Book Review: The Way We Were

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The Geography of Memory a Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s, is a personal memoir, written by a woman whose mother died at the age of ninety after a long slide downward into dementia. 

Jeanne Murray Walker writes about growing-up in Nebraska during the 50s against the backdrop of her mother’s slowly worsening dementia. She describes her efforts to participate in her mother’s care, despite the fact that she lived half-way across the country from her mother. 

Caring for a dying parent seems to rip open the seams on the bag of memories we all have inside us. I experienced this when my father was dying. Things you thought were lost in the fog of time step out of the backdrop and present themselves to you, complete and fresh. I suddenly remembered my father as he had been when I was a tiny girl. I saw his face, heard his voice from back then. The experience taught me that we don’t forget. We simply file away and lose as the detritus of our daily living piles itself on top what happened back when. 

Evidently, Mrs Walker experienced something like that when her mother was sliding down. This book is the result of those awakened memories from her life, built around the backdrop of her mother’s slow leave-taking. 

Mrs Walker’s mother was a magnificent woman. She was one of those kind-as-Christmas, tough-as-a-Missouri-rail-spike fundamentalist Baptist women I grew up around and have known all my life. The faith people follow shapes them in powerful ways that are reflected in their overall character. It also infuses them with strength and a kind of power that people without faith, or with only a wishy-washy faith, simply do not have. 

This woman lost her husband at a young age, and was faced with supporting her three children back in the 50s and 60s, when career opportunities for women were limited mostly to jobs that paid less simply because they were “women’s work.” 

Fortunately, she was an educated woman for those years, a nurse. She told her kids that she would never afflict them with a stepfather and pushed on with the business of bringing home the bacon, paying the bills, and, as we say in this part of the world, raising them right. The Baptist church, with its simple theology and rock-ribbed certainties, formed the spine on which she built this life and raised her kids. 

When her only son died of asthma, she did not despair. She kept going and going, right through what sounds like a beautiful second marriage after her children were grown and on into an interested and interesting old age. 

Her mind began to betray her when she was in her mid 80s and then slowly unraveled itself as she aged into 90. Even though her daughters managed her care and placed her in what sounds like the best care facilities, she basically traversed this path alone. 

But The Geography of Memory is really about Jeanne Murray Walker rather than her mother. It tells the story of how Mrs Walker traveled the country in an exhausting round of visits and suffered the pain of separation from her mother during the time her mother was slowly dying. It describes honestly the confusion, pain, anger and exhaustion Mrs Walker felt while doing this. 

It also tells the story of what it was like to be raised by this woman. It is a memoir of a time, place and people that could only exist in the middle of America. The rock-ribbed faith and equally rock-ribbed courage of this woman infuse the daughter’s life with a strength that allows her to step out and move on. 

This is a familiar story to me. I know women like Mrs Walker’s mother. I grew up around them. I have also seen their daughters’ ability to separate and spread their wings, something that only really great mothers give their children. Read through that lens, The Geography of Memory is as much a book on the lost art of courageous child-rearing as it is a book about the slow declines of old age. 

Mrs Walker’s mother was never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I doubt that was what was wrong with her memory. This thing that happens to most elderly people is a slide backwards into childhood and, ultimately, confusion. It’s as if the brain becomes disorganized; a tangled heap. 

I haven’t had a family member with Alzheimer’s, but I’ve seen a lot of it in my constituents. The word “alzheimer” has become a catch-all for the various dementias of old age. But it is a specific thing all its own that does not, so far as I can see, only strike the very elderly. My constituents with Alzheimer’s are different from the way Mrs Walker describes her mother. With them, it’s not so much a matter of losing their way to the bank as it is not knowing what a bank is. Over a period of time, they go blank. Instead of being a tangled heap, their brains seem to be hollowed out.

The reason I’m saying this is because it matters in how we treat our older people. 

The Geography of Memory is a beautifully written memoir about a magnificent woman and her magnificent daughter. The lessons it teaches are about living far more than they are about dying. Perhaps its sweetest lesson is that the memories of our lives are worth telling. 

