"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

30 May 2010

Learn it you will . . .

I knew K. was watching a John Wayne war movie involving fighter pilots. Not particularly interested, I went to the study to read, dozed off for a bit, and woke to this, ringing out in that familiar gruff voice:

Believe me, gentlemen, I take no pleasure in re-teaching you what you should have already learned -- but learn it you will!

Laughed so hard it was a good thing I was already sitting down.

17 May 2010

Another New Love

I love finding new poets whose works I think I shall love.

My Paul Mariani biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins arrived today. I have read the acknowledgments, the first paragraph of the first chapter, and a poem of Mariani's dedicated to Hopkins . . . and I've fallen in love with Mariani, who will, I have no doubt, make me fall in love with Hopkins all over again.

Kendall sent me a picture of a kingfisher ("As kingfishers catch fire") from the November 2009 National Geographic. Here a couple of links to the article and its photos. This is, of course, the "fisher" to which Mariani's poem below refers.

Here's the dedication poem by Mariani that opens the book (those who are familiar with Hopkins will especially appreciate it):

Hopkins in Ireland
for the Jesuit community at Boston College

Above the bluebleak priest the brightblue fisher hovers.
The priest notes the book upon the table, the lamp beside the book.
A towering Babel of papers still to grade, and that faraway look
as once more the mind begins to wander. Ah, to creep beneath the covers

of the belled bed beckoning across the room. He stops, recovers,
takes another sip of bitter tea, then winces as he takes another look
at the questions he has posed his students and the twists they took
to cover up their benighted sense of Latin. The fisher hovers

like a lit match closer to him. The windows have all been shut against
the damp black Dublin night. After all these years, his collar chokes
him still, in spite of which he wears it like some outmoded mark
of honor, remembering how his dear Ignatius must have sensed
the same landlocked frustrations. Again he lifts his pen. His strokes
lash out against the dragon din of error. The fisher incandesces in the dark.

15 May 2010

God Is Still God

This is a piece I wrote in March for the women's ministry on our campus:

I’m a daddy’s girl. Even now I remember with longing the evenings when Daddy would come home from work, fix a daquiri for Mother and himself, and finally settle into an easy chair so that I could fling myself into the loving security of his lap as we all talked over the day. I knew that I was safe, that I could trust him, that I would always be loved and cared for.

Today, as he enters hospice care and we face the ending in this world of his long love for us, I struggle to trust the Father he emulated so well. The evil of death thrusts me back into questioning the goodness, the trustworthiness, the love of God. The irony that death itself was brought into the world by our refusal to trust Him seems lost on me.

My aunt called this afternoon. She’s facing the death of the last member of her extended family, a lonely reality. But she called to talk about my mother: “She’s a walking tower of strength,” she said; “I hope you appreciate her.”

And so I think about Mother’s life and all that she has endured: her own mother’s death when she was only six; raised by her widowed grandmother and various aunts while her father lived in a TB sanatorium for several years; getting by in the Great Depression; wondering on her intended wedding day if her fiancĂ© – a WWII pilot – were even alive; her father’s death on her birthday one cold Christmas morning . . . and so much more, and now her husband of 67 years declining every day.

And she is indeed a tower of strength. Rather than dwell on suffering, she has set herself to serve and love others; service is the air she breathes. I have always known her to be a strong Christian, but it was only recently that she told me about having to move in high school when her father came out of the sanatorium, her resentment at being uprooted – and then two gifts: the three friends whom only death could separate, and the church where she found the love of God.

And so she learned what she has taught me every day of my life: look for the gifts and give of yourself. God never abandons us; He waits to meet us when we turn away from self to Him and to our neighbor. Suffering is merely the inevitable consequence of living; joy is what He makes of it all if we let Him. And so, as I have so many times over the years, I remind myself that – whatever of sadness and sorrow and evil may enter my life – my Father holds me in an even stronger love than that first fatherly love I knew, which, as strong as it has been, is only a shadow of its Giver’s.

07 May 2010

Telling Tales

This morning Daddy and I got to talking about all the things he'd done over the years, and I commented that the more things you did the more stories you had to tell, and reminded him of what I've always said -- "You're the best story-teller in the world, Daddy." He thought that one over and said something like, "And the older you get, the better the stories are, because you can say anything!" We both started laughing and he laughed out loud and for so long that the whole lobby was laughing with us. It was a good morning.

06 May 2010

Being with My Daddy

It’s been both hard and very gratifying to be here with my parents. Daddy has known me since I’ve arrived; there’s been no hesitation at all about that. Sometimes he has been so asleep that we can’t wake him enough to talk at all. When he is awake, he has trouble speaking clearly (we assume he is continuing to have small undiagnosed strokes), and it can be extremely frustrating for all of us to try to communicate. However, some of our times together he has been remarkably lucid and articulate (considering, of course, his overall condition with dementia and stroke). This afternoon was one of those times.

“I love you” are words he always says with crystal clarity; today he said them many times. When I told him that I think of him all the time, he said “I think of you all the time, too”; then, “I think of you in more ways than you can imagine.” As we continued to talk about our love for each other, he said, “I know you love me, and I love you, and Jesus loves us all, too.” And we talked about family – the love within a family – and he said, “good families are good people and raise good kids.”

I told him that he and Mother had certainly always loved us (my brother, Mike, and me) well, then teased a bit, saying I couldn’t say the same about Mike; big brothers and baby sisters don’t always get along. He said, “You’ll always be that.” “Mike’s baby sister?” I asked; “You’ll always be,” he said; “you can’t catch up with him.” (His “baby sister” is 81 and that’s what he still calls her, too.)

When I leaned down and hugged him, he said, “I appreciate that.” A little later, I leaned down again to put my head against his chest, and he lifted his hand and put it on my head, patting my hair with his fingertips; he didn’t want me to sit up and held my hand tightly for a long time after I did. Today (and a couple of days ago as well), he stared at me for a long time, silently, Mother saying he seemed to be memorizing my face; then he told me, “You’re pretty” – words no girl is ever too old to hear from her daddy.

A conversation about pictures came about because K had our camera with him and Daddy noticed it. Daddy talked about taking pictures (he and Mother took a lot over the years) and said something in question form about “where and why”; when I said, “why did you take so many pictures? So we can remember it all,” he grinned that same old grin that’s always characterized his happy, a bit mischievous mood.

When we left, he told us, “I’ll be here when you get back.”