Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reviewing Tugboat: My Journey Out of Obesity

Before my husband succumbed to an unfortunate bout of appendicitis and required surgery and several weeks of recuperation at home, I had planned to write a review of Tugboat:  My Voyage Out of Obesity by Cheryl Long.  At long last, I'm taking some time to write the review I wanted to write.

First, I have to say that I wish I had liked this book better.  My main problem is that I fundamentally disagree with Long's path to controlling her weight -- doing extended juice fasts.  The first she describes lasted twenty-one days and was something she undertook as a discipline.  I do think that fasting as a discipline is a good spiritual practice and that it is important to undertake it at times in order to gain mastery over our bodies and our appetites.  However, I think that three weeks of ingesting nothing but liquids, no matter how full of nutriets they are, is a flawed approach.  Long believes that, when you juice foods, you release and concentrate their nutrients and therefore can ingest many more nutrients than you could if you simply ate the foods in their raw state.  She relates a conversation with some women at a Sam's Club, saying:

"See all these veggies you have here?" She was demonstrating raw colored pepper slices and cherry tomatoes. "There is no way you could possibly eat even half what you have here; but I could juice the whole lot and drink the nutrients!" The light bulb fully lit up when I explained, "Your body doesn't need FOOD to survive; it needs nutrients! Take away the pulp, and you end up with concentrated nutrients!" (page 21).
My principal problem with this approach is that I don't believe that eating is merely about fueling the body.  It's a social and cultural thing, a way to connect with the natural world, and a way to express creativity and connectedness.  In other words, I don't want to merely survive by eating food -- I want to be fed.  I want to thrive. 
Next, Long describes a sixty day fast she undertook with three of her daughters.  I give them all a lot of credit for being able to maintain their discipline over such a long period of time. Some of the symptoms they developed as a result of the fast were alarming -- irritability, headache, malaise -- but to be expected.  Ultimately, because they were getting adequate nutrition, these symptoms abated a bit.  
The amounts of weight lost from week to week were truly astonishing to me -- five pounds one week, seven pounds another week, 4 pounds another week, and so on.  In all, Long lost 31 pounds on her sixty day fast.  She ended the fast feeling good and intending to use a more limited amount of fasting, healthy eating, and exercise to maintain her new healthy weight.
All in all, I admire Long's discipline, her dedication to providing her body with needed nutrition, and her very cheerful outlook about the project.  I would've been screaming at the walls by Day Two.  I worry, though, about sustainabilty.  There is no indication of how long after the fast ended she wrote and published the book, so it is hard to tell about long-term consequences and results.  I do know, however, that this approach would be a miserable failure with me, although I did seriously consider it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Routines for the School Year

Jessica McFadden of A Parent in America asks, "What are YOU doing to make this school year better for your family?"  Here is my answer:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer Dreams

The other day, I woke up from a lovely series of dreams.  They were simple dreams in which I was taking long walks with my children, or doing yoga, or swimming.  When I woke up, I was energized and happy.  I couldn't wait to get started.  I had such fun in the pool later -- doing jumping jacks, running, and other moves from water aerobics.  It was really refreshing and joyful and the children thought it was really funny to see such a goofy mommy.  The next day I mowed our crazy lawn -- not a flat surface in sight.  It's all dips and hills and weird angles -- I suppose that, when our house was built, the county didn't have the same requirements for making lots level as they do today -- no yard could have settled in this particularly weird way.  Even though I am now covered in mosquito bites, thanks to our friend, the Asian Tiger Mosquito, I felt strong, empowered, and happy to have a mowed lawn. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday

This is my first attempt at linking to 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary (one of my favorite blogs).  As I make the attempt to be both topical and random, bear with me.

1.   I need a job, y'all.  Chickadee #2 will be in school full time (8 to 3) next year.  For the first time in 9 years, I'll have days free.  I would love to find a local or work-from-home job writing, particularly about subjects in which I'm interested.  I'm currently (as in, right now while I'm blogging) working on a report, my only task for a great employer.  But it is boring boring boring (sorry, but true) and doesn't give me enough income (last year, I made less than I had in my work study job freshman year of college).  Any thoughts, leads, advice?  I'm also a great editor, if I do say so myself.

