Saturday, December 31, 2011

Advent Novena 2011 Wrap-Up

In addition to my own intentions, and those of my family and the friends known to me in person, I prayed for the desires of the following blog-friends and -readers during the November 30 - December 24 Advent Novena:

- Kimberlie of Welcome to the Dumpling House
- Mrs. C (who is also by now a dear friend in real life as well)
- The Ranter and her husband
- Ex-New Yorker
- Ex-New Yorker's friend Dawn
- Nayhee
- Tubbs
- JMB and her family

I have heard from two of these friends that their intentions have been granted favorably. If you have had your Advent Novena prayers fulfilled (and if you feel comfortable doing so) please share your experience in the comments box. It has been a privilege to pray for you all; praying for your intentions has been a gift to my own heart. I wish a very beautiful new year to all.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Wrap-Up

Christmas was greatly anticipated in my childhood home. My mother could cook and bake like you couldn't believe, and preparations went on for days and weeks prior to the day. Then after the inevitably un-pretty release of all that tension and expectation -- someone would always be in tears by mid-morning -- we would pile into the car and drive around to look at the impressive displays of Christmas lights put out by our same-ethnicity fellow citizens to gladden the hearts of all.

In contrast, I have tried to keep Christmas relatively simple. I don't cook and bake like a mofo, though my siblings do (my sister rivals my mother's astonishing ability at this sort of thing, while I am merely competent). Christmas lasts for twelve days, after all, or until February 2, if you stick to the old calendar. My son gets one "present" present and some books and candy in his stocking. Here is how we did it this year:

The main course:
- A ten-pound kosher turkey purchased for $4 after Thanksgiving at the local ghetto supermarket, where there can't possibly be much, if any, of a market for that sort of thing, stuffed with bacon-celery-apple-sage dressing, which sort of misses the point, I guess.

The dessert:
- Clementine cake, the easy dessert so good it makes you cry.

The presents:
- A discontinued Playmobil castle wished for over the course of several months and gotten on Ebay. This is a good strategy if you are Playmobil-assembly-averse, as I am, since most of the heavy lifting -- like the attaching of all those infernal little connecter pieces -- was done for you long ago by another parent.

- Out-of-print children's books about Sir Ernest Shackleton's polar expedition and the voyage of the Kon-Tiki, and The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, which is set in my erstwhile 'hood.

The playlist:
- Paul Hillier and Theatre of Voices: Carols from the Old and New Worlds (this is my favorite)
- The Americas Vocal Ensemble: A Hispanic Christmas Celebration
- Chanticleer: Our Heart's Joy: A Chanticleer Christmas
- Saint-Saëns: Christmas Oratorio (a beautiful but little-known piece; I had never heard it myself before getting a gig as the alto soloist a few years ago. The bass on the gig, who was black, told me that it's often performed in Catholic Churches in Harlem on Christmas Eve)
- Assorted Celtic-Traditional artists: Comfort and Joy
- Anonymous 4: Wolcum Yule
- Singing carols in the living room around the piano, the accordion (my husband plays), and the autoharp.

Those of you who revere Bach (which ought to be every one of us) should also know about the yearly broadcast of his complete recorded oeuvre, played nonstop on Columbia University's radio station, WSKG, from December 22 until December 31 each year. It's fantastic.

We miss little Jude today, and wish he were already here.

A blessed and joyful Christmas to all. And a word to the wise: if you're going to post status updates that include your opinion about female reproductive organs (referred to using a schoolyard expletive) on a day that you refer to as "Newton's birthday," I am going to unfriend your ass.

Poem: B.C.:A.D.

Go to Maria Horvath's blog to read an amazing Christmas poem. Happy feast day to all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Spiritual Lullaby

This is the second of Brahms's two alto-viola songs, op. 91, the "Geistliches Wiegenlied." Brahms uses the German Christmas song "Joseph lieber, Joseph mein" as the melodic theme in the viola. My favorite composer, my favorite instrument (yes, the viola! let the jokes begin), and my favorite singer of all time, Dame Janet Baker, a.k.a. the only mezzo. Merry Christmas to all, and much love to all of the wonderful friends I've met through this blog. May God bless everyone who reads this and all whom you love. 

You who float
About these palm trees
In the wind at night,
You holy angels,
Hush the treetops!
My child is asleep.

