My September 11, and Ours: Part I

1024px-Aftermath_from_a_terrorist_attack_of_the_Pentagon,_September_11,_2001_010911-N-HT706-077For Scott Simon, and for Bill Craven

Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of September 11, and for those of us who lived through it, it can be dizzying to realize that there are now high school students who weren’t born when it happened.

It has been one of the two signal public events of my adulthood. The other was the inauguration day of President Obama. The minutes and hours of each of those days were suffused with a sense of historical moment: on one, I was a thirtyish new bride; on the other, I was a massively pregnant forty-year old, hoisting a celebratory thimble of champagne with neighbors while the television and heating blasted.

In both cases, just about everything turned out differently from what we expected.

Fifteen years later, my sense is that in the rest of the country that is not New York or Washington, September 11 is so distant that it is merely a touchstone of rhetoric from political discourse: “If we don’t X, the terrorists will win!

But for those of us who lived there, the memory of the event courses on, like an underground river that can flood back up at any moment. [Read more…]

The Neglected Garden, Part II

14374480496_991ff96353_zContinued from yesterday.

The dollhouse my father was building for me was still unfinished when he draped a boat tarpaulin over the top, to protect it against the summer rain. The doctor had told my parents that there was a tumor in his lung. He was being sent to the M.D. Anderson hospital in Houston, along with my mother.

My oldest, married, sister was coming home to take care of me temporarily, along with my 22-year-older brother, who had bottomed out back home after a period of college-dropout wandering. Together, they cobbled together a backyard party for my eighth birthday, and in the now-faded, garish color of the Kodachrome prints, the unfinished, covered dollhouse is visible.

Four months later, my father was dead. It was the coldest winter there had been in my lifetime. For the first time, a crust of sugar snow dusted the brown pecan leaves that had scattered, unraked, across the yard. [Read more…]

The Neglected Garden, Part I

6362028091_2d4a7eb81a_zWhen my father built the house where I was born, the land was flat and there was little vegetation on it.

It had once been the Curran family’s cotton plantation, my mother later told me—sold and subdivided for a row of little Cape Cods and ranch houses, all arrayed in pastel asbestos siding. Including the one that, in late 1954, became my family’s home.

I was born in 1968.

There were no trees, I see in the silent drone of 36 millimeter “home movies” my father shot during the bright summers of the middle 1950s—ten years before I was born. It surprised me as a child, but shouldn’t have: The town where we lived was on the very seam of the Mississippi Delta, where wooded hills careened suddenly downward to hit flat land for a hundred miles. [Read more…]

Against “Amazing Grace”

hymnalIn a world in which it seems that just about everything seems to be complained about online—bitch, bitch, bitch, moan, moan, moan—ad infinitum, here’s a little beef I’d like to proffer, that I don’t recall having seen anywhere yet:

I despise “Amazing Grace.”

Mind you, I’m not complaining about the notion of grace itself, God’s unmerited favor given in the gift of his son to save us from our sins—the distinctive Christian soteriology. It is not, therefore, the theological concept I doubt—though as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I’m probably a bigger fan of the book of James than a lot of my Protestant brethren.

I don’t even have an issue with the hymn’s composer, John Newton, that poor former British slave trader, who was haunted by the dehumanizing work he had pursued, though not enough to leave it for decades. It was good for him to repent, and write against slavery. I am glad he found forgiveness, despite the horror he perpetuated. (I believe that forgiveness can, indeed, be received. Even for horrendous evils.)

It’s the hymn that’s the problem. [Read more…]

Psychotherapy, A Love Story

IMG_6481For Jessica Mesman Griffith

A creature that hides and “withdraws into its shell,” is preparing a “way out.” This is true of the entire scale of metaphors, from the resurrection of a man in his grave, to the sudden outburst of one who has long been silent. If we remain at the heart of the image under consideration, we have the impression that, by staying in the motionlessness of its shell, the creature is preparing temporal explosions, not to say whirlwinds, of being. 
Gaston BachelardThe Poetics of Space

When I first started to see my therapist—now fifteen years ago—her office was in the former caretaker’s cottage in back of what had once been a private mansion off Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. The little two-story house, its exterior a mix of Tudor and Richardson Romanesque, sat in a formal garden with a flagstone terrace and fountain, like something from a storybook. [Read more…]