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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The Grace of the Unexpected, Part 1

Listen up, brothers and sisters—what follows here is the only sermon I know how to give:

Sometime in the late summer of 1975, when I was seven, my father took the blade off a John Deere riding mower, and in a moment of whimsical decision, drove out of the yard, and onto the asphalt street where we lived. He rounded the corner, went a block, then proceeded out onto Grand Avenue, the wide main boulevard that cut through town, and kept on going.

He was wearing a sky blue zip-up workman’s jumpsuit. The cancer that would kill him in a year was already branching through his lungs. I can imagine him grinning and waving at the cars passing by, though at the time I was inside the house and didn’t see a thing.

I was right there, though, when the telephone rang and my mother answered it, to get an earful from a neighbor who was at once both amused and annoyed: “Miz Langston, do you know what your husband is doing?”

I remember my mother laughing, but I also remember being cognizant of the neighbor’s implication, however slight, that my father had crossed some kind of social boundary and had to be brought back into line.

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The Feast Days of Snowfall

Dedicated to Amy Chevalier Efantis

Aside from any private celebrations hosted by the Tulane alumni organization or the Louisiana State Society, there was no Mardi Gras in Washington, D.C. Tuesday.

Oh, as with everything else in a city whose official face is all about signaling and little about actual meaning, there are token, presumably resonant gestures. Starting the week before Ash Wednesday, in typically truncated, efficient fashion, some downtown bakeries will put out King Cakes—too dry, not frosted enough, too Puritan, really.

Never mind that the real season for King Cakes stretches back almost two whole months, to Epiphany on January 6. Plus people in a town that worships maximum flexibility at all times have no idea how to react upon discovering that they’re eating the plastic baby.

In this town, celebrations are chiefly an annoyance. Parades are for out-of-towners; the motorcades merely inspire epic traffic. Drinking for most folks around here, it appears to me, is not a joyous, communal affair, but a furtive private release accompanied by Chinese carryout and David Letterman at 11:30 p.m. after the memo has been written, or the Asian markets consulted.

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The Beltway Catechesis

Now that our son is almost ten, he has begun to feel his oats a bit: In the middle of fourth grade, he has begun to log a few life achievements that both we, and he, are proud: he has surmounted some of his attention problems and can stay focused on the tasks at hand—reading about military history, remembering to take out the trash, remembering to modulate his quick-start anger before it bursts from his lips.

He has also learned to complain about having to go to church. Sunday mornings in our house arrive drowsily and sun-soaked, the tendrils of smoke from the censer we always light curling up the stairs.

But by the time we are actually ready to walk out the door, between him and his little sister, it is all over but the shouting. In my daughter’s case, her complaints are minor, and classic: the ill-fitting patent leather shoes, her grumpiness at being told that taking a Bitty Baby stroller to the Divine Liturgy is inadvisable.

My son’s complaints are more subtle, and dangerous. Only occasionally will he trot out the old chestnut, “God is just an idea that somebody made up way back when,” because he knows that I know that at least for now, he doesn’t believe it: For any and all problems he has with God, I have seen him sincerely implore, and sincerely repent, before the invisible and ever-present altar of the Divine.

One of our dearest neighbors, a reader of this blog, has been in treatment for breast cancer these past six or so months, and when we say prayers at night, he always remembers to lift her name like a found jewel. And he was thankful when her chemotherapy regimen came to an end.

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