You are currently browsing loristrawn’s articles.

Valentine’s Day seems the ideal time to contemplate the meaning of love. Not to be off-putting, but I think most people get it wrong. Love is not what you see on TV — passionate kisses, travel, excitement, diamonds the size of grapes. Or at least that’s only a tiny bit of it. Love, real love, is a whole lot grittier…and a whole lot more mundane. Here are just a few of the ways my husband says, “I love you”:

Love is giving me the last bites of his cake/cookie/pie, despite the fact that he would like to eat it himself, because he knows how much I love sweets.

Love is helping me slow my breath when I’m having an asthma attack.

Love is private jokes, a secret language, references only we know…but love is also taking the time to learn my family’s secret language and odd references, and using them like a pro.

Love is indulging my whim to try every taco place in town in search of the superior taco.

Love is always saying, “Thank you” after I’ve prepared a meal…no matter how inferior.

Love is massaging my shoulders as he passes through the kitchen, squeezing my hand in church, touching my cheek as I watch TV.

Love is accepting that our lives are not glamorous and being happy with simpler pleasures.

Love is going to Mass with me every week for years and years, despite being (at the time) an agnostic, and then surprising me with the happiest possible shock — becoming Catholic himself.

My husband’s love — much like God’s love — is always right there before me…if I take the time to look. Wherever you are this Valentine’s Day, whether in a romantic relationship or not, take time to search for signs of love. They may be simple, but they abound.

Advertisements

Some prayers are easy. And some…not so much. It is easy to pray for the unborn — little tabulae rasae of infinite potential — but not so easy to pray for those on death row, for folks on the fringes, for those who might not even want our prayers.

I cannot judge your heart.
You would not permit me,
even if I could. I am, as always,
at arm’s length, the rain beating
its wet fists on the window. It will not
be let in. Even so, I know fear,
and fear is often where you live.
Let us meet then on common ground:
I wish you safe passage.
I wish you better than common sense
would grant you. I wish you endless
horizons, walkable on feet that do not tire.
I wish for you the thing you will never give to me,
and that is peace. It hurts to hold you.
It hurts to let you go. God speed.

Had you told me, back when I was a kid, that someday I’d be doing all my writing on a laptop computer, I never would have believed you. (Also, I would have asked, “What’s a laptop computer?” Those were simpler times, folks.) Even during college, I wrote out all of my papers — no matter how lengthy — in longhand before typing them up. My brain-to-pen connection was strong. Nowadays, everything flows through my keyboard. Even prayers.

What is it
that emanates from you:
enters, moves and exits,
dances my digits
across lonely letters,
forming whole words,
little acts of creation —
a platypus, perhaps,
beaked but mammalian,
spare bits that somehow swim —
or a perfect petit four, iced
elegance, consumed in a gulp?
Is it the stuff of charlatans,
tapped alphabets, levitating tables?
Or is it you, yourself,
hunting and pecking,
posing a sort of code,
and do I even interpret one word in three?
Whatever this holy magic is,
please may it always be.

Is it me, or does the world seem particularly noisy right now? Arguments abound — about who’s at fault in the government shut-down, about the kids from Covington, about how long a person ought to be able to last without a paycheck (“Just get a loan,” says one out-of-touch billionaire), about whether and how quickly political events are dragging Venezuela and England and the US and Zimbabwe (and a whole host of other countries) to hell in a hand-basket. It’s getting loud out there.

We cannot, of course, ignore current events. I mean, we can, but the minute we tentatively extend our ostrich heads out of the hole we’ve planted them in, the problems will still be there. Hiding won’t make the news go away. But being quiet and centering one’s self and getting away from social media (as Ruth has wisely done) can give us the space to get our heads together and form our own opinions. So —

Crawl into the smallest place in your mind,
the darkest, the most in-dwelling, and breathe.
Get entirely quiet with yourself.
Bring a book if you are uncomfortable with silence.
Turn inward on yourself until you are wrapped
securely in a sheet of inner tranquility.
Wait.
When you are ready, release yourself into the world.
You will be different —
one look at you and mouths will still.
This is a good thing.

Mary Oliver is dead. Maybe that name doesn’t mean anything to you. It should. Mary was one of the greatest poets of our time, and if you aren’t familiar with her work, I urge you — no, I beg you — to look her up. Her philosophy was that poetry shouldn’t be fussy, a sentiment all of my favorite poets share. She wrote about nature largely, but in doing so also wrote about deeper matters, matters of faith and spiritual sustenance. Her poems were like the most joyous of prayers, little hallelujahs. The world is poorer without her.

To see the least of God’s creatures
and view the universe in mandibles, pincers, paws;
to discover the very hue of God’s eyes in
a field of wheat, winter leaf or sprig of mint;
to capture all high heaven in the upturned work
of furrowing ants — what small eyes you had
and yet, how large. You are seeing it all now,
at last, and how it must dazzle! Pray for us,
toiling poets, working our own furrows,
that we will see, despite the size of our eyes,
the real, the plaintive, the whirring of wings
that wend ever heavenward, wings of locusts
or angels. It is all the same.

I’m convinced that the totality of woes in this world are utterly determined, enacted and exacerbated by human selfishness — the almighty “I.” You know: I am the center of the universe; my needs are most important; everyone who isn’t me is other, and they are the problem. What we entirely forget is that we completely dependent upon one another, not just for day-to-day life, but for the overall progress of humankind. When it comes to saving the planet, saving the future or saving our souls, I is not going to cut it.

We must change our capital “I’s” into lowercase ones. For instance: I explain, sermonize, pontificate, demand; i listen. I order the world for my own benefit; i put the good of others first. I build walls; i build bridges. (You get it.) If we fail, humanity fails. No less than that hangs in the balance.

