Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Day in the Life of Oahu: Makapu'u Point

I'm afraid I've sounded ungrateful. Okay, yes, I can just see a few of you nodding your heads...

When I really, truly realized that our family of six was going to have the fantastic privilege of going to Hawaii all together, I was stunned at our good fortune. I was deeply grateful to my in-laws for paying for their grandchildren's plane tickets. I was amazed that my kids, not of a wealthy family, would have the honor of saying, "We went to Hawaii on summer vacation!" I was so glad my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had invited us to their exotic nuptials.

I just forgot there would be traffic in Hawaii - especially on heavily-populated Oahu. I forgot there would be large cities and all the mess and disarray that crowds of human beings living in proximity entail. I didn't fully understand, I guess, that all of Hawaii wasn't a strand of lonely, wild Polynesian islands. I didn't contemplate the fact that less than grand hotel suites exist everywhere - especially not at those prices!

But do you think I lost my sense of good fortune? Well, okay, maybe that first afternoon....but it quickly returned, I assure you.

It returned when we drove out of Waikiki that very next day, I said to my husband, "Wow, it feels like we can finally breath - just being out of the city."

And my man, a city man all his life, answered, "I know, right?"

Even he had felt suffocated by the traffic and the tall buildings of greater Honolulu.

We arrived at Diamond Head and hunted for parking. (Trust me, you must get there by 7-8 in the morning if you hope to find any.) My husband began to drive into a large tunnel cutting through the rim of that volcanic crater to more parking on the other side when we were startled by a blaring, insistent horn. It felt as if we were in a movie, our car rattling down railway tracks toward a train that was guaranteed to crush us in the gloom, but it wasn't a train; it was a tour bus. I'm amazed my husband didn't cuss, locked in its narrow path...or maybe he did, and my mind had blocked out everything but the gaudy, brightly-hued colossal that hadn't slowed down one bit. Matthew hit the gas and reversed in such a way it rivaled any pretty boy maneuvers in some spy thriller. Tour buses in Oahu can be black-hearted villains beneath all that bright paint. When we had to enter the tunnel once more, because all parking was full, Matthew fled faster than the 15mph speed limit, getting through that tunnel in lightning speed to avoid any more behemoths filled with fellow tourists.

But I digress. We joined up with Matthew's parents and brother Robert after parking in a community college lot. We risked the tunnel on foot and entered the crater for our hike. Diamond Head was an experience - at times a scary one as my four-year-old walked too close to the path's plummeting edge or climbed winding stairs with but one high rail to contain a fall - but an experience. The sets of steep stairs will test the integrity of shins and knees; the dark tunnels will test your love of daylight; the crowds in cramped spaces will test your love of  fellow man; but the vistas will reinforce your love of nature. And the number of people hiking in dresses and flimsy sandals with no drinking water will confound you.

Our day was not nearly done. After eating a fortifying lunch at McDonald's, we drove to Makapu'u Point. I was hoping for more hiking, but the lookout itself was so beautiful, we were satisfied. And we'd left the crowds behind.

This was the Hawaii we had envisioned, and the color of the water was all that we'd heard it was from people who had actually vacationed on beautiful islands before.

We wanted a dip in that water, just to tickle our toes. Obviously, we weren't so spellbound that we forgot we weren't surfers, but we felt sure we could have a nice wade in the sea from that beach down below.

Matthew told the kids, and by default me, "Don't get wet above the knees - just to the knees, hear me? We didn't bring a change of clothes."

Unused as we were to the prospect of a beach day, we had neglected to bring swim suits, but that didn't impede our fun at all. As soon as that surf swirled about our ankles, we were lost in Neverland - eternal children, awestruck and giggling at our good fortune and our bravery. My father-in-law was holding my purse like a true gentleman. Grandma and Uncle Robert linked hands with Daniel, Ana, and Ella. I closed the link, and my girls and boy in turn jumped into the incoming water, squeezing the hands of their adults, and then the kids and I squealed as we pulled frantically back from the powerful surf and receding tide, dreading being pulled out toward the surfers who we must then rely on to save us. My wonderful mother-in-law reminisced about her childhood near Galveston and doing just this exercise of surf splashing all the time as a little girl. It seemed to go on forever, and we didn't notice at all that we were venturing farther and farther out, the water marks on our clothes advancing well above the knees.

When I finally found my feet on dry sand, Danny was playing in a little pool of ocean water in a broad dip in the sand. Some little boys there had boogey boards which they generously offered to share with Ella and Daniel. I forgot Matthew's edicts, and let the kids go full-belly, full-tilt into the little pool.

