Monday, May 6, 2013

I called Marilyn today to ask her what she wanted for her birthday.  It's in five days.  I thought I would send her some more of John's CDs.  Last year I sent her his Motown collection. This year I found Isaac Hayes and "Shaft", Billy Preston, Marvin Gaye and Chicago to send her.  Every time I go through John's collection I am more and more amazed at his discerning ear for the very best in Rock & Roll.  He has two shelves of LPs down in the basement that I have to go through.  But Marilyn knew exactly what she wanted.  She asked for one of John's jackets if I still had any.  I kept his old, leather, "salty-looking" London Fog that he bought when we lived in North Carolina. I think it must have been one of our first excursions to an outlet.  We didn't know anything about outlets and John had a blast shopping in Burlington, NC for the first time!  He wore it all the time - for at least 20 years.  I couldn't part with it as I packed up all his clothes for the thrift stores these past two terrible years after his death.  That jacket was the only thing hanging in the closet.  Someone told me about "curating" things and that's what I thought I was doing by keeping that one thing.  But it is time to let go of it to an admiring sister-in-law.  Marilyn wants my late husband's leather jacket!  I love that!  My siblings loved him so.  That is a consolation.  I hope Marilyn knows how much she is helping me, even though it's her birthday. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

It had been several years past high school graduation when I found myself at a Christmas party with a few familiar high school acquaintences.  One of the guests was the former first violinist in the high school orchestra. She was one of the smartest kids in school and was a class ahead of me. I had admired her.  She had a younger sister my sister's age, also smart and accomplished.   We had all known each other in high school, but had not really been in touch after we graduated.

At the party I said hello to my former senior classman. After we chatted for a few minutes I asked about her younger sister.  How is Paulette?  There was a brief silence and maybe even a slight gasp.  Then, very calmly and graciously she said, "Oh, you don't know that Paulette was killed in a car accident a few years ago." How sorry I felt.  I felt a little awkward at not having known this. But how could have I known?

Paulette's older sister then smiled and said, "It makes me feel good that people still ask about her.  Thank you for remembering her." I've carried that gracious statement with me for decades.  And I remembered it again last night when a parishioner's mother whom I don't see very often leaned over to me at dinner and asked, "Didn't your husband want to come with us?" She was asking about a museum tour in the City that a group of us had traveled to from Plainfield. She met us there and joined us for dinner afterward.

I felt myself grow silent wondering how I could answer her kindly since John has been dead for almost two years. I was still working out what to say when her face lit up and she remembered. Instantly we fell into each other's arms tearfully. Then I told her that her question reminded me of how John would have done it.  He would NOT have wanted to join us for the museum tour. But he would have loved to have met us for dinner and a glass of wine, maybe two. And then I said, "Thank you for asking about John.  It's good that you remembered him." 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." This part of the Serenity Prayer has recently become my special companion. The most important thing it is teaching me is to recognize "the things I cannot change."  All my life I lived under the illusion that I could do anything if I worked hard enough and smiled at enough people. Years ago, a boss of mine in pharmaceutical sales wrote on one of my evaluations something that fueled my hard work ethic, "Carolyn, has a 'can do' attitude." I translated that into, "There's nothing I can't do" and proceeded to work very long hours and smile the whole time.

John was part of that equation. The two of us loved a challenge! His ingenuity and hard work coupled with my smiles and hard work got us through lots of challenges. Challenge for us was adventure.  We had amazing life experiences together that we called "adventure. Neither one of us would look at a challenge and say, "this is a thing I cannot change."

Now it's two years after his death and my singular challenge is to adjust to this thing I cannot change. It's humbling and it's heartbreaking. The heartbreak might be a thing I can change - over time, through prayer and community. Some very wise people promise me that I'll eventually hurt less.  But right now, I wouldn't mind a little serenity in my life as I navigate forward.

