Today is Good Friday, a day Christians remember the crucifixion of Christ. It is a solemn day as we realize that the disciples had no idea what would happen next. They really believed that all was lost, that the Roman empire was not about to be overthrown, that all their efforts had been in vain, and that they had been taken for fools. Many of us can identify with those feelings, no matter the circumstances.
And yet, here is the nuthatch, a frequent visitor to our feeders. She goes headfirst down the tree, heedless of the way most of the birds move head up. She looks foolish, I suppose, to one who thinks birds are meant to go up trees, not down them. Nuthatches seem to demonstrate an unusual sense of trust. I admire their headlong journey.
As for me, I have the advantage of knowing, as the disciples didn’t, how the story ends for Christians in the Resurrection. I look forward to our Easter Vigil Mass tomorrow night after sundown. But right now I probably look foolish to some. I’m going headfirst into Good Friday, trusting that Easter will arrive once again.
The human head of the Catholic Church(Christ is the Head of the Church)washed the feet of prisoners today, part of the Maundy Thursday observances. Here, without his hat, with a simple basin and towel, he is going from foot to foot in this process.
Are their feet dirty? Why else would he do such a strange act? Rituals are very different from one religion to another. Something might seem strange to me in a normal Hindu observance, and I have learned about that faith from fellow bloggers. For anyone confused by this activity, I give a brief explanation.
The Tridium–three days that lead up to the Feast of Easter–are dedicated to immersing the believer in the life of Jesus. One of Jesus’ last acts was to wash the feet of his disciples. They were baffled by this. Why was their leader stooping to wash the filth off their feet? It was unseemly and a task only for servants. Which was Jesus’ point. He was demonstrating that we are to serve, not dominate, one another.
So on Maundy Thursday, we allow our feet(usually hidden)to be seen and washed. We wash one another’s feet. We are reminded that we are all equal. Domination is not the way of Christ. Despite the frequently misunderstood message of the Gospel, it really is meant to be good news. For each person on the earth. God loves us all. ALL.
The first thing I wanted in the house we bought in New England was a window over the kitchen sink. I was blessed with this double window seen above which provides a perfect view over the back yard. I have placed these four different bird feeders just outside the window so I can see them when I am at the sink. Ironically enough, this home has a dishwasher, so I am not at the sink as often as in previous years. Still, I frequently am there for briefer times and able to catch sight of the birds.
This time of year we are visited by black capped chickadees, house sparrows, house finches, nuthatches and tufted titmice who eat at the large feeder filled with an assortment of seed, primarily sunflower. Goldfinches, some just on the cusp of turning yellow, feed on the tiny niger seed from the front feeder. Downy and red bellied woodpeckers like the suet hanging in the front. Mourning doves like to perch on top of the large feeder and scrounge the ground under it for missed seeds.
Of course, our greediest eaters are the squirrels. You can buy all sorts of squirrel baffles or you can just enjoy their antics. Long ago I quit despairing of the squirrels’ appetites and just enjoy watching them hang upside down eating from the “squirrel-proof” devices.
Our yard provides all sorts of food for the birds come spring through early winter. Since we use no herbicides or pesticides, I am delighted to see them scour the yard for treats. But the feeders don’t seem to dissuade them from feasting in the yard. They happily eat in both places. And I delight in their presence.
Another one of Frost’s poems never fully landed for me until I moved to New England. “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” offers the line “Nature’s first green is gold.”
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Since the rest of the poem goes quite abstract(or so I thought for years) I never really took in the literal truth of Frost’s lines. In Oregon where we lived, the preponderance of trees are evergreens. True to their name, they don’t change colors. But in New England, the majority of trees are deciduous. This accounts, of course, for the splendid fall displays of leaves that people flock here to admire. But it also proves the truth of Frost’s lines.
One day in early spring, mid-March here, I looked out at a forest of maples and saw that they were gleaming gold. While they turn quickly to green as the leaves unfold, they are in fact first gold. Frost is right about the hue being hard to hold. In fact, they seem to change very quickly to green. But for a short and lovely time, the trees shine luminously.
I taught Robert Frost’s poems for many years, including “Birches.” While I was familiar with birch trees and thought I understood the poem, I was taken aback on a recent drive through southern Connecticut. We had several snow and ice storms in the last three weeks, and all along the highway there were hundreds of young birch trees, bent over from the weight.
Suddenly, I recalled Frost’s description of the trees:
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
I realized that he was being precise in his image of the trees and their spindly branches with just the beginnings of leaves. They did indeed look like the long hair of girls thrown over their heads to dry. I recalled my own years(pre blow dryers) of drying my long hair, occasionally in the sun. I knew that Frost had first seen some girl drying her hair and then seen the trees, making a visual connection.
The longer I live in New England, the more clearly I see the meaning of some of Frost’s lines. I was always “outside” his verse living in Oregon. Now, from the “inside” I connect even more strongly with his poetry. And I am reminded how often I bring limited experience to literature, appreciating it nonetheless, but missing some of its richness because it is based on places “I have never traveled.”
After reflecting on the inability of people to wait, I wondered about the widespread promotion of “mindfulness.” I don’t remember hearing this word so widely used until the last couple of years. I was always familiar with prayer, meditation and contemplation, but not “mindfulness.” As far as I can tell it is a gentler name for the practice of paying attention to the moment. In the moment, one is expected to just “be.”
Now as far as I can tell, this is what waiting used to do for people. You had to “just be,” since there was nothing else to do. Perhaps mindfulness is a perfect antidote to the frantic pace of life with its 24 hour news cycle and instant everything. I realize that there is more to mindfulness than just “being,” though that skill alone seems to be absent in many people. It also, as far as I understand it, asks you to accept what is at that moment. Again, that is the opposite of the pace of American life. Again, that is the same as the old routine of waiting.