"Honeeey..."reproved Matthew. He had resisted the allure of the surf. Poor guy, he so often has to be the adult. I remember too well the temptations of childhood to restrain them as I ought.

It was time to clean up as best we could. We didn't even have towels. Daniel rode back to Waikiki in underwear, poor fella, and the rest of us sopped our seats and created a terrible sand apocalypse in our rented vehicle. I'm still surprised we haven't gotten a letter from the rental car company informing us that the van was irreversibly sand-ridden and salt-water smelly, and we must pay a hefty fine or buy the thing outright, paying for shipping cross-Pacific.

But we didn't, and I'll never forget that great, full day. We were thrilled to be in Hawaii.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Ah, Waikiki...

We stayed in the Waikiki area while on the Island of Oahu for a family wedding. It is the perfect place to stay if you are energetic; thrive in crowds; love shopping at Gucci, Tiffany & Co or Prada retail stores; and if you are an avid walker. However, with a young family and a rented minivan for which to find perpetual parking, well…it wasn’t quite ideal.

I said to my husband one day as we walked the two blocks from our hotel to the parking garage, “It feels like the buildings here are torturing the plants.” – all those high rises and their tiny entrance lawns with flowering bushes and palm trees. I wondered what the island had looked like, how wild and free, before the advent of city life and tourism.

Still, I appreciated the relatively peaceful stroll to the parking garage, believe me. Driving Waikiki is no fun. My poor, brave husband! All you see is the six-inch wide, winding lanes on crazy, congested one-way streets with houses and businesses pressing on one another. There is no parking anywhere except the zoo, it seems, and that fills up at 9am.

The first afternoon was a rough awakening, an adjustment of expectations. Then in the evening we went to my husband’s brother and sister-in-law’s house, out of Waikiki. There was a bright rainbow in the sky on the drive there. When we arrived at the welcoming home of our relatives, we saw a miniature lawn, a beautiful tropical garden, a stream tumbling under a culvert and a (for that city) huge green park across the street in which stood a massive and ancient tree. And we breathed, exhaling all the stress of a family that had just been dropped out of the wide southwest into contained island life. I took the kids to the park to run as soon as possible, and my brother-in-law took us all for a drive to a lookout above their home from which we could see the vast ocean and iconic Diamond Head State Monument and, alas, the city sprawling to the edges of both those natural wonders. The rainbow was still there, arcing in friendly clarity above the vivid landscape of this strange, diverse place.

Our gratitude for that drive amid mostly uninhibited plant life and for that caper in the park was also due in part to the great relief we felt in being somewhere other than our hotel - so great a relief, in fact, that I hugged that ginormous, old tree.
Now I have always said that when you’re staying in a beautiful locale, the hotel room is just a place to sleep before you go exploring. But the moment my husband and I walked into our suite, our mouths dropped and our shoulders sagged. I swear never again to look at a hotel that advertises kitchenettes for families, because it also means - without a doubt - that the carpets will be sticky, the futon mattress will consist of metal rods and old newspapers, the shower will be scary and poorly lit, and the railings on the six-floor balcony will be at least 15 inches apart to accommodate your four-year-old’s dardevil spirit.

The hotel suite had five doors leading to the general walkway and the balconies. All the latches on the sliding glass doors were coming apart from the flaking walls and one was completely broken. That first night my husband and I slept apart to guard the children against anyone who might pry their way in from the walkway or against any Dracula-like being who might decide to scale the exterior walls and balcony partitions. It was an irrational fear, but Oahu had rattled me.

I needed some perspective, and I got it that night when I found my oldest boy crying into his stale white pillow.

“Berto, what is it?”

“This stupid hotel room is going to ruin our vacation of a lifetime!”

Or his stupid mommy might. My belly dropped. Someone – and I knew who – needed to stop complaining about the rooms that were, in fact, just for sleeping and start concentrating on all the wonderful things her family was going to experience in the next few days. Besides, there are people in this world who spend their whole lives in slums. I could certainly survive a short time in a dump on beautiful Oahu.

After that Waikiki grew on us. We started walking most places, and I realized just how clean that part of the city was with all its fancy storefronts and crowded but still inviting beaches. At one of those beaches, our children and their many cousins had a blast swimming with aunts and uncles, collecting shells and burying each other in the sand. Our family began to frequent the ABC Store on the corner where a tourist can get just about any vacation essential her heart desires. And I stopped thinking the trees and other plant life were being tortured by people and their tall buildings; they seemed to have adjusted to the frenetic environment.

One of my favorite memories of Waikiki began when my son and I decided to leave the rest of our tired family vegging in the hotel room and go exploring on our own, not wanting to miss the chance at any new experience. On a street corner we found a beautiful tree - one of the special things about the Hawaiian climate being its huge trees with broad, happy leaves - that had enormous branches growing into and winding around each other in a mind-blowing arrangement. We also discovered two nicely manicured city parks. We ate chocolate and yogurt on a bench, chatted as we people watched and then learned a bit of local history from the parks’ many statues, monuments and plaques – just my son and I.

And I didn’t complain anymore – hardly ever. I was too busy having fun.

Today you can also find my piece, LOST: A Hawaiian Family Vacation, at humorwriters.org. Thank you for publishing me again, Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop, and thank you for supporting me, my friends and readers!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Post in Pictures: Diamond Head, O'ahu

Diamond Head towers over Honolulu - pic by Matthew

A writer writes - except when she just got home from two whirlwind trips to exotic locales like O'ahu, Hawaii and San Saba, Texas to be present at two very different and quite beautiful weddings. Tired and distracted by a stomach bug her kids no doubt picked up at the public pool, she's too busy running between the bathroom upon command and the laundry room to write a dreamy travel piece to make her friends green with envy. Still, she can try and post pictures with witty - no: informative - captions.

I have so many photos and so many experiences of which to write that I'm breaking up the posts by location as evident from the title of this post. Our whole family journeyed to Hawaii early this month, and we couldn't quite believe it was happening...until it did.
Our arrival on the island of O'ahu the afternoon of July 2nd smacks of a humor post to be published later (I'm hoping). By that evening, however, things had improved a good deal in spending time with extended family. The next day, on the advice of my well-traveled in-laws, we hiked to the summit of Diamond Head, an iconic volcanic crater once used for defensive purposes by the US military, towering near Honolulu. The hike is not an easy one. From the floor of the crater, you must climb through multiple switchbacks on the trail, up dozens of narrow, steep steps and through at least one long, dark tunnel. The views from the lookouts and seeing old military bunkers and equipment along the way are worth it. Our children did very well, but I would not recommend this hike with children younger than four. 
When we descended once more, the kids had shave ice, and we all rested in the volcano's lovely crater with its large trees, picnic tables and tall, waving grasses. The kids climbed the trees with large canopies and followed around brightly-crested birds - both extremely rare in our Phoenix environs. Then we gawked at what I thought to be, hampered by my poor eyesight, a cross between a freakishly large squirrel and a drab, furry lizard. It turned out to be a mongoose.
The view into the crater below the brave explorers.
Peaks on the rim
Diamond Head Lighthouse and its beautiful turquoise waters 

Mongoose: creature of lore
One more look back into the welcoming crater

Monday, June 30, 2014

Dreams can come true. It can happen to you...

There are a few things I've always wanted to do...or be a part of. Some I imagined as a kid and have yet to fulfill in even the smallest measure. Some I realized as an adult and have pursued rather imperfectly to some success. Here are a few of them:

1. Play the banjo.

When my dad pursued songwriting in Nashville, TN, he knew some very talented studio musicians, and one of these gentleman played the banjo. Dad thought he was a virtuoso, and when he brought home a record of this banjo player, I knew I loved the instrument.

Do I play? Nah. But I did take one small step toward the goal of doing so when I picked up my dad's guitar at age 18 and asked him to teach me. I drove my parents nuts playing the melancholy western tune Red River Valley over and over and over. I play better these many years later - mostly Christmas songs - but don't play as well as my dad or Uncle Reuben, certainly not well enough to pick up the fancy finger-picking style necessary to tickle the banjo strings....but someday, I hope.

2. Hike the Camino de Santiago

I didn't at first learn of this awesome trek because I am Catholic. I learned about it from the fun PBS show Spain...On The Road Again that explores the cuisine, culture, and history of Spain. It's a quirky travel/food show hosted by chefs and actresses. In one episode Mario Batali taught Gwyneth Paltrow about the Camino de Santiago as they walked part of it, and I was enchanted. A dream was born to hike the Camino, eat the rich food of Spain on the way, and lose myself in the glorious history of such a journey.

I recently saw the movie The Way with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, and I loved the part where the father (Sheen) sees his dead son (Estevez), smiling and pulling the ropes with monks to swing the huge incense censer over the heads of those kneeling in Santiago de Compostelo cathedral.

