Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Disarming All Hostility

When I'm out with my son in public settings, including at Mass, I'm usually on the defensive, waiting for someone to comment on his behavior.  I wish this weren't true, but the feeling has intensified quite a bit since I read, with a cringing sense of mortification, the Christian-mom-of-many-blogger Smockity Frocks's really rather vicious account of her vast patience in dealing with an obviously autistic little girl and the girl's grandmother in the library.  Nevertheless, in spite of what I think of as my emotional preparedness -- though sometimes I wonder if I'm actually spoiling for a fight -- no one has ever said anything.

Today, however, I was sitting on a bench at the playground with a friend when a woman approached me to tell me about some egregious things my son had just said to her.  I apologized, made him apologize, and explained simply, "My son is on the autism spectrum, and we're working on a few things."

This response completely disarmed her.  We started to really talk.  We ended up embracing.  And she told me about her thirty-year-old daughter, who's deaf and developmentally disabled and living with a man who has tried to kill her.  She's expecting his child in December.  Because she's an adult and refuses to acknowledge the abuse, much less press charges, neither the police nor adult protective services can do anything about it.  The daughter qualifies for a job at a sheltered workshop, but she refuses this and all other services, because she was mercilessly ostracized by her peers growing up and doesn't want anyone to think she's more disabled than she believes herself to be.

Dear readers, would you please pray for this young woman's safety and peace, and that of her unborn child?  May God reward you for your prayers.

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Prayer to Saint Catherine

It's wonderful that someone has posted a video of the excellent American baritone William Sharp singing Virgil Thomson's lovely song.

If I am to be preserved from heartache
and shyness
By Saint Catherine of Siena,
I am praying to her that she will hear my
And treat me in every way with kindness.

I went to Siena to Saint Catherine's
own church
(It is impossible to deny this)
To pray to her to cure me of my heartache
and shyness,
Which she can do, because she is a
great saint.

Other saints would regard my prayer
as foolish.
Saint Nicolas, for example.
He would chuckle, "God helps those who
help themselves,
Rouse yourself! Get out there and do
something about it!"

Or Saint Joanna. She would say, "It is
not shyness
That bothers you. It is sin.
Pray to Catherine of Siena." But that is
what I have done.
And that is why I have come here to cure
my heartache.

Saint Catherine of Siena,
If this song pleases you, then be good
enough to answer the prayer it contains.
Make the person that sings this song less
shy than that person is,
And give that person some joy in that
person's heart.

--Kenneth Koch

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Music and Memory, Part 24: Theft

My work-study job at the music library notwithstanding, as an undergraduate I was constantly broke.  I used to shoplift at the supermarket sometimes, and one one of these occasions I somehow managed to push a whole shopping-cartful of unpaid-for groceries through the automatic doors and to my apartment a few blocks away.  Unlike a certain friend of mine, however,  an artist who -- questioned by store security about the brick of cheese he'd stuck in his coat pocket while buying some expensive pots of jam -- asserted that he wouldn't pay for something the government gave away for free, I felt bad about these heists.  I even told Professor R., the piano teacher I id0lized, about them. "Oh, Pentimento!" said she, ever a worshipper at the church of aesthetics, throwing up her hands. "You need to feed your soul!  You need to go to concerts, galleries, museums!" She proceeded to tell me with her usual great enthusiasm about an original-instrument performance of some Mozart string quartets which she'd recently attended.  "They were just sawing at their instruments!" she said, at which I must have looked horrified, because she clarified: "It was wonderful!" My kindly German professor, on the other hand, understood how things were.  She used to leave brown paper bags of homemade bread and cookies outside my door.

I remembered all this today as I drifted into a not-unaccustomed reverie of my former life in a particularly obscure corner of one of New York's many hardscrabble bohemias.  I thought of two old friends from that time and place, dancers who'd moved to New York from Austin, where they had performed with Deborah Hay, a legendary postmodern choreographer who'd relocated from New York to Texas in the 1970s.  I found some videos of Hay's work on Youtube, along with this brief recent interview:

I was intrigued by what Hay said about not grasping at experience or phenomena; about, instead, being aware of each moment before it passes away and another arises to take its place. I wondered if my clutching at memories, at emotions, at images and sensations evoked by the music I hear and sing, was a symptom of the millennial materialism that she speaks of. Is it harder, I wonder, to mourn the beauty that has gone, or to accept the present moment in all its apparent emptiness?  And must emptiness be desolation?

