Wednesday, February 14, 2018

ashes and love

Dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.

Dust thou art.


Today is the day that many Christians put ashes on our foreheads to remember our mortality. To remind ourselves and each other that we live in a broken world and we, ourselves, are part of that brokenness.

On this day, we wear ashes, and we talk about dust, two things that on all other days we sweep up, wipe off, discard.

Remember that thou art dust.


This humble stuff, this grit underfoot.

We are dust, and our world is broken, but we are not alone in the dust and ashes. God remains our partner in the ongoing process of creation.

Today, oddly this year, is also Valentine's Day, when most Americans celebrate love.

Pablo Neruda's "Ode to My Socks" is always and ever my favorite love poem, but it seems a particularly fitting one for today's confluences of love and ashes, of the divine and the quotidian.

The /I/ of this poem recognizes the powerful magic of an everyday, humble object created with love.

I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
with threads of
and goatskin.

He resists the temptation to preserve the gift, to put it away, to protect the magic from the hardships of everyday use. Instead, 

Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
and then my shoes.
Today, remember that thou art dust, but also that thou art love.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

a glimpse of devotion


They are an odd collection, but fit for the purpose, though not all intended for this use. Insight comes to us in a variety of places.

Friday, January 12, 2018


Facebook reminded me today that three years ago, I was living in a home heated by wood, which meant waking up to add fuel to the fire and hauling wood with a sled after shoveling a path to the pile. 

Today I hauled groceries.

This bike jersey is not normally part of my January wardrobe:

In part, the change is that I've moved three degrees of latitude south and eight degrees of longitude closer to a coast, but that's not the whole story. Although I enjoyed the time on my bicycle today, I was at the same time painfully aware that the recent spate of sharply variable weather,  swinging from unseasonably frigid to unseasonably mild over the course of days, is a symptom of the brokenness of our ecosystem.

It increasingly feels like no amount of personal asceticism with regard to fossil fuel consumption can make a difference. We needed the systemic changes of the Paris Accord, or something like them,  to be operative ten years ago at least.

Yesterday I read this piece by my friend David about his disillusionment with the possibility of human survival on a warming planet, and today it was 67F here in DC, and I, fair-weather cyclist that I am, rode my bike to get groceries. Sunday's high will be 29F, and it will feel more like winter all of next week, but this is not normal.

What have we wrought?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

death has a body

I love Kate Braestrup. She writes brilliantly about life and death and faith. Her memoirs about marriage and grief are the only ones that have not made me want to throw them across the room in frustration. (Sorry, C. S. Lewis and Joan Didion.)

I want to grow up to be more like Braestrup.

Her story "The House of Mourning," told at The Moth, reminded me of the one regret I have about the choices I made after Adam's death--not viewing the body.

Braestrup's overall message is that "you can trust a human being with grief," a message that we all too often doubt. We try to insulate ourselves, and especially our children, from grief when in reality it is an integral part of life.

She supports this message with her own story of insisting on seeing and caring for the body of her late husband, a state trooper who died in a car accident while on duty, and also with the story of a five-year-old girl who insisted on visiting the body of her four-year-old cousin.

Braestrup says that in her experience as a chaplain to the Maine Game Wardens, "People are far, far more likely to regret not having seen the body than they are to wish they hadn't done it" (6:55). And I wish that every funeral director and law enforcement chaplain and county sheriff's deputy would hear this story.

The men in my kitchen that day--the chaplain and the chaplain-in-training and the deputy and the several officers--presented a united front in their "recommendation not to view." The haunted looks on the officers' faces added weight to this recommendation. As did their refusal to take me to retrieve things from the car, offering instead to get whatever I wanted and bring it to me.

Knowing what I do now about the physics of Adam's accident and the coroner's findings of cause of death--cranio-cerebral trauma--I understand the recommendation not to view. But I wish that I had thought to ask for a middle ground between full viewing and none at all. Could the children and I have held the hands of his draped body? Could the mortician have wrapped his head in gauze to cover the worst but allow us to see and touch the rest?

Ultimately, my acquiescence on this score allowed other people--medical examiner, tissue donation organization, crematorium--to do their work more efficiently, and the funeral director was able to have the ashes present at the funeral service a mere four days later, which was very important to me.

Death has a body, and when the decision is happening in your kitchen or your loved one's hospital room or wherever, Kate Braestrup and I recommend that you choose to view.

Saturday, January 6, 2018


The blog has been quiet in 2017, but life has not. A lot of what has been happening, I don't feel ready to share in this space; nonetheless, I feel compelled to post a year in review.

So here, friends, is our year in numbers:
1 stamp in my passport
2 scholarly articles published
15 blog posts
376.5 miles by bicycle
2.25 years employment at my current university
2.5 years since we moved to Lovely Apartment
4.5 years since widowhood
15 years since motherhood
20 years since high school graduation

And in pictures:

Merry Christmas 2017

We hope your 2017 was better than it was worse, and we wish you strength and discernment as you step into 2018!

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Where is home for you?

It’s a question I frequently ask, but one that I have trouble answering.

Living in the national capital region and working at a univeristy that attracts international students, it’s a novelty to meet someome who claims my current town as home.

More than once in the weeks leading up to break, when I mentioned that Elder, Younger, and I were driving to Buffalo over the holidays, someone said, “Oh, is that home? Are your parents there?”

My gut reaction was to say no. 

I’ve never lived in Buffalo, I wasn’t born there, and I have no particular affinity for the city itself. My mom is in Kalamazoo, and my dad is outside Philly.

Culturally, home is Long Island or the Endless Mountains, but I rarely ever go to either of those places because my people have left.

I’ve spent a lot of Christmases in Buffalo since my Gram moved there in 2003, though. 

If home is where your people are, then I guess when the question comes up again in the post-holiday conversations, my answer should be: Yes, I went home for Christmas.

Monday, December 25, 2017

fear not

This week, Anne Voskamp reminded me of that moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Linus says the words, "Fear not!" and drops his security blanket.

Over and over, biblical encounters between human beings and angels include these words. Fear not! Angelic visitation indicates disruption, it is a precursor to drastic change, it is inherently frightening.

Not all things that cause fear are as sudden and extraordinary as the appearance of an angel to tell you that someone, possibly you, is unexpectedly pregnant, though.

A simmering anxiety has pervaded my life these last few months. I've been slightly anxious about pretty much everything: my career, my budget, my friendships, my loneliness. It was insidious, though, and I was not paying sufficient attention to notice the anxiety.

Instead, I noticed that I was watching more crappy television and reading more crappy books and doing less writing, that I was ordering more takeout and doing less cooking, that I was teaching on the fly and not planning ahead. I was really annoyed with myself about these things, but I was caught in a negative feedback loop.

Unlike Linus, I didn't have a single Fear not! moment.

The negative feedback loop started to break down several weeks ago, at the beginning of Advent, actually. While standing at the center of a labyrinth, I heard the words, just be where you are.

Be where you are.

Be where you are.

I've been hearing them over and over ever since.

Where I am is in the middle of a period of uncertainty. I should have recognized it. I mean, I've been here before. And I survived.

The difference is that the last time my life was this uncertain, I had chosen to put myself there.

Now that I see the anxiety, it has less power.

Be where you are, I remind myself, and fear not.