3. Visit Gettysburg

Wow, I can say I did this - and in the 150th anniversary year of the battle. How did this happen? Well, I wrote on Facebook several months earlier that I wished to go and invited others to join me, told my husband we should go, and then my fabulous big sister Vinca suggested we drive to Pennsylvania when we visited her in Virginia last summer. Gotta love that woman!

I do wish, however, that I had read Michael Shaara's novel, Killer Angels, before I went. I would have been able to visualize the positions of the men, generals, and the lay of the battle in my head as I gazed across that wide, verdant space much better. But, honestly, I really feel I would have to live in the pretty town of Gettysburg and hike the trails through the fields, woods, graveyards and hollows every day in order to attempt to get a proper feel of it. Nevertheless, I am so very grateful to Vinca, my brother Dave and my husband Matthew for going with me to such a hallowed place. What an opportunity - the experience of which I will always, always cherish.

4. Get paid to be a writer

Five bucks. Anything.

I've wanted to be a writer ever since I was eight-years-old.

The delusional thing is that, unlike more reasonable people, I imagine I am a writer even though I am not paid for my work. My humor pieces have been published regularly - just not for payment. Sheesh! I don't want to talk about it.

No, really. I will not be accepting questions, jeers or commiseration at this time.

5. Surround myself with a Bonsai Garden that I clip with agonizing precision and talk to when no one is looking

Gosh, I love trees. I don't just hug them; I talk to them, too. My love has grown for them even more since moving to a desert city. Spend one day at a sporting event in 115 degree temps and tell me how much you appreciate the kind shade of a palo verde or eucalyptus.  Sure, it might be 110 in the shade, as John Fogerty sang, but it's better than the alternative.

But as for Bonsai, we all know these beautiful, ancient-looking living things cannot provide shade or habitat, but I have wanted one since seeing an episode of CBS Sunday Morning in which people talked about their serene Bonsai lifestyles, surrounded by dozens of the artistic little trees. Again a dream was born, and now I can say I have begun to live it:

While my husband was out of town last week, I received a package in the mail. At first I assumed a relative had sent a gift to my daughter Ana, or it was something my man had ordered off Amazon. But the package was strange and Berto pointed to a sticker that said, "Open Immediately! Live plant."

Well, I was not going to open that package, my friends, in case Anthrax spores was what was meant by "live plant". I sure as heck was not expecting any such package alive with goodness knows what. I raked the box over with my eyes to find an address, and sure as anything it was meant for me. Curiosity climaxing, I ripped the thing open and saw a beautiful little tree wrapped in a plastic bag - Bonsaaaiiii!

It was a 13th wedding anniversary gift. The card with it read, "I Am The Man...."

I knew then it was from my guy, and the card was stating how awesome he was for giving his woman the realization of her dream.

Only when he came home did he inform me that by his card he was referencing our song: Peter Cetera's The Glory of Love, the theme song from Karate Kid II. (Yes, we did grow up in the 80s, and we feel quite nostalgic watching Ferris Beuller's Day Off, thank you.)

"I can't believe you didn't get my card," he said.

I couldn't believe it, either, just as I can't believe I have my very own juniper Bonsai tree. I would love a new tiny tree every anniversary if my man is willing.

As a woman who has annihilated everything from mums, orchids, hydrangea to succulents and lantana, however, I pray I don't kill it. It should be the first of many, so that one day I can be a crazy old lady on her front porch, just picking her banjo like Steve Martin and singing to her beautiful bonsais.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sunlight on the Forest Floor: A Personal Encounter with Christ

I was going to write a post about the theology of the Eucharist this week - can you believe the audacity of that? I was going to dive into the heart of this mystery of faith, because this past Sunday was the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Our deacon in his homily at Mass said a high school student once challenged a pastor, "Why are you Catholic?"

The pastor at first responded, "Because of the resurrection."

The student wasn't having it.

"No, that is why you are Christian, but why are you Catholic?"

After thinking a bit the pastor replied, "The Eucharist."

Yes, it is certainly not because we have livelier music or more dynamic preachers or a more "progressive", hipper congregation (for truth is truth and cannot be altered by the mere passage of time; it is not an ever-shifting target, for then it could not be truth). It is the Eucharist, and most truly engaged Catholics would tell you so.