I thought of the Gospel reading for today, in which Christ insists that anyone who wishes to follow Him must take up his own cross.  Might one man's cross, I wondered, be that everything beautiful he knows is relegated to the place of memory? Indeed, such a cross must be a rather common one.  And might another's cross be having to confront each moment as it is, free from what he thinks it ought to be, and to stand in the place where he finds himself, and even to bloom where he's been planted, be it ever so far from the time and place he has invested with the meaning of "home"?  Indeed, at Mass today, when the priest read Christ's words, it occurred to me that every gift bears the cross with it, and that perhaps the cross itself is the gift.

All this made me think of William Blake: 

He who binds to himself a joy 
Doth the winged life destroy; 
But he who kisses the joy as it flies 
Lives in eternity's sunrise.

(Above: frontispiece to the 1794 edition of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Two Worthy Posts

1. I wasn't raised to be a mother.

The first is by my dear friend Rachael Collins, formerly known as Mrs. C, writer of the now-retired blog Adoptio, through whom I learned of Baby Jude, and now the adoptive mother of a newborn daughter. Rachael is one of the most brilliant and accomplished (and faithful and compassionate) women I know, and she writes about leaving the world of measurable outcomes and earned rewards and embarking upon a quest to become the "good woman" of Proverbs 31.

2. [T]he needs never stop. And the hurt never stops. And the brokenness in the world?   

It never stops. 

We can't fix it. That's the truth, and I know it. I'm not so naive as to think that if we all just gave it our 110% that we'd stamp out sin in this world. It doesn't work like that, no matter how good it sounds. That's why we need Jesus. I get that. I accept it. I shout it from the rooftops.

. . . . The point is this: you might just make a difference for one suffering soul. Just one.

The second is by Mary Grace, a mother by birth, fostering, and adoption, who makes a heartfelt to each of us to discern how we might help a child who is hurt, hungry, and afraid.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Watch This

Just watch it.

This was grace - short film from Andrew Laparra on Vimeo.

H/T The Magdalene Sisters.

Poetry Friday: Orange Oil in Darkness

 The useful part
of things is elegance --
in mathematics, bridges.

Even in hedges
of ripe persimmons
or mandarin oranges,

elegance solves
for the minimum possible,
then dissolves.

The art is what is extra:
a fragrance penciled in,
or long division's inescapable remainder.

Not quite unplanned for,
more the unexpected, impractical gift.
Not the figures traced

in the bridges' stanchions,
but the small
and lovely sounds they make in the wind.

Who drew that in?
Who could have?
For years now I've mistaken

art for beauty,
but it is not beauty.
Art lives in a plenitude more iro,

more empty, less demanding.
Art doesn't care,
except in moments of despair.

Those it lets pass, recognizing weakness.

-- Jane Hirshfield

Above:  Manhattan Bridge in Rain, Study II, Stephen Magsig

More Poetry Friday at Dori Reads.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quick Takes: Heimweh Edition

1. It's that time of year again, August, the cruelest month, mother of nostalgia.  New Yorkers and former New Yorkers, do you love August there as much as I once did?  Yes, it's hotter than hell (though the hotter-than-hellness has intruded ever earlier into New York summers over the past few years).  But the  sultry August air is redolent with mystery as it shimmers over the  asphalt, and cicadas sing even in the scanty grass that grows up between sidewalk squares, even in the parts of the outer boroughs most characterized by chain link fencing, used car lots, and metal recycling plants.  Every patch of green is like a reminder of lost paradise, reminding me of Tennessee Williams's poem "Heavenly Grass":

My feet took a walk in heavenly grass.
All day while the sky shone clear as glass.
My feet took a walk in heavenly grass,
All night while the lonesome stars rolled past.
Then my feet come down to walk on earth,
And my mother cried when she give me birth.
Now my feet walk far and my feet walk fast,
But they still got an itch for heavenly grass.
But they still got an itch for heavenly grass.

2.  Today I walked past an upstairs window in my house, and caught a glimpse of the brick wall of the house next door.  For a split second I actually thought I was back in my New York apartment, where the brick wall of the building across the air shaft was my constant view.

3.  I thought about New York again when a contractor came to put in a new front door.  He is my across-the-street neighbor's father-in-law.  The guy who paints your apartment in New York is always your super's father-in-law (sometimes his brother-in-law; sometimes both).  These in-laws rarely speak much English; nor did the father-in-law who came today.  The difference was that this father-in-law was Greek, and the New York fathers-in-law are usually Serbian or Dominican.

4. On Sunday I was so overcome with loneliness that I stood at my kitchen sink in Northern Appalachia and bawled like a child.  It's been nearly three years, and I still feel like I'm floating, untethered, in space.  But I tell myself how much better it is for children to be here, and it is, especially for children, like my son, with special needs.  Though I've considered homeschooling him, I know he needs to be with other children, and, though I'm an experienced teacher (albeit of older students), I'm not an occupational, speech, or physical therapist.  He is getting a panoply of services through our local school in the fall, including a one-on-one aide in his mainstream kindergarten classroom.  He wouldn't get that in New York.  No one gets one-on-one aides anymore.  Parents with means generally send their special-needs children to private school, and then sue the city for tuition reimbursement.  The city usually settles, because even private-school tuition in New York City is less expensive than a one-on-one classroom aide.