Friday, January 4, 2013

I haven't posted here since before John died nearly two years ago. The second anniversary of his death is coming up the end of February. I'm remembering that two years ago at this time we learned that his pancreas and liver were full of cancer. We were hopeful that chemotherapy might give us at least a year. He was dead in less than two months. It just took him. And I watched, helpless to do anything about it. We couldn't even really manage his nausea, his pain or his dramatic weight loss. It was even too much for the oncologists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. So, he became an in-patient there for the last 12 days of his life and they worked tirelessly to give him relief.

I'm remembering all this, re-living the desperation, grasping any thread of hope we could find. We went to see "True Grit" together on our 27th anniversary, December 31, 2010. I fixed his favorite meal to celebrate, but he only took a few bites. He was full, a sinister side effect of pancreatic cancer. It simulates the feeling of being full before you can eat enough to be nutritionally sustained.

John wore his Marine Corps baseball cap as they wheeled him into the MSK emergency room for the last time. I'm hearing the van driver's voice call him, "Captain" reverently, respectfully as he carefully lowered John into the wheel chair, trying not to cause any more pain.

"Captain" "O Captain, My Captain" Whitman's poem and another respectful and reverent use of the word associated with death and dying. I'm feeling a calm sorrow today as the end of Christmastide approaches. Yet, I'm taking the advice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who even at the end of his Nazi imprisonment encouraged his loved ones to "Be joyful in the Lord..." And so that is my prayer and my psalm today. It gives me hope and lifts me up - this reason for joy - God's love for us manifested in the child we call Jesus.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I'm looking outside this 25th day of February 2010 and barely see the street lights. The snow is heavy and the wind is intense. I thought I might just look up flights to Mexico City tonight - good for my cold spirit! My favorite Continental flight from Newark departs early in the morning and arrives after 1 p.m. in Mexico City for only $318 round trip. Actually, the full cost is $414 after lots of security and airport taxes. Not bad. I'm ready to travel back to Cuernavaca and visit my friends. I desire to spend a couple of weeks learning more Spanish. It's been lots of fun to speak Spanish and celebrate the Mass in Spanish here in Plainfield at Grace - ok, it's fun for me - probably not so fun for my Spanish-speaking friends to hear me trip all over their beautiful words! I depend on their good will, though. And I'm not disappointed. My dream, my hope is to get to Mexico again this summer to see my friends Estela, Alicia, Carlos, Selene, Hermilo, Evelia and Andrea - all such marvelous, generous teachers. Hard to imagine the rainy season in Mexico as a blizzard blows horizontal snow outside. BRRRR!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I am a Señora

This is my last day of sabbatical. I feel thoroughly rested and renewed. I am deeply grateful for this time of rest, renewal, adventure and study. Thank you good people of Grace Church for this time of abundance in my vocation as a priest.

In Mexico I was hoping to "pass" as a Mexican once I learned a few phrases of Spanish. But like my mother said, "Carolyn, you are so tall compared to all the people in your pictures!" And, as one of my teachers pointed out, "Carolina, eres blanca." (You are white.) She wanted me to know as part of my learning that Mexcians generally were "moreno." (brown).

But last Sunday as a I walked down the streets of Plainfield to the carillon concert at church, a man I didn't know spoke to me and said, "¿Como esta?" I was very surprised. Then Maria saw me and began to speak Spanish to me. I think I am a "señora" after all!

I always enjoy the annual carillon concert and peach festival. The carillon has a beautiful sound with its 47 bells. The carillon tower and the big stone half block building of Grace Church reminds me of some of the grand façades I encountered in Mexico. The history of these buildings is complicated. Expertly engineered pyramids were erected all over Mexico and central America. Many of them were built to worship the sun god or the moon god or the serpent/jaguar god, Quetzecotyl. In some cases, humans were sacrificed on top of these pyramids. In their time, some humans were honored to give up their lives to appease the gods. One history book gives an account of as many as 20,000 humans being sacrificed at one point in time. I had a nightmare the night I read that section!

Then Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico with his band of soldiers and priests to find the treasure in the East. The Spaniards set about systematically destroying many of the pyramids and erecting cathedrals or palaces on the sites. They took some of the beautiful, carved stone objects and re-made them for use in Christian worship. On one of the trips to Mexcio City, I went to the Museo de Antropologia. I was amazed to find a stone baptismal font made out of one of the vessels presumed to have held some remnants of human sacrifice.

