A luxury

DSC_2885I read something today, this umpteeth day of social distancing and conducting multiple meetings via Zoom.

Planning for the future is a luxury of the privileged.

It appeared in an article about the upending of family life due to the coronavirus pandemic, and how this mom had just wiped clean the family calendar because nothing was happening. Nothing that mattered before mattered in the same way now.

And it made me think, about my own upbringing, about financial instability and relational instability in our home and volatility and how I knew if I was smart I wouldn’t dare to dream or to plan.

Nothing was within my control.

This whole experience has felt strangely familiar in a lot of ways, similar to when I found myself kicked out of college because my dad gambled my academic and financial future on his plan to sell a lot of Amway detergent (read: didn’t want to pay his taxes, a requirement for the financial aid form).

It was the best year of my college life. I had a leadership position on campus, a job at the local newspaper, and tons of friends (hard for me). And then I got the letter from the registrar, and the bursar and all the people saying I had to leave. Long story short, I conned another couple months out of them and finished the semester, but the debt I took home with me from that one semester (he’d made not one payment, and I had exhausted my contribution from summer factory work) would keep me out of school for the next five years.

Anyway, when I was driving home from the office on that last day in our life “before all of this”, I thought of that. How this felt like that. And how I was disappointed and worried, but I knew that things will be how they are, maybe even how they should be. That things would be hard, and there would be loss, but I would find meaning, and growth and I would do what I could do to help my friends and families find the same.

Then today I saw that phrase: Planning is a luxury for the privileged. I realized how lucky I had been, how blessed my family has become. And I realized how there was still, deep in the recesses of my brain, that understanding that nothing is permanent, and how loosely I still hold on to a lot of things. Hubby and I are trying to build a new house, a project started “before all of this” and it’s getting complicated, more so because of this. And I know that if it doesn’t happen, we will survive. I hope we can, but if we can’t, we’ll survive. I love my job. But if it went away, I would figure it out.

Again, the words of Jesus in the Gospel according to St. Matthew:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

I want to write this tonight as some encouragement, to my scrappy, hustling brothers and sisters who know disappointment, that deep disappointment that comes with grief, from the loss of a thing that was actually yours.

You have special skills to use at this time. You know how to do this. You know that smart people always used pencil on the calendars anyway. You know that there will be an illness, an accident, a job loss, a divorce, a something. It will get in the way.

And you know that you will be OK.

You need to know that.

You will be. We will be.

It will be.

Making Do

Palm Sunday, 2020

The Russian Orthodox tradition often uses pussy willow branches in place of palms on Palm Sunday.

It makes sense, when you think of it, for Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Georgia, etc., are not known for their warm, balmy climes.

Somewhere along the line, the pussy willow trees with their little fluffy nubs (pre-flowers or something like that) became what the faithful held in their hands as the Gifts made their way in procession around the nave.

In my church, one full of Macedonians, Bulgarians, Russians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Ethiopians and German/Scott/English mixes like myself, you see pussy willow branches on the altar along with the palm fronds for blessing and then handed out.

For all of its tradition, and its great beauty, the Eastern Orthodox Church is messy, and fine with it.

I almost grabbed a branch off an evergreen in our yard today, sprinkled holy water on it and used it for week 4 of the Facebook live-stream of the Divine Liturgy. (How has this been a MONTH already. It is both the longest time, and the shortest time. I think we might be somehow outside of time.) But I didn’t have a chance to do that because in this new world, we grocery shop on Sunday mornings, as soon as it is open at 8 a.m. when it is safe, and quiet.

So instead I used one of last year’s pussy willow branches–brittle and fragile–for the service.

I can’t lie about this. As a person who sets my watch by Holy Week, I am struggling to make sense of this, to know how I should or could walk through this week to Pascha. During a typical year, there are between six to 12 services I might make it to, depending on work or whether I go to Ohio and worship with my sister.

