How to End an Era

runyanWe’re supposed to shake our heads when Daisy Buchanan, considering a summer solstice celebration on her East Egg porch, turns to Nick Carraway, and asks, “‘What’ll we plan? What do people plan?’” But I get her helpless bewilderment all too well.

I grew up in a family that doesn’t mark life’s transitions with much ceremony. My mother visited a courthouse for all three marriages, no pictures to show for it. When her parents died, she and an uncle or two I’d never met threw ashes in the ocean. Funerals were silly when a person’s spirit no longer resided in the body.

As if funerals are for the dead.

Even my move to college was completed without fanfare. I packed my car, drove to campus by myself, and set up my bed and shelves in less than an hour. When I watched the other students emerge from the dorm lot flanked with camera-toting parents and siblings, I smirked. You can’t even move into a small room without your parents’ help? I thought. This is college!

It wasn’t until I talked with a therapist ten years later that I understood I was the odd one. “It’s not that they couldn’t move into a room themselves,” she explained. “The parents came to mark the event.” I stared at her. Moving into the dorm was supposed to be an event? That had never occurred to me. [Read more...]

Your Life Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

minecraft-chicken-hatchingOn the last night of Image’s Glen West Workshop earlier this month, after a moving concert by Over the Rhine and all manner of sniffling and hugging, Father Richard Rohr invited us to make spaces in our souls for worship.

“How you live this moment is how you live your life,” he said. “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

His words nailed my heart to the floor.

I like to think I am “good” at worship. I often prepare myself by opening my hands, a posture that helps me focus. But my mind has a way of hairline-cracking within seconds: Do these people like me? Have they noticed my discolored tooth? On a scale of one to ten, how much of an idiot have I made myself today?

I like to think I lose myself in the beauty of God, but as my mind splinters and my prayerful hands go numb, I have to acknowledge that this moment of unrest reflects a life of unrest.

[Read more...]

Our Mother Mary

DormitionToday is the Feast of the Dormition (the “falling asleep”) of the Mother of God. It is the analogue in the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Virgin in Roman Catholicism, and on balance, the similarities between the two commemorations are greater than their differences: The Dormition is one of the twelve Great Feasts in the Orthodox year. The Assumption is a holy day of obligation and, I am told, is superseded only by Easter in its importance for Catholics.

The heart of the feast remains the same for both: the end of Mary’s earthly life of faithfulness, the culmination of her own original yes in her agreement to bear the Son of God in the reception of her sanctified body into heaven. It is believed (contrary to some popular misunderstanding) by both Orthodox and Roman Catholics that Mary experienced a normal, natural death, but received upon her burial the glorified state—reunion of body and soul—that is the ultimate end for which all we faithful pray.

In their aesthetic emphasis, though, the two feasts are utterly different: In all the Roman Catholic portrayals of the event that I have seen, Mary is bright-faced and young—evoking the description of the woman “clothed with the sun” from Revelation. [Read more...]

I Am Not a Mother: I Am a Human Being

Guest Post by Tania Runyan

“You’re not a good mom!” My ten-year-old daughter shouted as she stomped up to her room. “Good moms don’t throw paper plates at their children!”

Of course, this declamation can be proven false. A good mother would construct a Chinese kite out of a paper plate, toss it toward her daughter at the perfect moment of uplift, and watch her little girl revel in the kaleidoscopic tail. A good mother would cover a paper plate with cookies shaped like autumn leaves, gently toss the plate across the counter, and giggle as the studying child discovered the surprise.

In my case—a sweaty, hair-flying, early-morning rage—I picked up the first thing I saw (made of paper, thank God), and flung it at her: “I don’t like you!”

Following the rules of nature and metaphor, the plate flew back in my face. But that didn’t stop my daughter from crying, my young son from running away in fear, and my middle daughter from staring into space, escaping into the methodical chewing of her apple.

With just four minutes until the bus’s ungodly 7:15 arrival, I had a decision to make. Would I let the school bell ring on my wrath, or would I try to take something wrong, whatever it was, and turn it into something right?

I should have harnessed some fail proof strategy. But I had once again fallen into a tar pit of parenting confusion. I’ve never been into all the “mommy” stuff: magazines and playgroups; Pinterest and its neurotic cupcakes; disciplined, highlighted hair. Sure, I drive a minivan, but I’m quite certain I drive it ironically. From the moment I got pregnant, I determined to stay myself, a self who just happened to have kids. Just another poet and English teacher with a bouncy seat in the living room, and a dark, inner vortex of anger she never knew existed.

[Read more...]

Family, Friends, Honored Guests

Graduation season has come to a close now, and the above-said words have welcomed the last audience to the final pomp and circumstance. I went through the yearly routine, yet again, both on the bestowing end, at my school, and on the spectating end, watching one of my nieces.

I saw and heard mostly what I expected to see and hear. Somebody should write a satire on this day alone; it would likely spawn a rash of movie sequels: “Mortar Board III: The Deadening,” etc.

As far as the programs went, wishes were made, courage was infused, and thanks were returned in goodly measure. Impossible optimism and outrageous hyperbole were the touchstones.

Each class (like all the ones before it) was said to be the most remarkable ever tasseled, and was expected to achieve the most inconceivable ever attempted. It seems that, once be-gowned, even the most impenitent of knaves goes through a pixie-dust transformation. For those few hours, they all become intrepid geniuses, capable of extracting plutonium from Captain Crunch cereal, launching moon shots from backyard trebuchets, coining non-Indo European languages out of text glyphs—nay, nothing is beyond their grasp. [Read more...]


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