So I prepared to write a post, and I went to read again John 6:32-69. I reflected on Christ's words, Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you, and how Catholic theologians have pointed out that Jesus would not have lost that day, by His Bread of Life discourse, many disciples if they had understood him to mean by flesh and blood simply the words which he spoke. Some protest perhaps that Christ said hard things simply to weed out fickle disciples as his passion approached. This opens up the negation of all his teachings which we dislike. No, Christ was truth; he spoke truth. His words were not gimmicks meant to manipulate people. You either accepted them or you moved on, as he said, Whoever has ears ought to hear. He was either the Son of God or a lunatic. I have faith in the Truth of His Words, and he has promised that they will set me free.

Yet I found I couldn't write about what I grasp with my heart but cannot wrap my head around at all. I am not going to explain why I agree with the Catholic interpretation of John Chapter 6, Corinthians 10:14-17, and Corinthians 11:23-32 (a rather scary one that warns us about eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord unworthily, something which has applied to me personally and which in itself cements that this is a vital matter of our faith). If anyone wishes, they can also go here, http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-real-presence, to read what some of the earliest Christians from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th centuries believed and stated.

There I stop with theology. I realized as I struggled along in my research for this post, becoming frustrated with my poor understanding and disheartened by all the Christian quarreling and disparate interpretations of the very same Scripture - that I am neither clever nor conceited enough (for one possessing so little understanding and knowledge) to even attempt a full explanation about why I believe in The Real Presence. What then can I give?

Just my witness.

For a decade or so I took communion without proper instruction and preparation. This will shock my fellow Catholics rather badly, I'm afraid. I was not part of any church - my dad baptized me in a creek - not even the one, holy, catholic (derived from a Greek word meaning universal), apostolic church whose Mass I attended and loved and whose communion I accepted. I loved the Eucharist, but I did not grasp what I should have grasped of its meaning in my receiving it. I cherished my ignorance. My devout sister-in-law told me bluntly I should not be taking it, but she did not explain why. I retorted it was my right as a disciple of Christ to accept what he had prescribed for his followers at the Last Supper. Later, a nun told me I should pray very hard about taking it - that it seemed like I knew what I was receiving but I should really discern through prayer if I was right. I prayed half-heartedly for a few days before giving it up. Of course I was right! Jesus would want me to receive Him - I just knew it. But a few years later when my newly confirmed Catholic sister told me I shouldn't be receiving it, I had a momentary quite painful pang of concern. Perhaps she was right. If I was wrong that was a very serious concern for my spiritual well-being.

It pains me to say that I continued in my ignorance after that rebuke from someone I trusted, but I did. It was only when I entered RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) as a mere matter of course in order to be confirmed before my oldest son that I got my wake-up call.

(I'll talk more about the meaning of the sacrament of Confirmation and its Biblical roots later. Suffice it to say my Protestant pride had deemed it something unnecessary, a matter of form. I cannot tell you how wrong I was except to say that once I was confirmed I began to understand some pretty important things, began to realize just how much I did not understand, and began to be ravenous for greater understanding.)

I abstained from communion during RCIA - again as a matter of form and also respect for the beliefs of the Catholic Church, those beliefs that I had not bothered to learn about - but yet I may never have come to a realization of my prideful error in receiving communion were it not for the grace of Christ by which I stand and receive Him more fully now. Just a few weeks before I was to be confirmed, having gone through the classes with the same fog of ignorance with which I approached too many things, a new priest took over our instruction and jolted me awake with his spirit. Because of his influence I truly read for the first time the RCIA book that explained why Catholics believe what we do and stumbled onto a pertinent section on communion, how by partaking of it we symbolize our unity in the One Body of Christ, as St Paul said:

Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.  Corinthians 10:17

To take it without professing unity would be a lie. To take it without believing in the Real Presence would be a lie. To take it without confessing serious sin would be judgment.

I was in a bad way. Immediately I poured my heart out to that priest in a long, long email, telling him of most of my mistakes and how I arrived at them. Miraculously, he did not express to me his horror, if he felt any - which I am quite certain he must have. He did not expel me from class, telling me I was hopeless in my ignorance. But he did not respond except by inviting me to the next class. I understand why he did not respond now. How could he?

After I wrote that email to the parish priest, I remember sitting in my rocking chair with my littlest boy asleep in my arms, tears streaming down my face as I said to Jesus over and over and over again, "I'm sorry." That was where Christ brought me. I do believe it was what Catholics would call a perfect act of contrition. I was not sorry simply because I feared consequences. I was not sorry merely for not educating myself on Catholic doctrine, thereby offending my now fellow Catholics. I was sorry for offending my Lord Jesus through my foolish pride, the One has given me so many wonderful things and so great a foundation through my parents. When I sobbed I felt I was looking up into His face, offering up all my regret over my many mistakes.

