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There’s been a lot of talk about hope lately. SueBe neatly defined it as a way of thinking positively about life. I gave it some thought and came up with a wild variety of metaphors…and maybe a little insight.

You can live on hope, if you need to.
You can eat it like bread, portion it out
to last, like pemmican, (or whatever it was
Lewis and Clark ate while Sacagawea took them
on a tour of places she already knew), only better-tasting.
The point being, hope is at least as good as a native guide,
even if it can’t tell you where you’re going. It can, however,
sustain. Hope is the rail on the stairway, the boy scout
who helps you cross a busy street, the friendly cop
on the corner. It is a safe place to land. Miss Emily
called it feathered, though, I think it less flighty
than the image deserves. It persists like plastic.
It stands in the desert, against the wind blowing
and doesn’t lose its nose, the way the Sphinx
did. It is a hearty breakfast: toast, eggs, bacon.
It cannot be spent, only abandoned. And even
then, it returns, nudging you with its wet nose
like a cat who has decided to stay. You might
as well keep it. The comfort of it will warm you,
some dark night, and make its care and feeding
worth your while.


Sometimes I think: Wouldn’t it be nice to squirrel myself away in some comfy little hole and turn exclusively to prayer? Then I remember: As much as the hermit lifestyle appeals, it is not practical. Not only are comfy little holes hard to come by, they are seldom free of charge. And there’s the niggling problem of needing to eat. But that’s not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is this: You can’t pray for the world if you’re hiding from it. You have to know what’s going on. You have to be a part of things. Otherwise, you’re just praying for yourself, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

It can be very painful to make yourself aware of the world’s troubles. There will always be too many of them to tackle, too many tragedies pulling at your limited heartstrings. You have to choose, but in choosing, you have to deal with the repercussion of guilt. It is a difficult place to live. A comfy hole is so much more congenial, don’t you agree? But it’s no place to linger, not if you have a heart.

Nowadays it’s an insult to be considered sensitive. It connotes a certain weakness, a lack of backbone, a pitiful inability to cope in today’s eat-or-be-eaten world. I don’t much care about that. If it takes not caring to get by in life, then I guess I won’t get by. Wherever that destination is, it doesn’t feel like a place worth going to. If feeling keenly about people and things makes me a snowflake, then — fine. I’m still here. And as long as the world stays cold with injustice and hatred and inequality, I will persist.

And if the milk of human kindness ever warms us all adequately, I will happily melt.

If there’s one thing you ought to know about me by now, it’s that I’m a Catholic. And if there’s one thing that you ought to know about Catholics, it’s that we love Mary. No, we do NOT worship her. We do NOT pray to her. We ask for her intercession because she is the one human being in all of history to have had an intimate relationship with God in all three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No one knows God better. No one is closer to God.

When children fall and hurt themselves, they run to their mother. So do Catholics. Our “falls” might be physical, mental or spiritual. But when we hurt, we reach out to Mary for comfort. She is our advocate.

The quintessential Marian prayer is the “Hail Mary.” It is taken partly from the words of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth when she saw Mary coming to visit her and recognized what was happening to her — Mary was carrying the Savior in her womb. Here’s how it goes:

Hail Mary, full of grace!
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Hail Mary is the most basic prayer needed to pray the rosary. There are a few others — the Our Father, the Glory Be, the Apostles’ Creed — but the Hail Mary is the foundation.

Why so much talk about Mary? Call it passing on the words of my people. My own relationship with Our Lady has brought peace to my life, and I think it could help you, too. The single thing necessary for building a relationship with Mary is simply the desire to do so. Just open the door. Talk to your Mother. What, you’re too busy? Don’t worry about it. Start with the Hail Mary. Let it lead you home. Mary can become your confidante and prayer partner. After all, Mother knows best.

The woman looked like she was seeing a ghost. “Joan?” she asked. She shook her head. “No, you can’t be. You must be her daughter.”

We were meeting up with my mother’s best friend outside a local theme park. The two hadn’t seen each other in thirty years, so my mother sent me over to see whether the woman in question really was Rita. That’s when she confirmed, as so many others had and have (before and since) my “remarkable” resemblance to my mother.

Only I have never seen it. I don’t have my mother’s large, deep-set eyes, with brow bones to die for. I don’t have her chiseled cheekbones. I’m a full eight inches taller than she is. She has auburn hair and eyes like polished cherry wood; I have dark brown hair and plain brown eyes. And yet those who have known my mother have always commented on our alikeness.

