Monthly Archives: January 2016

St. Thomas Who?

I know I just posted yesterday, but I can’t help it: I’m back. Because today, January 28th, is the memorial or feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, and I had to say something about him.

 

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Please note: I’m not a philosopher or great reader of philosophy, and everything I say about this colossal man and mind is from a layperson’s point of view. If you really want to understand him, one entryway would be to watch one of Bishop Robert Barron‘s Youtube videos, beginning, maybe, with his Reflections on Thomas Aquinas.

I was first drawn to Thomas from a young adult biography that a local library was throwing out (the way I get a lot of my books). I wondered, after reading it, how could they toss out such a story? Fiction couldn’t create more drama: when Thomas wants to join the Dominicans, his brothers kidnap him from school and imprison him for an entire year. When finally allowed to study, he is so large, slow, and quiet, his classmates and professors call him–literally–a dumb ox. How can all us underdogs not feel for this figure? Then, in classic Ugly Duckling narrative pattern, when he does start to speak, he is so brilliant and so prolific that the Catholic Church came quickly to consider him its greatest theologian and philosopher.

Gentile_da_Fabriano_052What continues to attract me to St. Thomas is his role in my own faith life. If someone so learned spent so much of his life composing brilliant arguments for the existence of God, who am I to second guess? Of course I continue to have questions, doubts, irritations, but fundamentally, I love his point that every single thing on this earth is contingent, that is, couldn’t exist without being caused, at some point, no matter how far back, no matter HOW far back, by something else. And, that being the case, there has to be some thing which, no matter how far back, kicked off the whole process. Is itself not contingent upon anything. But simply is. Or, as God said to Moses when asked his name, “I Am Who I Am,”, “I Am Who Am.” Unlike us, God simply is. Is the essence of ‘isness.’

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Do I understand that? In a feeble way, a balloon-of-argument-brushing-against-my-earthbound-mind-before floating-on-up kind of way.

What I appreciate from this is that for once (and for all, if I can hang onto  Thomas’s kind of faith), I could hit the pause button on my interminable and exhausting mental circling, “what am I? what’s my purpose? what am I doing?” Because if there’s really only one thing that exists on its own, that provides, that IS, its own meaning, I can take a break from frantically trying to figure out, seek, impose, meaning on my own life. If Thomas’s God exists, and I dare you to try to argue (with Thomas) otherwise, we, each one of us, even me, have meaning already.

That takes a lot of pressure off my day.

P.S. You do know, don’t you, that Catholics don’t pray TO saints, ie confuse them with the divine. They ask saints to pray FOR them.

Peeling

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How do you eat apples? Are you a peeler? Or, like me, do you eat every shred, skin and all, and feel cheated if some zealous hostess has removed it? (In a pinch, I’ve been known to eat carrots straight out of the bag, with a little hasty rinse. Confessions of a carrot addict: topic for another post.)

It takes effort to peel away skin, yes? Remember that gruesome description in Jan Karon’s first Father Tim novel about the woman in the burn unit whose scarring skin had to be sliced off, infinitesimal layer at a time, in a procedure known to make the staunchest nurse blanch?mitford book

That’s how hard I think it can be to correct depression on your own. Nearly impossible, that is, because that dark, “nothing-works-out, I’m-no-good, there’s-no-point” sensation can take over the veritable soul. Become one’s very being, and how hard it is to step outside that?

There are apparently apps that help you replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Hello? If it were that easy, don’t you think I’d be the Joan Rivers of the cove by now?

I guess that’s why they call depression a mental illness, with emphasis on the illness: you can’t talk yourself out of having a fever or a broken foot, either. Though I’ve tried the latter, walking around for a few days before a doc called back to say they’d misread the x-rays and to get off of it pronto.

But I don’t like that term. It still conjures up images of barred windows and wild-eyed patients. Of Bedlam. And if I, over-educated 21st century creature with plenty of experience of “soul sickness” still hear those echoes, is it any wonder there’s a stigma attached in society in general?

Time to end the shame. Time to help peel away the layers of shaming, discrimination and fear associated with having any sort of mental illness. So that we aren’t doubling the pain of those who are already suffering.

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Surviving January

The view from my desk:
my desk

Hang on: is that a Starbucks sign up there?

Well, yes.  Confession time.

It’s January, and that doesn’t just mean dicey weather and post-Christmas doldrums. It’s the month this cup,starbucks cup

bought last month as a gift to, well, myself, gets me free coffee every single day. OK, not ‘free’ exactly, since I did pay for it up front. But the frequency of my visits mean I’ve more than made up for the original investment. Especially when you consider that at this, “my” Starbucks, refills are plentiful and courteously given.

Now, I can’t say enough about the friendliness of this particular store, so I’m going to save that for another post. Instead, back to that word, “investment.” Because this cup is one.

How so?

I’m really quoting my husband and a couple of friends on this, but–having this cup is one of my best tools for warding off winter weariness. A malady all-too-familiar for those  of us who work at home and/or deal with chronic illness and/or depression.

Because I bought it in the first place, my thrifty self wants to make having it worthwhile. Therefore, excuse, even encouragement to go to Starbucks! Which just happens to be close to the pool where I swim. So, encouragement to do those laps! (So I can reward myself with going to Starbucks.) Even when the temps are in the teens, as they were this week. Even when the pool heater is broken, as it’s been for the last couple of weeks. And–even when the outside doors to the pool are propped open because of other equipment issues, as they were yesterday when it was sleeting, snowing, and generally being less than optimal conditions for an ”outside” swim.