Let us whittle our serifs into tittles. (No, I’m not being obscene; “tittle” is the name of the dot on the lowercase I; serifs are the decorative little lines on a capital I.) It is the only way to become like Jesus. Yes, I know the consensus is to capitalize all things God-related out of respect, but Jesus was the littlest “i” person in all of history. Everything he did was for us — not just the “us” who lived in Middle East during his time, but all of us, for all generations, including those yet unborn. Jesus saved all of us from eternal death. Let me put it this way: Think of how many people Jesus actually knew. Now think of how many people Jesus has saved. It takes great heart and complete abandonment of ego to give one’s life not just for your friends, but for people on the other side of the planet, centuries apart from your own existence. None of us can even imagine doing that, much less do it.

The world has nearly come to ruin numerous times because of big I’s. It has always been saved by small ones. So, which do you choose? As for me, I’ll just be over here whittling down my serifs.

I think 2019 is in cahoots with 2018. Dare I use the word “collusion”? It’s largely my fault, I guess. Every year, I give my life over to God, and every year I end up trying to run things myself. It is an easy trap to fall into, especially since sitting around like a lump waiting for God to pick me up and move me remains a nonstarter. What does allowing God to direct one’s life look like? And what is a soul to do when she cannot see the signs pointing the way? Write poetry, I guess.

For too long I’ve been onstage
listening for whispered cues —
“Never?” “Whether?” “Wetter?”
Can’t the prompter’s voice better carry,
especially as I’ve had no script to study?
Oh, my improv’s improved over the years;
I’ve studied every school from Method to
Methodist. Faith informs my performance
but gives no stage directions. The audience is restive.
I see them thumbing rotten fruit. I don’t want my end
to be ignominious hook, though I’ll not ask for ovation.
Might the director step in? His lack of notes befuddles.
What I have is old, a blurred third-hand translation
of transcendent art, the only visible word, love.
This will not get the audience seated, let alone
feed the cast. Yet the play goes ever onward.
Scenes change, scenery shifts, the crowd holds its breath.
Line, please.

We’re keeping things easy this time around, my husband and I. No New Year’s resolutions, just a loose plan to eat at one new restaurant every month. It’s simple, enjoyable and doable — we’re destined for success. And yes, we do need to lose weight, fix up the house, get organized…all of the typical fronts tackled by most folks’ resolutions. We’ve failed at those enough times to know that it’s not worth making a commitment you can’t keep, one that’s sure to end in unhappiness when you just can’t live up to it.

Resolutions are funny things. They are based entirely on what we want for ourselves. Certainly God isn’t asking us to run a mile a day or clean out our closets, except in the most general and generous of ways: God wants what is best for us. God wants us to be healthy and happy. Everything else we resolve to do is simply to satisfy our own image of what our lives should look like. Our lives should be more, better. Or so we think.

Instead, I urge you in the year ahead to do less. Take one thing off your list; excise one of the rules you live your life by. Not something central, but a tangential and self-imposed thing — the lawn must be lush and green year-round; the dishes cannot sit in the sink overnight; you must never eat a carbohydrate. Get rid of the script in your head that tells you “I’m too fat to shop for clothes” or “whenever someone perceives me to be a bad mother, I must feel guilty.” You don’t have to do or feel or think or be anything, no matter what anyone else expects, feels, thinks or chooses for you.

This year (2018) I did something difficult — I stopped dyeing my hair. And it was hard and it is hard; every time I look in the mirror, I have the knee-jerk reaction that I’ve let myself go. But…go where? What is it that I think I owe to other people when they look at me? In something as silly as embracing my natural hair, I’ve found more opportunities for self-examination than I ever guessed I might.

Take it easy on yourself in 2019. Resolve to just be happy. Because if you can’t be happy with yourself as you are, no resolution will ever make you so.

I understand that I’m not on your list, or anyone’s.
Take me anyway.
I realize I don’t fit right, run both too large and too small,
break easily and bolt through batteries like heartbeats.
Make me yours, despite it all.
Take me without bright paper or bows,
without tinsel or tags to distract from what is surely
not as dear as myrrh and nowhere near gold.
I’ve soiled the cloth you wove me of, that infantile innocence
that shone from my newly opened eyes.
Spin me anew.
May this white Christmas describe the state of my soul.
May I be the present under the tree.
May I be what is wanted:
fresh hay, animal heat, the company of shepherds,
pure and clean as a newborn star
nodding “yes” above a manger.

She was voted “Best Smile;” I was voted “Most Intelligent.” We remained close after grade school, despite going to different high schools, because she worked in a department store I frequented. Whenever we saw each other, we’d chat as if no time at all had passed since graduation.

Reconnecting on Facebook was a shock. I expected my old friend; instead I saw awful caricatures of President Obama and hateful speech. When did “Best Smile” become…this? I stayed friends but shut off her posts, checking in every once in a while to see if anything had improved. It hadn’t. Things eventually came to a head, and I had to unfriend her altogether.

This kind of division is becoming prevalent. Poetry, as always, becomes my voice.

You hear: up is down.
I hear: black is white.
Bedrock becomes liquid
and the oceans walkable.
When we cannot agree
on the color of the sky,
things have surely come apart.
We fire our pistols into the air,
heedless of the hail of bullets,
which, after all, have no
place to land but on our heads.
When the mad tea party ends,
we walking wounded
will have to speak, but how?
The alphabet is in ruins;
we are left with lines
in the dirt, crude gestures.
Only a devil could sow such discord.
Only God will loosen our lips.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: