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Since we lost our cat Bella two weeks ago, the house seems empty. The irony is, we still have three cats. They are elderly, quiet, less active than they used to be. They are also the last three of a “pride” that once numbered eleven. Going from 11 to three is a dramatic decline. We feel like empty nesters.

Two feelings have arisen in me simultaneously: A desire to adopt more cats plus an equal desire to never adopt again. It is difficult for me to not want to help every stray and needy animal that’s out there. On the other hand, every time we lose one, it hurts dreadfully. I don’t want to hurt again, even though I know I will as three becomes two becomes one becomes zero. Each of our adoptees filled a special space in my heart. They taught me about patience, nurturing, joy and love. As they leave the earth, they take that piece of me with them.

I’ve had to analyze why it is I want to reopen what’s left of my heart to another animal. I think it’s because it’s easier to love animals than to love people. Cats appreciate the smallest luxuries, especially after a life on the streets: a warm bed, plentiful food, a clean box. But people? They’re complicated. Jealous. They come with baggage. It’s harder to please them. It’s harder to show them love. There’s no guarantee that they’ll purr in response to your efforts.

I clearly have a lot of love to give or I wouldn’t have adopted so many animals in my lifetime. What makes it so difficult to transfer that loving from animals to people? Maybe it’s because I understand cats. I can communicate with them. People, not so much, even though we do share a species, language and culture. You’d think it would be the other way round.

And it brings up the following question: Why can’t we accept the simplest acts of love from one another? Why do we look into every gesture, every word, for subtext, motive, hidden agendas? Probably because we’ve been hurt by those things before. If we could give and receive love as easily and freely as animals do, we’d probably be a lot better off. If all it took to restore someone’s good mood was a scratch behind the ears, I’d be doing a lot more scratching. And those good moods would be creating a mountain of good will.

So don’t be put off if some lonely looking woman comes up to you and offers you a sardine or rub under the chin. It’s just me, looking for connections in a simpler, stranger language. Take it as a compliment. Or hand me a kitten. Either way, I’m good.

Carry God’s love into the day and you will be carrying fire!chardin

madonaIf I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

That was the Bible verse of the day for Friday and I have to admit that I laughed out loud. No, it isn’t funny but it is astonishingly appropriate.

How many would-be discussions lately degenerate into name calling? If you didn’t join the Women’s March, you’re a conservative misogynist.  If you aren’t a female veteran, then you really haven’t fought for anyone’s rights you tantrum throwing liberal.

Obviously, these are not people who knew my grandmother who would remind them that honey is sweeter than vinegar and everyone can be caught with a little honey.  Yeah, G-ma had an amazing sweet tooth but she also had a point.

Sweetness and love win people over a whole lot faster than name calling and hate. Speak without love and you’re liable to sound harsh and possibly even hateful. That’s what happens when you call names and belittle others.  You look small minded and . . . small.

honeyIt doesn’t matter what realities and truths you know, if you don’t have love you won’t connect with people and your message will go out to no one. Love brings with it compassion and empathy.  It carries grace and generosity.  It opens your ears so you can hear and your heart so you can feel.  Do this and you will be able to share the realities that you see.

It doesn’t matter how much you give and how much effort you put out, when you do it without love . . . pointless. Why? Because it will look like you are doing it all for your own glory. If, on the other hand, you openly and honestly care for other people, that will show and your actions will be seen as generosity.

Love begets caring.  Love begets understanding.  Love begets empathy.  Without it? Vinegar, harsh and stinging.

It’s your choice – honey or vinegar?

–SueBE

angelou

I don’t go around thinking about Original Sin all that much. Who does? It’s like an old stain on a favorite shirt. Who remembers how it got there? But something our friend Lady Calen wrote recently caused me to have what can only be deemed a revelation: What if Original Sin isn’t what we think it is? What if it isn’t disobedience — which, let’s face it, never made much sense (“You can eat from any of the trees in the garden except that one. It’s the best one, by the way.”). What if it’s a little more personal?

Just after the fracas with the apple, God asks Adam and Eve why they’ve donned snappy little outfits made of leaves. Adam says, essentially, “We were naked, so we covered ourselves up.” But who told them that being naked was a bad thing? Who got into their heads with comments like, “Seriously, Eve, those thunder thighs. Put on a skirt”? Not the snake. They did it themselves.

What if Original Sin is a failure to love ourselves properly?

