get as they are about what they shall give. Yet people are entitled to the rewards of their industry. What they earn is theirs, no matter how small or how great. But the possession of property carries the obligation to use it in a larger service…

Nice words, Professor.  I’m sure you influenced many, many lives.

You never know where life will take you when reminiscing about a great-grandfather sewing his galoshes.  I never met Grampie Murch, but here I am at about 6 months sitting in his lap.  He died not long after this photo; a casualty of handling asbestos on the job.  

My future ex father-in-law would represent one of the firms sued in this far-reaching action against the asbestos industry.




Attitude opens the aperture

The longest-lasting rainbow was recorded in Taipei, Taiwan on November 30, 2017.  Scientific observers tracked it for 9 hours.  The previous record, I believe was for 3 hours in Wales.  Hmm.  But if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it?  There are probably longer lasting rainbow – just unobserved.

Here’s what impressed me about the description of this meteorological event: “Sunlight passing through rain and moisture in the air create the phenomenon, but only when viewed from the correct angle.”  My imagination-fed mind envisions countless rainbows, unseen, hiding behind misty layers.  Or seen to the perceptive heart.  That’s being poetic and not scientific you say.  Yes, I hear you.  Thoughts can be rather loud.

So the ‘angle’ is all important. The angle (perspective) contributes to our understanding.  Angle… attitude… perspective…  The rainbow blooms through the physics of mathematical precision.

(To enliven my sense of mathematical precision I think of the “Dance of the Little Swans” – the pax de quatre – in Act 2 of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Witness the temporal perfection as four ballerinas, with cross-linked hands, perform dizzying and precise footwork: YouTube link.  Oh, not just footwork but tilt of the heads coinciding delightfully with Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score.  By the way, the critics tore apart this ballet when it debuted.)

Oh, how to transfer such rainbow perceptivity over to raucous, demanding humanity?  We’re a suspicious bunch oftentimes and sadly credulous other times.  We’re credulous to the beauty of a meteorological sky painting.  Behind the beauty lies optical laws.

(By the way, who hasn’t heard their parent say they only want the truth.  My father convinced my sister and me – well, me at least – that he could ‘always tell if we were lying’. )

Attitude encourages insight and insight increases perception by opening the mind’s aperture.

Aperture – think “a hole or an opening through which light travels” (Wikipedia).  For the eye, the pupil is the aperture, letting in light.  For the mind, attitude can regulate the flow of understanding, insight, re-action.  This is my non-original theory and until I let in more light, is the best way I can explain all of this.  Now ‘attitude’ as the angle is the glass half-empty, half-full deal.  I’d love to be able to secure for myself (let’s start there) an attitude of receptivity, compassion, forgiveness, even-minded acceptance, unconditional love…  Trying, keep trying – that’s my soft-spoken motto.

As a young girl, I read C.S. Lewis and his Narnia series.  It’s remained one of my most beloved reading experiences.  Narnia is a remarkable country discovered by curious children poking through a ‘magical’ clothes wardrobe. In the final volume of series, The Last Battle, our heroes spill into a dark stable where some gloomy, negative characters are crouched by a dimly flickering fire.  The ‘heroes’ see that the stable has an opening to a expansive and welcoming world – a reconstituted, reborn Narnia.  No matter how much the heroes call to the gloomy ones, they cannot or refuse to see the vista.  Hmm, this is certainly attitude closing the aperture.

Attitude + willpower.  A formula that feels like a truth, or Truth, doesn’t it?  Ok, let me step off the soap box… for a time.

Alright, I fibbed…. so allow me to tell you about a scene from the film Kate & Leopold.  (Another fantasy/reality stretch which debuted December 2011.  The 9/11 attacks occurred 2 months prior.  If you see the film you’ll see a pre-9/11 NYC. )   After spending a night with his beloved Kate, Leopold is told by Kate’s brother to “wait before pushing the button” – the dishwasher’s “On” button.   He should wait, of course, to impress his girlfriend Kate of his chivalrous considerations.   The premise being, “If a man washes a dish and no one sees it, did it really happen?”

You tell me.  Or don’t.  To comment or not to comment, that is up to you, dear reader.

From record-shattering rainbow to getting credit for washing dishes.  This is my mind.   A circus of improbable acts.

