Friday, February 8, 2013

7 Quick Takes

--- 1 ---

This was a hard week.  Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the death of a woman well loved on the internet and in real life, Susan Niebur.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about Susan over the past year -- almost as much time as I spent praying for her and thinking of her during the years that I knew her.  She was, and is, an inspiration for me in terms of mothering, spirituality, and writing.  I'm glad she is praying for me.  I'm sorry I couldn't know her for a longer time.

 --- 2 ---

As I write, my children are home and happily coloring as I take a few minutes to write my 7 Quick Takes.  Today is a day off from school due to parent/teacher conferences.  I'm happy to report that both of them are doing well.  Right now they are discussing the difference between imitation (when another student likes your picture and uses the same idea -- a positive thing) and copying (like when another student tries to copy your work on a math test -- a no no). 

--- 3 ---

I am loving yoga.  It is such a relief to not be able to think about anything except whether I'm going to fall down.  Yesterday we worked on something called cow-faced pose.  That was an adventure. 

--- 4 ---

Today we are making oatmeal raisin cookies for the Senior Tea my Brownies troop is hosting today.  The chickadees needed a lot of help in figuring out how to chop raisins.  But they eventually got the point that chopping raisins is just an exercise in due diligence.  I maintain that you really can't chop a raisin -- you just kind of mash them up with the sharp side of the knife. 

--- 5 ---

I started Curves Complete this week.  I haven't figured out the recipes well enough -- they're all scaled for one person, and I obviously have to cook for four, so I haven't entirely stuck to them, but I have gone and done the workout twice and will do so again tomorrow.  I was planning on today, but it's just too busy a day and I'd have the kiddies with me.  I brought them the other day and they were MAGNIFICENTLY behaved, but I got the impression that the Curves owner was not entirely comfortable with them being there. 

--- 6 ---

Listening to my children as they are coloring cracks me up.  They sound just like my two younger sisters used to.  They are masters of the subjunctive.  Chickadee #2 just said, "Pretend our teacher did not like us to be loud in class.  We were a year late for American Girl camp."  They  are in American Girl camp right now, apparently.  Miss Claire (I am Miss Clair) likes it to be quiet (YES SHE DOES).  Chickadee #1 just said (in Miss Claire's voice):  "Girls!"  (Yes, Miss Claire?)  "I am going to be gone.  I have to clean a latrine"  Chickadee #2 said, "We know."  Coming out of character, Chickadee #1 said, "You don't know what latrines are like.  You had a toilet (at Girl School camp).  We just had holes in the ground.  They were scary. We couldn't even wash our hands.).  Who needs to spend 10 dollars to see a movie?  This is very entertaining.

--- 7 ---

I'm currently reading George Weigel's Evangelical Catholicism and I'm loving it, if not Weigel's idiosyncratic and convoluted writing style.  This is instead of my book club book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I am scared to start.  The meeting is on Monday, so I'd better put Weigel aside and start the book club book. 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Touch and Be Touched -- Part I

It should be no surprise to anyone reading this that I have a troubled relationship with the concept of the body.  I've been thinking about that trouble in theological and spiritual terms lately, and yoga plays a big part in that. 

Six weeks ago, I was scrolling through Facebook and found a post by a high school friend mentioning that a new session of the Therapeutic Yoga class she teaches was starting the next day. My heart in my throat, I sent her the following message:

Hi Marianne! I took the bait and signed up for your therapeutic yoga class. I am a little bit terrified of the prospect, since I've really become decrepit as the years have passed and have a lot of health issues. I have only done one yoga session in my life (a few months ago) and was pretty much crippled for the next two weeks, but I'm feeling so terrible right now in terms of chronic pain that I am willing to take a chance! I did love the way doing yoga made me feel mentally -- it prevented me from thinking too much since I had to make sure that I didn't fall over. So, I am excited and scared and will be happy to see you after all these years. See you tomorrow -- I hope I can find the yoga studio.... and is there parking?

Marianne enthusiastically encouraged me to come and I've been so happy that I did. 

There are several things that have struck me during the sessions I've attended.  One is Marianne's repeated question, "Are you breathing?".  I wish I could reproduce the warmth and wryness with which she asks this basic question.  The second is the idea that our body gives us information -- if you are standing with more weight on one side than another, if one foot is in front of another, if your feet are not parallel, that is information.  Marianne says, "Don't try to fix it. Just notice it."  Finally, at the beginning and the ending of each class, we are asked to place our hands in prayer position. 

