A Feast of Love

It’s nineteen degrees today, the lakes are frozen solid, and the snowdrifts are twice my height, but the sun is shining, and last night, it streamed through the kitchen window as I cooked dinner. My friends in Virginia say the daffodils are coming up. Meanwhile I’m positively giddy to have made it almost halfway through my first winter up north.

We moved to Northern Michigan in time for the worst winter in twenty years, the natives tell me. I don’t know any better, so I figured subzero temperatures and snow that hasn’t stopped falling since November—about one hundred inches so far—was just our lot. Everyone asks how I’m holding up. I’m okay. Nobody is more surprised by that than I am.

By Christmas break I was ready to flee. I had the car packed before Dave walked home from teaching his last class. I was worn out from two months of rib-wrecking bronchitis, early frigid cold, and terrible, wrenching homesickness. I couldn’t wait to see my family. For the first time since childhood, we’d all be together on Christmas Eve.

The ice and snow chased us all the way to Kansas. Our soft Thule car topper was frozen hard when we pulled into my sister’s driveway in Wichita, a day later than planned. We’d gotten stuck in Missouri overnight, and later ran out of gas less than twenty minutes from her house. We were exhausted and our car looked like Doc’s DeLorean after a round of time travel.

I had no intention of going to Christmas Mass. When our family of Catholic and Episcopalian children and ex-Catholic, fundamentalist evangelical protestant parents comes together, the Reformation happens all over again, and at this point in my life I will do anything I can to avoid the drama—including skipping a holy day of obligation. Besides, the weather was terrible.

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Rediscovering Rilke

Like many people, I discovered the writings of Rainer Maria Rilke in college. I took a yearlong Western Civilization class—nine months on history and literature from ancient Greece through Freud—and during the spring term we read Letters to a Young Poet. 

When I remember the course, certain images stand out:

Reading Oedipus Rex on the lawn outside the life sciences building and overhearing a student pronounce “Khomeini” with the same initial sound as “challah” (this would have been a month or so before the taking of American hostages). Getting an A+ (my only one in college) on a paper applying Civilization and Its Discontents to D. H. Lawrence’s story “The Prussian Officer.” Hearing our Milton professor speak of Shakespeare’s “two-backed beast” (what this had to do with Paradise Lost I cannot recall). Covering entire paragraphs of Letters to a Young Poet with my pink highlighter. [Read more…]