And regular exercise, you already know, is a key part of any battle against depression.

Finally, there’s the reality that being a regular at pool and coffee shop means I’ve built up community of sorts. Which means I get the added benefit of socializing: a real gift when you work alone at home and live in a remote mountain cove where the nearest neighbors are–trees and more trees.

Let me quickly add that I’m not here surfing the Net. I’m working–(writing, that is, and whether this is “real work” or not is a subject I could waffle on for days. And do)–. And something about having just enough background noise makes me concentrate in a way I sometimes can’t at home, where I fight the compulsion to tend to any number of more-tangible, “more necessary” tasks than writing seems to be.

Anyway, that’s my confession, and I’m sticking to it. At least until next week, when January ends. When I’m going to have to come up with a new excuse for frequenting my satellite office.

How do you get through January?

 

The Fictional, or the Non?

 

Mrs. MikeYesterday after I’d sent in my column for the Sewanee Mountain Messenger, a review of the classic YA novel, “Mrs. Mike,” by Nancy and Benedict Freeman, I entered the first moments of what will likely be an off-again, on-again battle against winter weariness.

I felt the more ashamed of that state because 1) after all, up till a few days ago, I’ve been able to wear shorts. And 2) because of  Katherine Mary O’Fallon, aka Mrs. Mike, the 16-year-old sent from Boston to Calgary to convalesce from pleurisy (trains run south as well as north: you have to wonder why her mother didn’t put her on the Southern Crescent for Florida.) Who promptly marries Sargeant Mike Flannigan of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And travels with him by dogsled far, far north into a land where the Northern Lights play and snowshoes are a more familiar sight than bare toes.

 

cold canada

So much for convalescing.

Except that oddly, the young Mrs. Mike does. In fact, she thrives on the challenges endlessly thrown her way, including the bitter cold and an almost endless winter.

Now, how can I complain about our paltry 22 degrees?

Thus discouragement deepened.

Then my daughter pointed out that though “Mrs. Mike” is based on real people and a true story, it is, none the less that: a story. Written down. With who knows how much edited out. Including, perhaps? moments–hours? days?–when the isolation, the cold, the bleak, seemed too much for her, too.

Rather like that other intrepid survivor of another wilderness, Laura Ingalls Wilder. We know from Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, that Ingalls left out a great deal, including the death of a baby brother and the time Pa sneaked them out of town to avoid paying the landlord. Apologies if I’m bursting your Little House bubble, but–there were a lot of grim moments in the Ingalls household. Moments possibly not conquered by Pa’s fiddle-playing or Ma’s smile. Moments when things just remained, well, grim.

 

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I could pretty easily concoct aka write a version of winter life here which portrays me gliding through obstacles like cold and chronic illness with as much of a feisty and maybe even humorous spirit as Mrs. Mike. And who would know the difference?

Well, unfortunately, I would. Because I live in the non-fiction, non-photoshopped version. But maybe I can figure out a way to step through the looking glass into the other?

 

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DIY = DYI?

OK, I admit it was a typo, my title from blog before last. I really DIDn’t mean to type “DYI.”

But as often happens, the fingers precede the brain.

DIY-ing this patio, walk, and landscaping may do wonders for household budget, but possibly at the cost of “Doing Yourself In.”

2900 pounds: that’s the weight of a single pallet of the pavers we’re putting down. We bought five. Over the last week, I unloaded all of one and got down to the last rows of the other four. That is, loaded them into the cart, wrestled it down the hill to the house, unloaded it so James could set the pavers in place.

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A “Heads Down Job,” Tommy explained to me, is one where you do just that: grit your teeth, put your head down, and get on with it, little comfort or perks involved. Yup. Well, at least I had music: “Les Miz”–most appropriate. “Jekyll and Hyde,” with the amazing Australian baritone Anthony Warlow playing that doctor/monster, and if you haven’t heard him in Jekyll or any of the Australian Opera Company’s productions, you’re missing a treat. And of course, hip-hop “Hamilton,” which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Thank God for gravity: the cart pulled me down the hill, rather than me having to push it. (Though it had a tendency to want to take off in its own direction on the curves.) Thank God also for gloves, though it was so cold I was wearing two pairs.

But the real thanks goes to Tommy, who gave us a week of his time to do the heavy digging which would have taken me three times as long. And to Marshall, who spent much of his Thanksgiving break planting shrubs. And yes, Charlotte-fans, she toted some of those pavers as well. 

 

 

tommy digs 2

Do we appreciate our children enough? I’m learning….

My Heart Bleeds Bright Orange

I wish I followed football. I really do. Then  New Year’s Day would have some sparkle to it. As it is, I’m riding on the energy of my Vols-fanatic family to ease the slow drain of joy as the holidays ebb away.

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Hurrah for Epiphany next week, which at least means I can keep the tree up and the candles lit a little while longer.

But the cookie platter is down to one last piece of pound cake and a few crumbles of gingerbread.

And no reason to bake more since the house is emptying out, the kids preparing to go back to their lives.

Sigh.

So thank goodness for those solid banks of bright orange t-shirts as Vols fans cheer on their team in the Outback Bowl.tn football

Never my favorite color, especially after growing up in Knoxville where it’s as prevalent as pink dogwood, today it brings a needed glow to this final day of the holidays when the temperature and my mood hover somewhere in the grey mid-30s.UTAs does the sight of the entire winning team swaying to the Pride of the Southland Band as it belts out the Tennessee Waltz.

45-6: I’d dance, too.

Perhaps that would warm life up?

What do you do to make this transition easier?