2.  I love 80's music, of a certain type.  I usually listen to Pandora Radio, a station of my own creation (The Psychedelic Furs Radio) while I'm working on my report.  Right now, Duran Duran's "Save a Prayer" is on.  Many moony hours were spent watching videos at my uncle's house (the only relative who owned a VCR in those days -- thanks, Uncs!).  My grandmother, who lived with my uncle and his family, was offended that her "stories" were preempted by Simon LeBon.  I miss you, Nan.

3.  The school year is coming to a close.  What the heck am I going to do this summer?  I've instituted rest time every day.  I think it will help me not get so crazy by 4 pm.  Pray for me.

4.  I found out last week (via Spectracell micronutrient testing) that I'm seriously deficient in many nutrients, particularly the B vitamins and calcium, and some other things.  Nutritional supplements are in my future, which I hate because I don't like taking what I term "horse pills".

5.  I'm not losing any weight, but not gaining either.  I plan to go to the pool a lot more this summer.  The chickadees are no longer in imminent danger of drowning, so I can actually deep water walk while they splash.  That will help. 

6.  I am in love with Dr. Ray Guarendi.  I heard part of his radio show a few weeks ago that has seriously changed my life (changes were coming anyway, but something clicked as I listened to him). A woman had called in about her 8 year old son, who was constantly defying her and not accepting her discipline.  She was going crazy and the younger children were imitating the older child.  It sounded so much like my situation with Chickadee #1 that I listened closely.  He told the woman that her problem wasn't that her son misbehaved -- all children misbehave -- but that he didn't accept her authority over him.  She needed to assert that authority.  The woman used a "time out" technique with her kids of making them rest their heads on their arms at the dining room table for as many minutes as they were old.  The 8 year old was either not doing it or was complaining through it or trying sneak out of it (by reading or drawing within his circled arms).  So, Dr. Ray told the woman -- it's okay to have the kids put their heads down if that works for you, but if they don't, tell them that they don't have to do it, but that everything stops (e.g., snacks, privileges, driving to activities, even school) until the discipline is carried out.  So simple.  So effective.  My children are actually obeying me a lot more and putting their heads on the table gives them, and me, a chance to calm down when things get heated.  Thanks, Dr. Ray.  I have claimed my authority as a mother.  Since Chickadee #1 just turned 8, it only took me 9 years.  Whew.

7.  I made agreat recipe the other day for some friends -- Slow Cooker Butter Chicken from Canadian Living magazine.  Tasty and healthy.  Success!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Celebrating WhyMommy

As you know, my friend and fellow mom, Susan Niebur (aka WhyMommy), passed away on February 6, 2012.  Susan was a wonderful wife and mother, a faithful friend, an accomplished scientist, and a writer whose words moved mountains.  Susan's interlocking communities of mothers, SJE parents, and bloggers are still feeling the reverberations her absence causes in our lives.  I've seen women in parking lots who resemble Susan and, after an initial surge of happiness (Oh, THERE she is), have cried all the way home. 

On Thursday, in School of Community, I recounted how, that morning when I was getting ready, I chose a dress because I wanted to look especially nice for the day, then realized that it was the same dress I wore when I stood beside Susan when she was received into the Catholic Church at her confirmation... and promptly started to cry. 

I wanted to look especially nice because, on Thursday, the Girl Scouts at SJE celebrated Susan in a special way with "Girl Scouts Do Science," a program that included speakers and opportunities for the girls to do hands on experiments. 

With the help Susan's husband, Curt, I located a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center who was willing to talk to our girls.  She gave a great presentation -- she works on the Cassini mission to Saturn.  The girls were so excited by the idea of a spaceship taking seven years to get to a planet and asked many interesting questions.  She talked about how the Cassini spacecraft was analogous to a human body and how, with math and science knowledge, we are able to communicate with it so that it will find things out for us about this very interesting gas giant planet. 

She also talked about how exciting the Space Shuttle program was for her as a young girl and how affected she was by the Challenger disaster -- something about which most of our girls had not yet learned.  It was interesting to see how many questions that passing reference generated -- they seemed to fixate on the disaster rather than on how inspiring and awesome the whole program was. 

The middle school science teacher at SJE then talked to the girls about her journey to loving and teaching science -- she told us that, as a young girl, she had not liked science.  She had always loved math, but science didn't really capture her interest until high school.  At that point, she became fascinated with biology and how all living things, from the smallest cell to the ecosystem around us, work in harmony and fit together.  She showed a cool video by They Might Be Giants on the scientific method and encouraged the girls to question, question, question and test, test, test.

