There May Yet Be Time

“Hurry up and write that book, Ann Marie,” said my last living grandparent. “I’m not getting any younger, and I want to read it before I die!”

No pressure.

I have written many things in my life — poems, essays, two theses, many posts to online groups that were turned into articles, and some articles that were accepted and even paid for, which is becoming uncommon. But I haven’t written The Book, or even A Book, even though I have made verbal promises to produce two (One is about Bishop Constantine and the other isn’t) and I have saved pictures and documents for a third. Now that my children are grown and we are living both in semi-retirement and during a general world wide pandemic quarantine, you’d think I would find the time to write them, but time is not the issue. As an old commercial used to say, “It’s not soup yet.”

But I am encouraged by a show on PBS that I found in passing and watched twice (we have both Ohio and Kentucky PBS stations available in Cincinnati, so often I can catch something on one channel if I miss it on another.) It was part of a series on poetry, and focused on one of my favorite poems.

My senior year of high school, when I took the AP English exam, I was gobsmacked by the poem we were asked to analyze. It was by a poet I had never heard of, Elizabeth Bishop. “One Art,” which you can visit here, discusses “the art of losing.” The list of things that she has lost escalates and becomes both more abstract and more intimate. I almost went over the allotted time writing about it, because it so mirrored feelings of my own.

I thought, then, that poets had to be single and young.

I was blessed to be able to take poetry courses at Wellesley with Frank Bidart, who had been Bishop’s friend. I paid for my graduation gown rental with the prize money for a sonnet I wrote as a senior, and had poems published in various school publications, but then I got married and had four children. I still wrote poems, but I rarely published them.

When I watched the PBS show, in which various people talk about how the poem affected them, and talk about loss, I was mesmerized. I lose things — I am a frequent flyer when it comes to praying to St. Phanourios. This is a season of loss anniversaries — ten years since my brother’s repose and twenty-five since my father’s — and we have relocated to another State and Town which meant selling the house we had lived in for nearly twenty years. This was the third “realm” I had lost, after Roslindale, Massachusetts, and Webster, Texas. Intellectually, I accepted the loss of the house, and parish, and town, but when I saw that the new owners had cut down all my flowering shrubs, I felt a fresh wave of new pain. I expected the windows and roof to go, but I thought the lilacs and forsythia were forever.

My mother lived to be 37, my brother 47, and my father 57, my current age. I worry that I am reaching my expiration date without having Done Things. I am too old to make a “thirty under thirty,” or “forty under forty,” or even a “fifty under fifty” list of hot new writers. And I feel neither hot nor new.

But a group of MFA writer friends and I formed a poetry group, and I have been writing poems again, which also makes me want to write everything else, also. And then, when watching the PBS show, I heard two facts that I didn’t know about the poem: it took sixteen drafts. And Bishop was sixty-five when she wrote it.

I have published poems that had fewer than sixteen drafts.

And I am still not sixty-five.

We live in hope.

There are so many things I want to say and write, but, one cannot water a garden with a firehose. I don’t just want to fling my words into the universe — I want to curate them, I want them to be sculpted and present them properly. And that’s what Elizabeth Bishop did. It took her sixty-five years and everything else she did and wrote to prepare her for this task.

I may yet have worlds enough, and time.

Love and Worship in Time of Quarantine

A friend called to ask what I thought about the government telling us to close the church to most people and have minimalist services broadcast.
I told him I don’t like it, but what is the intent?


The intent is not to shut down religion or to keep us from each other.
The intent is to keep us alive, to keep us from hurting each other, and while “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is not the first commandment, it’s on the list.
This is a different illness. It’s more like chicken pox, which all of my kids have had and one kid had three times, which is supposed to be impossible, in that you are contagious days before you show symptoms.
So no matter how good we feel, we could be spreading this to people we love.


These bans are to keep us from doing that.


These frustrating measures are to keep us from harming each other, and harming each other gravely, by accident.


Excommunication, when imposed by the Church, is the gravest punishment and is saved for the gravest of sins, and it feels like we’ve been excommunicated when we cannot congregate together and celebrate the Eucharist, together.