So where can this sad story about a pitiful, ignorant girl end? Why, at immeasurable joy and comfort.

I truly received the Eucharist for the first time at Easter Vigil. This is what I wrote about the experience soon after my confirmation:

But what I will always remember most about that night is Communion. I have told you that I was seated in the very first pew. The catechumens and the candidates were to receive the Sacrament first. When the priest came down from the altar, I looked across the aisle to the catechumens, not wanting to jump before others. They hesitated, because many of them were young kids, and Father hastily motioned me forward. In that moment, my lovely sponsor stepped out of the way to let me proceed, and I realized I would be the first in my parish to receive the Eucharist at Easter Vigil. It didn't strike me fully until after I had received it and returned to the kneeler. Then moisture leaked from my eyes, and unfortunately my nose as well, in a flood. I offered up a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving, God is merciful. His Mercy endures forever. Thank you, thank you for Your mercy. While doing so I glanced up to see my little children, who had behaved so well at such a late service, receive a blessing from the priest and watched my husband receive Communion, and my gratitude increased. (My eldest son would himself be confirmed in another month. I had for some time held the hope that we could be confirmed in the same year.)

Things got too moist and messy, and not knowing how else to battle my wet face without lifting up my skirt, I begged several tissues from my friend and sponsor. I felt embarrassed; I was the only one who seemed to be reacting in such a powerful and obvious way for others to see. Still, more than embarrassment at having my emotion exposed, I felt God had conferred on me a special blessing that night. In that holy gift of His Son, He was telling me my mistake no longer mattered, His love for me was boundless, and His mercy truly does endure forever.

That was the night when I felt Jesus washing it all away. I was assured of His mercy and was completely overcome. I felt His Love in so powerful a way that it will always be a bolstering memory and a moment too profound to describe. I felt His meekness and humility and was completely humbled by it.

That is why I believe in the Real Presence of my Lord in the Eucharist. It is a beautiful, personal encounter with Christ. It is the Body of Christ.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Happy Virus Reunion

When you have waited years to see your parents, because one thing or another always prevented a reunion, the visit will be cursed in relation to the number of years that have passed since your last meeting.

Three years had passed, so it could have been worse, I suppose.

Because of a more active summer schedule than planned and a gradual decaying of my standards over the years, I didn't get the house all spic-and-span for my parents. It was more like dust-and-blah. I didn't even get around to calling my folks to ask them what they might like to eat and drink while they were here, so my dad called me the day before their flight: "You do remember that Mom and I will be in town tomorrow, right?" I assured him the kids had been counting the days; we couldn't wait!

When Paca and Grandmama (as my children know them) arrived that Monday, our Daniel had a really bad fever that was climbing rapidly higher. That morning he had crawled into bed beside me saying, "Mama, I don't feel well," as he tugged on my hair. When his grandparents walked in whom he hadn't seen since babyhood, he was listless, his eyes flush with fever. We had to monitor him closely, putting him regularly in lukewarm baths throughout the day to bring down the temperature that the medicine wouldn't tame.

On Sunday I had gobbled up a piece of cake from which Daniel had swiped all the frosting, so Tuesday morning I woke up with a grizzly bear in my throat, and then I turned into one. I fussed at my husband when he returned from the store laden with much needed groceries, half of which qualified as "too much fruit" - at least 10 kilos of apples, a thousand blueberries and a ton of grapes I estimated. I complained that, when not eaten in due time, I'm always the one who has to cook up the moldy, bruised, squashy, discolored fruit into something edible. Mom defended my embattled husband, assuring me that she adored fruit and would eat half of it herself - and that very night, too!

Unfortunately, Mama couldn't do that, because I said, "Boo...tag! You're it!", and she began to feel crummy because of contact with a contaminated coworker a couple days earlier. By that afternoon we both deserted Dad, who was starting to get that warm, fuzzy feeling of impending virus warfare in his gut, leaving him with the kids so we could sleep. He played endless rounds of twenty questions with the grandkids, bribing for naps with TV, a sleeping Matthew supporting him from afar in the recliner. That evening as I lay in the chair that Matthew had vacated - feverish, my eyes glazed and that grizzly still gripping my throat - Matthew hinted I should probably be making dinner. The grizzly reared, and Matthew resentfully began to push cube steak around in a pan. I conceded to boil rice in a display of good hostile will.