NM Supreme Court Rules that the Last Living Wedding Photographer in the State Must Photograph Gay Weddings

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In a move that should surprise no one, the New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that Elaine Hugenin and her husband Jon must do wedding photos for same-sex marriages.

The couple, who own Elane Photography, declined to do wedding photos for a two-woman commitment ceremony in 2006, saying that their Christian beliefs conflicted with the message of the ceremony. The state’s supreme court ruled earlier this month that New Mexico’s non-discrimination laws trump the couple’s right to freedom of conscience.

This, once again, tosses the slogan bandied about by gay marriage supporters, If You Don’t Favor Gay Marriage, Don’t Get Gay Married in the ash can, alongside, the Who Does It Harm? canard.

In truth, forcing people to do things that are against their faith is not a benign action. Using the law to coerce people to violate their deepest moral beliefs — beliefs which have been standard throughout the Western world for 2,000 years — based on what is essentially a social fashion, should be repugnant to anyone who believes in the dignity of the individual human being and their right to free will.

The only other explanation I can think of for going to such extremes to compel this couple to violate their faith is that the Hugenin’s must be the last living wedding photographers in the state of New Mexico.

According to Catholic News Agency:

Scholar Ryan T. Anderson, writing in National Review Online, said the Aug. 22 decision “highlights the increasing concern many have that anti-discrimination laws and the pressure for same-sex marriage will run roughshod over the rights of conscience and religious liberty.”

“If marriage is redefined, then believing what virtually every human society once believed about marriage — that it is the union of a man and a woman ordered to procreation and family life — would be seen increasingly as an irrational prejudice that ought to be driven to the margins of culture. The consequences for religious believers are becoming apparent.”

Read the whole story here.

Is There Free Speech for Christians in Britain?

 

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Another street preacher has been arrested in Britain.

This is the third preacher to be arrested since July.

Put that together with people being fired from their jobs for following their faith, and the question Is there free speech for Christians in Britain? rises to the top.

Is there? Or is Britain becoming too politically correct for freedom of speech?

From TheWay.

Another street preacher arrested

Another street preacher arrested

A Christian street preacher was arrested in Perth, Edinburgh last Wednesday for ‘disturbing the peace.’

This is the third Christian street preacher that has been arrested since July, the Christian public have become concerned that Christianity is losing the right to freedom of speech. Reverend Josh Williamson, pastor of Craigie Reformed Baptist Church was arrested on Wednesday last week, he said that the trend point to “an increasingly hostility towards Christianity.”

Mr Williamson is known in the area and regularly does open air preaching in the streets of Perth, he argued that he was not using any amplication and enquired of the arresting officer what an acceptable noise level would be?

The officer informed Rev Williamson that the noise level was not the issue but that a complaint had been made against him, the officer informed him that he was breaking the law by being a “breach of the peace.”

The officer went on to warn Rev Williamson that if he continued preaching he would be arrested. Rev Williamson replied that he would not comply because he was not breaking the law.

A second man intervened and defended Rev Williamson’s right to preach but he was arrested by the police officer as well.

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Father Frank says it best

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Fr Frank Pavone and Pope Francis. Photo from Priests for Life. 

 

Some days, the irony piles on top of irony.

Father Frank Pavonne put out a letter yesterday concerning the widespread misinterpretations of Pope Francis’ interview with America magazine.

The irony?

Father Frank was with Pope Francis when the story broke.

In his words:

Is the pope saying we should talk less about abortion? Is he saying that the emphasis the Church has placed on this issue has been a mistaken emphasis?

When I first received these inquiries via emails and text messages, I was actually in the presence of Pope Francis, in the dining room of his residence. I had spoken just hours earlier, at the invitation of the Vatican, about the Church’s defense of the unborn child, and about the clear and strong position of the Church, expressed in many documents, that the right to life is our first right and the foundation and condition for all the others.

Read the rest here.