The cathedral in Mexico City across from the Presidential Palace was erected on destroyed pyramids. Yet, in the square the day I visited, there were other influences that the people seek as well as Roman Catholicism. For example, outside the gate in front of the cathdedral, a man dressed in authentic indegenous clothing stood censing a man in a T-shirt. There was a line of people waiting for their "purification rite."

Next to the man censing was a tent with a clown drawing a great crowd. The clown looked a little like Mark Twain and he was satyrizing the Calderon administration. Next to the cathedral on the side street outside the gate people were gathering around two more clowns. They were performing juggling and acrobatics, telling jokes as they performed. Joy and laughter abounded while the bronze statue of John Paul II (with a mysterious face of the Virgen de Guadelupe) looked on behind the cathedral gates. (I feel certain the pope was smiling at the clowns!)

As I return to my home place of worship tomorrow, I enter the beautiful building with a feeling of light-heartedness and anticipation. I believe humor is of God and belongs in the church. So, my heart is light. I believe that this summer's sabbatical has opened doors to cultures and people whom I've not really seen, much less spoken to. I look forward to learning how to bridge the cultural and language divide between me and my Latino neighbors. I hope you join me as the good folks of Grace Church and I embark on this adventure God has called us to. And I hope to write more on my blog "post sabbatical."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


My friend Gail from Grace Church called yesterday. She said that she had been reading my sabbatical blog and had a better understanding of our Latino neighbors because of it. That really is wonderful to hear. The members of Grace Church understand that to live with each other in the community of the church we have to learn about each other and understand each other. It's important to "get" the other person. Thanks Gail for reading my blog. Thanks Dave, my friend at Grace for printing my blog for parishioners who can't access it on the computer. Thanks Maria, my neighbor for reading and posting responses. I did get to Mexico City and spent four hours at the Museo de Antropologia. Thanks for your encouragement.

There were many cultural things I had to adjust to in Mexico. Thankfully, I had read quite a bit about the culture and the people. But I wasn't used to the constant noise. When I lived with Evelia I heard loud music from cars, children shouting until late at night playing ball and throwing it against the metal garage door under my room, loud music at El Centro, fireworks until late on the weekends, the constant "riot" of dogs that lived in the street corner with the family that had come in from the poor area of town and "squatted" under a tarp they had put up.

I understood from the history of Mexico that there are fiestas for everything: birthdays, The Virgen de Guadalupe, the pagan indigenous rituals from hundreds of years ago, the neighborhood patron saint/s, the 15th birthday of the daughters, baptisms, first communions. Almost every day has some reason for a fiesta. Even the day of the dead, November 2 is a fiesta.

One of my teachers explained fiestas to me. She described their link to poverty. She said that there is a tradition of spending all you have on fiestas, especially the poor. There is not much of a tradition of saving. So, the day after the fiesta, people are poorer than before the fiesta. She worries that this is a problem for the future.

The Nobel Prize winning author Octovio Paz, a Mexican wrote the following in his book, "Labyrinth of Solitude", "It is impossible to calculate how many fiestas we have and how much time and money we spend on them. I remember asking the mayor of a village near Mitla, several years ago, 'What is the income of the village government?' 'About 3,000 pesos a year. We are very poor. But the Governor and the Federal Government always help us to meet our expenses.' 'And how are the 3,000 pesos spent?' 'Mostly on fiestas, senor. We are a small village, but we have two patron saints.'"

Paz goes on to write, " could a poor Mexican live without the two or three annual fiestas that make up for his poverty and misery? Fiestas are our only luxury. They replace, and are perhaps better than, the theater and vacations, Anglo-Saxon weekends and cocktail parties, the bourgeois reception, the Mediterranean cafe."
One thing I know from my time in Mexico: poverty, fiestas and the meaning of life in Mexico are very complicated themes.

My friend Gail now understands the loud music - why we frequently hear it playing in our neighborhoods, near our church, Grace, from an occasional car - it's fiesta!