By Wednesday, Paca, Grandmama and myself were all ill in unison, and the long-awaited reunion had turned into a vulgar virus exchange of Texan and Arizonan germs, for just when we felt we might be getting better, we got sucker-punched by the other state's virus, becoming one, big, germ-mutated family. That day we abandoned the kids to the cruel, mind-sucking, time-warping influence of the TV.

By late afternoon, my dad had gone to bed to pass out in fever-induced delirium. When Mama, finally improved, went to check on him, he asked, "When did you get home from work?!" The next time she went to check on him and take him water, she told me I could say a quick goodnight if I wanted. I walked into the room right after her and said, "Goodnight, Papa." To which salutation I received a snore in response. The virus, the interminable twenty questions or both had done my poor dad in.

That evening Matthew went out to get Analisa her gift from her siblings; her birthday was the very next day. Having already made her cake with Grandmama, I read Little House on the Prairie to my almost 10-year-old, which brought back good memories for my Mom of when Dad had read it to our family in Tennessee. After the kids went to bed, Mama and I had a good, long, emotional conversation - the kind men avoid if they can, usually. Perhaps we felt safe to vent our feelings with Dad zonked out and Matthew running over Phoenix searching for the Frozen DVD.

When Matthew returned he started Ana's birthday banner (that I had completely forgotten), and Mama and I got crayons to help him. The poor man had been so gracious in the face of my orneriness.

Thursday morning we fed our bodies Krispy Kreme donuts in honor of Ana's birthday, thumbing our noses at the proper nutrition necessary to ward off a virus apocalypse, and I made the blue frosting for her sun cake. Then, heaven help us, we somehow roused ourselves to go shopping and out to lunch; Grandmama wanted to buy her girl a stylish hat, and Mama still needed to get her one last birthday book.

The lunch was actually to be in honor of my mother's coming birthday. My beautiful mother announced that if we were to go out for lunch, she was - by Jove! - going to change into something more suitable. My mouth fell open, and I just stared, then looked around at the others for confirmation of my astonishment. My mother had looked gorgeous every moment of every day of their visit in her shiny, spiky heels that drove our Yorkie mad, her elaborate, musical jewelry and her flowing blouses and fitted jackets. What on earth was deemed more suitable than the lovely garments and jewels with which she had already adorned herself, and all while fighting a nasty bug? Already she was far more dressed up than most people would be to meet the president!

But changed she did into an elegant "sun" (sun goddess?) dress. So I got myself up to change my own attire, rounded up the children, and told them all to get out of the pitiful threads they were wearing, for heavens sake, and put on something nice for Grandmama.

After being the crabbiest shopping comrade in the history of mall crusades, I felt a little funny taking my glowing mother to a New York/Jewish diner for her birthday dinner. It's one of the nicest places my husband and I know. Obviously, we should get out more - a lot more. At least they have good cheesecake, and my mama loves cheesecake. As for me, I just had soup and cocoa; I was cold with a renewed onslaught of fever, hugging my Matthew with arms and legs and coughing into the elegant, diaphanous wrap my mama insisted I wear for comfort.

At home Matthew decorated Ana's cake with the bright frosting, those thousand blueberries and some simple whipping cream. We lit the candles on her sun cake and on Grandmama's cheesecake, and we sang to each in turn. Ana looked lovely in her new cowgirl hat that Grandmama had found for her, and my mother - now in her third outfit, one fit for traveling....to meet the Queen of England perhaps - laughed and smiled with the effervescent spirit of a young woman.

Then, feeling the weight of impending separation, Mama and I engaged in the time-honored family tradition of love offerings. I remember my sister Vinca once giving my mother a beautiful antique hat case because my mother said she liked it and asked where she might find one. So Mama gave me the rest of her bottle of perfume, Paris, because it reminded me of Idaho and of my own Grandmama (my mother had worn it at her mother's funeral). She tried to give me a whole stack of gold bangle bracelets which I could not accept. I gave her a Keith Green CD - because it happened to be on in the car, and she remarked how she missed listening to his music - and a fancy beaded wrap that I had worn but once and knew she would appreciate.

My little girls teared up at the airport as they grasped their grandparents' hands. Analisa had cuddled with Grandmama every chance she got, and Ella had followed Paca around like he was a long lost superhero. Berto simply smiled his million-dollar smile, even while knowing in his heart that he had lost his best twenty-questions ally, and Daniel seemed confused, quiet. I, of course, finally broke down, tears squeezing out my puffy, viral eyelids as I hugged my folks twenty times each and pronounced my love for them.