Finally, we had another of Susan's friends (and a member of her prayer group) who is a biomedical engineer give us a great talk on her dissertation research.  In it, she worked on creating artificial tissue.  Her powerpoint presentation fascinated all the girls -- how they could separate the different kind of cells present in tissue using different kinds of solutions that would attract only one kind of cell, then grow those cells in culture, with the goal of then putting these different kinds of cells back together to create artificial tissue that works like the original.  At the end of her talk, she told the girls that we need people like them to be scientists, researchers, biomedical engineers, chemists, in order to help find a cure for cancers like the one that killed Susan.  It was such a powerful moment.  All of us adults ended up in tears.  All the hopeful potentiality in those earnestly listening little girls... drat. I'm crying again. 

All I can say is that Susan would have loved it.  I loved it on her behalf.  I was so honored to be able to plan and bring to fruition this work in honor of one of the most wonderful people I've ever met.  And I think that Susan would have been right there with the girls as they did experiments, getting her hands dirty as she showed them how oil and vinegar (with the help of a little Dijon mustard and a whisk) can become emulsified, how static electricity works, how to combine vinegar and baking soda and an empty water bottle hands to blow up a balloon without using your mouth, and other fun things.  At every experiment station, I could feel Susan there, gently encouraging the girls, really getting excited with them as they learned about density, static electricity, or whatever. 

Thank you, Susan, for inspiring me and for sharing your light with me and so many.  I think of you every day, and pray for you all the time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Food for the Soul

On Sunday, Chickadee #1 received Holy Communion for the first time.  First Holy Communion is a BIG DEAL for Catholics.  The children have spent all year preparing for this sacrament (a sacrament is an outward sign of a spiritual reality -- in this case that the Lord is really present in the body and soul of the recipient of Holy Communion.)  Many Protestant traditions think of Holy Communion as a sign of unity between members of the church who are gathered in love for the Lord.  Catholics see the sacrament as an outward sign of Christ Himself united with the believer.    Chickadee #1 was very excited and happy -- she had the dress, the veil, the shoes, fancy socks. She attended a retreat last week in which she made a symbolic banner, constructed a rosary, and took a tour of the church in which she learned about the symbolism and history of the parts of the building (she told me that someone was going onto the ambo and I had no idea what she was talking about -- she informed me that it is the podium from which the lectors read the from the Old Testament and Epistles and from which the priest proclaims the Gospel).  We attended practices and sang songs at home, arranged for chairs and a tent, bought food, ordered cakes.  Her solemnity and beauty in approaching this moment was so gorgeous to observe.  As a parent, it moves me so much to be able to share this with her. 

I remember, a long time ago, someone related a story to me.  In it, the person recounted an unbeliever taking to task a parent for "corrupting" her child's mind with all this claptrap about religion, God, etc.  The unbeliever sincerely thought that religion was inherently bad and that parents should allow their children to "make up their own minds about all that stuff."  In response, the parent said, "When you have something really, really wonderful, the natural thing as a parent is to want to share that with your children -- to help them have this great thing that you have."  It reminds me of the question Jesus asked,  "Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?" (Matthew 7:9). 

And it occurs to me, since everything these days seems to revolve around the issue of my weight, that I am actually giving my children, and myself, a stone.  A millstone.  And I keep right on picking it up and passing it on.  How you can simultaneously carry a stone and pass it along is not apparent to me, but I acknowledge that this is what I'm doing.  This book I'm reading, Made to Crave , is wonderful in that it reminds us that we are supposed to be filling up our days with love of the Lord and reliance on His Word.  Lysa TerKeurst's slogan is "Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food."  For myself, that's a lesson I keep having to learn and, despite all evidence from previous times in my life, it appears that I'm not a fast learner.

At a recent mass, as I waited go to Holy Communion, it occurred to me that I was really hungry.  The prayer that welled up in me was something like this -- "God make me hungry for You.  Make realize that the places in me that need to be filled can only be filled by You.  Help me to distinguish the kinds of hunger I feel and to feed them with the correct food." 

