Be Very Afraid. If You Really Like that Sort of Thing.

I have neither the knowhow nor the tangible resources for filmmaking, but if I did, I think my concept of the perfect horror movie subject would be the infamous occasion of Black Friday. As we Americans approach the national holiday I like the most of them all, Thanksgiving, I think with a shudder that Black Friday’s grim shadow lurks just behind it.
For if I have a tender feeling for the holiday that not only marks the anniversary of my first date with my soon-thereafter life partner and makes me immensely thankful for that gift but also marks the national celebration of gratitude in general, I have an almost antithetical feeling about the retail frenzy that follows it. The former only throws the latter into higher, less flattering relief.

I love shopping, don’t get me wrong, but I hate being told how and when to do it, and what or whom for, and to what magnificent extents. I dislike being so easily manipulated by commercial ploys and plugs as it is, and the stink of desperation mixed with hyperbolic greed on Black Friday becomes overwhelmingly off-putting to me.

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What makes us turn into beasts when we get a whiff of the hunt? When a crazy sale is advertised, do I become predator or prey? Or should I just pray?!

There are obviously large numbers of people who are not only comfortable with the event but energized and entertained by the spectacle and Olympian scaled enthusiasm packed into the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza. I wish them all happiness and success in it. For myself, the greatest pleasure will derive from managing as successfully as I can to not even know it’s happening and staying immersed in the afterglow of my most overtly grateful time of year. Accomplishing that will be yet another reason for me to give thanks.
If I need any diversions during my quiet hideout from Black Friday, I can always work on a script for a rollicking thriller film with plenty of retail rowdiness and gruesome greed. Coming soon to a theatre near you!

The Only Magical World

Digital illustration from a photo: Mythic MirrorThere’s only one plane of existence that is guaranteed to seem perfect and right to you at all times, and that’s the one in your dreaming heart. But the place in the real world that will come closest to that kind of mythic perfection is the one where you can dwell in the center of real, constant and generous love. On the third of August, every year of my life, I get to celebrate such a love because it’s the anniversary of my parents’ marriage.

Their love for each other has withstood many tests and trials over time, but because it was genuine and down-to-earth love from the beginning, the tests and trials have tended to be more externally made and less harsh, perhaps, than they might otherwise have been. And in its best and least challenged days, it shines the brighter because it feeds and is fed by a larger love—for life, for those articles of faith and those people they hold dear—and I, as one of their offspring, get to share in that care and affection, friendship, respect and kind generosity.

This is the sort of beauty and distinction that transcends fairytale happiness and is, instead, steady and sure. Better than supposed Magic and miracles, it is so dependable that even when the sun isn’t shining quite right or the cogs of the world aren’t turning exactly as one might wish they would, it’s possible and natural to have assurance that what needs to be will return; goodness will prevail, and we will all get back to the constant and comforting business of loving and being loved by one another. It’s a potent blend of companionship and  concern and hope that aren’t dependent on spells and manipulations but reside in the everyday promise, and every third of August I get to celebrate it anew because my parents taught me what this kind of love can be.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Unexpected

To my beloved husband with great love and affection on our eighteenth anniversary: you continue to surprise me, all of these years after your initial unexpected appearance as the love of my life!

Digital illustration from a photo: The Base of the WallSnowing Amethysts

At evening, summertime holds breathless sway

When even crickets wait before they’ll sing,

And birds to roost go silent; everything

Takes pause because the lengthy heat of day

Has drawn a shawl of stillness down to lawn

And flowerbed and hedges, ’til a breath—

So shallow it could scarcely ward off death—

Is difficult to breathe ’til the break’s gone,

Until the night resumes its stealthy crawl,

Exhaling with a stirring wind that flies

Up, stirring blossoms upward to the skies,

Their petals dropping, ash-like, down the wall,

Crape-myrtle petals drifting down below

In waves of amethyst, a summer snow.Digital illustration from a photo: Amethyst Snow

A Concert with a Wedding Attached

Seventeen years ago today I got married. And as all of you who have visited this blog with any regularity know, when I got together with the man who became my husband, spouse, best friend, partner and daily companion, I gained a world of music. Of course, music was a big part of my life already and distinctly a contributing factor in our getting together in the first place; I worked in the university art building, right next door to the music building, and spent plenty of quality time there going to concerts, meeting with friends and all of that sort of happy thing, and when the nice Director of Choral Activities asked me if I’d be willing to help spiff up the aging auditorium for the annual Christmas concert festivities I gladly said yes. That was only the first time I made banners for an occasion of collaborative fun with that nice DCA man. Less than eight months later I was making bunches of banners to fill up a church nave for our wedding.scanNo surprise that, since under friendly pressure from them we gave up on the attractive idea of eloping and just having a party with our family and friends on our return, we decided that the best alternative was to have a celebration with lots of music and just party all the way through the event. Turned out it was easy to do so.scanAssembling our wedding’s participants was easy-peasy. Relatives and friends from work, home life and church lined up and pitched in as planners, greeters, acolytes, reception hosts and much more. Clergy? Well, as the daughter of a bishop I didn’t have far to go to hunt up someone to marry us. The church’s lead pastor presided and Dad officiated, and a dear sweet retired pastor friend served as lector. Witnesses? Having three sisters, I had no problem lining up a team; Richard’s backup was easy to arrange as well: his sole brother, our mutual beloved friend Jim, and Richard’s colleague and partner in choral crime, also named Richard (Nance). Musicians were easiest of all for us to arrange, unsurprisingly.scanWe had an outstanding pickup choir of students and members of Richard’s choirs, past and present, and friend-colleagues playing horn and singing the processional solo. Jim, getting in some exercise during the service, was organist as well as standing up for us. That, as well as having helped us plan the whole service and choose its music, and set one of my texts to music for our congregational hymn. Richard N, besides joining the altar party, pitched in (no pun intended) musically as well, conducting the choir for us in a lovely collection of pieces capped by the premiere of the exquisite anthem he composed for the occasion (now a best seller for Walton Music!).scanYes, this is a brag post. Happily, all true.photoHappy Anniversary, my Love.