Take a minute to think it through. What if our inability to love ourselves is at the root of sin and hatred toward others? What would happen if we stopped running ourselves down and fully participated in the gifts we were bestowed? Maybe something miraculous.

But Lori, you might say (if you knew me well enough to know my name), plenty of people love themselves. In fact, they love themselves a little too much. Maybe that’s just the other side of the sinful coin. Narcissism is like looking at oneself the wrong way through a telescope. It has no more to do with reality than undermining ourselves constantly. And it can lead to the same failure to love others properly. Only after we are at home in ourselves — neither grossly overvaluing nor undervaluing our beings — can we properly live among others.

Does that sound too easy? Well, contemplate this: How many of us have managed to love ourselves properly, historically speaking? How many of us have got it right? Someone who loves herself does not start a war. He or she does not commit violence. He or she does not hate others, because he/she is secure in him/herself. So the answer to the aforementioned questions is this — practically nobody.

It is our lives’ work to know and love ourselves, to find our place in the world at large. That’s it. And yet we fail at it, over and over again. I’m not excluding myself. Just this morning I wondered why on earth I should love a short-tempered old cow like myself. I haven’t got the answers. I can only pose the questions.

But if loving ourselves is the point — if failure to love is our Original Sin — hadn’t we better get a jump on fixing it? Let’s start now, during this blessed season, by doing one thing for ourselves. Take a nap. Be content with the presents you’ve bought. Stop stressing. And just open your heart up, to yourself and to the world. You know, sometimes I put two and two together and make a pretty good-sounding “four.” I’m gonna rest in that knowledge today.

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My son, Cole, graduated from high school this past June, and he received many lovely gifts, but the one that warmed my heart was a simple card that he received from his sister, Isabel.

At first blush, one might see a re-purposed holiday card, but look closely: it’s actually a benediction. It’s a five-year-old girl’s way of bestowing a blessing on one of her favorite people in the world.

Isabel really loves some Cole. And I can honestly say, the feeling is mutual.

Once, while she was visiting, I asked my son to put out the garbage and recycle bins, and he headed for the door. “I want to help!” Isabel said. “No, honey, it’s garbage. Dirty.” “But I can help Cole!” she insisted. “Well, okay. You can be his helper,” I said. “You walk with him as he carries out the cans.”

And she did. Silently, scrupulously, she walked side-by-side with her brother as he carried one, two, three cans of garbage. It was impressive that she could match his loping teen-age stride, as he’s 6”3, and, at five-years-old, she’s considerably shorter. She walked exactly in his footsteps. If he stopped short, so did she. If he scratched his cheek, she did, too. My son noticed her doing this and I saw that he smiled ever so slightly. I was amazed that the kids putting out the garbage could almost move me to tears!

The nice thing is, as Isabel said so eloquently in the graduation card she wrote to Cole, they love each other, but they also like each other. That’s a big deal. You can’t force kids to enjoy each other’s company, even if they live in the same household, and these two live in different homes.

The graduation card may look like a Christmas card to most, but to me, it’s actually a gift card. What a gift to have kids in our lives! What a gift to have family that gets along so well! What a gift to see the ones you love making their own way in the world. Well, come to think of it… with all these gifts, maybe it is Christmas after all.

Pope Francis, in his great wisdom, has named 2016 the Year of Mercy. Yet a number of us seem confused by what exactly “mercy” means. It’s like forgiveness, but not quite. Like empathy, but not quite. Like forbearance…but not quite.

The world is greatly in need of mercy right now. Mercy takes us out of ourselves and causes us to look with compassion at those around us. If we all did that — and then acted on what we saw — in what grand and spectacular ways might we change the world? It is a thought worthy of poetry.

What is mercy?
Nothing much. An eye
turned outward. A seeing.
One heart bursting
its home of bone
to say, “I see you.”
To say, “I’m sorry.”
To say, “You matter.”

What is mercy?
It is a choice of roads:
one narrow, one broad.
It is leaving home
for a foreign place,
learning the language,
feeling it on the tongue.
Grasping the verbs, the adjectives.

What is mercy?
It is a bearing of burdens,
balm, bread, blood.
It is entering the wider door,
apprehending the aerial view.
It is naming each stone,
tenderly, but letting it lie,
in the manner of itself.

heart and hands

At eight years old, my son taught me an important lesson in body language and soul-speak.

After walking home from the bus stop, he came through the door, smiling.

In quick succession, I issued a list of his moving violations.

