Sunday, December 16, 2012

Another Rent in the Fabric

The two days started in eerily similar ways: taking a walk, chatting with a loved one, complaining about the petty annoyances of everyday life. Soccer practices at inconvenient times. Christmas dinner with a slightly dysfunctional family. The minor frustrations of life that seemed like terrible dilemmas at the time.

Even the weather on those days was similar, though one boasted the bold blue skies of a waning summer and the other the cold crisp promise of the coming winter. Finishing the walk, grabbing some water, stretching our legs, heading back to the routine.

And then the curtain was torn.

And the following hours were spent mesmerized by the media frenzy, in shock over the depths of human depravity, and deeply questioning how it could come to this and how we could ever recover.

Before and after. Then and now. Defining lines in the continuum of time.

After that first day – 9/11/01 – I had hoped that I would never witness another rent in the fabric of normalcy. After the second day – 12/14/12 – I realize that the cloth may be irreparably tattered. 

What I know for sure is that the things I complained about, whined about – okay, bitched about – during my early-morning walks both days are insignificant irritations I would gladly reclaim as the worst problems in life. I wonder what the families of both sets of victims were grumbling about the morning before they kissed their loved ones goodbye for what would be the last time. Perhaps that pain is the one that resonates most with all of us: things left unsaid – and worse, things said that now can never be undone. 

We hear all the time about “living in the moment” and cherishing each day. But how many of us do it? I know I will write this today and probably kvetch about something stupid five minutes from now. It is human nature.
I did not personally know the victims of either 9/11 or the Sandy Hook school shooting. But they are all our families; they are all our friends; they are all our children. We all want to help yet feel helpless. There are no words, no actions, no way to change the past. But we can make today count. We can cherish the normal day.

I’ll end with this poem that I found years ago … when, at least to my mind, there were many more Normal Days.
Author: Mary Jean Iron

Normal day, let me be aware
of the treasure that you are.
let me learn from you, love you,
bless you before we depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest
of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
let me hold you while I may,
for it may not be always so. one day
I shall dig my nails into the earth,
or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself tart,
or raise my hands
to the sky and want, more
than all the world, your return.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hooray! I'm Done!

Hooray! I’m Done! – Books 51-52

As I closed the back cover of Book # 52, I breathed a great sigh of relief: My 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge was officially finished. I had managed to read one book a week during 2012. And although it was an interesting adventure, I will not be repeating it … nor will I be upping the ante by doubling my intake to 104 books in 52 weeks. I did it. I’m done. Now I will read for pleasure as I always have!

So here are my final two books of 2012:

Book # 51: Someone to Watch Over Me by Judi McMahon
This book bills itself as a “novelized memoir” – which made it especially intriguing to me. I’ve always wanted to fictionalize my life, and in my younger days I often wrote stories featuring myself and my friends in a variety of escapades, some of which were frighteningly similar to reality. This book was obviously self-published – and not edited very well. Nevertheless, there was something compelling about it that kept me interested in the main characters. Perhaps it was the fact that they grew up in New York during the same era as I did and faced many of the same personal and professional challenges. Or maybe it was just because I wanted to see what awful typo would come up next: like spelling the purple dinosaur’s name “Barnie” a number of times … or the Egyptian president’s “Anwar el Dadat.” Then again, we WERE warned that it was novelized. 

Book # 52: Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding
I love-love-loved this book! And I also loved the film by the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. I’d seen the movie a couple of years ago, but somehow the fact that this consummate con man was only in his late teens/early twenties when he perpetuated his crimes had escaped me. This was one of those books that had you rooting for the “bad guy” unremorsefully! Most, if not all, of the capers he pulled would be impossible to get away with today (I think) but reading how he managed to forge, con and smooth-talk his way around the globe was – as the cover blurb states – “dangerously inspirational.” For a fun read, I highly recommend this one.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Down the Home Stretch - Books 48-50

Coming down the home stretch now! And still selecting the thinnest books on my shelf in order to finish the challenge by the end of the year, though there’s really no doubt in my mind at this point.

