Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Favorite Day Among Days

I do not have many "favorite" days. True, there are the celebratory days of our lives--family remembrances, anniversaries, birthdays and such. Then there are the annual holidays that many people celebrate: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving. I also love the liturgical holidays (or holy days)--Easter, and Christmas particularly.

But one of my favorite days is one that has morphed over the centuries--today is Hallowe'en. I insist on writing Hallowe'en, inserting the apostrophe to denote the missing V. Today is the day before All Saints' Day (November 1) and as such was celebrated in Christendom for centuries as All Hallows' Eve or Hallowed Evening. True, the church had appropriated this holiday from non-Christians worshippers, in this case the Celts. That history I will leave to another to tell.

No, what I like about this day is this is the day on which a German priest took a bold step that set the church on the road to reformation. That priest, Martin Luther, who had been wrestling with the abuses he witnessed in the Catholic Church, wrote a series of statements--95 theses. Whether Luther posted them on the door of the Wittenberg University(in Germany) All Saints' Church or whether someone else posted them, they reportedly became public on this day. You can read them by going here.

The bold act of writing these 95 theses or statements might not alone have set of the cascade of events that followed, but around the same time, the printing press had been developed, and when the 95 theses were printed and widely circulated, they stirred up a storm. Luther was primarily protesting the practice of the time which amounted to purchasing salvation. A papal legate Johann Tetzel had been dispatched to Germany to sell indulgences. Indulgence is essentially forgiveness for sins committed, but the practice at the time had become corrupted so that forgiveness was being sold. The money raised was to be used to renovate St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Luther found this practice abhorrent.

Luther protested this practice. He had come to an understanding that salvation was a matter of sola fide--faith alone.

Of course, there were many events that nudged along the cause of the Reformation prior to Luther's bold act. There also many events that followed. There were other reformers. The move toward reforming the Christian church was not one long smooth simple course. Luther himself was excommunicated. He had to defend his increasing disaffection with the Catholic Church. He did so, in part, before the Diet of Worms, in the cathedral in Worms, Germany. It was here in response to the charges that he uttered his famous "Here I stand; I can do no other" statement.

It is for the posting of the 95 theses on October 31, 1517 that this day is remembered as Reformation Day. It is celebrated especially by Lutherans* on the Sunday closest to the 31st of October. This year, the day and celebration coincide.

So, here we are at All Hallows' Eve or Hallowe'en, all wrapped up with Reformation Sunday, and a famous priest of five centuries ago taking a bold stand--that's why this is a favorite day for me among days.
IMAGE--of the Wittenberg Door from Wikipedia.

*For the record, I am not a Lutheran, but a Presbyterian. The founding reformers for Presbyterians are John Calvin and John Knox. But, that--as they say--is another story.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Annus Horribilis

No, the year is not yet over, and in no way do I intend this post to be a reflection on the year as a whole. I am enough of an optimist to continue to view each year as good. However, here in this humble household, we are having a run of ill health.

Perhaps it is the rapidity of repetition of ill health that has me reeling, just a bit. Back in June, we very suddenly lost our sweet dog Tipper. I am one of those folks who reckon that the animals in our lives are part of what connects us to that great mystery of life. Tipper's sudden decline into deteriorating health came almost without warning. True, she was an older dog, but I thought she might be with us longer.

We are currently experiencing a similar surprise of declining health with our one dear cat, Cassidy. He was one of a pair of kittens my daughter and I picked out fifteen years ago. When we first saw him, Cassidy and his brother Sundance were playing animatedly in a small cage at the local humane society. My daughter and I were walking around in the "cat room" looking at kittens. Some looked positively ill, others were so inanimate that, save for the rise and fall of their tiny sides evidencing breathing, it wasn't certain they were in fact alive.

And then there were these two oblivious kittens. They tumbled, and played, stopping only briefly to come to the front of the cage, paw at us, then resume playing. We picked them out right away. There was a bit of a disagreement between my daughter and me as to what to name them, but suddenly Cassidy and Sundance seemed like the RIGHT names.

Sundance was a gorgeous cat, but he succumbed at age three to renal failure. And now Cassidy is showing signs of kidney failure. He has almost stopped eating, is losing weight, and generally declining including sudden blindness from retinal detachment. I am savoring each day with him, knowing the days are coming to an end.

(Kitten Sundance at left)

So, back to this ANNUS MIRABILIS. The phrase has been variously used, but really came to public prominence when Queen Elizabeth II used it in her annual address to her nation in 1992. Herewith her opening sentence:

1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis.
True, the queen's troubles far exceeded mine. She had experienced the break-up and divorce of her second son's marriage; her first son and his wife (Diana) had separated and their sordid conversations were being aired in the British press, and her daughter Anne divorced her husband. Then, one of the queen's favorite residences, Windsor Castle, caught fire. No wonder, it was an annus horribilis for her.