  • You wore that shirt?
  • Don’t slouch! 
  • You forgot your homework again.

Posture adjustment.

From “Glad to be home from school – oh look, there’s my Mom!”

to “Guess I did something wrong and didn’t even know it.”

Looked like a tiny candle’s flame, fading. Flickering out. Poof!

That very day, I learned something. I felt terrible that I had made my own child feel so terrible.

Next afternoon, I started a new tradition.

Since that time and to this day, when he comes home from school, I don’t harp or hassle or harangue. I don’t carp or criticize or cauterize with my words.

Front door opens. I dance.

Flail around like a dadblamed fool.

Like a cheerleader hailing a champion.

I clap my hands and sing. “My son is home! My sooooon is hooooome. Yay! Tell me all about your day, son,” as if talking to Magellan, returning from high seas with tall tales.

Sure, he may roll his eyes at such a dramatic display of MotherLove; still, he walks slowly down the hall to his room, as if secretly appreciating being appreciated.

Teaching is a part of life for all of us, but I’ve never learned anything from being yelled at, picked on or beaten down.

My son may have been the one coming home from school, but I’m the one who learned a lesson.

Note to self: When people you love come home, make them feel at home.

Love your loved ones.

Sounds obvious, but this basic truth can get lost in translation. I’m so glad I finally listened.

loveI don’t remember what our plans were for our first anniversary, but I still remember my friend’s reaction.  Why weren’t we going somewhere for the weekend?  What was wrong?

When she married and had her first anniversary, I saw what she had been expecting.  A trip.  A B&B.  Hoopla.

The reality is that we don’t mind trips or B&Bs or hoopla but we’re just as happy with dinner out.  Or dinner in.  Maybe a movie.  Or a hike.  Love doesn’t have to be flashy to be love whether it is the love between my husband and I or God and I.

Love is love.

As a child, I imagined a world of eventualities for myself. I would be a famous writer (of course). I would probably live in New York, because that’s where writers lived (or so I believed). When I was terribly young, I accepted the fact that I might marry and have kids, because that’s what people do. By the time I was teenager, however, I’d changed my mind: I would never marry and never have kids. I was a product of the late ‘60s and ‘70s — a proto-feminist, cultural daughter of Ms. magazine and Free to Be, You and Me. I was woman!

The one thing I never expected became the thing I got — a love story of the grandest and rarest sort. I met my (now) husband shortly after my 20th birthday, and married him at 23. We have, in many ways, grown up together. After 31 years together, we are still ecstatically in love. My husband is my best friend, my “happily ever after.” He is one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

Until we were well into our 30s, strangers would ask if we were newlyweds; we still walk hand-in-hand everywhere we go. When I finish a slice of pizza, he cuts me another of the exact size and proportion that I am craving — sometimes comprising just the crust — and when I cut him a quizzical look, he says, “Well, duh!” or “Like I’m a separate person from you!” We engage in mental telepathy on a regular basis, crack each other up with inside jokes that bewilder outsiders. We don’t socialize. We don’t go to parties. We prefer each other’s company over any other in all the world.

I know this is a terrifyingly rare and fragile gift. The idea of losing him, ever, leaves me breathless. I’ve sworn him, on many occasions, to a pact in which I get to die first. Ideally, however, we would die within moments of each other, when we are quite elderly, having lived out one of the world’s greatest romances. You know, the kind of thing they used to write up in newspapers, the sort of phenomenon that still makes a splash on social media.

I can also honestly say that my husband has brought me into closer relationship with God. His decision to convert to Catholicism (having spent most of his life as an agnostic) reengaged me with my own faith, made me fall in love with the Church all over again. My husband encourages me to follow my heart — to give money to strangers, even if they turn out to be disingenuous, to serve a community of women religious despite their geographical distance from us, to pray for other people because he believes my prayers are strong ones. I once heard a priest remark that the primary function of a marriage is to make sure one’s spouse makes it into heaven. If I ever achieve such lofty heights, it is due at least in part to my husband. (Though my mother deserves a big shout-out here, too. Thanks, Mom.)

A former co-worker once dismissed my marriage as “boring,” as compared to her “rollercoaster” of a union (which ended shortly thereafter). I tried to explain it to her: How I married Owen because he is a good person, and, as Socrates once explained, true love can only be love of the good. Good is enduring. Good is of God. Can a marriage really be both sacred and sanctifying? Yes. Yes, it can.

Happy birthday, honey.

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