Are You Somebody? By Nuala O’Faolain
If I hadn’t had a goal to meet, I probably wouldn’t have finished this book. Subtitled “The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman,” it sounded like it might be interesting to read about this middle-aged columnist and how she overcame the barriers faced by women in the 60s to become a successful writer. And there was some good stuff about how family, religion and culture challenged and shaped her. However, for the most part I found the book full of gratuitous name dropping of presumably important literary and art-world figures, and cultural references that went over my head. I’m not sure if I felt dumber about not understanding the allusions or about being obsessive enough to continue reading this book to the bloody end.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind
This book totally made up for my displeasure over the previous one. I can’t even begin to explain how unusual the premise is and how adept the author is at describing the main character’s extraordinary proclivity toward all things olfactory. This was one of the most original books I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve already added the movie (2006 starring Dustin Hoffman) to my Netflix queue. Not sure how I missed that one, but if it’s anything like the book, I’m sure it will be quite a ride! I will say no more … just read this book!

Patrimony by Philip Roth
Sometimes sad, sometimes whimsical but always from the heart, this story of a son and his father during the elder man’s final illness is a touching story of devotion. By the time the book reaches its inevitable conclusion, you really feel like you know the feisty, clever, tradition-bound man who has now become a shell of himself through the ravages of illness. If you have ever experienced the paradoxical joy and sorrow of caring for an elderly parent, you will relate to this story.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Slogging Along

Books 44-47 - Slogging Along

It seemed like a really good idea at the beginning of the year to blog every one of the 52 books I read in 2012 as part of the “52 Books in 52 Weeks” challenge, but as the year has worn on, I’ve grown weary of the practice. I’ve also grown weary of counting the number of books I’m reading and looking toward December 31 wondering if I’ll have made my “quota”! In fact, I recently rejected a particularly thick book that was next on my pile in favor of a few skinny ones that I knew I’d get through quickly.

I will not be repeating the challenge again next year. I enjoy reading too much to quantify it.

But since I hate to quit something once I’ve committed to it, here’s a very brief synopsis of Books 44-47.

Book 44: Falling Upward by Richard Rohr
Richard Rohr never disappoints, and his brand of spirituality resonates with me. In this book, he talks about the differences in how we look at spirituality in the first half of life as opposed to the second. He makes sense of a lot of the doubts that creep into one’s mind at middle-age – about institutions, governments, religious leaders – and assures the reader that this is not only normal but a sign of growth. Highly recommended for any serious students of spirituality.

Book 45: The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant
I admit I was only attracted to this book because we plan to visit Dogtown in the spring. No one lives there now, but there are some very interesting stone carvings worth visiting as well as a whole bunch of geocaches. The book itself tells the tale of the last remaining residents of this village outside Gloucester and the complicated lives they led in the 1800s. You get a real sense of the loneliness, poverty and prejudice that were part of the fabric of life. A bit slow and definitely not action-packed but an interesting character study.

Book 46: Atonement by Ian McEwan
I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if we hadn’t been experiencing and recovering from a hurricane at the time I read it. I often found myself rereading a page over and over again as my mind drifted from the book to our powerless situation. Nothing against the book, but I was glad I’d seen the movie so I knew what was going on. Maybe I’ll read this again during a calm, sunny week on a placid lake.

Book 47: Finders Keepers by Mark Bowden
This was a very amusing – but inherently sad – true story of Joey Coyle, a meth-addicted, unemployed twenty-something who found a couple of bags of money that had fallen off an armored truck in South Philly. The description of this hapless man and his friends as they moved from one escapade to another in an attempt to launder the money, hide the money, and ultimately flee the country with the money before their poorly hidden trail led police straight to them makes for a lively romp. Joey’s eventual fall into obscurity, drug addiction and depression is a stark reminder that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Peace After the Storm

Although I consider myself a spiritual person, I have not been a big churchgoer in quite some time. So it was with some reluctance that I found myself shuffling into 9:00 Mass alongside my husband and my mother- and father-in-law. 