There were no palms this year. No children turning the fronds into crosses in the parish hall, and trying to teach us how to do it. I miss my friends, my sister’s family, our choir. I miss kissing the icons, and hugging Dave in the narthex. I miss donuts and conversation. I miss church.2020-04-12 10.53.50

But I am so grateful that our leadership took this seriously. I am so blessed to have priests, bishops and patriarchs who said, wisely, this is not discrimination. This is for the salvation of the world, in a very real way.

So I battled frustration with audio feeds, and a bad attitude, and impatience and all the things I’d have confessed by now, and placed my icon of the Theotokos, my home censer and a vigil candle in front of the wireless router, next to a flashlight and a police scanner and a Yankee Candle.

2020-04-12 11.04.14And my living room filled with incense, and I clutched that dried and fragile branch, and I prayed.

I know this week won’t look like anything I want. But I pray I am open to its lessons, that I embrace this season of difficulty and sacrifice and anxiety and caution in a way that doesn’t waste it.

I haven’t kept the fast the way I would normally. I know I’m not the person I want to be at this point in the Lenten spring.

But next Sunday, however it looks, the sermon will be the same one it’s been for a thousand years or so: the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom.

And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. 

Lord, have mercy.

Another time

Last Wednesday, I missed Presanctified Liturgy to sub for our normal All Things Considered host who was out sick. (Just a cold!)

We were still in what we thought was the beginning of our spring membership drive, a bi-annual staple of public radio. Last week, amid the stories about the growing concerns over what was now a global pandemic: COVID-19.  We had not yet suspended pitching yet, so I asked for money throughout the three hours of the show.

I hosted again tonight, giving the host’s voice a break. We’ve added an extra newscast to each hour to get in as much news as we can. Virus, virus, virus. All virus. All the time.

As I walked out after a particularly rough three hours of hosting (still not good at this), I noticed a stack of papers sitting on the counter under the other bank of mics.

Pitch scripts. From just a week ago.

It felt like I was looking back in time, across centuries, they seemed so old, so foreign.

Different concerns. Different worries. I cannot even remember what my priorities were that day, other than getting to church. And I knew more about the virus than the average bear because that’s my job, and I spend some time on Twitter and I read what happened in Italy as it happened in Italy.

And still.

I have no idea what next week will look like. I’m not sure what tomorrow will look like. A week ago, things had a certain rhythm to them, a delusional predictability.

Now? Who knows.

 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” –The Gospel of Matthew 6:34

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything

2020-03-17 18.55.55(Note: I always tend to write more during Lent, and given the current situation, this is kind of serving as a check-in for my brain.)

I tucked them in tonight, my mom and my grandmother. They’re both in that high-risk population we’re protecting right now and my family has them wrapped in bubble wrap.

I’ll social distance my butt off if it helps my grandmother see 98. But giving up church, during Lent and marching to Pascha, that’s really hard. And it’s hard to know that our plans for this holiest of times matter not. Not even a little bit.

I’ve been Orthodox for 16 years this Lent. My life, though so far from holy it’s embarrassing, has become measured by the seasons of the calendar: the fasts, the services, and the feast days.

I missed the Liturgy of the Presanctified gifts last week, because the news starting breaking about the virus here in Indiana. I made it to Liturgy on Sunday, and knew in my heart we were sliding in as the elevator doors closed. Yesterday, the bishops cancelled the Liturgy for more than a couple people behind the altar. And while we believe it is served “on behalf of all and for all,” it’s more comforting to be there.

Anyway, it’s a weird time.

I worked from my mom’s house the past two days, taking care of Oma while mom lined up her FMLA to stay home to care for our matriarch for the duration. Her home health aids can’t promise continuity of care with the virus spreading, so here we are. I’m glad to have mom home anyway.

So on Monday, in between updating our website and editing news stories and conferring with NPR regional editors, I helped Oma with her bath. I made her lunch and we visited.

It felt sacred.

Today, she came out and bugged me while I worked, a little kid behind a wrinkled smile with a mind always working and searching. I love her so much.

We started our day praying together, reading the Prayer of St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I taught her how to cross herself. Mom came home and we ate supper. Then we all prayed.