Racoon revenge

Horrifying… revenge.  The epigraph to ‘Anna Karenina’ – a book I read every few years – is biblical and equally unnerving:  Vengeance is mine, I will repay. (Romans 12:19)  

Revenge is so intimate.  Think of the bully whose face you see in your nightmare – up close and reprehensible.  Fear, loathing and, of course, the desire for… revenge.

Vengeance suggests a planned and formalized payback.  A duel between two forces of perceived wrongs.  Don’t get in the way.  Collateral damage may ensue.

Well, let’s not dwell on vengeance or revenge, let’s turn to the next pronouncement in Tolstoy’s novel-masterpiece.  This opening line has become famous.  It’s mathematical precision is startling.  Our comforting encounter after the scary vengeance quote:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Stop.  I’m reeling from images ricocheting like lab mice caught between cheese and voltage.  Vengeance and happy families?

Well, I do feel somewhat better – if temporarily – having my reality soothed by this truth about happy families.  Wait?  Aren’t happy families like a photo of a beautiful landscape – distant and two-dimensional?  Who has stepped on the other side of that mirror and has inhaled the happy family’s atmosphere?  Tissue, please.

What about raccoons and revenge?  From Tolstoy to a story of imprudent, pool-bathing raccoons felled by an unhappy homeowner.  All too familiar, you say?

Let’s record the story of a tragic situation and lament the death of rascally creatures.  Not revenge, think karma, think balancing the scales. Revenge is a human truancy and has apocalyptic possibilities.  Karma wants fair due, I’m afraid, and Lady Justice is portrayed with scales in one hand and a sword in the other.  I think too much attention is paid to the blindfolds.  Impartiality?  This gal sees it all.

Setting:  A home’s backyard with a pool visited by the uninvited, water-loving raccoons.  Homeowner Mrs. M, widowed, determined, and exacting, keeps a notebook of raccoon nocturnals.

These bandit-faced creatures enjoy the pool’s soothing waters and widow M. never confined her pool with fencing.  Besides bathing, they leave excretions not suitable for bathers even though the pool is used only as eye refreshment.  Mrs. M, tall, stooped over, is a woman of eight plus decades who runs a debris-free, uncluttered yard with the efforts of a yard service.

A diligent homeowner, Mrs. M. marks her calendar whenever intruderly evidence appears.  For a week now, she scoops scat floating on the chlorine-blue surface.

Her yard work is done by the service owner himself, having learned years ago how to match Mrs. M’s directives.  Always with a patient, charming smile; his gaze masked by sun glasses never betrays disagreement.

These unrepentant invaders must go, Mrs. M decides.  But how? she asks herself.

Soon she’s also asking the hardware store’s employee.  She returns to her yard with a pie tin, can of generic cola and a tablespoon of powder from a box with a frightful label.  A rock in the pie tin’s center secures its place next to the pool’s cool enticement.

Waiting, watching is never a neutral stance.  Mrs. M wants to see a certain outcome undisguised by a moonless night.  Three corpses on view the following morning merit a call to her landscaper.

‘Bury them in the yard,’ she tells him.

‘You sure you want to bury them?’ he carefully counters.

Fetching shovel, he digs to clear a hole worthy of the felled ones.  Digging, that is, until he hits something larger than expected in the yard’s cooperative soil.   Odor of distinction seeps to the digger’s face and he stops.

‘Mrs. M, we’ve hit a sewer pipe!’

He doesn’t need to shout as Mrs. M. has been watching all the while.

‘Better call the town, Mrs. M.,’ he tells her.

‘Yes, and better throw those dead raccoons into the trash.’ she concedes.

For a month now, Mrs. M.’s neighborhood has been unhappily surrounded by town trucks and their digging apparatus.

Revenge never smelled so sweet.






Throw open the portals!

Happy New Year.

My daily diary is a perpetual kind simply titled Spiritual Diary.  Each day provides an inspirational quote primarily from Paramahansa Yogananda’s writings.  For many years (decades in some cases) I’ve made cryptic entries along with noting the year, day of the week and location of my entry.  Throw open the portals was a highlight taken from the January 1st 2012 quote.  That particular date was a Sunday and 2012 was a leap year.  Most likely I selected the phrase to herald the beginning of our winter snow-bird residency in Florida.