Apparently just sitting still is anxiety producing for many people. I would guess that is from lack of experience. All around I see people staring at their phones when they are in line, at their kids dance practice, in the dentist office, or sitting at a traffic light. They look like great opportunities to practice accepting what is and just being. And you can avoid having to buy the book, the CD, the course or the seminar. Mindfulness for free.
I have been reflecting on the demand for immediacy in today’s American culture. You can get “instant credit,” “priority boarding” on planes, “Minute Clinic” for a virus, and “12 items or less” at the grocery store. It is clear that people are expected to dislike waiting and feel that they should not be asked to wait.
I realize that in my growing up years and through most of my adult life, waiting was necessary for many occasions. I built up my “waiting” skill. I remember, among others:
Waiting for a long distance phone call to be put through by the operator.
Waiting from September to April to find out if I had gotten into college.
Waiting to find out if I was pregnant until I thought I was three months along.
Waiting to find out if my baby was a girl or a boy.
Waiting for labor to begin.
Waiting for the bank to open Monday morning if I ran out of cash on the weekend.
Waiting for the store to open Monday if I ran out of needed groceries on a Sunday.
Waiting for a credit application to be approved before I could make a purchase.
Each one of these is no longer necessary. I can dial long distance myself. Students can check on line to see if they have been accepted to college. In home tests allow women to find out if they are pregnant almost immediately. People have to opt out of knowing the sex of their baby before birth. Women schedule inductions for delivery. ATM machines mean money is always available. Stores are open every day. The last time I opened an account it took five minutes at a machine inside the store.
We have been led to expect, at least in the U.S., that we can have what we want when we want it. It has led to the atrophy of waiting muscles in us all.
I have been doing research on my paternal grandmother’s line for a few days now, inspired by my reflections on her personality and background. As I have been searching, I found the names of her maternal grandparents, Eli and Caroline Alexandre, parents of her mother Flora. I knew that her mother had been born in San Francisco and found census records naming her parents. I also corresponded with the oldest synagogue in San Francisco. Despite most of the records having been destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake and ensuing fire, the synagogue archivist also had a little information about the Alexandres.
I was able to determine that they had died in San Francisco, had been buried there, and later had been reinterred, along with many others, in Colma, California when the San Francisco cemetery was closed. I found them listed in a very helpful site, Find-A-Grave, but without photos of their monuments.
One wonderful aspect of crowd sourcing in genealogy is the ability to request favors from other genealogists. In this case, I left a request at Find-a-Grave for photos of these two stones. Within a week, lovely volunteers went to the Colma cemetery, took photos, and added them to the web site for me and others to see. While I do not have to reciprocate, I am waiting for the snow to melt to search for some stones in our local cemetery that others wish to have photographed.
Not only have a now been able to see the stones, I also have gained new information confirming that the Jewish line of my family came from Alsace-Lorraine, alternatively French, Prussian, French, German and French. While I do not yet know the maiden name of Caroline, I now have her birth year and birth town. Soon, I will ask French researchers to help me.
With so much disagreeable dialogue going on in this country, I am grateful that the genealogical community continues to be generous. I send thanks to those Colma volunteers.
In 1930, my grandparents adopted a baby girl who they named Caroline. She grew up to be my beloved Aunt Cary. Apparently she wasn’t an infant, but the story that she was nine months old seems a little off based on the photo. At any rate she was several months old and joined her nearly nine year old sister, my mother to be.
She was adopted in New York State which has a permanent seal on adoption records. The story we heard was that she was the daughter of very smart young woman and a married man. I have no idea if that was the case, nor will I ever know given the permanent seal. This is fine with me, but it caused me to reflect on things we once thought would stay secret. We had no way of knowing all the ways that science would move ahead in the years to come.
When I was young, some infertility issues turned out to be caused by the father. In this case, the mother used sperm from a donor to have their child. It was assumed that the child would always think that she was the child of both parents, so this was never discussed. With the widespread use of DNA analysis, many people are now learning that their biological father is not the man they grew up with. Similarly, children conceived during an affair are finding out(as the father may be also learning) that their biological father is not the man they know as dad.
And I have just finished exploring what I was able to learn about my paternal grandmother, things she never expected me to know. I am sure she had her reasons for keeping her history private, and she had every expectation that it would stay that way.
What other family secrets will find their way out in the years to come? We have no way of predicting, but it is an issue many are dealing with even as I write.
George was the last family dog of my childhood. He was the son of the cocker spaniel Cinder and the Labrador interloper. He was all black with a round spot of white on this chest. George was the all-time best family dog. He was most attached to the youngest of us four children, since she spent several years at home with him while we were at school.
George was famous around the neighborhood, ranging freely over great distances, including regularly crossing the busy highway between our home and our elementary school. George was not happy when all four of us were in school, and he would travel up to the kindergarten door and wait for my littlest sister. He was not the only dog who wound up at the school, but sometimes my mother would get a call to come get him.
George’s one bad habit was chasing cars. It started with just chasing school buses. He seemed to believe that the buses were taking us away from him and it was his job to get us back. But he branched out to cars after a while. He was ruthless about his pursuit of cars, and nothing we could do would rein him in. One terrible afternoon, he got hit by one. My mother and I put him on a blanket, dragged him to the car and took him to the vet. Despite looking near death, George rallied and returned home in a couple of days.
When I found this picture yesterday, I realized how closely George resembled the Australian Shepherds we have owned over the last twenty years. Same coat, same height, same weight. I knew they seemed right the first time I saw one. Now I know it was because they reminded me of George. He was a good dog.