How’s the weather?

It’s been two weeks since it last rained. In that time, our weather has swung from snow to sun, from overnight frost to temperatures in the high seventies. Most folks we’ve encountered on our daily walks over the last week have remarked on the beautiful weather. My husband and I love autumn and winter proper — cold nights, short days, and all — but we nodded and waved: Yes, lovely. Weather talk is, after all, simply an acknowledgment that we’ve seen one another, a verbal wave.

Although… when we homeschooled, our family kept logs of the weather and temps, listened to Tom Skilling’s extended radio segment, and regularly reviewed ten-day forecasts. My daughters even took a meteorology course at the local college. Weather colored our days and interested us enough to learn about it, to weave it into our narrative. Even now, we regularly compare predictions and daily high and low temperatures. Weather talk is, of course, a way to bridge the distance, a verbal hug.

Full of care

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On the road into the conservation area.

Landing in the hospital for a preventable accident is one of the last things anyone wants — ever, I suppose, but especially right now. So we are careful, so much more careful. Careful with the knives. Careful on the steps into the living room and garage. Careful at the stove. Careful in the shower. Careful with the yard tools. Careful behind the wheel.

Careful. Careful.

My husband’s car had been no further than the grocery store for two weeks. It really needs a run, he told me last Thursday. It’s not a thoroughbred horse, I replied, tempering the retort with, But why don’t we drive to a nearby conservation area and back?

To be hurt is the last thing anyone wants — ever, I think, but especially right now. So I am careful. Careful about sarcasm. Careful about criticism. Careful about sharing the news. Careful, so much more careful, with my words. Not so careful that I am a stranger to myself, of course, or to him, but careful enough to cushion the blow a soft apocalypse could deliver.

This will be nice, I added. The park will be beautiful.

We took his reliable and decidedly ordinary sedan to the drive-through car wash. My husband parks beneath an oak, and it is spring. Rain or not, the car needed a wash. Then we took it not for a run so much as a sedate stroll on nearly empty roads beneath heavy clouds.

Careful. Careful!

We had already worked out, and my husband had several meetings scheduled for the afternoon. Hiking the kames on last autumn’s slippery leaves? Not on this finally healing knee. And you don’t want to miss any of your commitments. We saw a few walkers on the backside of the area, but part of that trail abuts the creek, which in spring and summer frequently overruns its banks. A stumble. A cold. No, we must be…

Careful.

The park was beautiful if gloomy and gray. On the way out, we stopped to watch a pair of sandhill cranes, and on the way home we stopped at a store. We were armed with gloves and sanitizer and wipes. Fine, but we must be quick. And careful.

When we returned home, he carried the bags into the garage and wiped down the contents. Did we really need toilet paper? Gently, not critically.

They haven’t had any in weeks, and you can’t be too…

Careful.

He’s right; I know.

After showering, we put away the groceries and made lunch. (Careful by the stove.) After we called our daughters, he dialed into the first of many meetings, and I washed the dishes. (Careful with the knives.)

As the soapy water drained from the sink, I heard the chorus of murmurs that signals a meeting has begun in earnest. He moved down the hall, and I poured a mug of coffee and carried it into the living room. (Careful on the step.) As I looked out the rain-splattered window, a cardinal couple alighted on the platform feeder. Careful. A sharp-shinned hawk has been spending a lot of time in and near our yard. The male passed a seed to the female, and I thought, Be careful with one another.

Letters from a Stoic

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Detail from “Head of an Old Man, Possibly Seneca,”
Circle of Peter Paul Rubens; circa 1620. I captured the image at the Rubens, Rembrandt, and Drawing in the Golden Age exhibition at the Art Institute.

Letter II
Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.

Letter III
For a delight in bustling about is not industry — it is only the restless energy of a hunted mind. And the state of mind that looks on all activity as tiresome is not true repose, but a spineless inertia.

Letter V
:: Finding wealth an intolerable burden is the mark of an unstable mind.

:: Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present.

Letter IX
What is my object in making a friend? To have someone to be able to die for, someone I may follow into exile, someone for whose life I may put myself up as security and pay the price as well. The thing you describe is not friendship but a business deal, looking to the likely consequences, with advantage as its goals.

Letter XVIII
It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favours on it then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.

Letter XCI
The fact that it was unforeseen has never failed to intensify a person’s grief. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events. For what is there that fortune does not when she pleases fell at the height of its powers?

Route 57 revisited

A037F87C-EEEC-49EC-BD9A-368EBD37828FAs I’ve mentioned, this is my favorite landmark along the 3.25-hour route that links home and campus.

A few things occur to me as I look at this most recent image.

• Three years have passed *SNAP* like that.

• The trip to see my youngest graduate next weekend may be the last one I make to that part of the state for a (long) while. Given what a pain in my back it is, I can’t believe I am saying this, but… I will miss it.

• When my daughters, who had always maintained that they would attend college together, were in the midst of preparing their transfer applications, both had thought they’d like to stay within a two-hour drive of home while completing their baccalaureate degrees. Their acceptance into the state flagship, however, meant that they would be at least 3.25 hours away. For so many reasons, this represented a stretch — for all of us. We’re a tight-knit group who have been through, as they say, “some stuff.” In short, we appreciate proximity. The distance wasn’t a deal-breaker, of course, but the idea of going (even further) away to college did require some getting used to.

