Palm Fronds

a palm leaf in black and white, a close up of the main stem with the fronds coming off of it, nearly centered image.My daughter held the palm frond as if she’d never seen such a thing. I gave mine a perfunctory wave. We were both visitors, standing in the foyer of an elementary school turned church. The pastor was a friend, but in the ten minutes before a worship service—especially during Holy Week—I wasn’t going to latch on to her stole and demand hand holding. So we stood away from the growing group of congregants, clutching our fronds.

I turned to trivia.

“You know about Ash Wednesday?” I asked my daughter.

She nodded. “They smudge stuff on your head.”

“Ashes. And they get them by burning the previous year’s palm fronds.”

I smiled, knowing I hadn’t punctured the thirteen-year-old’s ennui, but was still pleased with the information. Her casual, “Oh, neat” emboldened me.

“Do you know about Holy Week?”

She did not, which struck me with a momentary panic. The fronds-to-ashes bit was admittedly an outside pitch. Something I didn’t expect her to know. But this—a fundamental part of the faith—was a watermelon over the plate. [Read more…]

The Landscape of Grief

a purple tinted image of a little island in a lake surrounded by deep green, hilly land on the edges. the image is very foggy, hazy, looks wet. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.
—C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I drag my three children outside for a walk. They are too young to understand how desperately I need to take advantage of the warm weather even if it’s a landscape of dormant fields, melting mud, brittle gray plants that line the bridge and sides of the road, a bright red barn against yellowed grass.

Lest I get too excited about the lack of snow and cold, my husband reminds me that this unseasonably pleasant winter in the Midwest is the result of global warming. I guess we both have our ways of grieving.

This is our first day back in Illinois after spending a week in Texas to grieve the loss of my father. We’ve eaten too much or too little depending on our body’s responses to stress. We’ve laid flowers on his coffin and wept over him in a gravesite service that he might’ve hated, but was one that his daughters and wife needed. Then we mourned him at a church memorial service that he planned before his death, writing his own obituary and the opening remarks he asked my husband to read, ones that unapologetically deflected attention away from himself.

But we three daughters inserted ourselves into his plan, a plan that didn’t necessarily include our grief. In this midst of his intellectual, cerebral, worshipful funeral, we spoke of him in ways that might’ve touched him but also might’ve confused him.

In his effort to plan his truly humble memorial, he didn’t sidestep our grief to be unkind; I’m sure he knew we’d miss him terribly. Maybe he thought that if he could deflect attention away from himself, we wouldn’t be so sad. But what he wouldn’t have guessed, or what might’ve annoyed him, was that most people that came to honor him wanted more of him. [Read more…]

The Casserole Dish Manifesto

casserole-pots-by-atravelingmom-via-flickrI possessed a consummate ideology before I had children. It was a perfectly distilled comprehension of man, God, and government. I knew with certainty that if everyone would just turn off the television and read Important Books, we could live alongside one another the way the Almighty intended when he crafted laws of the universe that so clearly comported with my belief system.

It was all so obvious to me, which made the fact that some people disagreed with my worldview both infuriating and validating. How do you not see the truth? How can you ignore these facts staring you in the face? How awesome am I that I have not fallen prey to the deceptions entangling you?

I was enlightened. I was chosen. Only the ignorance and avarice of my ideological enemies stood in the way. Surely God would not have gifted me with words if he didn’t want me firing them from both barrels at the enemies of peace, freedom, and progress.

Then my children arrived. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Winter Song” by Amy McCann

snow shadow by Rebecca Siegel on flirckWhat do we understand? What do we even mean by “understanding”? A poem can pose these questions, explicitly or implicitly. Amy McCann’s “Winter Song” does both. She wonders what her father was thinking, was understanding, on a long-ago cold morning before she was born. Meanwhile she, in the warm womb, was a “restless / percussion of heels,” just an “idea.” Why was she coming into this life, the poem asks. Maybe we never know the whys of our existence. Her father’s lack of understanding back then, her own now: this isn’t much, she acknowledges, to hold onto. Yet the poem does offer an understanding, and it’s through images: the closing images of palm, place, and snowflake. These do “disappear” as they land at the poem’s end; yet the disappearance isn’t distressing. There’s a lightness of touch throughout the poem, as it holds at once both warmth and winter’s cold.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

The Day My Daughter Found Herself

track-by-dean-hochman-on-flickrI want you to watch me run.

My daughter Becca sent me that text last Friday morning, just a couple hours into her first “24-Hour Challenge.” For weeks she’d been anticipating the annual event at her middle school, during which students run ten miles in half-mile installments around the track, breaking to sleep (or at least pretend to) in tents overnight before finishing in the morning. A major community event, the fields come alive with loud music, tents decked out with posters and lights, colorful signed shirts, and best friends walking arm in arm as they warm-up every forty minutes to run.

Mom. She texted me again. Are you coming soon?

I’d just come off of two sleepless nights, once again beset by conflict created by my own lack of interpersonal discernment. Questions wrestled in my gut: How do I help people mend their destructive lives without destroying my own? Is it possible to love wholly and purely without risking pain? I started to think I’m not cut out for fellowship. Maybe I need to stay away from everyone, I thought, except for my own family. [Read more…]