You palms of Bethlehem,
In the rushing wind
How can you today
Swish so angrily?
O do not rustle like that!
Be quiet, lean
Down softly and gently;
Hush your treetops!
My child is asleep.

The heavenly boy
Has to endure hardship;
Ah! How weary he was
With the sorrow of earth.
Ah, now in sleep he
Is gently consoled,
His pain dissolves.
Hush those treetops.
My child is asleep.

Grim cold
Blows upon us;
With what shall I cover
The baby's limbs?
O all you angels
Who on your wings
Wander in the wind,
Hush the treetops!
My child is asleep.

(poem by Emmanuel von Geibel, after Lope de Vega; translated by William Mann.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Quick Takes: Advent Theology for Tykes and Regular Grown-up Ingrates

1. I frequently read on other people's blogs about the great love of God and near-mystical grasp of holy truths expressed by their young children. Lest I believe these qualities to be inherent in children, or somehow conveyed by the solid faith of their virtuous parents, I have my own son. He used to have a mini-devotion to John the Baptist, which sprang to life when he learned of the method of the saint's death, and every supper until the start of Advent he would close out grace with the plea: "Saint John the Baptist, pray for us forever." That appeal has now been replaced by "Santa, pray for us forever." I tried to unpack this one, only narrowly avoiding the argument that we can't ask Santa to pray for us because he's not real. Instead, I feebly remarked that we can't really ask Santa to pray for us because, well, he's not dead. My son acknowledged this, though not as any sort of preventative to Santa's prayers; "Santa never dies," he noted.

2. We still don't have our Christmas tree; we're always last-minute about it, a holdover from being broke in New York, where you can get a big, gorgeous tree on Christmas Eve for small change, because the very handsome Canadian tree-sellers who set up shop on every street corner in the city on the day after Thanksgiving are packing up and heading home. I did, however, set out a creche that I got at a garage sale last year for a dollar (it includes the swooning pasha above, who I don't think was original to the set, but I thought could stand in for one of the wise kings -- or maybe not), but my son immediately used it to enact a battle scene in which Baby Jesus killed everyone.

3. His kindergarten teachers invited me to come and read the wonderful Tomie DePaola book The Clown of God to his class. I suppose I overprepared a little, making a chart of the Italian words in the story (Really Rosie phoned me in the middle of this, and asked if I was planning to give an exam too) and discussing pictorial symbolism with the wee ones, but it was a hit nonetheless. Yes, this happened in public school (the teachers are required to teach about other holiday traditions too; my son announced the other day that he celebrates Kwanzaa).

4. My son has told me that he doesn't like speaking English; he prefers to speak Italian and Chinese. Admittedly, he knows a few words in each language, mostly curse words in the former (though not their meaning) and polite expressions in the latter, which he's learning in school. We say a decade of the rosary together each night as a family, so sometimes, to mix it up a little, I'll say a Hail Mary in Italian.  My son can actually say all the prayers in Irish Gaelic, and he does. Then we mention our intentions. His are usually along the lines of "That [his friend] will stop saying 'poop,'" or that another friend "will stop calling me 'poop-man.'" But most often, he says, "Thank you for my good day."

5. It's that time of the year -- it always is, isn't it? -- when I question God assiduously as to why He took me from a life I knew and loved and to which I felt profoundly connected and put me in this backwater. But it helps to remember that the Savior of the world was born in one place, and raised in another, whose backwaterness probably rivaled this one's.

Poem: December

I hope I'm not violating anyone's copyright by posting this poem here. I found it stunning.


A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
           Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
           And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.

-- Gary Johnson

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Saint Joseph, Adoptive Father

[The] Nativity story is also a story of adoption. A strong man heard the call of a God to take into his heart and home a baby that was not his biological child. Against the raised eyebrows of those around him, but because he dearly loved his wife and the God they served, he traveled a great distance. He wasn't sure what he'd find there; to say that the accommodations were less than what he was used to is to understate the case. And then, almost immediately, it was his job to rescue the baby, to save him from grave danger.

Once they were safely at home, he raised the child as his own. He shared the faith of his fathers; he taught him the family trade. Certainly, there were challenges in this family that related to the adoption. This child, at 12, left his foster father for three days to return to the home of his real Father. How many children of adoption have experienced that same restlessness and caused the parents who have rescued them the grief that Mary and Joseph felt while they searched for their child?

St. Joseph was faithful. Perhaps he recognized that we are all children of adoption. We are all broken, disenfranchised, wounded and in grave danger. . . . 