And that is my prayer right now, as I sit up late (it's 2:13 am) writing -- my body is craving something (water and sleep, I am sure).  I'm tempted to travel into the kitchen and try that awesome ice cream cake I made for Chickadee's 8th birthday, or the even more awesome cake Costco made for her First Holy Communion party.  Instead, I'm going to have a tall glass of water and turn off the light.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rejuvenate Me, Rejuvenate Me, Rejuvenate Me

Yesterday at just about this time, I was sitting on the beach in Monterey, California.  I'd found a nice "bench" of sand from which to survey the Pacific and, honestly, I only intended to bid farewell to an ocean which had overwhelmed me with its beauty and power in ways I had not expected.  I'm an East Coast girl -- to me, ocean means the grey Atlantic, which one approaches via miles and miles of flat, farmland and freshwater marsh.  It means the Boardwalk downeyohshun, saltwater taffy, suntan lotion, and seagulls fighting for scraps.  The Pacific took my preconceptions about oceans and turned them inside out -- instead of grey, it was the bluest blue.  Instead of marshland, mountains are its gateway.  Instead of the tackiness of Ocean City, MD, it breathed solitude and natural splendor. I loved it.  I loved me being there.  I achieved an important childhood dream on this trip and one adult dream.  Ever since I was a little girl, I had wanted to go whale watching -- ever since reading Nightbirds on Nantucket.  And I did do that -- I saw a humpback mother and calf (though I missed the calf breaching because I didn't want to get pitched overboard in the rough sea so was holding on tight to the railing in the wrong part of the boat) and the three killer whales which paced our boat and showed their dolphin-like natures by arcing through the water like arrows.  My adult dream was to celebrate ten years of marriage to a wonderful man who loves me with all his heart, soul, mind, and body.  And I did that too.  It was a wonderful trip.

So, why, on my last morning there, as I was bidding farewell to the blue Pacific and watching the fog roll away from the coastline, did I find myself fighting tears as I composed an impromptu prayer?  Looking at the Pacific, I rocked as I sang, "Rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me.  O Lord my God, oh please help me.  O give me courage, o give me strength.  Rejuvenate me, and please bring me to be the person as you want me. Rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me, O please help me.  To say no to myself.  To say yes to myself.  O please help me to choose wisely.  Rejuvenate me, oh come to me.  Amen." 

As I have gotten older and have gained more understanding of myself and the condition which I've imposed upon myself, I am trying to be kinder to myself and more loving towards the fragility of my own life.  Ever since Susan died, I've been thinking about the sheer sadness of death -- the loss of the light of this wonderful woman and all she had to offer to her family and friends and to the world at large.  Every once in a while, it pops into my own head that I'm closer to the end of my road than to the beginning, and I feel very tender towards myself.  I think that I'm a pretty cool person and I have a lot of interesting things going on in my mind, my heart, and my soul.  And I'm sorry that I won't be in this life forever.  And, at the same time, it occurs to me that I'm wasting time.  Wasting time hating my body. Wasting time being tired and sore and in pain.  Wasting time being overwhelmed by things.  Wasting time being out of control.  And that makes me feel very tender towards myself too. 

Hence the prayer, which I will sing every morning, perched on my bench of dirty laundry, regarding the ebb and flow of my family life. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012


I had a physical yesterday which included me crying my eyes out in the doctor's office. I wasn't crying because I received bad news (yet), but because I am so incredibly frustrated with what is going on with my health. I don't feel like a normal 45 year old woman should feel (Yes, despite my unbelief, I am 45... until Sunday, when the clock slews back to 29). Even if my blood pressure is normal, as it is, and my cholesterol is stellar, which it usually is, I am smart enough to know that I can't go on skating by this way forever. Diabetes runs in my family and I did have gestational diabetes with both chickadees -- an indicator of possible diabetes later. I'm having all sorts of blood work done and the doctor referred me to a vascular specialist because of some specific things that are happening. She also prescribed a medication which is supposed to help with pain -- not a painkiller, but a medicine that works on the nervous system and how it perceives pain. I don't like the idea of taking a daily medication, but I also know that, if I develop diabetes or high blood pressure or heart disease, I will be taking medication daily anyway. If this medicine can help me not be in constant pain, it will be better for me in the short and the long run. On the upside (ha ha ha), the primary side effect of this medication is nausea, so I'm inclined to eat less. So, that's the update.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hard day.

Last week, I was feeling so hopeful. Today, I'm in the Slough of Despond. I've been struggling with this weight problem for so long, and I'm in stasis. I'm trying, so I think, but I guess not hard enough. The immediate precipating factor is our trip to the zoo yesterday. The National Zoo is beautiful, but it's also on a hill. It's not designed for people like me, who struggle with pain on walking. My husband was concerned about me, and kept trying to cut our visit short, even though I was doing my best not to drag everyone down and hold everyone up. His tension, because of my pain, was rising; he broke out into hives for no reason; our children started being snarky and whining. Meanwhile, I was lurching along with a smile plastered onto my face which he said looked like the rictus of death.