On our last visit to California, Mom showed me an old photo album: pictures of her mother, her uncles who served in World War One, and finally, her own graduation photo. And there it was. Bam! I saw myself in her at last.

In the last year, there have been a number of people I’ve not wanted to see myself in. I imagine this is true for everyone. It is especially true in recent weeks, with all the press about Roy Moore’s run for Senate. How could anyone support such a person? What was wrong with them? They seemed to me some new species of life form, so divorced from humanity as to be something that ought to be studied under a microscope.

And yet. I’m willing to bet that if I spoke to one of these people — maybe for minutes, maybe for days or weeks or years — I would find our point of commonality. I would see myself in them. Because, at some level, we are all the same. We are human.

I want you to think of a person or group of persons that you feel no kinship with. (Don’t kid yourself; we all have one. Or more.) Think about someone whose values, ideas and life has no intersection with your own, whose thoughts and feelings are as foreign to you as a place on a map so remote, you’ve never heard of it. Ho-Ho-Kus. Penetanguishene. Zwolfaxing.

Now think about this: You are more like this person or persons than you are unlike them. How can we bear ill will toward — essentially — ourselves? How can we refuse to see the similarities between ourselves and others? And, having seen them, how can we reject anyone, anywhere, anywhen?

I think that’s what makes hatred: fear. Fear of seeing ourselves as we look into the eyes of others. Fear of seeing that God made all of us, and we are one. Fear that we’re really not that different.

When my mother first saw me after my birth, she said it was “like looking into a mirror.” This Advent season, let’s challenge ourselves to turn the mirrors in the most unlikeliest of directions. Let’s try to see the junctures, the coinciding points, the commonalities. And if we still don’t like what we see, let’s ask the hard question — what is it in me that I don’t want to see?

They say there are two primal reactions to any situation: fight or flight. Let me suggest a third: holding for a moment, letting God make the decision for you. As fearful as you are, as stressful as the situation might be, God will hold you up. It is a moment I often forget to take, as used as I am to thinking I am in total control of my life (a laughable concept). But a necessary one. As usual, I illustrate in poetry:

Plunge in.
The water’s cold,
so cold it stops your heart
for a moment. And then
you come back into yourself,
all at once, water — wet, breath — held,
eyes — open, to clear blue impossibilities.
You will panic or be at peace;
it doesn’t matter which,
except in terms of long-term survival.
You will swim, after a fashion, or not.
It will be easier if you let your body go,
but that requires a yes you may not be ready for.
Try to say it anyway. The tide will lift you,
even if the yes is a lie.

Turns out the Texas shooter abused his wife, his child and various animals. Then there’s the guy who snapped a woman’s neck and gouged out her eyes for daring to reject his marriage proposal. And the ongoing accusations of exploitation and rape by Hollywood power brokers against women and children. Seems like hurting someone smaller and weaker than yourself is so endemic, it’s become part and parcel of ordinary life.

It probably always was, of course. Landowners abused serfs. Queens abused ladies-in-waiting. Children attack smaller children. It’s a jungle out there, folks, in the truest sense of the metaphor: Unless you’re an apex predator, watch out.

If you want to know where God is in all of this, look down, to the smallest and weakest of us. God always stands with the abused, the poor, the people on the fringes. That’s where God lives. Don’t believe me? Read the Sermon on the Mount again. Count the number of times and ways Jesus says that the last will be first, and the first, last. Picture poor Lazarus in paradise while Mr. Dives smolders away for all of eternity. And (at least from what we know), Dives never actively abused Lazarus; he just ignored him. How much greater will the punishment be for those who do mete out abuse?

So what can be done? Must we patiently wait for the next life for justice? Me, I’m going to pray The Litany of Nonviolence, written by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN. Feel free to add your voice.

Provident God,
aware of our own brokenness,
we ask the gift of courage
to identify how and where we are in need of conversion
in order to live in solidarity with Earth and all creation.

Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain.
Grant us the desire, and the humility,
to listen with special care to those
whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.

Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege.
Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply
so others may have their just share of Earth’s resources.

Deliver us from the silence
that gives consent to abuse, war and evil.
Grant us the desire, and the courage,
to risk speaking and acting for the common good.

Deliver us from the violence
of irreverence, exploitation and control.
Grant us the desire, and the strength,
to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.

God of love, mercy and justice,
acknowledging our complicity
in those attitudes, action and words which perpetuate violence,
we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.