But the Church uses it for our salvation, and this separation is for our good and the good of the people we love.


And it’s temporary.

At Jordanville in my husband’s time and later, seminarians were assigned, in rotation, to barn duty instead of church on Sundays so the barn workers could be at the Sunday Liturgy and commune. The cows had to be milked and fed at the same time every day, and sometimes you have to miss church so the cows can eat and so that your brother can be at the services. One seminarian balked, and went to church instead, He said he came there to get an education, not to milk cows, and there was fallout. An elderly monk remarked to a friend, “You know, if you’re supposed to work in the cow barns, and you went to Liturgy instead, did you really go to Liturgy?” I thought of this often when my children were young and I had to stay home with whoever was sick.

This isolation is working in the cow barns so your brother can live and go to church another day, and so you can, too, only now we can also see the services on the internet, and receive Holy Communion one on one from our priests, who need prayers for protection, support, and strength during this difficult, difficult time.

Sometimes the best way to serve is to cease from complaining and to be where we are told to be for the duration, thinking always of how beautiful it will be when we are all together again.

This is the Sunday of the Cross. How few of the Apostles were there at the actual Crucifixion. How many millions now stand at the foot of the Cross, looking up for hope and help. Another thing — the myrrh bearing women and the noble Joseph who buried Christ were considered unclean and would not have been able to participate in the Passover, for having touched a dead body. But we sing of them now. And that one sacrifice lead to so many more services, churches, congregations, and chances for believers to pray together.

This is hard. This is miserable. This is temporary. And in that it is what God has either sent or allowed, it is for our salvation.

This is the loving thing that we can do, right now, for each other, and that we can do graciously, to support our bishops and priests, who want us to have life, and to have it abundantly.

Let us pray for our bishops, for our clergy, for each other, for our civil leaders, for all those who have to make hard decisions and for all of us who have to live with them. And in that way, this disastrous crisis can bring us closer together, by bringing us closer to Christ.

Another Birthday, a New Request

I have a recent birthday.

And while Facebook encouraged me to do a fundraiser for the occasion, I don’t like that idea.

But. twenty years ago I turned the age my mother was when she died and ten years ago, I turned the age my brother was when he died.

This year I reach the age Dad was when he died, and realize afresh just how young that really was. It’s a milestone, but it’s the kind that forces one to think.
So here’s what I want:

Forgive someone.

I mean, I shouldn’t have candy, flowers are expensive because of Valentine’s Day, and have you seen my house? As much as I would like more books, it would be hoarding to ask for more.


But life is short, we are not promised each other’s company indefinitely, and you want to be at peace with the people near you and those with whom you share history, space, and blood.

The simmering resentments that poison everyday life suck away energy you could be spending joyfully, cherishing the good things that God sent you in the people and places around you.

Pray for strength, courage, and just do it.

Stop being angry at someone who has hurt you or with whom you disagree. Have compassion on someone who has disappointed you and try to be as strong as you wish he or she had been in your moment of need.

Forgive.

You don’t have to TELL the person that you forgive them and truly in most cases it’s better if you don’t.

Just, for me, do it.

Do it for you.

And do it for the person whom you miss.


And then I will be a very happy, if unspeakably old, birthday person.


Thank you.

Not this year. The author with cake.

When They’re Ready

This was a summer unlike any other. We have moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and sold our house in Connecticut with the huge yard and garden. We are living in a townhouse apartment so new that the GPS cannot find it. It was under construction when we visited to sign the lease. We are getting used to being able to make toast and use the microwave at the same time and not having to mow the lawn or shovel the snow. Ironically, now that we have a patio instead of a back yard, I have done more gardening than I had in three years. It started out as a way to get to know my new State.

I went to a plant sale at the local high school at the beginning of the summer and purchased some plants, thinking that this would give me the typical local vegetables. However, it turns out that people who want normal plants go to the normal places like plant nurseries and box stores; the school plant sale was for exotic varieties. And so instead of grape and Roma tomatoes, I had yellow baby tomatoes shaped like a butternut squash, and yellow Roma tomatoes.

