Moving to Stillness

Last Thursday morning I got up, made my son’s lunch, made sure that both children were dressed and fed. My husband had left for work at his news job hours before. I pulled back my long hair, graying at the roots—time for a touch-up—grabbed the keys and the steel mug of coffee, and piled my son and daughter into the car.

At seven forty-five we were rounding the Beltway, the sun an arc in the sky behind us, the radio tuned on Pharrell and Imagine Dragons. I drove twenty-three miles to drop my son off at his camp, dropped off my daughter at Greek Orthodox Vacation Bible School, and then threaded my way through traffic from the Quicken Loans National Golf Championship to the nearest Starbucks, where I wrote a grant proposal asking for $300,000. I was under the gun, because I had to pick up my daughter at noon.

By late afternoon, though, I was miles away and all alone, at least as alone as one can get on the 4:06 p.m. Metroliner to New York Penn Station. I resigned myself to the spotty Wi-Fi. The train bore forward along its rusted, hundred-year-old tracks, curving through the row-house blocks and abandoned factories of Baltimore, Wilmington, and Philadelphia, along the Atlantic seaboard and then into New Jersey. [Read more...]

Snapshots from the Imperial City


My children attend a school that sits in rented space in the middle of Historic Rock Creek Cemetery, high upon a hill on the edge of the Petworth neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Although the school itself is an independent Catholic Montessori school, the three-hundred year old cemetery—one of the nation’s oldest—is firmly steered by its overseeing Episcopal congregation whose church sits at its center, in the manner in which Anglican institutions once exerted a patrician mastery over a burgeoning republic.

The living Episcopal congregation is nearly as ghostly as the far larger one that ranges over the vivid green grounds. But though lesser known than some of Washington, D.C.’s other historic cemeteries, the silent fields of Rock Creek are lined and numbered with stones and elaborate mausolea with the same names that are found on street signs and law firms all over town. A fair number of the formerly prominent include departed journalists. [Read more...]

Mystery and (Southern) Manners

It’s a chicken-and-egg kind of question I get all the time, but I don’t think I am the only one who has faced it: Am I more religious because I am a Southerner (as most of my Yankee friends seem to think), or do I seem more Southern because I am religious—never mind the fact that I am a longtime, generally happy exile to the Northeast Corridor?

I’m sending this question out not only to some of the other Southerners who have proceeded through “Good Letters”—A.G. Harmon, Kelly Foster, Tony Woodlief (A.G., Kelly and I are from Mississippi, and Kelly and I are even from the same town)—but to all of you out there who might have some input on the matter.

For what so many of us Southerners—even those of us who are not, ahem, writers—seem to share is a great and abiding sense of mystery about the world. Perhaps this is due to the fact that, in the main, even now, most of us grew up around codes of manners and behavior that were commonly known, but rarely spoken of, and there was even less discussion about the realities of class and race that were all around us. And we could go off on long tangents about the various implications.

Whatever the reason, it is a characteristic of my life that the world has constantly seemed (and continues to seem) to be filled with portents about nearly everything, turns of circumstance that seem significant, as though a narrative arc cuts through my life as sharply as a ray of sun.

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The Passion of Relisha Rudd

The first ominous sign that the Relisha Rudd case was slipping from the local Washington, D.C. imagination was when the police alert signs posted on the roads into the city had their messages changed, or were removed entirely.

For weeks after the news that the little eight-year-old girl was missing broke on March 19, the digital display boards had broadcast the Amber alert in their amber lettering, its grim message truncated in a style all too appropriate for the digital age: “BLK Female, 8 YRS, 4’0”, 70-80 LBS,” along with a contact number to report sightings. Radio stations had urged citizens repeatedly to be on the lookout.

Because I tend to leave WTOP news radio on a little too often when the children are around, my ten-year-old son grew preoccupied with the case, and because he cannot admit to himself that tragedy is ever actually happening, came to me and said, earnest with his watery blue eyes, “Mom, you know they found that girl.”

Hoping, hoping. All of us were hoping—although apparently some of us not quite enough, because it soon came out that Relisha had been missing from her home since February 28, and had not been seen at all after March 1. “Home,” in fact, was the massive city homeless shelter located at the former DC General Hospital complex on the backside of Capitol Hill—the location also of the city methadone clinic, as news reports inevitably mention—where Relisha lived with her mother and multiple siblings in cramped quarters.

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The Grace of the Unexpected, Part 2

In the first part of my post yesterday, I lamented our contemporary lack of risk, our incuriosity, our resistance to extend ourselves outside the ideological boundaries we have constructed for ourselves. And at the bottom of all our own self-congratulatory opinions and social purity tests (Obama, the Koch Brothers, Pop Tarts) is our own fear.

That’s bad for everyone all around, I think—and I wish my secular-minded friends, who are worried only about justice here on earth, not the beyond, could realize that by demonizing the Other (thank you, Dr. Rebecca Mark, my American Life in American Literature professor, Spring 1990) they are not living up to their own values.

Such deliberate blindness is especially bad for Christians, because we are to be about the business of witnessing Christ throughout the world. And the best way that is done is not by talking, talking, talking, but simply by being a closer and closer reflection of the divine image, and doing the work a suffering world needs.

“They’ll know that we are Christians by our love,” goes the verse of the hymn—well, fat chance these days, in my experience. We are in need not of evangelists but a generation of servants and saints.

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