We read the daily prayers, the scriptures for this day in the calendar (And the Lord told Noah to build an ark, and to enter the ark…) We practiced making our crosses. And the old girl, whose anxiety was visible all day in her drumming fingers and her questions, melted away with a smile.

Lord of the Powers be with us, for in times of distress we have no other help but You.
Lord of the Powers, have mercy on us.

The prayer in time of trouble.

We can do this, she said to my mom. While you’re home. We can do this. I feel better.

As I pulled away in the dark, my chest tight with the worry of the unknown, I know that this service, these living room prayers amid the fears of COVID-19, is everything.

The calendar marches on, and we do what we can. The crocus are coming up in the grass, one of my very favorite things. Holy is everywhere. And I’m fortunate to share it.

Lent and Communion in a time of Social Distancing

(I know, it’s been a minute since I’ve written. It might be fine)

We’ve got a handful of cases of the novel coronavirus here in northeast Indiana. That number is going to explode soon, I’m sure of it.

Schools are cancelled, people are working from home, and there’s not a roll of toilet paper to be found in the lower 48.

I’m hoarding humans. You can have your Lysol wipes. I overbought those months ago (I’m famous for buying what I just bought the last three weeks in a row). I’m trying to figure out how to keep the virus away from 97-year-old Oma and 74-year-old Spam, both of whom are national treasures and beloved by all of us. I’m sure someone’s gonna get it, but I’d like it to not be them.

And I’m not even sure tonight what I’m trying to say. I know that we are communal creatures, even those of us who are introverted, standoffish and cranky-pants. And that’s fine. That’s how we’re made. But we don’t need to be is selfish, and awful. And that’s the part that just makes me nuts.

(Is it really so important to get a minor league hockey players autograph outside a locker room? Is a cruise that important right now? You know the answers to those questions.)

DSC_0067But we are designed for touch and ritual. We hug when we’re sad, and when we’ve triumphed. We’re collective and congregational, we meet and greet and hang out. We’re pack animals.

And now we can’t. At this time when we’re dying to hug our moms, to get on the plane and go see family afar, it’s the wrong choice. It’s dangerous.

For now, the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America has not cancelled services. We’ll gather tomorrow, spread out amid our pews. Our senior citizens will be home (I hope). I won’t see some of my very favorite people who are immune-compromised. I’m not sure how I’ll approach the icons. I’ll miss the blessed bread.

It’s Lent. In about four weeks, we’re to gather by the hundreds and thousands in our parishes around the world and share the Light that is the True Light. We will pound on the doors and enter. We will commune. We will celebrate.

The odds are better than not, though, that we’ll not be together as we should be. That there will have been funerals and memorials and prayers of the gravely ill.  I have a feeling I’ll be praying in my icon corner, singing the hymns as they were not meant to be sung: alone.

As we prepared this week, I found myself feeling like I feel on Great and Holy Saturday, the day after a death, after all. You go to the store and you get what you need for the celebration, when it comes, but you really are just quiet, and mournful and with the people that you love.

You’re reverent. It feels heavy. And you’re serious. Because you know this means something, and it’s bigger than you and it’s old.

So maybe that’s it, that’s what I’m trying to say: this is bigger than us and it is old. For it is the most human of behaviors to hunker down with those we love, to hoard the warmth of our families, to share bread with our most intimate of communities, in times of stress and crisis. It is the most beautiful of human behaviors to open those communities to those in need, and to share with those who have not. It is what we did from the moment we discovered fire. It is what we do now, with space flight and the internet.

I guess I am going to try to take this as this year’s journey of Lent, as a way to find ways to share the communion, to extend the invitation, even though it might be through a cracked window or a phone call. I will prepare and protect, and I will recognize that this is a holy and sacred time, when emotions are raw and everything is unknown and primal.

Lord of the Powers be with us, for in times of distress we have no other help but You.
Lord of the Powers, have mercy on us.

Amen.

(Thanks for indulging me these ramblings. I’m an external processor from time to time.)

