Cutting the Cord: An Observation from The Way of Saint James, Part 1

JanVallone1Sean was not an easy child to raise. My husband and I became his parents through adoption and met his birthmother prior to his birth. Young, freckled, and sweet, Janet decided to have a C-section and asked me to be present although she’d be unconscious herself.

On the scheduled day, I stood in an operating room wearing surgical scrubs. Nurses buzzed around, readying forceps and scalpels. An anesthesiologist worked Janet’s IV and checked the electrocardiograph. Janet drifted off, breathing slowly and steadily, her bare belly bulging from a sea of deep blue cloth.

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The Power of Twelve

taniarunyanYou won’t want to do it, but I’ll ask just the same: imagine being twelve again.

I was a mess: glasses, braces, and a wardrobe straight out of Little House on the Prairie. At five-foot-eight or so, I was not as skinny as a string bean but as a bean’s string.

Worse, I had just one friend that year, Rachel, so if she missed school, I had to eat lunch alone. On one of these occasions, a boy sauntered by, pointed at me, and sang, “Tania Po-o-o-ol-ner’s a lo-o-o-o-ner!”

I want to disappear, I thought. Also, that rhyme is a stretch.

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Certain Poor Shepherds

4170806345_e0f381d5e2_zLong ago, when there were only three television stations, you had to wait for what you wanted. That feature had the benefit of making things exceptional, which is the perplexing irony of our times. Able to have all so quickly—with high speed downloads and internet superhighways—things don’t hold their value as long. Our taste buds are sanded clean from a glut of widely available sugar, a torrent of rainbows has blasted us colorblind, and iTunes has stunned us tone-deaf and tin-eared.

In the past, anticipation—having to wait—raised the worth of the arrival. We learn this lesson at Lent every year, and promptly forget it on Easter Monday. But hardheaded as we are, that’s the true way of things. Nuns and monks often tell the disbelieving that without privation, you cannot know joy; without sacrifice, you cannot marvel at abundance. St. Theresa slept on straw; St. Theresa walked barefoot; and yet, St. Theresa achieved her ecstasy. How about you? [Read more...]

In Defense of Fruitcake

Runyan photoAt some point or another, every Christmas celebrant in America has to draw lines in the sand over the following doctrinal issues:

When is it acceptable to begin listening to Christmas music?
What are your thoughts on front yard inflatables?
Will you shop on Black Friday or boycott it and buy all the crap a couple weeks later?
To what lengths will you go to ensure that your tenth grader still believes in Santa?
What will be your game plan regarding the song “Christmas Shoes”?
How much fruitcake will you consume?

The first five questions have been known to tear families and friends asunder during this glorious time of year. But the one that unites enemies? Fruitcake. [Read more...]

Better Red(head) than Dead

VanGoghSelfPortrait1889-90OrsayAA webOne day my mother came home from the interior decorating shop where she worked, very upset about a young man who had come into the store with his mother.

“You wouldn’t believe what his T-shirt said!” my mom cried. “‘Better Dead Than Red!’”

I asked her what it meant.

“He’s making fun of redheads, of course!” she lamented, her curly, fiery hair aflutter. “Why would anyone wear such a thing?”

It was the early eighties, in the thick of the Cold War, but I had yet to learn about Communism. It didn’t occur to me for another decade or so that the shirt that would pierce her to the core was merely calling for the demise of Soviets. But that memory has always defined my mother and her abiding personal connection with her hair, something the rest of the family would never fully understand.

I didn’t inherit the red but passed it on to my middle daughter, whose hair stops people cold in grocery aisles and brings elderly Irishmen to tears. We have fielded questions about her hair since she emerged with the carrotty fuzz nine years ago. Almost without exception, it’s the first topic of discussion when she meets someone new. It’s made for some pleasant talk but also some awkward situations, such as when she is praised as rare and beautiful just inches from her brown-haired siblings.

Not long ago I asked my daughter what she thought about her hair, and she said, “I like it. In the sun, it’s shiny, and underwater it looks all coppery. But talking to everyone about it gets annoying.” [Read more...]


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