There are literally millions of children in this world who need rescuing. We are called in James 1:27 to care for the widows and the orphans. What does that mean exactly? Do we toss a few coins in the poor box or wrap an extra gift at Christmastime or do we take a risk? Are there brave men out there after the heart of St. Joseph who will travel great distances to difficult places to rescue a baby and give it a home all because it's the will of God? It is the will of God.

 -- From an old-ish blog post by Elizabeth Foss. Do read it all; it's excellent.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent, Loss, and Childhood Utopia

This Advent is a significant time of darkness for me because of my mother's sickening decline. Alex Haley noted that "every death is like the burning of a library," and it is absolutely true in the case of my once beautiful and vibrant mother, whom I have always, in my heart of hearts, somewhat superstitiously believed knew everything.

She still knows everything, but I can't ask her, and she can't tell me, because, though her fearsome intellectual capacity is undiminished, she is quickly losing her ability to speak.

I have found myself waxing painfully nostalgic for my 1970s childhood, which seems so much more idyllic to me than it really was in the desperate retrospect of impending loss.  In the past few months, I have compulsively begun collecting the now-out-of-print books my mother used to teach us and do arts and crafts with us: this, for example, and this, and this.  When I linger on the simple line drawings and black-and-white photographs in these books, a whole world comes rushing back to me: not just the world of my childhood, but the world of my mother's young adulthood -- a hopeful world, in which both children and their parents really believed that we could call down upon earth the New Jerusalem, and that we could do it through our quotidian work. When I think back to that childhood, why does it seem as if the sun was always shining?

I wish I could ask my mother how to do it now -- how to do life. How did she teach me, my brothers, and my sister -- as she did -- to love beauty, and then set us free to go and spend our lives striving to create it, to reveal it? (I am calling it a "setting free," but others might think of it as a wildly impractical neglect to help us out with a Plan B.) How did she accept the deprioritizing, the putting second or third or last, of her own impressive powers of creativity?  I continue to struggle with my tangled-up vocation, and I wish my mother could help me. I go to see her every month, but I have not been good with phone calls, because it's virtually impossible to talk with her on the phone; I'm told I'm the only one who can understand her on the phone, but I think my abilities have been exaggerated.  And yet I have heard it said over and over again that you have to talk to your parents while they're still alive, or rue it later.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Love and Evil

Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred.
-- Vaclav Havel

A few years ago, this blog sparked the interest of several self-styled Catholic-internet heresy-hunters. In this it was hardly special or unique, but I wasn't prepared for their attacks. My blog didn't seem like the usual target for this type, since I generally don't address controversial issues, or at least not -- or so I'd like to believe -- from a polarizing position. Nonetheless, I got vitriolic hate mail in the comboxes. Women (at least they claimed to be women) who assured me that they themselves could never, ever have fallen into the serious sin that I had, nonetheless informed me that my blog was a destructive example to other post-abortive women, since it wasn't the cheeriest thing out there. Another apparently-female armchair theologian emailed my real-life close friend Dawn Eden to advise her to drop my blog from her own blogroll, because of her (the reader's) interpretation of an emoticon I'd used in a combox response. I was rattled by this, and no less so when a guy I had dated, a fairly prominent Catholic journalist, piled on in private, emailing me to let me know that I had "more in common with the Gadarene horde" than with the Magdalene (oh, I forgot to mention that one comboxer -- if I'm recalling correctly, I think it was the one who contacted Dawn Eden -- accused me of styling myself a "new Magdalene" based on my email address, which was a reference to a novel by that title which I used in my doctoral research . . . you see how Talmudic things were getting), criticizing me for my artistic "unsuccess," and attacking virtually every member of my family. (This fellow had once asked me to marry him, though he may have been drunk at the time. I was so very glad that I had at least had the foresight to say no.)

I have always had very detailed dreams, and those dreams, as dreams invariably are, have often been extremely fantastical. Except in very rare circumstances, I don't believe that dreams are prophetic, or that they're often even in any way a reflection of reality. Occasionally, though, an image from a dream will stay with me throughout the following day, and, when I turn it over and over in my mind, it will start to seem like a comment on something that exists in waking life. I had a dream like this last night. Without going into all the arcane and byzantine details, the main image in this dream showed something that I believe is true in reality: that evil is seductive, that it cloaks itself in the trappings of the beautiful and the good. Hardly a new idea there, but one that we all need to remember, particularly those among us who believe that we could never, ever be in commission of serious sin.