 

 

Icons, part the infinity

(This is the theme of my life. This is apparently what I am to always remember, to never forget, to paste to the front of my consciousness.

The Icon and The Human. The Image of God.)

It’s another December with a sad story about a girl gone missing, albeit one a long time ago. It’s also that time of year when my heart feels heavy for a variety of reasons unconnected to anything obvious. I feel dark.

Helo and I have been busy with searching, seeking out those who are not with their people at the time of their passing and to return them to where they belong in some form or fashion. That can add to the darkness, even when there are answers, because the questions themselves are heavy, and block out the light.

So I need very much the Advent, the arrival of The Word and the dawning of the Light.

We’ll start at the end, with the sentencing Friday of the man guilty of modern Fort Wayne’s original sin, the first girl missing and killed near the high Holy Days.

My new job, back in news, takes me occasionally back to the courtroom, though I have much more control over the what and the when. (It’s nice to be the boss.) On Friday, I spent the morning at the sentencing hearing, and helping my reporter craft her story on the matter, while I put a written version together for our website.

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The courtroom was filled with the image of the little girl, a picture I could conjure in my sleep having seen it so much for so long. On Friday, it was all over the t-shirts of her family, an innocent image reflecting nagging grief. I saw how tired they were, and heard their exhaustion as they spoke of what he took from them. I observed the still-smoldering rage of those who hunt the monsters. I saw, again, the ripples of the Fall, spreading out and contaminating all that it touches, breaking and distorting on its way through time.

I cannot reach this time of year without thinking of the other A-named girls: Alejandra and Aliana, whose stories intersected mine through journalism and drove me to search work. I will likely again light candles in their memory, pray for peace for those who miss them, those who hunted their killers and all of us impacted by their deaths.

My church has new icons up, a magnificent project with the Theotokos and infant Christ above the altar. Before court, I listened to a story my arts reporter did on the project, her interview with Fr. Andrew as he discussed the importance of the image to us who worship in this way, the Icon as connection of the physical and the spiritual, the Holy Scriptures without words.

I thought about all I’ve seen in recent weeks in both jobs, my heart heavy with the thought of what those families carry in the waiting, albeit 30 minutes or 30 years.

The recovery work, like the journalism work, is so intricately connected to Orthodoxy I do not believe they could exist without each other. Every time I unclip the leash and tell him to “Search”, every time I uncap the pen to capture the story, I feel like I am chasing icons, chronicling the image of God as it presents itself around me.

I don’t mean this to sound too holy, but I think it might. I’m sorry about that. I just cannot seem to shake this feeling that I need this hunt to remind myself of my own nature, to aid in my recovery from the fall.

I have often wondered if the thing our cadaver dogs detect, what distinguishes human remains from all other organic material, even that of other mammals, is this strange thing, this image of God we carry. I wish Helo could tell me, but he only tells me when he finds it. I still don’t know exactly what he’s sussing out. I’m sure some will cringe at the spiritual way I approach such an odd and grim task. I am not sorry about it though.

Anyway, I’m sorry for the meandering. It’s been awhile since I’ve been here. There’s been sadness and success since my last post. I guess I needed to process. Thanks for listening.

Advent is upon us. The light is dawning soon.

It’s really not political.

Humans, being. Again.

I know I post a lot of stuff. (I really just try to keep ya’ll informed. Doing the news thing, social-like.)

But I want to be clear: to me this is a moral thing.

If you give me a Democrat who recognizes the inherent dignities of every human being, born and unborn, I will vote for them.

If you give me a Republican who recognizes the inherent dignities of every human being, born and unborn, I will vote for them.

Since neither does either very well, I base my choices on which candidate does so better.

And I try to do journalism that amplifies the voices of those who get drowned out, to make sure that truth is told, to be ethical.

Repeat after me:

Holy InnocentsThe unborn baby is being made in the image of God.

The Honduran immigrant baby being pulled out of her mother’s arms is made in the image of God.

The transgendered person using a restaurant bathroom with you is made in the image of God.