I went to bed last night in pain, woke up in pain, and went grocery shopping, clutching the cart for support. I had intended to get up and do some free step for a half hour before the children got up, but that didn't happen (thank you Daylight Savings Time).

Sometimes I wonder why I bother. It's very frustrating and, honestly, I don't see a way out for me. I'm in a bad place today. Please pray for me.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Since my last post, I've taken two walks (two days were raining so I didn't walk those days) and done a few days of free step on the Wii. I also discovered that I'm better than my seven year old at Just Dance 3. I'm not saying I'm GOOD, just better than my poor child who has never been to a dance club. I've restarted logging every jot and tittle I put in my mouth in the Plan Manager of Weight Watchers Online. And I'm making kale chips as I write. [Update -- kale chips ROCK!]

My Wii Fit welcomed me back with a minimum of chiding, and I am starting to realize that I actually deserve to not feel crappy. I've been starting to think in ways I never have before - in my life. Ideas like, "I wish I could play tennis." "Wouldn't it be fun to go snowshoeing?" and "I wonder what snorkeling is like."

For me, this is progress.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Here we go again

I thought when I started writing this blog that it would provide me with inspiration and a public venue which would add the "shame" incentive -- I would somehow be more accountable to unkown strangers than I am to myself. The good news? I've discovered that I'm not as "other directed" as I might have thought. I guess the hell of middle school, when I craved the approval of the "crowd" and didn't get it, burned that desire right out of me for life. The bad news? I'm not as other directed as I might have thought. So, the idea that unkown others might be saying to themselves, "What a loser" (and not in the way I would have hoped) didn't really have much of an impact on me.

So, I'm starting again, rethinking this blog, and trying to salvage some good things out of this experience.

Here are the good things:

For the past few months, I've been seeing a nutrition counselor. Emphasis on the counselor. She is really nice, although the fact that she highly could be my sister-in-law's long lost twin kind of freaks me out. She thinks I am too negative (true), that I don't eat in the right way (true), and that I don't do things for myself (true). All of these factors contribute to the plateau I've been on for several years now.

After a longish hiatus, I thought I should sign up for Weight Watchers Online. I can't stand the meetings, which always seem to devolve into tips (if you only do x (usually involving buying WW products), the weight will just FALL OFF) or complaint sessions ("I just CAN'T figure out why I gained last week), or loving recitations of the wonderful, low cal concoction that tastes "exactly the same as pumpkin pie, I swear"). But WW Online has some useful tools and their concept of eating anything, in moderation, seems reasonable to me. I have always thought that the latest diet fad, whether it's low-fat, low-carb, no-meat, no wheat, no this, no that, is unreasonable. Human beings are omnivores and should be able to eat any kind of food. Eliminating whole food groups seems very counterproductive to me. I also know that a lifestyle that doesn't include buttered toast or mashed potates is not one I would willingly choose or sustain.

I've been working with my sister and my aunt on something called Made to Crave, which takes a spiritual approach to losing weight. As the author, Lysa TerKeurst says, it's about finding your "want to", not about "how to" lose weight. There are a series of video lectures she gives, then we work through daily assignments (which are tough, in that they require you to really be conscious of what you are thinking and believing about yourself and what you want), and then we meet weekly (lately it's been monthly) to discuss. It's been a really rewarding experience in many ways, especially since it has allowed me to grow closer to two phenomenal women, both of whom are so beautiful inside and out. The only dark spot is that my mother, who had been joining us before Christmas, is now in Florida for the winter, so we are deprived of her gentle and loving presence.

I took a walk this morning, after doing drop off. It was a small walk, but it was a walk. I went twice around the track at a local park. My goal is to do this every morning, and to build up to ten times around the track by the end of March. Then I'll go looking for more interesting walks.

This walking mania came about because, over President's Day weekend, a friend and I went to New York for a "mom's weekend away" minibreak. It was so much fun, and I walked and walked and walked. And I was in horrible pain. All the muscles in the backs of my legs were so tight and really painful, to the point that I had to stop my friend during our 8 block walk to Penn Station at the end of the weekend and ask her to hail a cab. It was awful. But, as I told my friend, if I can walk in New York because I want to see the 9/11 memorial or the Irish Hunger memorial or the Met, I sure as heck can walk at home, even if the scenery is not as interesting.