My mother's tears had started before we'd left for the airport and had continued as she held my hand in the car. Matthew and Papa had talked comfortably about sports and work in the front seat. I hated to see my parents leave, but we were brave, maintaining that other time-honored family tradition of waving until we can't see head or tail of each other anymore.

As we pulled away from the terminal curb, Berto said, "Hey isn't that Grandmama still waving?"

"Wave everyone!" I ordered, and we waved vigorously at my Darling Mama who was standing just around a corner in the airport, leaning out.

Once on the freeway, Danny Sam asked, "Are they going out to lunch?"

I glanced at Matthew, and then said to my little boy, "No, baby. Paca and Grandmama are flying home. That was the airport."

After a minute he said tremulously, tears sprouting, "I'm going to miss them."

"Me too, baby. Me too."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sunlight on the Forest Floor: Mass and Liturgy

My husband Matthew, recently confirmed, invited me to Mass one Sunday when we were dating. With the decision to join him, I embarked on a sort of odyssey, but it would be years before I reached any kind of shore.

I had this notion that Catholic Mass was very rigid, probably boring, and I had heard many people say that it left no room for the movement of the Holy Spirit; it was too scripted.

Mass is indeed scripted according to the words of the most awesome Author; it follows Scripture. That was what struck me that first Sunday.

I heard the most basic, scriptural teaching of our faith in the Nicene Creed, and the line that struck me most forcibly that first time was, He will come again to judge the living and the dead/ And his kingdom will have no end (Acts 10:42-43, Isaiah 9:6-7). I held hands with others as we prayed the Lord's Prayer just as Christ had taught when the apostles asked of Him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1-4). Then came the exchange of, "Peace be with you," in imitation of Jesus' greeting to his disciples after the resurrection, followed by the response, "And with your spirit." (John 20:19, John 14:27, 2 Corinthians 13:13, Ephesians 6:23) And we proclaimed with those in Jerusalem who watched Jesus pass on a humble colt as the Lord entered the city before his passion, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." (Mark 11:7-9, Psalm 118:26)

All that still may not have been enough to make me fall in love with this strange Mass. Then....I heard the words of Christ at the Last Supper pronounced by the priest at the consecration, and I fell. I was in awe. The priest used the exact words of Christ Himself; he cannot add or omit anything. Nor did he begin or conclude, as I have so often heard elsewhere, "Now, this is merely symbolic..." I had never seen communion treated with such reverence anywhere. I have been in a few churches where tiny plastic containers holding wafers and grape juice were passed out. To me that was not communion. Who could put Christ, or something they believe is symbolic of Him, in a plastic tube with a peel-off wrapper?

So with the consecration I began to get somewhere through the grace of God, but more amazing is that it continues these nearly twelve years later. The more I attend and listen at Mass the deeper I delve into the mystery of Scripture. For instance, I have never been a lover of the Psalms, despite the fact that I have listened to them sung at every Mass for years. Recently, however, I have found myself paying far greater attention to them, because it was pointed out to me that these songs were prayed by Jesus, too, in the Jewish synagogue. Through studying them more openly, I have learned that these songs of David are wonderful inspiration for prayer at diverse moments in our life. In Psalm 51:11-14 we find a poignant plea for mercy to guide all repentant hearts and in 118:19-25 a joyous prayer of thanksgiving and praise.

But I have not only discovered the Psalms. Just a mere two years or so ago on this journey, I also began to truly listen to and appreciate the words we pray right before receiving the Eucharist:

Lord I am not worthy
that you should enter under my roof
but only say the word
and my soul shall be healed

Here we echo Matthew 8:5-8 in the words of the centurion, the man of whom Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith." We do this every Mass. Every Mass we declare Jesus Christ is Lord and join in faith with that faith-filled centurion who professed that he was not worthy for Christ to enter his home but believed Jesus could heal his paralyzed servant simply by saying the words. And He did. And so we believe he can heal our souls in the same way. That is beautiful.

I leave here now with this thought:

Is it even possible that this liturgy, overflowing as it is with the Word, could fail to invite the Holy Spirit to move among the hearts of the faithful? Yes, I have been in a Protestant church and felt the exhilarating presence of God's Spirit, because God was there - that does not surprise me. But I have also felt Him surrounding me as I listened to the communion hymn sung by the Christian family in my parish, my head bowed over a kneeler in silent Thanksgiving.

One Bread, one body, one Lord of all
One cup of blessing which we bless
And we, though many, throughout the earth
We are one body in this one Lord

From One Bread, One Body, music composed by John Foley and words based on 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, Galatians3:28, Ephesians 4:4-6