Over the Wine-Dark Ohio

Over the Wine-Dark Ohio January 30, 2020

It was snowing, but I couldn’t see it.

This has been the most disappointing of winters– mostly rain, sometimes slush, never enough snow to cover the mud and make LaBelle look clean. The weather swings back and forth between clear and drizzly, nearly-comfortable and bone-chilling so quickly that my fibromyalgia is out of control. I’ve barely been out of the house since Christmas.

Last night, I had a bit of a remission in the pain. There was nowhere useful to go so late, but I went walking around LaBelle.

It was dark and cold: bracing, but not far below freezing. The ground wasn’t warm enough to steam, but it was wet. Above me was a low blanket of orchid-colored cloud. Orchid is the shade of purple that light pollution makes an overcast sky at night.

Purple is the liturgical color of waiting, and of repentance.

It could be that Purgatory has a sky that shade.

As I walked, I felt the snow or the sleet against my face and hands– tiny drops and not big flakes, not the kiss of a good thick snowfall but a sensation more like being swarmed by cold gnats. I could hear the snow falling on the mulberry trees– tak tak tak tak tak tak— but I couldn’t see it. I looked up at the street lamps and saw nothing but that strange yellow halo my astigmatism and my bad Medicaid-eligible glasses make out of fluorescent bulbs at night.

How many times have I taken that walk?

How many times have I left my house in the perpetual gloaming of a cloudy orchid night and walked that loop, up to the wealthy mansions on La Belle View, south to where La Belle View becomes South Bend Avenue, then back to the cheap rentals further on? Hundreds, at least. Maybe thousands.

Walking on a street called South Bend makes me think of the time I went to a conference at Notre Dame, and discovered that all of us are relics. I liked Notre Dame. I went walking there at night, as well, every night of that four-day conference. It’s so easy to get lost at Notre Dame, I felt a little like Alice through the Looking Glass, trying to walk to the Red Queen and coming back in at the same door every time. On one of my walks I ended up at the Lourdes Grotto. One another, I kept circling a statue of the Holy Family. On the very last night, I found an enormous statue of Saint Joseph. I knelt in front of the statue and prayed that I wouldn’t have to live in Steubenville much longer. But he hasn’t answered my prayer, not yet.

When I was at South Bend, the real South Bend, the one in Indiana, I skipped Sunday Mass at their basilica and instead went to liturgy at a tiny Eastern Catholic church called Saint Michael’s. There was an icon of Saint Michael by the door, with a warning that this angel guarded the gate to paradise and that none would be admitted unless he had “the courage of repentance.” I’ve never seen that phrase used anywhere else.  In the years since the conference, have often wondered if I have the courage of repentance.

“Repentance” means “turning around.”

I went around that looped street, listening to rain on mulberry branches, past the great big mansions with their yellow porch lights haloed in astigmatism-gold.

I prayed to Saint Michael as I often do. He is my favorite person to talk to. A long, long time ago, when I thought I was going to be a Carmelite, I wished that I could take the name Makayla John, for Saint Michael and Juan de la Cruz. Makayla John of the Silence of Holy Saturday.  But that’s not who I turned out to be. I turned out to be Mary Elizabeth Pezzulo, walking with her awkward gait in a funny oblong loop around LaBelle, admiring the halos around lamps, wondering if I have the courage of repentance.

When I got to the corner where La Belle View becomes South Bend Avenue, I stopped and looked at the view. That’s the place where the trees are low and you can see across the cliff to downtown– the housing projects, the railroad track, the Carnegie library and the brass dome of the Greek Orthodox Church. Beyond that is the wine-dark Ohio river, and across the river is a layer cake of different colored limestone, the cliff-side of Weirton, West Virginia. South of Weirton is the town of Folansbee and that perpetually smoldering coke plant. I have seen that view hundreds of times.

Tonight, the smoke from Folansbee was very low. Something about the cold air or the low clouds made it spread out like a mushroom  or a tau, instead of rising up.

I could almost imagine it was an angel with outstretched wings, descending to judge the valley.

Of course, he might not be coming to judge.

What if, on one of my endless walks, he said to me, “Repent. Turn around. Stop walking in the endless loop. Step out of this path and find yourself on a different one. All chains have been broken. All doors have been ripped off their hinges. The gates lift high their heads, the ancient doors are open, the river is turning back on its course, the mountains skip like rams, and nothing will stand in your way– as long as you have the courage to repent.”

Perhaps the angel has been there, saying those words, every time I’ve looked out across the river.

“It’s snowing!” said somebody, running from his porch into a pickup truck, as I rounded the bend to my house. Neither of us could see the precipitation, but we felt it.

I listened to the clattering of sleet across LaBelle, as I walked home under clouds the color of repentance.

The angel remained where he had always been, hovering over the wine-dark Ohio, guarding the gate to paradise.

(image via Pixabay) 




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