New Evangelization … Not

This is an uncomfortably accurate example of how we should not do the new evangelization.

It doesn’t matter what denomination, Christian churches all fall into different versions of this pattern. Perhaps we should stop being so self-concious about it.

After all, Jesus gives us meaning and purpose in this life and eternal life beyond that: Abundant Life. We don’t have to “sell” that. We just need to live it. A life lived for Christ is the best evangelizer of all.

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Breathing Lessons on the Piano

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I have a new/old piano.

Despite the fact that multiple internet sources essentially tell me that someone my age is wasting their time to do this, I’m taking piano lessons for the first time.

It came about like this.

I’ve always wanted to learn the play the piano. I love music. I have what you might call an eclectic collection of music on my iPhone, ranging from classical to country. I just love good music. But one type of music I love especially is piano solos. I have hundreds of them and I play them a lot.

I wanted to take piano lessons so I could make those beautiful sounds. I wanted to be able to hear that music in the way the person who is playing it hears it.

According to a lot of experts, that ain’t gonna happen. Old bags like me are just past that sort of thing.

All I can say, is that I’m so glad I didn’t read those experts before I started taking lessons. It wouldn’t have stopped me, but the weight of their negativity would have been something I had to throw off, wasting my time and energy. As it was, it never occurred to me that there was any reason I couldn’t do this if I wanted.

Despite the fact that I’d wanted to do this for a very long time, the time was never right. We were far too broke when I was raising kids to waste money on me and my interests. Pretty much everything my husband and I wanted got put on hold so that we could provide opportunities for them.

That was a golden investment that I not only don’t regret, but I am soooo glad we made. I look at the beautiful young men I raised, and all I can tell you is that it was the best thing I ever did.

However, that nagging desire to play the piano was still there. Then, last summer, a small group of people from my parish formed an ad hoc weekly Bible study in which we got together and talked about the readings from Sunday mass. Of course, there was a lot of eating and random chatter going on as well.

One of the women mentioned that she had a friend who was trying to give away a piano. I immediately said, “I’ll take it!”

And the rest has been rock and roll.

All I can say to those internet experts who claim that old fogies like me can’t learn new tricks is pfffffttttt. I am having a wonderful time with this piano. My goal, which is simply to make it make beautiful sounds, is, I am convinced, completely within my reach.

I enjoy this so much, that it surprises me. The hardest part for me has been limiting my fingers to playing the little tunes in the lesson book. I keep hearing other melodies in my head that I want to play. My piano instructor, bless him, told me to go ahead and play those other melodies. It takes a bit of plunking around to find them on the keyboard, but when I do, it is so much fun.

So, I guess I’m playing by ear and learning to play by following notes, as well. I often end up taking the little songs the lessons give me and plunk around, expanding them into longer melodies. That is so much fun.

My only complaint so far is that I wish my piano sounded better. It’s not bad. The piano tuner said it was in great shape; “a new old piano” is how he put it. But I want to hear a rounder tone than it makes. I don’t like the sharpness of its sounds. I want it to come back at me more, to have more fullness.

I’m not really sure what I’m talking about here. All I know is that am probably going to waste some money in a year or so and buy a piano that’s way over my abilities just so I can experience the pleasure of having it make those beautiful sounds when I play it.

Will I ever be a concert pianist?

No and no.

First, no because the experts are probably right that I’ve started too late. Second, no because that is not anything I even slightly want. I understand how much work it takes to make a career of anything. I don’t want that for this.

This is breathing. Only it’s music and not air.

As for those discouraging internet experts, they should know better. There’s an old saying that no one is ever too young to die. That is true. But the flip side of it is also true: No one is ever too old to live.

Musical notes

The Catholic Church, by the Numbers

Who we are in numbers.

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There is No Plan B

Jesus Christ.

Controversial yesterday.

Controversial today.

Controversial forever.

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Follow Jesus on Twitter

The Gospel on Twitter.

Watch and be blessed.

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Planned Parenthood: No Matter What

This enlightening video is from Students for Life.

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