"Allow your hands to touch and be touched," Marianne says. 

Touch.  Being open to touch.  That's never been my strong suit.  I don't come from a hugging family.  I was in high school before I ever saw my parents kiss one another.  I don't remember my parents embracing me much during my childhood.  I've made an exception with my own children -- I'm very physically affectionate with them, allowing even my eight year old, almost as tall as I am, to sit on my lap at will and cuddling with both girls as often as they'll let me.  But, I confess, sometimes it's hard.  I've had to stop myself from saying (especially when they were younger), PLEASE STOP TOUCHING ME.

I think there are many reasons that touch, carnality (in the sense of living in one's body), and the physical body are not easily accessible to me.  I mentioned here my isolated and immoble infancy.  I'm also a very cerebral person -- I spent much of my childhood in my head, fantasizing, telling stories, reading books, and not a huge amount playing sports or getting down into the mud. 

There's also a family history to contend with.  I come from recent immigrant stock.  Poor immigrants.  My Irish grandparents were born just a few decades after a third of their countrymen died with stomachs distended from starvation, their teeth and tongues and lips green from the grass they ate to fill their emptiness.  My Polish family was so poor that they indentured my great-grandmother to a landowner so that she would have something to eat.  Until the day she died, my grandmother talked about how poor her cousins in Poland were and how conflicted she was when she visited them, knowing that the beautiful meal they provided to her meant that they'd go without milk, and meat, and butter, and jam for the rest of the month, since they'd used all their ration cards to entertain her.  That kind of poverty, that kind of hunger, makes people suspicious of the body and its imperatives and pleasures.  I think that this is a kind of hidden strand in my family history -- certainly no one would have talked about that kind of thing.  But those kinds of traumas shape a family culture and we pick those attitudes up by osmosis.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I Miss My Friend

Grief is a weirdly elastic thing.  When you first lose someone you love, you feel as if all the oxygen in the room has been sucked out and you are left gasping and grasping at anything that will sustain you.  Slowly, slowly, you learn to breathe in this air that has lost its oxygen and, sadly, you go on.  Then, BOOM, all of a sudden, you realize that you are actually LIVING IN AN ATMOSPHERE DEPRIVED OF OXYGEN, and you are again left gasping.

This happened to me today, as it has many times during this year, when I was preparing to meet with women from Susan's prayer group to remember her in prayer at the Eucharistic Adoration chapel of our church.  I was watching a video on Inflammatory Breast Cancer on the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation page and, suddenly, I was back in the rawness of loss. 

I am incredibly grateful to Susan for being so generous with herself, her time, her love, her smile, her passion.  I'm grateful to her family and friends for sharing her with me.  Knowing her has profoundly changed me.  She taught me so much about the mystery of suffering and the mystery of love.

I can intellectualize til the cows come home about the loss I feel.  I can place it into its proper theological  and psychological context.  I have hope of seeing Susan again:  if anyone is with the Crucified and Risen Lord, He who ended Death's dominion, it is Susan.   In so many ways, the essenstial Susan is with us still, in the love she engenders among those who know her -- I felt that so strongly in the chapel today.  The reverberations of Susan's life are all around.

But still, I miss my friend.  God bless you, Susan. 

Please consider honoring the wonderful woman by making a donation to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation, and please remember -- not all breast cancer has a lump. Know your body and trust it when it tells you something isn't right.   

Monday, February 4, 2013


I have more to say about yoga (I know I've been promising this post for a while), but I have to share this because it makes me so happy.  Just have to share.  Imagine me, as a freshman in high school, reading Guitar Player magazine or some such (I know it wasn't Tiger Beat because my friend Cathy was reading that one and drooling over George Michael or Tony Hadley or someone like that -- maybe Lemal from Kajagoogoo).  And I came across a little tidbit about a an Irish band that was somehow different.  I remember the writer talked about the second track on the album (October) and said something like, "It's Gloria as in Gloria in Excelsis Deo, not Gloria as in Van Morrison's G-L-O-R-I-A".  And I thought, I've gotta get some of that.  And I hitched a ride down to the Music Machine in Pikesville, which we called Howie's after the owner, the next time my sister and her friend Julie went down there, and I did.  I remember that I wasn't too impressed with the first track ("Fire", I think), but the second one took my breath away.  And here we are 32 years later...