"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

25 December 2009

Christmas Stories from NRO

Christmas "Over There"
A soldier remembers Christmas in Iraq

(I don't pretend to have any understanding of transubstantiation, but that's not really the point of the post, as you will see if you read the whole thing.)

A sobering reminder of the way the world tends.

Not exactly a Christmas story but a lovely reminder of the nature of beauty. If you look up the young man's website, you'll find video of his performances -- amazing.

Something to make you laugh, I hope. (If you are one of my liberal friends, this probably doesn't apply to you personally. So I hope you will laugh with me!)

The story of an organization committed to saving babies from abortion -- Room at the Inn

19 December 2009

"Beauty, Beauty, Beauty"

Something I wrote a few days ago:

We arrive on the college grounds before dawn, in mist that has required a slow but steady clicking of windshield wipers. Seen from my office suite's third-floor windows, the dark fog clinging to the trees and wavering over the lawn makes the quad appear submerged in a faerie sea. Later, as the sun rises, the fog thickens and whitens. On my way to class, I pause beneath an ancient pine between buildings: five feet away all is blurred, suffused into the mist, while the tree's rough trunk, its nearest branches with their baby cones, the cracks in the sidewalk, the browning of still-green December grass, all sharpen into relief and startle with a vividness lost in the past weeks' dull wintery grays. "Beauty, beauty, beauty." How can I so often find myself believing that God has abandoned this world He creates and loves, or the image-bearers with whom He has peopled it? "The dearest freshness deep down things" is always pressing its way up to prove me wrong.

14 December 2009


Success: when your students quote Annie Dillard from memory in class presentations and in spontaneous reflection papers. Yes!

10 December 2009

Scars and Destiny

Criminal Minds
impressed me yet again last night.
Last season ended with a serial killer who had escaped from prison finding Hotch (the team had put him into prison in the first place) and stabbing him multiple times, but deliberately not killing him, even taking him to the hospital emergency room to be treated in time to live. When they found that he had Hayley's address, his intent became clear: his goal was to destroy Hotch by destroying all that he loved. (Hayley was Hotch's estranged wife, whom he still loved deeply, and who had custody of their young son, Jack.) So Hayley and Jack were sent into protective custody, unable to have any contact with Hotch.

So this season they've been hunting the killer while dealing with other cases, and finally the killer, in the last episode, found Hayley's FBI protection agent, tortured him, got Hayley's phone number from his phone, and left him to die after calling her and telling her that her agent and Hotch were dead, he was her new agent, and she needed to meet him at her old home so he could take her to a new safe house.

Hotch is talking to her on the phone (the killer, to further his mental torture of both of them, calls him after getting control of Hayley and Jack), and tells her to be strong, not to let the killer make her beg, and so on, then tells Jack that he needs to "help Daddy with the case," code for hiding in a trunk near Hotch's desk. Hayley holds up her courage to avoid distressing Jack into giving away or leaving his hiding place, and Hotch (along with the rest of the team, patched into his phone) hears the two gunshots that kill her. He arrives in time to save Jack, and Morgan, arriving with the team shortly after him, has to pull him off the killer as he continues to pound his face in fury and in terror -- if he stops, and the killer is not dead, he could still harm Jack.

In this week's episode, the team was called away after Hayley's funeral to a case in Nashville. Before they go, Rossi talks with Hotch about his future: will he continue with the BAU, resign, what? It seems clear that he needs to continue using his gift by "catching the bad guys," as Rossi says, but he is broken and scarred, both literally and figuratively. Rossi, without pressuring him in either direction, says to him, "Scars remind us where we've been; they don't have to dictate where we're going." Later, when Hotch indicates his feeling of helplessness before single fatherhood, Rossi says, "You need to decide what kind of father you want to be, then you'll know what to do."

The episode takes us back and forth between the team's work and Hotch as he moves into a new home, comforts his son, and tries to understand his next step. One especially poignant scene: Jack is lying on the couch watching a video taken on his recent third birthday, a time Hotch couldn't share with them because they were under protection. Hotch enters the room, watches until the video is coming to a close, then says, "Time for pjs." Jack, staring at his mother and himself blowing kisses to his daddy, says sadly, "I want to wait a little longer for Mommy."