For me, it has been a run of family ills. My father fell, developed a hematoma and was hospitalized. My aunt fell, broke her hip, and is slowly on the way to recovery. Then my sister's daughter required near-emergency surgery, and just last week, our daughter-in-law had a health emergency that required her to have surgery, followed by several weeks of recovey.

I almost hesitate to turn the calendar over to the next month in a couple of days. I will strive to adopt the attitude of the poet John Dryden who wrote the poem Annus Mirabilis from which the term Annus Horribilis was derived. Dryden's year of wonders was 1665-1666, which ended with the great fire of London. Dryden was comforted by the fact that the fire eventually stopped and London was rebuilt.

Ah--time to resurrect a favorite expression that I have been known to use: this, too, shall pass.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Sense of Style

This post is in honor of our daughter's birthday. The remainder of the blog will be addressed to her. (If you, dear reader, are very quiet, you may listen in.)
Dearest daughter:

When I think of you, I am filled with a flood of thoughts. I think back to when I first learned you were going to be a girl. As a mother of "advanced maternal age" (snort), I had genetic testing done. Among the things that testing could tell us was what SEX you would be. When the hospital called, I asked--and what is "it"? The health worker on the other end paused and said--are you sure you want to know? ABSOLUTELY. Well, she said--you are having a girl.

A girl? Since we had a boy, I thought--well, another boy would be easy (HA!), but a girl? Of course, by the time you were born, I had adjusted to the idea. Soon after you were born, I reveled in it. And I still do.

There are many stories I could explore in remembering your growing up. Many, if not all of them, you have heard. They are still among my favorite stories to tell. I will be sparing, and select only one. You know this one.

I remember the day when you were maybe in junior high. You asked me--Mom, when did you get your sense of style? I confess--I was secretly pleased. My daughter. She's growing up. She wants to know when she will begin to be more like her mother.

I am not sure exactly how I answered, but then I remember I said--why do you ask? Well, you said, when I get my own sense of style, I hope it's not like yours.

Crushed! But not really--in the long run, I am so very glad you are your own young woman. I love that you are so strong, so determined, so intelligent, so lovely, so much our daughter.

I know, I know--you're no doubt saying--don't get all weepy on me, mom!

So, on this day--here's to you, to your wonderful sense of style, to you being your own person.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Love you to the moon and back. . .


Friday, October 15, 2010

Flattened and Impaled

Certainly the title of this post sounds dire, no? Well, it's a brief health report. . .of sorts.

One of the joys of womanhood is the periodic demand to get flattened. By that I mean the annual (or biennial, depending upon whose advice you are heeding) mammogram. I am somewhat remiss--sometimes I let more than two years go by. I am not unmindful of the benefits of screening tests, but I follow medical studies, and the evidence is still coming in as to whether or not screening mammograms do more than BSE (breast self-exam) in discovering early cancers.

However, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and my husband kept reminding me to schedule my mammogram. So, I did--finally. And earlier this week, I trundled off to be flattened. I am always completely relaxed for my mammograms, even though I am not wild about the whole process. I amiably chatted with the radiology tech as she turned me this way and that. I noticed two ammonia ampules taped to the side of the mammogram machine. I asked--do people sometimes faint? Oh yes, she replied, we have a fair number of women who collapse as soon as the machine releases. I tried to envision that--being flattened, then released, then fainting dead (only temporarily) away.

The report--all is well; free from flattening for another year (or two).

The impaling part of this report, thankfully, had NOTHING to do with the mammogram. My husband and I were working around our house the other day, gathering up various yard items and storing them for the winter. We also refurbished and refilled the bird feeders. On a whim, I decided to reposition an iron tripod plant holder. It was wobbly, so I thought--why not move it.

When I got it in its new location, I decided to step on the lower brace to push the tripod stakes into the ground. I was wearing my wonderful Privo sandals, and gave no thought to the suitability for use as a sledge hammer.

The next thing I knew, a part of the iron ornamental stand poked through the bottom of my sandal, completing impaling my shoes but--thankfully, going right between my big toe and the next toe. It did whack the side of the nail on my big toe, knocking it lose like a child's tooth.

I could not pull my sandal up, being entirely captive to the iron spoke sticking through my shoe sole. For a second or two, I tottered trying to balance and then fell backwards, landing FLAT on my back. And I mean flat. Flatter than a mammogram, I might say.

It reminded me very much of the time our son took judo lessons. He was in his early teens and thought judo would be a fun thing to do. He spent hours in our back yard practicing falling. He would fall straight back, landing on his back. He flung his arms out to the side to dissipate the energy along his arms, and protect himself from being hurt. It worked.

I wasn't feeling very judo-like, but I really didn't hurt anything other than my pride and dignity. I must have looked ridiculous. My husband was momentarily horrified. Right before I fell, I had hollered that I couldn't move my foot--he thought that meant the iron spoke has gone through my foot! No, no--I reassured him--just my shoe.

Well, the end of the story is that I was sternly admonished to stand there, while my husband went and got a real hammer, and a board, which he used to hammer the stand into place.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Forgive my Absence

The last several days I have been remiss--not posting to my blog, barely getting around to read other blogs. Please believe me, it is not for lack of interest. No, the thing I am missing is . . .TIME.