The rural unemployed mom struggling with opioid addiction and keeping the lights on is made in the image of God.

The Syrians fleeing violence across the Mediterranean Sea are made in the image of God.

These are icons. These are what we must protect.

Jesus Carries the Cross
From “The Stations of the Cross” at the Church of the Advocate in downtown Philadelphia. All of the icons or religious artwork have been replaced with photographs of refugees or the poor. A heartbreaking reminder.

I try to keep it simple:

Is this a human being? yes.

If yes, is its dignity being threatened? Yes or no

If yes, help it. If no, applaud its victory.

Humans do not infest or inconvenience.

Humans are.

 

The Stranger

When I backed out of my driveway this morning, I noticed a guest: a small juvenile robin sitting on our door frame. It’s mother chattered nervously nearby.

When A trimmed the hedges this evening, he maneuvered around the little one, again to the chatter and now with added dive-bombing activity of the parents.

I took Helo outside tonight, to take some pictures and enjoy the freedom of a cool-ish evening before summer heat settles in. It was a long week at TJTP and I needed a breather.

I knew what was coming in the afternoon, and I made sure to spend some time in the prayer corner Thursday morning. A reading from Matthew:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

A visit from the Attorney General demanded coverage, and I sat in room filled with old sources, old friends, and new sources and new friends. I listened to the words of my Holy Scripture being twisted into knots to justify the unjustifiable, to explain the inexplicable.

Anyway, back to the yard.

So I am trying to both take a picture of Helo and throw his tug, and I hear a cacophony from the sycamore over the woodshed. It’s both robin parents, beside themselves. The baby is nearby.

Keeping a close eye on my dog, who would eat it in a minute, I try to find the bird. There it sits, tucked in the root of another tree on the other side of the yard. My heart is glad it’s there, and worries about the barn cat catching scent. There’s nothing I can do, other than allay the parents’ fears and keep Helo out of the way. I put him up as quickly as I can, keeping him moving quickly on the opposite side of the baby.

A natural instinct: protecting your offspring. The killdeer stagger and flop around to keep Helo away from their poorly-planned nest sites. The robins, they shriek in terror, clattering and calling to their beloved.

If I am filled with compassion for a baby bird, how much more so is my God. How much more so should I be for the parents approaching our southern border to find a twisted knot of American ideals and misapplied Scriptures.

They are of more value than many sparrows.DSC_0118 (3)

Don’t stand silent. Do what you can do to keep the predators away. Move them to safety if you can. Don’t just pray and cross your fingers that it will all work out because that is not going to work if you don’t do something.

If you are a Christian, this cannot be you. He’s been clear about it from the get.

Leviticus, Job, the prophetic books–It’s all over the Old Testament.

Then there’s this verse: Matthew 25:35

I was a stranger, and you invited Me in.

That’s unequivocal. Don’t pretend it only applies to the four-walled auditorium where you spend a couple of hours on Sunday.

It applies to all of us, out here in the open. In the yard. Under the tree. Along the border. At the ballot box.

I hope the robin is OK. I’m not going to stress them out by taking her from them.

2018-06-12 09.17.00-2

 

Presence

I finished the book. It took me longer than I thought it would because it hurt, remembering what she went through, learning new details about the events and their impact.

I’m so glad I read it. I’m so glad she wrote it. I’m so grateful for her bravery, then and now.

But the book left my brain rummaging through the metaphorical drawers of that period of time, picking up the photos, the memorabilia of the upheaval of my early 20s and the wreckage of my family.

There was a photograph taken of PT (the writer), me and the third of our little pack that summer, sitting on a rock wall at the shore of Lake Charlevoix. PT and I were wearing baseball caps, Polo of course. Someone’s brim was backwards. Our arms were cast around each others’ shoulders, but our faces were far from carefree. PT later sketched the photo from the back. I’m not sure who has possession of the photograph or the drawing, but it is the drawing that remains the most vivid in my mind.

You can’t see our pain. You can only see the love.