Foodie Tuesday: Birthday Dessert (and Boy, Wouldn’t This Taste Great with Some Chocolate Ice Cream!)

He’s a wacky fella, my dad. One of his finest features has always been his excellent and distinctive sense of humor, and there was never any question that having a father who’s delightfully silly is one of the finest advantages a kid could have in her upbringing. No surprise that, with Mom being the sort of hospitality genius that everyone loves and Dad providing much of the comic relief in that hospitable package, our household was always a popular place among the friends and classmates of all of their children. Both were also compassionate and reasonable and practical parents, and I don’t have to tell you what a rarity that is in general, so our home was a kind of hangout-central among the school-kid cognoscenti.

Since today is the anniversary of the birth of that Hardest Working Dad in Showbiz, I am drawn to reminisce on the many years of service that my father has given as the resident chief goofus in our family.photoThat in itself is gift enough, but his life of service has always been so much broader and deeper than mere lightheartedness. As a pastor, as Chairman of the Board of Regents for a university, as bishop, and as president of a hospital board, among many other roles he’s filled in his life’s work, Dad has never taken his labors lightly, even when the best tool he had for doing any or all of these jobs may have most often been the humor he brought to the table. He’s just never been one for sitting around and letting the world rush on around him.

photoI wish I could say that I inherited a tenth of his sense of humor, let alone a hundredth of his ambition and work ethic. Instead, I guess I should thank him once again on his birthday for not only being a dandy dad but also helping to fill the requirements of the universe in these services where I may have left some gaping gaps. So thanks, Dad, from the bottom of my full heart, and may you have not only a very happy birthday but all the warmth and laughter that can be wrung out of many more years. Oh, and cake. And, since you clearly are your father’s son when it comes to all of the characteristics noted above and we all know Grandpa would have felt the cake was best completed with some, have your cake with a couple of sizable scoops of chocolate ice cream.

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Okay, this one’s not ice cream, but it’s chocolate dessert and it’s homemade. And it tastes pretty great, if you ask me. (1 ripe avocado, 1 ripe banana, 1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and honey to taste, all blended together until the pudding is smooth.)

Today is a Great Day

 

photo + textphoto + textBy the way, today is especially delightful in my own life as it’s the sixteenth anniversary of my marriage to the most astounding and outstanding man I know. Happy day, my love, and here’s to many, many more.

Perfectly Imperfect in Every Way

In a comment on my gardening post last week, Ted reminded me of the inimitable Mary Poppins, and I was in turn moved to recollect her frank self-description as ‘Practically Perfect in Every Way‘. In the case of that charming fictional character, it was simply and inarguably the truth. The rest of us, mere mortals, can’t quite go that far if we’re honest.

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Saints Cury, Cecilia & Goar. I selected these for portraiture in this modern-medievalist piece because of very earthly interests: Cury is one of my birthday saints and famed mainly for his 'miraculous' hospitality; Cecilia is the patron of musicians (for my husband, of course) and even sometimes purported to be the inventor of the pipe organ; Goar's feast day is celebrated on our anniversary and he, sometimes portrayed as a potter, was thus also an artist. He also happens to have a lovely little town on the Rhine named after him. There *can* be perks to being a saint, even a minor one, apparently . . .

Which is why I like saints. It’s doubtful I’d really enjoy meeting them in person, to be precise: it’s the nature, the character of them, that really fascinates me. Because, as I understand it, what separates the saints from the rest of us ordinary slouches is not that they were born or made saints but that they became saints by rising above the ordinary way they began. Unlike superheroes and the majority of fairytale protagonists, it’s not often a transformation that’s accomplished by the wave of a wand or inadvertent exposure to radioactive substances, but rather is brought about by internal change and will and choice.

There is hope for me in the idea that most saints–and I gather this is true of the heroines and heroes of many significant belief systems, along with many of the major religions–start out as plain, simple, unimpressive and very mortal humans and for one reason or another are moved to do the things they do that gradually re-shape them into extraordinary beings. Some of those avatars, indeed, start out as pretty sketchy characters, if not outright jerks, despots, and other first-rank varieties of meanies. It’s the process, the journey, and the ultimate commitment to do and be something else that makes them extraordinary.

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Saint Monica could be the perfect example of overcoming obstacles--much of her sainthood was earned just through working to see that her ne'er-do-well son shaped up, the outstanding troublemaker who eventually reformed enough to become himself Saint Augustine of Hippo. Apparently her efforts did not go unrewarded . . .

Chances are beyond-excellent that I will never become a saint of any sort. But the real hope and inspiration in the lives of heroes, saints and exemplars is that nearly all of them began their lives as someone or something far less extraordinary than the way they ended them, and if so there’s always a possibility that with a little thoughtful effort I might actually improve along the way too. Don’t hold your breath, but I might just turn out slightly better than expected. Apparently, miracles do happen.

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Saints Valery (a French abbot) and Finian (an Irish bishop)--hereafter known as the Feastie Boys since they're also among my birthday saints. They remind me as well that one can come from different places, times, backgrounds and any number of unique circumstances and rise beyond them all to distinctive heights . . .