This is a little stressful, I confided to someone. Why? she replied. I don’t get it. That distance isn’t “going away to college.” I actually went away to college, she concluded; 3.25 hours is no big deal.

Three years later, I can still recall the sting. To us? At that time? It was a big deal. The exchange had its humor, of course: The speaker attended college 4.25 hours away from home. (Ah, the difference an hour can make. Heh, heh, heh.) After one year, however, she transferred to a college less than two hours from her home.

I think they call that irony.

A walk in the woods

085FF73A-33BC-49AA-9577-6179636C11D6Last weekend was good in so many ways: On Saturday, we saw the Chicago premiere of debbie tucker green’s hang and enjoyed a quiet meal at one of our regular spots near the theater. And on Sunday, we walked in one of our favorite natural areas. (I love the transitions from one part of the park to another — for example, in the photo above, the birches herald the floating walkway.) By the time we finished our long explore, the Easter brunchers had feasted and departed from our local breakfast haunt, so we enjoyed another quiet meal out. And I had time to practice and read, while my husband had time to study.

The date of the concert is fast-approaching, so practice is on my mind. On that note (punny), we have one play, one walk, and as much practice as possible on this coming weekend’s schedule.

Happy Good Friday.

The original version of this post was first published thirteen years ago.

“Happy Good Friday.”

For seven years, my boss at the large city parish in which I worked, a man who initialed memos and requisitions “JOB,” greeted me such on this day in the Triduum. The first time it staggered me. Happy Good Friday? Even in my child-like understanding of the Roman Catholic tradition, I couldn’t reconcile “Happy” with “Good Friday.”

“It’s the beginning of the greatest mystery of our faith,” he explained. “He dies, but we know how the story ends. He rises. It is a celebration, the greatest celebration in our tradition. Happy Good Friday.”

Happy Good Friday.

Once upon a time ago….

I was a lector in that same Catholic parish. I am a great reader-aloud, and the stories on the liturgical calendar are among the greatest ever told, aren’t they? Whether you believe or not, the stories inspire awe. And it is this reader’s opinion that they should not be thundered or mumbled or chanted. The stories must simply be told, read — with expression, not affectation. And, oh! I loved sharing those stories as much as I love reading aloud to my own children.

It happened, then, that the Triduum schedule was drafted. The liturgical director scripted the Passion readings for the evening Good Friday mass, breaking them into parts that five lectors would share. I was one of the lectors asked to read.

When I took my place at the lectern for the third time that Good Friday evening, it was to read the passages concerning Christ’s crucifixion and death.

I can affect no false drama — I laugh when it’s funny, cry when it’s sad. No pretense. Artificiality is the death of narrative. Heck, it’s the slow death of feeling, of everything, isn’t it?

And so it happened that at the sentences in which Jesus acknowledges his mother, my throat closed with silent sobs, and at “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” I was reading through tears. Usually one to look up at my fellow parishioners while lectoring, I could no longer see and so kept my eyes down. I can’t tell you what I thought or observed in the long moment that followed my last word and my move away from the lectern to take my place among the other lectors. I knew only that these were among the most profound passages in perhaps the greatest narrative ever written, and that they overcame me.

I stood with the other lectors and, as they say, collected myself. Writers know that these moments arrange themselves and occur far more quickly than we can possibly describe. As regular awareness returned to me, though, I realized that silence was an immense roar in my ears; that “what comes next” had not begun, seemed unlikely to begin; that the hundreds of people crowded into that large, darkened church, the priests on the altar, the Eucharistic ministers behind me… we were, all of us, spellbound.

Of course, at some point, the liturgy did continue, in its power and the promise of hope and renewal.

But, for a few moments, we were, that Good Friday night, aware of terrible sorrow, the ineffable sadness that precedes a renewal or realization of a hopeful promise.

_______________

What wise man said that we must look at Christ and not Christians because Christians disappoint but Jesus himself never does? Well, if we were spellbound, then the spell did not last nearly long enough. Many parishioners felt compelled to talk with me afterward, about how this was the first time they had actually heard the words, felt them, been moved by them. A hundred, two hundred, and more thank-yous and hugs and tears. My legendary personal space issues had been lifted from me for this one evening, and I began to understand the meaning of “a community of faith.”

On the Monday after Easter, however, I learned that the parish’s newest priest was disturbed by the “drama” of the Good Friday liturgical celebration and was vehemently recommending a more traditional reading delivered by priests or deacons rather than members of the lay ministry.

I have only been to Mass three times since.

But this isn’t a story about losing religion, is it?

This is a story about Good Friday. So.

Today, Christ acknowledges his mother, giving her to his trusted friend. And today, he dies. Again. Because it is only in the repetition of the narrative that we humans get it. He will die every year. And he will be born every year.

Perhaps it’s a story that mothers understand most clearly.

And it makes us weep.

And that’s not drama, foolish priest.

It’s life. And, perhaps, the promise of something beyond it.

Happy Good Friday.