Thawing at the Edges

thawing creekWhen the spring teases me one day, outplaying the winter dullness for just an afternoon, I go for a solitary walk. In my seven years in the Midwest, I’ve come to dread this part of the year. It’s not the liturgical season of Lent or the lament that comes along with it that I dread (lament is something I seem to be doing anyway these days). What I dread is the last months of winter when the novelty of snow and cold has worn off and we are left with the prediction of a rodent’s shadow.

My Texas constitution was built for sticky leather seats in summer, not the muted grays of a winter when everything left outside cracks, breaks, and busts. Ash Wednesday is a straightforward service to perform because ashes are everywhere; so much is burning, trying to keep all of us warm.

As I step out onto the bridge over our creek during my walk, the ice below begins to break apart. Some say it sounds like a gunshot when ice cracks. Perhaps it’s because a shallow creek is coming undone, and not a large lake, that I think not of guns but of a tree falling.

It’s funny that the rending of one thing should be reminiscent of the other.

I stop at the bridge’s edge and lean over, straining to see where the ice is breaking away. There’s a large hole, like a wound, in the middle of the creek. Water flows freely through it. I am transfixed by tracks on the ice around the hole. They look like chicken scratchings, as if some fowl creature has been tapping at the ice. The etchings are beautiful the way brutal natural things can be.

“I need you to think about what you will do if your grandmother doesn’t make it.” My mom tells me over the phone from Texas the day before. [Read more…]

Peace, My Animal

Mice

“Benedic, anima mea,” I say each night to the mouse that lives behind my desk. I know what the phrase speaks of a soul, but “animal” often has more meaning to me than “soul.” Occasionally I quote Ada Limón’s poem “The Long Ride”: How good it is to love live things, even when what they’ve done is terrible. Her poem refers to a horse that killed its rider when spooked; my benediction forgives the droppings I find next to my paints each morning. In my more ill-tempered moments, I kick the desk before going to bed and hiss, “I’m an island of mercy, mouse.”

Because I am. It’s not that I can’t kill an animal. It’s that I overthink, gather information, and turn it over in my mind, especially when that information unsettles or intrudes. The consequence of so much information seeking is that I hold strange things in my heart, fall in love whenever I’m frightened.

I’m not frightened of the mouse. Given the right opportunity, I’d be willing to kiss its little ears right off. But I’m troubled by its intrusion into my space, by the fact that a living being is running about while I sleep. The mouse is one more thing in a long list of things I can control, one more thing after which I have to clean up. [Read more…]

A Christian Jew and a Jewish Christian

By Alissa Herbaly Coons

menorahSummer is here in Australia, a string of perfectly forgettable sunny days lulling us along until the sudden arrival of the holidays. Three years since leaving Canada, my husband, Michael, and I are still bewildered by Christmas tunes wavering mirage-like over the sunbaked pavement at the grocery store.

As we drive past the neighbor’s inflatable Santa bloating in the heat, our five-year-old, Ingrid, asks in ecstasy, “Is it almost Hanukkah, too?” and we arrive again at our awkward attempts to inhabit our Judeo-Christian traditions. It’s a perpetual conflict.

The sunshine doesn’t help either.

Among our grandparents we count three Jews and one Anglican (his), three Catholics, and one Lutheran turned Catholic (mine). Among our parents, two Catholics turned Evangelical Protestants (mine), and one nonobservant Jew, one New Age Universalist and one Scotch-Presbyterian atheist ex-stepfather (his).

Together for fourteen years, we’ve lived in five countries and stumbled in and out of at least as many churches. Michael says he’s a Christmas and Easter Jew, kidding/not kidding depending on his audience. He’d rather go to the beach on a Sunday. I miss the liturgy and friendships from my old Lutheran summer camp and keep wandering back to church. [Read more…]

Above Calcutta

Kalkata sun

By Laura Bramon

The summer before you died, I hid on the roof in Tollygunge. I walked part of the way home from Sudder Street and by the time I got to the apartment building where I was staying, the sooty red sunset had spent itself. Dusk sifted in the quarter’s dim air, and from the park by the main road a wedding feast’s smoke, incense, and music rose up from beneath a red lit tent. I had lost my keys; I couldn’t get into the little apartment. But I could get into the stairwell, so I went up to the roof.

I thought I was alone above Calcutta.

The trip to this city had been planned quickly. I was offered a task and an adventure, a chance to do new work; I would stay with three young American men in their makeshift office-cum-apartment, which amused me. But you were sick and I didn’t know if I should go.

“When would you come back?” you asked when we talked on the phone.

“I’d only be gone a month or so,” I said. [Read more…]

Hamster Hospice: Caring for God’s Tiny Creatures

HamsterFor my son, Alex

In the final months before our hamster died, I would lie in bed late at night, wondering if he was still alive. In the quiet of the house, after my husband had left for work at 3:00 a.m. and my children were asleep in their beds, I would strain my ears to hear if there was any sound of movement from his cage.

Lying there in the dark, I would find myself holding my breath, straining to listen to whether—just one more time—I might hear the sound of him running on his wheel. But for the last several months that Fluff was alive, there was no sound from the cage at all, aside from the slow occasional rasp of his claws on the cage’s bedding as he painfully turned and the bubble of the water tank as he sucked a few pitiful drops down.

Hamsters, you remember, are nocturnal creatures. When Captain Von Flufficus arrived in our family in August 2013—the result of our nine-year-old’s persistent begging, I, for one, did not want to own a rodent—that was our family’s instantly rueful realization, as we all lay in our beds on our small second floor, unable to sleep, while he ran on the wheel all night long. [Read more…]


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