If you yourself have never, ever been in commission of such a sin -- oh, how fortunate you are! How grateful you must be to God for keeping you free from evil and participation in it -- because you must know that it is only His grace that has kept you free from these things, and not your own merits. And remember that, as He told Saint Faustina, the most egregious sinners have the most right to His mercy. And that He did not condemn the woman caught in adultery. And that tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of heaven before the self-styled righteous.  And that He had a huge party for the repentant one, and that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine virtuous men. And so on.

I have no right to admonish anyone, clearly. But who does? Probably not the proudly orthodox Catholics who troll the internet looking for other believers to mock, blame, and criticize, nor the Catholic "apologists" who skate on the outer edges of preaching righteous hatred against those whom we are commanded to love -- including their co-religionists! -- or those virtuous ones who recoil at the sinner, even where he is repentant, and conveniently forget that, as Christians, we are required to aid in the reform and rehabilitation of even those sinners who are most personally repugnant to us.

I've been thinking about these things since getting a call from Sister M. of the Sisters of Life about a poor young mother in desperate need of help, and also since reading a coincident combox discussion at Vox Nova, in which several of the loudest voices appeared to assert that it's justified to criticize pro-lifers, because pro-lifers tend not to regard post-abortive women (men are never mentioned in these discussions) in quite as blameworthy a light as logic dictates (um, I can assure you that these "anti-pro-lifers" are, in many cases, wrong to assume a lack of blame). The prevailing criticism against the pro-life movement is that many of its adherents also (and illogically) support policies that are punitive to poor single mothers who choose life; in other words, that once the baby is born, tough luck. Sadly, there is some truth to this. A., the young mother for whom Sister M. is trying to enlist help, is one of the most forgotten and despised among us, a poor, young, uneducated single mother of color living in an urban shelter. There is no good excuse for any of us, pro-life or not, to allow women and children to be as ignored and forgotten as she is, and those of us who are pro-life have a responsibility, whatever our political beliefs, to help her and the hundreds of thousands of others like her.

On the other hand, the tortured casuistry with which the Vox Nova commenters strove to make their point is just an exercise in intellectual pride, an excuse for a lack of action, a lack of charity, and a lack of true love. One commenter used Guttmacher Institute statistics to demonstrate that women don't choose abortion out of desperation, but he defined desperation as economic adversity, rather than, more accurately, as the kind of abysmal loneliness, the profound sense of failure, rejection, and unloveableness, out of which so much evil is born into the world, and which is the real reason for most abortions, and also the reason for most unwanted pregnancy in the first place.

Let us remember, as Advent draws to a close, that our enemy is our intellectual better. He knows how to use our tendencies and proclivities to induce us to acts of pettiness, vanity, selfishness, and unkindness, which only serve to snowball into more and more serious sin. He knows how to make what is ugly appear to be beautiful, and how to make what is evil appear to be the highest good, and thereby to tempt even the righteous to it. The only remedy for evil, and for the misery of sin, is true love.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sister to the Stranger

I'm not the only ex-New Yorker in my new home town.  In my peregrinations on foot and by bus, I have discovered that there is a small contingent of poor single mothers from the outer boroughs of New York City who have migrated here, some two hundred miles away, in the hopes of a better life.

The other day I got a phone call from one of the Sisters of Life. She was working with -- or "walking with," as the Sisters say about their ministry -- a young unwed mother of two toddlers who was very down on her luck. The family was staying in a shelter, but their eligibility was about to expire. The mother, A., had a tenuous connection to my new home town. Would it be a good idea, Sister M. wondered, if A. relocated here?

This is a complicated question, and I tried to give Sister as clear a picture as I could of what things might be like here for A. and her children, but it's really anyone's guess. The poor single mothers who move here are largely welfare-dependent, as is A., and it might seem, on the face of things, as if moving here would be a step up for anyone trying to get by on the very little money offered by welfare; the cost of living here is very low, especially if you're coming from New York.  But that's not necessarily how it plays out. People are able to get by on welfare in New York because everyone has a hustle.  There are all kinds of shadow economies there, and women on welfare work in all kinds of sub-rosa ways; without another income stream, welfare recipients in New York would simply be ground-down destitute -- and some are, but those are mainly the ones who cannot work because of disabilities -- because things are so expensive. But here, there are virtually no jobs. What would happen to a young single mother, barely out of her teens, with no high school diploma, and no car in a part of the country where public transportation is spotty at best? How and where would she find work? How would she get to work? How would she pull herself and her children out of poverty?