Yellow tomatoes were just the beginning. I had never successfully grown okra before — in Texas I was too busy and in Connecticut it was too cold. So I bought three okra plants. The flowers were gorgeous — rather like hibiscus flowers. But the okra pods were not green; they were red. A tag on the plant, which I found only after I picked the first three okra pods, said it was Red Velvet okra. We don’t have a garden hose or a water source on the patio, so we have been hauling water from the kitchen to the patio almost daily.

However, it’s been a troubling summer. I keep index cards next to the computer to write down prayer requests from friends. I had to get bigger index cards. Most of it is what Aslan would call “someone else’s story,” but friends with sick children and grandchildren, friends with sick parents, friends whose friends have died suddenly or are gravely ill. In the middle of all that, we haul the water out to the patio daily and pick the beans, the squash, the cucumber (only one made it), the yellow tomatoes, the red okra, the new fruits of a new place. Different but good; we are learning. The routine gives shape to the day and makes me follow the weather.

My husband sometimes waters the plants for me and takes an interest in the daily haul. When I brought in a handful of strange produce, my husband asked about how I know they are ripe. “If the tomatoes never turn red, how do you know when they’re ready to be picked?”

I said, “Oh, that’s easy. I hold my hand beneath the fruit and wiggle my fingers. If the tomatoes fall into my hand, they’re ready. If they cling to the vine, they aren’t.” I opened my hand and we ate the sweet, strange tomatoes.

And I thought of one of my favorite icons. This is a fresco in a church I’ve never been to, but I have it in my “Comforting Images” file to look at when I am stressed. It is an illustration of a verse from the Wisdom of Solomon, “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God.” The souls, depicted as people used to be prepared for burial, in winding linen cloth, rest in God’s palm while Angels approach bearing yet more souls. These souls are not alone or unsupported.

I love this icon and love that I thought of it. The people about whom I had been worrying, and for whom we had been praying, seemed safer. God’s hand is beneath them, waiting. Sometimes, God wiggles His fingers. They don’t bruise, they don’t force; they test and invite. After all, these hands know us; they have made and fashioned us.We don’t fall into His palm until we are ready.

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God; such a safe and beautiful place to be at rest.

Where else could we want them to be?

Who Goes There? A Pascha Story

How do you welcome strangers when you aren’t home?

Photo credit: foter.com

I have been away, visiting my brother and his amazing family, and so I haven’t posted in a while. However, I have a short little remembrance from when my children were little. We lived in Texas in the 1990’s, and often had only one car. We had made new friends, a husband and wife, who were Orthodox, and they were coming to the house. But an emergency arose, and my husband needed to be someplace. I drove him, so I could have the car. But, the children would be home alone when our friends arrived. I wasn’t sure how the children would recognize them. They couldn’t really reach the peep hole in the door.

I made my cross, prayed, and smiled.

I called the children into a huddle, gave them instructions, took off my apron, put on some shoes, and drove.

My friend told the story to my brother, who reminded me of it. My children were about nine, eight, and four. Our friends arrived and saw no car, but they rang the bell, and heard a muffled sound, in response.

“I can’t hear you!” the husband said.

There was a murmured consultation, and then the same response, a little louder, but not clear.

“I’m sorry, I still can’t hear you,” the husband said.

There was a longer consultation, and the deadbolt was turned. The door opened, but the chain stayed on. Three mouths appeared at the door. In unison, the children called out, “Christ is Risen!”

It was in the Paschal season. In the Orthodox Church, we prepare for great feasts by abstaining from meat and dairy, and then we celebrate the feast for a long time after. And so we greet each other for the forty days of Pascha (Easter) with “Christ is Risen!” to which one replies “Truly He is Risen,” or “Indeed He is Risen,” depending on your parish’s preferred translation.

And so our friends called out, also in unison, “Indeed He is Risen!” The children consulted again, and closed the door, unchained it, opened it, and welcomed the guests into the house, into our lives, and practically speaking, into the family. That happens, especially in Texas. “If you don’t have family in Texas when you arrive,” my brother-in-law had explained when we moved, “you create family.”

Christ is Risen!” It is a greeting to bring joy, to proclaim victory over death, and to draw like minded people closer together.

Christ is Risen!