In the eighth grade, my best friend had a crush on the class’s most unavailable boy — unavailable in that he was dating one of the more popular girls in our class. I remember my mother telling my friend that she was so much prettier than the girl in question, but my friend didn’t see it. Probably because children (teens included) lack far-sightedness: While the “girlfriend” had almost certainly done her “blooming” already, my friend had barely begun to nudge at the edges of her life-long flowering. At 52, she is still in her prime, and as any reader of Muriel Sparks knows, “Prime is best.”

It takes time to wake up to the possibilities of ourselves and to allow the negative grip that others have on us to diminish. I think that’s why so many young people feel depression and act out on it — they can’t see the way ahead. Time is the one gift we cannot bestow on another, and it’s just the gift so many need.

In my own life, I had nightmares for years about a bully from high school. I went to an all-girls’ school, and while we did not have to contend with toxic masculinity, I am here to tell you that toxicity is just as lethal in the female of the species. In our school it took shape in passive-aggressive cattiness, sudden shifts in friendship and verbal abuse. I let this person take roost in my subconscious for years because I was afraid of her. And then a funny thing happened: Time passed.

Specifically, social media happened. And it was here that I learned the truth: She was just another struggling human being. She had no power over me or anyone else. Her life was no picnic. No one’s is. And with that knowledge, she lost her hold on my psyche. I don’t dream about her anymore. I feel, if not empathy, sympathy for her. And all it took was the passage of years.

I have a young friend who is currently contending with nightmares about a person who deeply hurt her. I long to hug her and tell her that it will take time, but healing is not only possible but probable. God has given us such a gift in time. It is not a gift we can instantaneously take advantage of, however. But maybe that’s the beauty of it. In the dark days of struggle, we learn about ourselves. And we are forced to turn outwards toward God if we are to survive at all.

I hope my young friend will keep reaching outwards and allow time to show her that those who loom large today can evaporate into nothingness tomorrow. All we need do is wake up to the power and possibility we each possess. All it takes is time. And God has that well in hand.

When I was a kid, time passed slowly. A single day at school — a single math class! — could drag on into eternity. Sure, some things went too quickly — Christmas, summer. But for the most part, time was inexorable: When would I finally be done with school? When would I be a grownup? For Pete’s sake, what is taking so long?

Nowadays, time flies by me in panic-inducing rushes. How is it Thursday already? What happened to October? Wait — what do you mean your little boy is a college graduate? Wasn’t he a baby last week? If I could just reach out and stop time for a minute, just a minute…!

It’s enough to give a girl vertigo. (Or, in this case, a middle-aged woman. But wasn’t I a girl just yesterday?)

A strange old woman
haunts my mirror. I do not know her.
A thief has stolen thirty years of my life.
His crime goes unpunished.
God gave me a bag of time;
I just now noticed it has been leaking.
What to do to stanch the hemorrhage?
Make a mindful moment. And another.
String them like beads. Feel them
with your fingers. Then let go.
God will catch the train as it leaps from the trestle.
On that day, there will finally be enough time.

God knew.  He knew we prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar even if the familiar is broken. It is just easier.

That is why he encouraged us to follow.  He will lead.  It is simply up to us to listen and to have the courage to choose growth.  To choose Him.


(for my mother)

“I hope you never go through this,” she says, but there is no other way.
All roads lead here. All things must pass.
Think of life as a beautiful bird,
watch as time plucks your feathers one by one.

You sail through childhood like a happy ship
until you hear, “Girls can’t do math.”
Or “girls aren’t strong.”
You are young enough to wonder why. Pluck.

You grow into womanhood, revel in newness
like a just-born foal, kicking up its heels.
The world notices in strange new ways.
You learn fear. Pluck.

Then — when did it happen? You’re not so young
and it comes to you at once that your worth,
the price tag of your being, was bound in what you were.
You disappear like vapor. Pluck.

Menopause takes what you’ve finally learned to love,
memory, ripeness, uncanny feminine ability.
You ask yourself, what are you now?
Thinning bones and lost days. Pluck. Pluck.

When does it dawn that you are mostly chicken flesh,
shivering and practically naked?
When do you know that you
no longer know?

Perhaps when the last feather falls you see:
God was there all along, collecting your plumage,
saving it, knitting it into a most fantastic garment.
And when you die, you wear your feathers anew, this time as wings.

And you soar, at last.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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