I've heard that the administration of social services is quite generous here, which is not the case in New York, where it generally takes four appointments and hours of waiting for each one to qualify even for emergency food stamps. I surmised to Sister M. that A. would probably qualify for a variety of benefits, including a housing allowance.  But this is still a city, in spite of its tiny population, and even though I can find myself in the middle of ramshackle farming country by driving five miles, there are also dangerous neighborhoods closer by. These neighborhoods are where the poor single mothers live.  The social problems of the big city exist here in microcosm, especially when bad relationships can't quite be sundered, and boyfriends follow the single mothers here; there is even a brisk drug trade, with supplies being muled in from New York City.

 I have heard, too, that sixty percent of the county budget goes to social services, and that, because of declining population, this little city has in fact been actively recruiting poor single mothers from New York for relocation here.  I'm not sure this is a good basis for urban planning, especially for a place already so economically devitalized. Our downtown could be beautiful -- apparently it once was -- but now, half the shopfronts are vacant. This is not only because of the proliferation of suburban strip malls, but also because people are afraid to shop downtown; it's where the poor single mothers live and where the sketchy-looking men hang out on the corners with pit bulls. I do go downtown every week to make the rounds of library, independent coffee-roaster that does most of its business through mail-order, and, occasionally, crazy department store with falling-down ceiling tiles where everything is always on sale, but I'm one of the very few. And now that I'm a homeowner, I have other feelings of shadowy discomfort about the whole notion.

But I look around here, and I see such crushing loneliness: the loneliness of the single mothers, the absolute heart-emptiness that leads them to so carelessly disregard their lives and the lives of their children. As a post-abortive woman, as someone who sought so desperately for love in self-destructive ways, I am intimately familiar with this loneliness. It concerns me deeply, and I don't know how to help.

A. chose life. She needs help. She's desperate to leave her old life behind, and she's getting kicked out of the shelter on January 1st. I told Sister M. that she should definitely come up and look around before making a decision, but that may not be possible, since she can't afford the bus fare. I told my husband the whole story, and, after rolling his eyes and mouthing some conservative platitudes, he said we should wire her some money. If she comes for a look-see, I will meet her, and try to take her and her children around and be helpful.

As a final note, could you please add A. to your prayers?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Who Are You Waiting For?

This is a great post for those who are considering adoption, and also for anyone through whose mind the thought of adoption might have flashed for even just a nanosecond.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Random Thoughts Particular to the Day

1. I am wondering, today, about the reasons for the apparent overlap between the grooming and sartorial choices of hippies and those of practitioners of early music. I am not naming names, but if you're curious, take a look at some Google images of actual early music players. And, lest you think that my musings are based solely upon the internet, let me assure you that it was ever so in conservatory, too. I wonder if it's because there's a back-to-the-land ethos about early musicians, which one can expect to go hand-in-hand with the delving into a past that's dead and gone, on the part of musician-scholars who spend their time plumbing old archives and playing models of excessively antique instruments that have long since fallen into disuse.

2. I am thinking, today, that there's one thing I really don't miss about Christmas in New York, and it is the unstoppable proliferation of panettone (above) in everyone's life. I really hate the stuff, and everyone brings it over when they make holiday visits. I used to be inundated with it at Christmastime, especially when I cantored at a church down in Little Italy. I often had five or six unopened boxes of panettone in my kitchen after Christmas, getting progressively even drier in my overheated apartment than the stuff is naturally. I hate to waste food, so I would spend several weeks after Christmas toasting slices of panettone in the morning for my miserable breakfast. If you want to try something Italian for Christmas that's good, go for panforte instead.

3. On the other hand, I have discovered something really good: gummy army men. Each is about two inches long, and they're molded into various poses just like little plastic soldiers: standing to hurl a grenade, lying prone and firing bazookas, etc. They're all green, naturally, and taste like sour apple. Saint Nicholas left a few in my son's shoes last night, along with a profusion of Swedish Fish, which I think is the best candy in the world.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


The other day I took my son to the local history museum. We wandered around for a while, and then, drawn by the sounds of some really lovely harp-and-whistle music, found our way into a large, empty room, where middle-aged couples were weaving through and around each other with bashful good cheer and not a little gracelessness while one of their number called out moves. This, as I learned from a handout, was English Country Dancing. I have to admit, wretched music nerd and, let's face it, frightful snob that I am, to being reminded of a famous eighteenth-century review of an appearance of the great castrato Farinelli in London:

Farinelli drew every Body to the Haymarket. What a Pipe ! What Modulation! What Extasy to the Ear ! But, Heavens ! What Clumsiness ! What Stupidity! What Offence to the Eye! Reader, if of the City, thou mayest probably have seen in the Fields of Islington or Mile-End or, If thou art in the environs of St James', thou must have observed in the Park with what Ease and Agility a cow, heavy with calf, has rose up at the command of the milkwoman's foot: thus from the mossy bank sprang the DIVINE FARINELLI.

But the women were gorgeously dressed -- not in period costume, but in shimmering, jewel-colored tea-length skirts; I wanted what they were wearing -- and everyone seemed to be having a blast. It occurred to me that in the past, my heart would have been wrenched with sympathy for these dancing folk, and that I would have seen the invisible patterns left in the air through which they moved and the beautiful dresses on the fading ladies as a metaphor for the fleetingness of life, a "Now the leaves are falling fast" kind of moment. But the other day, I really just thought it was nice and that it looked like fun.

I had a college friend who roomed with me briefly in Brooklyn one summer, in a neighborhood that was on the verge of gentrification. We used to walk down to what may have been one of the last Italian fruit-and-vegetable markets left in the five boroughs, where the owner's wife in her black dress would choose for you from the piles of string beans and eggplants that you pointed at, while her husband would tot up what you owed in pencil on the back of a paper bag. My friend, a philosophy major who was in love with the young rising-star philosopher on the teaching staff (who I believe later actually married another one of his students), would sigh and say, "I love living the unmediated life."

I wonder whether it's actually possible to live a life unmediated by our own philosophies, our own aesthetic codes, our own expectations, and, perhaps most compelling of all, our own pasts. Sometimes I think we construct our entire lives out of nostalgia, even if it's nostalgia for a place we have never been and to which we will never go.

(On that note, I read a novel recently which I loved, All Shall Be Well, And All Shall Be Well, And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well [the title taken from Blessed Julian of Norwich's famous locutions]. It's a sort of black comedy about a medieval re-enactor from upstate New York who goes to Europe, ostensibly on a Hildegard von Bingen pilgrimage, to try to repair his own past. Some of you might like it.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

True Friendship

For those wondering about our adoption, we are currently waiting for travel approval from China, which, according to our best estimates, should grant my husband permission to travel to collect Jude in January or early February. Even if there were anyone to leave my older son with -- a grandparent who wasn't disabled, say, or overwhelmed by the care of a disabled spouse, or a local friend who would open her home to him for two weeks and help him to continue his daily routine with a minimum of disruption -- that sort of separation from me would be devastating for him. This is a child who falls apart if I'm gone for a day. When the weather was warmer, I used to try to get out of the house to take a walk by myself every evening, and, as I walked away, I would hear him screaming in his father's arms all the way up the street (he would command me to "walk in a circle," i.e., around the block, and not to cross any streets, reminding me of James James Morrison Morrison Weatherbee George Dupree's advice to his mother to "never go down to the end of the town,/ if you don't go down with me").  But my husband won't be alone in China. A dear, dear friend whom I met through the offices of this blog (and who insists upon remaining anonymous) has offered to meet him there to help him with Jude, and to bring them both back.

As far as that close local friend goes, she doesn't exist. Friendships here -- or perhaps just my own -- seem to be relationships of convenience and utilitarianism. There is not that soulmate thing that I have with my New York friends and with some of my friends met online. Sometimes I think that life in my new locale would be pretty good if there were such a friend nearby, someone who would pop over now and then and have a cup of tea -- or does that only happen in big cities? -- and with whom I could talk about the things that are really important to me. But then I wonder if I'm idealizing friendship the way that some Theology-of-the-Body-types seem to idealize marriage.

So my crushing loneliness is situational. The gift that I have of superlative friendship -- friendships like that with my anonymous China-traveling friend, or with Mrs. C, Jude's godmother -- is precious indeed, even if these friends are not near, just as the sun is still shining on even the bleakest and cloudiest days, and just as God is always near, even when His presence seems devastatingly imperceptible.