Today was a beautiful day, and we spread a picnic blanket and had our lunch in the backyard.  Though my son generally prattles on constantly, a rare peace settled over us as we turned our faces to the sun and listened to the breeze rustling the maples and copper beeches.  I let myself relax for about five minutes, which is something I would never do in New York.  I thought where we would be at that time on that day if we had remained there: probably at a playground, which would require me to be on the continual qui-vive.  I have heard that, when your children are of school age, you can make friends with other mothers at pick-up time.  I wonder if that will happen for me.

5. Heimweh, as you will know if you're an aficionado of German romantic poetry and music (or if you read this blog regularly), is often translated as "homesickness," a spiritual yearning for the home to which the sufferer can no longer return.  Nevertheless, the term, which originated in seventeenth-century Switzerland, was coined to describe the actual physical illness, sometimes resulting in death, experienced by Swiss regiments when they were stationed far from the Alps. "To ward off [this debilitating] nostalgia, Swiss soldiers were forbidden to play, sing, or even whistle Alpine tunes," because Alpine melodies "haunted the hearer with 'an image of the past which is at once definite and unattainable.'"

Perhaps Heimweh is, itself, a kind of disability.

6. Baritone William Sharp and pianist Stephen Blier sing and play Paul Bowles's haunting setting of Williams's "Heavenly Grass":

Above:  Community garden in East Harlem. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? O parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost—a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don't really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.
--Mark Strand

My friend Karen Edmisten is hosting Poetry Friday today; click over to her for more.

Above:  Children Playing, Arthur Bowen Davies, c. 1896

Thursday, August 11, 2011

When the Catholic Family is Not Holy

I have been assured by my priest that Christ suffers with us. Don’t get me wrong. I do not doubt that at all (though there are times I have some very strong words for Our Lord). But those words can be very cheap. Why? Because WE are the Body of Christ. US.  Christ is pragmatic. THE message that Mother Teresa gave to the world is that God wanted US to administer to those in need.  If Catholics are so offended by feminism, then why are they conspicuously absent from Rape Hotlines, Domestic Violence shelters, and worse, the complete lack of conversation on it?  Silence.

A hard-hitting post from my friend Sofia, a faithful Catholic who has lived through the horrors of domestic violence and family abuse.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jewish Flesh and Jewish Blood

Sixty-nine years ago today, Dr. Edith Stein -- in religion Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross -- and approximately one thousand other Hebrew Catholics were put to death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz (in Polish, Oswiecim).

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is of the lineage of Miriam, of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Judith and Esther, of the same people as the Blessed Virgin, Miriam of Nazareth, of whom was born Yeshouah who is called the Christ. The words of Our Lord in today’s gospel strike us with a particular resonance. “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn 4:22) . . . Saint Paul reminds us that, “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). God’s choice of Israel remains; His love for Israel stands firm forever. How could God not cherish with a love of predilection the race that gave His only begotten Son flesh and blood? Gentile Christians are the wild olive shoot, grafted in place to share the richness of the olive tree. Lest we be tempted to boast, Saint Paul says: “Remember, it is not you that supports the root, but the root that supports you” (Rom 11:18). . . . How can we who were born in the century of the Holocaust, not be moved by this daughter of the Synagogue and of the Church? As we celebrate her martyrdom today, we are mindful that the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Jesus offered and received in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are Jewish flesh and Jewish blood. --Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, O.S.B.)

St. Edith Stein, virgin and martyr, pray for us!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

We buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs

On the day after the sixty-sixth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, in memory of all those who lost their lives in the wars of the past hundred years, and of those who continue to give their lives in the hell of war.

Even if you know this song, and even if you've heard Liam Clancy sing it, you will not forget this performance.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Healing of Memory

It is worth noting that Dante places the full healing of memory at the top of Purgatory, long after earthly death and the long process of atonement for one's sins. Setting aside dementia, injury, or some other illness that affects one's mental faculties, it is in man's nature to remember, to carry with him through his life memories of events both good and bad. Why would that be? How does one reconcile God's love with the burden of painful memories?

God doesn't erase our memories because they help to constitute us as individuals, and His creatures whom He loves. Rather than blot out our memories of injuries, heartbreaks, and sins we've endured and committed, God forgives us our offenses and preserves the memory so that we might recall the love He has for us.

Fallen Sparrow is back, and I'm so glad.