The lyrics to that summer were Jagged Little Pill, or Candlebox, or the Indigo Girls. She taught me how to smoke, how to properly use the F-word as all parts of speech. I lost my fundamentalism, which later led to me finding my faith.

We stressed everyone out. Our sweaters were on backwards or inside out. We were sad but laughing. Brave but chicken shit.

She was struggling. I was struggling. Our friend, M, was trying to keep us on an even keel. M, the oldest, had a great theory of how to help people: If the person who is hurting is with you, they are safe.

I tried to do it for PT. I know she tried to do it for me. M did it for me. We were juvenile raccoons loose in a kitchen, emotionally, so it was messy and probably not always the BEST thing.

I survived it. I learned, through those girls, the value of presence. Of being with each other, even if there aren’t words, even if you can’t find your words. Especially if you can’t find your words.

There’s been so much discussion in recent weeks, necessarily, of how to appropriately respond to mental illness, to reach out if you are hurting, or how to find the proper resources, etc.

I know I struggled with thoughts of suicide during that period. There were times I wished that my family’s violence ended that way. It would have been neater. Simpler.

It didn’t. I didn’t. The reason I didn’t, in part, is because of two girls, arms draped across my shoulders, even in the midst of their own pain, their own struggles. We were with each other. We were safe, or as safe as we could be.

I know I wasn’t always as helpful as I could have been, or should have been. I wasn’t always my best self.  But I remembered the value of presence. I tried to be present for my sisters, and my mom as we moved forward. I try to be present for my friends now.

If you are with me, you are safe.

It’s harder as an adult. Work calls us in the morning, and we are no longer able to be awake until 4 a.m. and function. We have husbands, and wives, and dogs, and kids, or whatever, all things that take us away from the necessary sometimes.

Depression. Anxiety. Grief. Worry.  It doesn’t have to be “mental illness.” It doesn’t have to be diagnosed. It is the human condition.

Don’t wait for them to ask. Don’t wait until you’re “healthy enough.” You don’t have to be a therapist. You don’t have to have all the words.

Just drape an arm over the shoulder, and look out in the same direction. Sometimes that is enough.

God knows, it’s a start.

 

Constellation

My friend wrote a book, a marketed-by-Barnes & Noble-and-available-for pre-order-on-Amazon kind of book.

I am in awe.

It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve seen this friend. There was no breakdown in the relationship, but there was life. The friendship itself, the proximity of it, was so very brief. Of course, when you’re 21, it seems like such a long time until you are 26. But then you wake up and you’re 44 and you realize that really was just a fart in a skillet, time-wise.

When I met this friend, it was right before the events of the book, and our lives diverged in the years following. During that chapter, I was unpacking and repacking the wreckage of my own experiences, so at times she felt like she might be just a little too hot, too much, for me.

I was in awe of her then.

The book came this morning, while I was out running Helo over a rubble pile looking for some remains. For now the book sits on my end table, atop a stack that includes a couple books on photography, a survey of classical literature, dog training books, a book on a local serial killer and a book on wilderness navigation.

I tell myself I won’t read it until I get this last set of papers graded, this week’s training logs caught up, etc. etc. But I know that’s not true. I know the minute I am done with this, I’m going to grab it and dive in.

Last night, I dreamed about my friend. She came to visit, as the adult she is now to the adult I am now. We were with the friend who introduced us, who worried over both of us during that period of time. We were talking, comparing grey hairs. We were different, and yet the same.

She was always much braver than I. That’s why she wrote a book. I tell other people’s stories, and hope someday to screw in the courage to tell my own. As I sit here, though, reflecting on the path my own life took–mundane in the main, but interesting enough in the small details to keep me entertained–I am grateful that that path crossed hers.

I know that as intense as that time was, as unhealthy in some ways and healing in others, I know I grew. I know I will grow by revisiting her story once again. Those are the very best kinds of friendships, that still propel you to the light no matter how much time has passed.

And if she reads this, I want her to know I never, ever, ever don’t see Orion and not think of her. Even after all these years.