I was exhausted. It had been six days since we’d lost power during Hurricane Sandy. Six days since I slept in my own bed. Six days of anxiety about how to keep my business up and running, how to keep my food from spoiling, how to heat my home, how to get my husband’s elderly parents safely out of their powerless home and back, how to avoid gas lines, how to find lodging for our dog, how to make sure all our devices were charged so we could stay connected to family and friends. For every solution, there were three more problems. And I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep since the week before Halloween.

Still, every time I started feeling sorry for myself, I would remember all those who had it a thousand times worse. Who had lost everything and were struggling to stay warm and nourished. Then I would feel guilty. It was a no-win situation. A constant battle between my ears. And usually the “committee meeting” to discuss this would take place in the middle of the night.

This morning I was especially exhausted. I’d spent a half hour crying, followed by a half hour taking a walk down to the now-placid bay to try to clear my head and get some much-needed fresh air, sunshine and exercise. But still I felt like someone had turned on a giant fog machine in my brain. I took my seat in the unusually crowded church and began a half-hearted “Go ahead, make my day” prayer. I didn’t really want to be here, but seeing as how I was, I figured I might as well stay open to some kind of message. Any kind of message. Oh, how I needed a message!

There was a children’s folk group tuning up at the side of the church, and I thought back to my teens and early 20s when my dad and I enjoyed playing music together at our parish folk Mass. He passed away in 2004, but I’ve always felt he’s watching over me, especially in times of crisis. It might not hurt to say a few words to Dad right about now. “Hey, Dad, about that message … God might be a little busy, but maybe you’ve got a minute …”

The service was especially long and boring. The music, which I usually enjoy, seemed to go on and on, and it all sounded exactly the same: like a dirge. The one bright spot was that it was a children’s Mass, and the priest invited the kids up to the altar after the sermon for a Q&A that gave us a few much-needed chuckles. The Gospel message was that loving one another was the most important commandment. Was that the message? Take the focus off myself and move it onto others, especially in this time of need? That felt right, but not quite “it.” 

Still I waited. 

After Communion, I checked my iPhone. We’d been here an hour and a quarter already. I might have dozed off at one point. It really was time to go. Clearly no burning bush would be coming to me today. Figured as much. That was magical thinking anyway. The priest gave the final blessing. Everyone started putting on their coats. I thought to myself ‘I really hope we don’t sit here through the final song. Enough already with the music. No one will think any less of us if we slip out a bit early.’

And then I heard the first notes of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and my racing thoughts stopped abruptly. This was the song that used to be my big “solo” at the folk Mass, with my dad accompanying me on the guitar. I remembered his encouraging smile when I got to the part that tested my vocal abilities, and the satisfaction I felt when I hit the high notes successfully and drew approval from the congregation as well as from him. And I knew. This was my message. Let there be peace. You can hit the high notes. You can get through this. I’m still with you and it will be okay.

The fog lifted. The exhaustion, though still there, didn’t seem quite so bad. We decided to go home right after lunch and prepare for another cold night and the work week ahead. Put one foot in front of the other and trust that all would be well. 

Once aboard the ferry, we called our home phone, hoping the answering machine would pick up, signaling that the electricity had been turned on. It just kept ringing. As we debarked and hit the highway, we discussed how to best prepare in the fast-approaching darkness: fire up the generator, bring in wood for the fireplace, test the space heater, put the cooler on the deck, grab some extra blankets from the cedar closet. Back in Milford, we noticed a couple of traffic lights working that had been dark yesterday. And the turn signal was functioning again. That was a good sign.

Then, as we rounded our corner, there was the welcome sight of our front light on! The work crews stood across the street; they had just finished the job. I let out a war whoop and started to cry! Power had returned. In so many ways. 

Let there be peace on earth. Thank you, Daddy.