Hotch's big decision now is whether to remain in the BAU. Jack needs him, and he needs his work. Hayley's sister has been helping with Jack and the household work, and she tells Hotch that if he chooses to stay with the Bureau, she will care for Jack when he has to be gone. "Please let me do this," she says, ". . . for Hayley." Finally, the Chief -- who has been trying to get rid of Hotch forever because his skill and ambition pose a threat to her own ambitions -- brings him an offer for retirement with full pension and benefits. She is startled when Hotch asks for time to consider instead of accepting it immediately.

When the team returns to D.C., Rossi finds Hotch at Hayley's grave. He asks, nodding to the grave, "Have you told her yet?" "Told her what?" Hotch replies. "That you aren't leaving the BAU?" "Oh, I don't need to tell her that," Hotch says; "she already knows."

The voice-over at the end is from Emerson: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." Scarred and broken people still have the opportunity and the responsibility to live well, to use their gifts in service.

01 December 2009

Writing is Survival

Deciding to eat breakfast in the cafeteria today, I caught up Ray Bradury's Zen in the Art of Writing to take with me, as I am teaching Fahrenheit 451 again next semester. The preface reminded me of the need for writers to write: "[W]riting is survival," Bradbury writes. "Any art, any good work, of course, is that."

Restlessness sets in when a writer fails to write for any length of time. And so, a few minutes this morning to exercise the writer's means of knowing the world.

Life is, of course, too busy. Urgency upon urgency demands moment after moment until one's days are filled with a frantic attempt to get it all done while perhaps failing to ever approach the truly important. In light of this reality, Thanksgiving break was a true break for me this year. Tuesday after collecting the last essays due, I went shopping for a turkey and all the "fixins," as my grandmother always said. Wednesday I thought to do some grading but ended up taking off altogether, reading, napping, surfing my favorite websites to catch up on the reflections of writers I've come to know and appreciate. The Young Man had declared his intention to cook for the holiday meal, so I took the turkey from the fridge before I went to bed so it would finish thawing overnight and went to sleep without a thought to the next day's work.

I woke Thanksgiving morning to the enticing odors of cornbread, sauteeing onion and celery, pumpkin pie -- and the lovely feeling that there was no rush ahead of me. It was only the three of us; we could eat any time. I ensconced myself in the living room LazyBoy with my laptop and notes for the online course I'm designing, dispensed a bit of requested advice about the cranberry-apple dessert, and got a couple of hours of relaxed work done. Once the dessert was out of the oven, I did my bit -- put the turkey in and washed and sliced the sweet potatoes to boil and mash just before time to eat. The next four hours I worked a bit, watched UP and cried like a baby -- and simply relaxed. Dinner was a delight (except for the occasional infelicity resulting from my failure to be a sufficient civilizing influence on my barbarians' dinner conversation), the men cleaned up the kitchen, and I got some more work done during the evening after a nap.

Friday was another lovely day, waking when I was ready, working on the online course, napping, a trip downtown to the antique store where K. bought me a set of rings (finally I can wear a wedding band that fits again!) and a necklace, Thanksgiving leftovers. Saturday was more of a strain, simply because commenting on freshman essays took longer than I had anticipated. But Sunday morning I was able to finish them, and, surprisingly, completed the advanced comp essays before dinner time with the evening to work on the online course again.

Five days, almost all my planned work completed, and completely relaxed except for a panicked hour Saturday evening when I knew I wouldn't finish the freshman essays and despaired of having time for any rest on Sunday. But the rest was provided, the panic unnecessary.

The details aren't what's important, of course. It was the taste of a few days of the way I think life should be. Accomplishing work but without the constant sense of harried desperation that permeates our culture. Resting without a frantic need to do something and the sense of real leisure for reflection. Surely this is something, however remotely, like what we were designed for?

Last night, K. took me out for a hamburger after work. As we walked to the car from the restaurant, I looked into cold and threatening clouds, darkening into late evening, to be greeted with the nearly full moon faithfully lighting the sky. Hope to hold on to.