The past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind. Seemingly simultaneously, my father and aunt needed medical care. My father fell off his motorized scooter and, after delaying seeking treatment, ended up in the hospital with a deep leg bruise with a hematoma. He is now home, and recuperating. Around the same time, word came that my dear aunt had fallen and broken her hip. She had surgery and a hip replacement. She is in rehab, recovering, but longer term arrangements are needed for where she goes to live after she leaves rehab.

These two events have meant I need to devote my time and attention to things other than visiting blog friends.

And then, this past Friday, we had a guest come to stay with us for a week. Our son and daughter-in-law's dog Sonnet is visiting. She is being treated quite royally, as you can see.

Sonnet's visit has set up a most interesting dynamic between her and Ziva. Sonnet was great doggie friends with our sweet (now departed) Tipper. They had bonded, even though they sometimes fought.

Tipper was a definite alpha dog. She thought it her duty to police Sonnet in all things. Sonnet loves nothing more than grabbing a squeaky toy in her month and squeaking away--actually SQUEAKING away. When Sonnet ran to chase after a thrown toy, Tipper would race after her, barking like crazy.

Ziva, on the other hand, is most definitely NOT an alpha dog. She is all the way an omega dog. She instantly shows belly to any dog that challenges her. So, here's Sonnet--first of all, obviously remembering Tipper and disapproving of Ziva. Secondly, Sonnet has discovered that Ziva actually defers to her. So Sonnet has decided to take full advantage, and occasionally growl at Ziva.

I took the dogs to the dog park today. Ziva has only just begun to get the idea of the dog park. First number of times we took her, she stood there seeming to say--what? what should I do? Today, as soon as she got in the park, she raced off. After a bit, Sonnet ran after her. For once, the roles were reversed--Ziva in full command, Sonnet a bit bewildered. The time did seem to help even the balance between them.

And, of course, the best part--both dogs are wiped out sleeping tonight.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Take Back Our Country?

I am puzzled. A cry I hear a lot these days is--it's time to take back our country. And I wonder--what? who? did someone "take" your country? What are you talking about?

Let's review a few things. In 2000 we had a presidential election. The popular vote was 50,999,897 for Al Gore, and 50,456,002 for George Bush. The eventual electoral college vote was 271* for Bush and 266 for Gore. I have heard conservatives at various times say that people such as me should "just get over it"--the fact that the squeakingest close election in U.S. history was eventually decided by a vote of 9 people, with the vote 5 to 4. Get over it.

OK--I got over it. Well, not really--but I lived with it. For eight L-O-N-G years. But I never once shouted that we have to TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY. I assumed the democratic process does work and would work.

Then, we had another presidential election with new players. This time around the popular vote was 69,456,897 for Obama, and 59,934,814 for McCain. The electoral college vote was 365 for Obama, and 173 for McCain. No need to go to the vote of 9 people.

I believe that's called "democracy"--vox populi. The voice of the people.

So, now when I hear these cries for "take our country back" I want to know--from whom? From me? Because I voted for Obama. And I believe I was VERY much in the majority.

Of course, there is a subtext here, and it turns the cries to a more sinister bent. Do you remember when the whole affair of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. kicked up a bit more than a year ago? I wrote about it

One of the subtexts in this story was that a black man was standing outside a really nice house, and it looked like he was breaking into the house. What was a black man doing in that neighborhood? Well, friends, I am sorry to say, the same subtext runs through this cry "take back our country." What is that black man doing in that neighborhood?

Oh, the people crying take back the country won't admit that they feel this way. In fact, some have even had the temerity to claim that Obama is the racist. (!) But, that is surely part of what this fuss is all about.

I just got done reading the book The Help. It's not a great book, but it is a page-turner, and it has some cogent observations about the way black and white folk interacted in the south 50 years ago. I am now reading a history of the development of Atlantic City (the basis for the new HBO series Boardwalk Empire). That book makes it plain that Atlantic City could not have become the resort it was without black help, yet blacks were expected to keep in "their place."

You can almost hear some of the same logic (or lack thereof) working in the anger directed at "Mexican" immigrants. It is hugely ironic that the website Take Back Our Country uses a stylized image of the Statue of Liberty's torch. (I am NOT going to link their website--if you really want to see it, you can find it.)

Maybe the folks who run the Tea Party, or who want to "take back our country" have forgotten what this country is all about.

So, here's a reminder.

It's about democracy--the people speak when they elect a president.
It's about the yearning to be free--that's why immigrants come here. Not so they can "drop" babies, but so they can be free.

Emma Lazarus captured part of the essence of this country when she wrote "The New Colossus."

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This poem is engraved on a plaque that is placed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. So, people who want to "take our country back"--you may want to change what you stand for, or tear down the Statue of Liberty.

Oh, and just a little word--it's MY country too.

* A presidential candidate needs 270 electoral college votes to be declared "the winner."