Here is the diary’s entire selection:

‘With the opening of the New Year, all the closed portal of limitations will be thrown open and I shall move through them to vaster fields, where my worthwhile dreams of life will be fulfilled.’ – Yogananda

An ambitious but not unrealistic challenge for any time never mind for the calendar year’s countdown!  I envision portals ready, willing and waiting to be opened.   Every year since 2012 I have asked myself:  Why are the portals closed?  Was I aware they existed?  Did I tug on a doorknob, feel it stick and stopped pulling?  Was I afraid to even try?  Or did I hesitate, wanting to ask permission to try?  Ugh, the last is uncomfortably familiar.

A portal is more than a door or doorway (from Latin porta ‘gate’).  Today I read it coupled with the term ‘web’ as in web portal; the entryway to a vast cornucopia of information: the world wide web.  Seems appropriate to be opening a closed portal of limitations for the new year.  If I’m going to open a portal I want it to lead me to a better place.

By the way, don’t you think that Benjamin Franklin would’ve loved the world wide web?  Perhaps he returned as a web developer or has already returned for a while as Steve Jobs!

But portals that lead to vaster fields, where my worthwhile dreams of life will be fulfilled is thrilling to conceive.  There’s so much in here that I don’t know where to begin.  Vastness alone is worthy of pursuit.  Greater than a 360 degrees purview, vastness has no limit.  (Vast: Latin vastus ‘void, immense’)  It’s good to press the cranial boundaries for a peek at vistas…   Yet a boundary-less expanse is difficult for us map-bound, identity-soaked, habit-logged beings to envision.

And worthwhile dreams of life.  Now this takes true soul-searching.  More than ticking off a to-do list (of which my mother was always fond of creating and checking off).  Worthwhile.  Worthy of time’s valuable portion.  Will be fulfilled…  Ah, fulfillment – ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.’   That’s what the prospect of fulfillment feels like to me.

For the beauty of it, here’s part of Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech where this line barged into my fulfillment musings –

‘Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause.

To be continued… of course.

Title photo: My husband Kevin pulling on the imposing doors inside a replica of the Parthenon; centerpiece of Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee.  (By the way, the park became Nashville’s first wireless internet park.  Vastness.)  You’ll notice that Kevin smiles with confident anticipation that these doors will, indeed, open.   He’s always had that way with doors.  No portal too vast for him!

Today this Parthenon is a museum adorned with a not-so-little gem, a glittering statue of Athena.

‘The re-creation of the 42-foot statue Athena is the focus of the Parthenon just as it was in ancient Greece. The building and the Athena statue are both full-scale replicas of the Athenian originals.”  http://www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Parthenon.aspx


“you are in my way so I will hug you.”

On Twitter – or is it “in Twitter – you encounter all things banal, bland, horrifying and uplifting.  I am not into the first three categories but the inspirational ones ride high on my horizon,  Here’s one by a Jake Parker:

“My boy Calvin taught us all a lesson here in the Parker home:

In our narrow hallway his sister was unintentionally blocking his path. He didn’t shove her out of the way or ask her to move.

He hugged her instead, saying, “you are in my way so I will hug you.”

Kudos to Calvin for his kind act.  And to his dad for the good fortune to witness this event and to appreciate its value.

It would be nice if every kindness could be seen so clearly.

Well, in how many hallways have I made such a positive/loving response?  OK, holding the door for someone immediately comes to mind.  But often I (er, always) expect thanks or a nod in return.  If neither comes then I’ve taken note, labeled the door-held recipient as ungrateful and possibly criminally uncivil.

Will I hold another door?  Yes.  Will I expect gratitude?  Probably.  Will I grouse when my door holding is taken for granted?  Perhaps… but maybe not.

I’m feeling that next time I might try to not expect a thanks, to not pull out my ledger of gratefulness.  Maybe I’ll let some other accountant do those numbers.  I never liked bookkeeping anyway.

And maybe I’ll try to be more creative in response to obstacles, human or otherwise.  I might have a much better time.  That is, I might smile for no reason.  And I might get a hug.

In the above photo, Kevin holds Pixie, our mini-schnauzer, while we enjoyed this beach view.




someone should whisper the names of the fallen ones…

Such a provocative line from Helen Burke’s poem about her auntie’s dog, the ‘black as black can be’ Flossie.   Flossie, you see, will whisper the names of the fallen creatures that the boys shoot during their hunt.

Poignancy comes to life in contrast with cruelty.