As I was walking this morning, I was thinking of all the walking I used to do when I was younger and healthier. I walked all over Rome, all over Dublin, all over Baltimore, and all over the District of Columbia. It occurred to me that, when I was in graduate school, there were times that I was so poor that I couln't afford the 85 cent metro fare from Ballston to Foggy Bottom. On those days, I'd get up an hour earlier than normal and walk the 6.5 miles from my apartment to school. It wasn't easy or fun, but I remember not giving it too much thought -- it was just something I had to do. I want to get back to that stage, when I don't have to think about the pain that walking any distance will cause me.

Now off to do 20 minutes of Free Step on the Wii. Whee!
Pray for me!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dear Friend, Sadly Missed

My friend, Susan Niebur, passed away yesterday, after a five year battle with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, the deadly cancer that presents with no lump.

These are my words for Susan.

In 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 13, St. Paul writes, “And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Recently, I saw a commentary about this verse given by a priest who was, I think, recapitulating St. Thomas Aquinas’s explanation of it. The priest said that, when our earthly lives are done and we see God face to face, there is no longer any need for faith, because all of our questions have been answered and all of our searching for the Ultimate has come to a triumphant close. In the same way, there is no longer any need for hope, because when we see God, Creator of the Universe, face to face, all our hopes, even those we ourselves can barely acknowledge, are fulfilled. What then is left?

Love is left.

Love abides.

And when we see God, the Creator of the Universe, face to face, what we are seeing is Love distilled to its finest point. And, to the extent that we have loved in our lives, to the extent that we have habituated ourselves to this Love, then, to that extent, we participate in this Ultimate Love for all eternity. If this is true, and I know with all my heart and soul and intellect that it is, as I know Susan did, then at this very moment she is participating in this Love in a way that we can only dimly comprehend.

I think this is fitting, because if there is anything that characterized Susan Niebur, it is the love that she had for her husband, Curt, and their children, and all those who were privileged to know her in person and virtually. Susan was blessed with a mind both scientific and poetic. She could as easily explain how light is refracted by a prism, with the math to explain it, as she could write a sentence that carried such weight of meaning that it could transport her readers in profound ways. Ways that changed them. Ways that made our community a better place – indeed, ways that made, and are still making, the world a better place.

And yet, as the cancer that claimed Susan’s life progressed, those things were slowly stripped away, as important and as integral to her person as they were. And finally, things that we take for granted, like the ability to drive a car, to be in charge of our days, to walk from one room to another, were slowly taken from Susan. What remained?

Love remained.

Love abides.

Throughout the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about Dante’s Divine Comedy. In this marvelous poem, Dante the poet travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, observing and relaying all that he sees there to his readers. In the final book of the poem, Il Paradiso, Dante moves in concentric circles (kind of like the solar system!) through the heavenly host, drawing ever closer to a final celestial vision. I remember that, when I first read Dante, I thought that Paradise was a real let-down after all the dynamism of the earlier two books, what with Sisyphus pushing the stone perpetually up the hill, illicit lovers burning with unrequited passion, Satan encased in ice up to his diabolical waist, and the myriad souls moving up the terraces of Purgatory, every fiber of their souls yearning to attain unity with God and drawing ever closer to Him as their earthly attachments and concerns fell away.

But as I have gotten older, it’s the final image of the Divine Comedy that comes back to me again and again. After his long and fantastic journey, Dante finally comes face to face with God Himself. And here, description does not suffice. He says, “Oh how poor our speech is and how feeble/for my conception! Compared to what I saw/to say its power is ‘little’ is to say too much./” And yet, he tries, imagining the Holy Trinity as three circles, the Father, the Son as reflected light, and the Holy Spirit as impassioned fire breathed out by them both. It is only with the help of a flash of Grace that he is able to understand the image of man inherent in the Son, the Incarnation. And he says, “For the great imagination here power failed;/But already my desire and will [in harmony]/were turning like a wheel moved evenly/by the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.”

For me THIS is the entire point. The point of the Divine Comedy, the point of the Incarnation, the point of Creation, and, yes, the point of Susan Niebur’s life: Love – HER love, as a reflection and amplification, a reverberation, of the love of the Prime Mover. As my heart is breaking for Curt and the boys, for Susan’s family, for us all as we endure the loss of this great woman, I also am comforted by the sure knowledge that at this very moment, Susan is immersed in the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.