A birds falls from a nest.  Another flutters into a sun-glared window.  But birds blasted from flight by boys for fun is wanton sport and the dog as witness testifies to the injustice.

This line in Helen’s poem set off a cascade of feelings.

Am sitting in Sunday mass, hearing about sparrows falling to the ground, learning that even this insignificant death is known.  I don’t care ‘who knows’ only that it is known, that nothing is lost, hidden, forgotten.

I’m not drawn to biblical references or imagery but this one about the sparrows falling has stuck.  It is from Matthew 10 (yes, I looked it up).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father knowing.”  So the dog is doing god-service by naming the birds, recording their existence.

And then I recall this snippet from attending many, many Sunday masses, “and even the stones shall speak.”  I literally see stones voicing, witnessing, participating in events.  Who hears them?  Those who can.

Looking this one up as well, I see a version by Luke:

But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you, He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.

Again, the stones.  Can’t you feel how the Pharisees might feel the slightest anxiety at Jesus’s response?  Or maybe not.  He may be the ‘fool on the hill’ already.

And as I uncovered this NT quote, a reference to older stones suddenly waved at me on the biblical page sidebar, ‘Read this!  Don’t pass me over!’  Old Testament old.  Habakkuk 2:11 old:

10 You have devised a shameful thing for your house By cutting off many peoples; So you are sinning against yourself.  11 Surely the stone will cry out from the wall, And the rafter will answer it from the framework.  12 Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed And founds a town with violence!… 

(This quote came from biblehub.com, what else!)

By the way, who was Habakkuk, oh Wikipedia?  “The book of Habbakuk consists of five oracles about the Chaldeans (Babylonians) and a song of praise to God.” That’s all they/we know.  We’re talking about 6th century BC.  He was a prophet.

Again, injustice can incite the very stones to cry out, shout, reveal evil deeds.  And, please note, dear reader, this refreshingly enigmatic addition: So you are sinning against yourself.   Habb doesn’t condemn only; he points out that these shameful things hurt the doer.  By the way, it seems that the ‘doer’ who builds a city with bloodshed/violence is also self-inflicting harm.

Conclusions can be multi-faceted.  My simple mind summarizes:  ‘Nothing is hidden from the grand scheme of things.’  Or the small scheme of things.  ‘Everything is everything,’ a grad school friend would say.

I’ve heard about a seeker who was told to pray to the diving presence in complete isolation. The seeker hiked and hiked to the vast wilderness, found a cave, sat to pray.  No good.  The seeker returned, concluding, “There is no place where the Presence is not with me.” Nothing is hidden, everything is everything.

Remember, centuries ago most thought the earth was center of the solar system. No, poor Copernicus knew the sun was central but was reluctant to publish his views fearing persecution.  He finally published  prior to leaving his place on earth, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres (in Latin), and set off the ‘Copernican Revolution’!

Wikipedia: This revolution was ‘the paradigm shift from the Ptolemaic model of the heavens, which described the cosmos as having Earth stationary at the center of the universe, to the heliocentric model with the Sun at the center of the Solar System.’  (Paradigm: Greek for ‘example’.)

Geocentrism, a scourge then and now! (Read about today’s flat-earther proponents.) It also feels like that prevalent affliction – egocentrism…

We still think we’re the center of the universe and, in a small sense, we may be. We’re like those windowless monads that Leibnez conjectured. Well, if this is the case then we’d better scrape a peephole in our monad shell; enlarge our orbits to include everyone – even the sparrows.

The drawing, ‘Tears Down My Face’ is by Helen Burke.

My poem from ago:

Permit Wonder

Electrons wander orbits tipping the cosmos.
Planets in weary tread stoic a pace unshared
Embryos slide into time chasing desire & find.
The mind awakens from its cloister to canopies
of sensations that blaze and speak within.

We lay in twilight harbors moored to mysteries,
Netted between the sureness of a soft breeze
And moments capsized.

Wandering these many roads is the heart,
Orphaned or welcomed, in song or moan,
Backpacked, stowed or falling loose
Around another’s clear gaze.

Could someone run ahead — secure lodging
Corner a spaciousness
Of no particular place?

And trim the smooth to manage the harsh.
Concede the fine points forever displayed.
Unargue differences that winter a summer’s day
And doubt every open door closed.

Breathe in, exhale
And permit wonder
To rest on the tongue.
Jan Keough Copy write, rev. 2017