"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Music Tuesday: Für Elise by Ludwig van Beethoven

Now that I’ve decided to expand beyond blues, let’s play a wonderful little piano piece by Beethoven.  I’m sure a lot of you will recognize it.  What’s amazing is that this piece was discovered after Beethoven’s death.  Who is “Elise” is a bit of a mystery, and you can read about it here. 

 The composition is considered to be a bagatelle, a piece that is “usually short and somewhat whimsical in nature.”  You can read about the composition at another tab on that link.  It may be whimsical and short, but there is a profundity to it.  The key of A minor certainly helps, but I think the recurring moments where a single note is repeated suggests a moment of soul searching.  As the site says the piece is in the form of a rondo, a recurring melody.  Here the form is ABACA, “A” being the recurring home theme.  The “B” and “C” contrasting themes suggest an attempt to break out of this melancholy mood.  “B” theme I think starts at 1:06 in this video and “C” about a minute later.  I can’t quite reach a conclusion to how the piece ends.  Does the mood shift in the last play of the home theme, and therefore come to some sort of resolution, or does the piece end on the same dispirited mood?  I can almost hear both.  What do people think?




No one creates tension like Beethoven!  I don’t know Tzvi Erez, but he plays this beautifully.  I sampled a few videos and I really think his was the best.  You can read about him here. 


Monday, February 25, 2013

Matthew Monday: In Front of the Dresser

I'm so incredibly busy at the moment, I'm going to make this a quickie.  I hate it when I have to take work home, but then I guess it makes up for when I goof off at work. 

Here's a picture of Matthew in front of his dresser taken in February of 2011, two years ago almost to the day.  Today Matthew is about three or four inches taller than that dresser.  They grow so fast.  God bless him.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Notable Quote: Unknown English Professor

I remember in my first semester in college submitting an essay in an English Literature class. It came back with red professor markings all over.  It was lit up like a Christmas tree.  I think every sentence had either a grammatical error or an awkward construction, and probably spelling errors too since it was before word processors and spell check.  I asked the Professor afterward if this was really bad, and he said, “Ah, it's about typical freshman.” LOL.

In high school I wasn’t a great writer, but I wasn’t bad.  In retrospect I realized I had a natural ability to write, but I was never really taught grammar well (the teaching methods of the 1970s were horrible), and I have to admit I didn’t push myself to do so.  I certainly pushed myself in the sciences and math, but I kind of somewhat looked down on writing.  Somehow I still got good enough grades.  But when I made it to college, the acceptance criteria was upped a notch or two.  I wasn’t getting passed along.  In time I did learn to write, and hopefully I write a lot better than that freshman twit.

I really got a kick out of this quote I just came across:

I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.
               ~English Professor (Name Unknown), Ohio University
[Quote citation here.]

Friday, February 22, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: The Anima Christi Prayer

I love this prayer.  I wish I could memorize it.  I'm trying.  It's a Jesuit prayer associated with St. Ignatius Loyola but apparently he did not write it.  You can read about its history and meaning here.  I find the concept of hiding within the wounds of Christ, which is a line in the prayer, amazing!  Truly it's something to meditate on.

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise thee
Forever and ever.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

From Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Michael Goodman. (Part II)

A second excerpt from Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Michael Goodman; read the first. 

This excerpt comes from Chapter Five: Communities where Goodman compares how the Roman and Jewish communities thought of themselves.  I find this passage so insightful and fascinating.


Dulce et decorum est patria mori.  [Hor. Carm. 3.2.13]  “Sweet it is, and fitting, to die for the fatherland.”  So wrote Horace, in uncharacteristically somber mood, about old Roman virtues of endurance, courage, independence and reticence.  Thus were the great heroes of the past remembered, those who had died for Rome.  The glorious Jewish dead, by contrast, were believed to have given up their lives for God, as in the dreadful tortures inflicted, it was said, during the persecutions which preceded the revolt of the Maccabees in the 160s BCE: 

It came to pass also, that seven brothers with their mother were arrested, and compelled by the king to taste swine’s flesh forbidden by the law, and were tormented with scourges and whips.  But one of them made himself the spokesman, and said, “What do you intend to ask and learn of us?  We are ready to die, rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.”  Then the king, being in a rage, commanded pans and cauldrons to be made hot…[2 Macc. 7. 1-3]

Nonetheless, Jews as much as Romans envisaged their nation as a person.  Rome was a goddess, Dea Roma, much worshipped outside Rome but also within the city itself from the time of Hadrian.  To see Israel or Jerusalem as similarly divine was of course impossible for Jews, but Israel was envisaged as the spouse of God within the covenant between God and Israel brokered, according to the account in Exodus, by Moses and sealed on Mount Sinai, or as the wayward child of a loving father.  In both societies the body politic could be understood through metaphors of health and disease.  Sallust described the collapse of morals in Rome during the late Republic: “At first these vices grew slowly; now and then they were punished; finally, when the disease had spread like a deadly plague, the state was changed, and a government second to none in equality and excellence became cruel and intolerable.”  [Sall. Cat. 10.6]  So too Josephus, writing about the state of Judean society before the outbreak of war and perhaps reflecting, like Sallust, the historiographic influence of Thucydides: “That period had become somehow so prolific of crime of every description among the Jews that no deed of iniquity was left unperpetrated…Thus everyone, both in private and in public, was sick.”  In the 50s CE, as soon as one group of disorders was reduced in Judea “another part flared up again, as in a sickening body.”  Josephus addressed himself rhetorically to Jerusalem in the middle of the Roman siege, when the blood of corpses formed pools in the courts of God: “What misery to equal that, most wretched city, have you suffered at the hands of the Romans, who entered to purge with fire your internal pollution?” [Josephus. BJ 7.259-60; 2.264; 5.19]

The differences between Romans and Jews lay in conceptions of what the state is for.  Neither society indulged as much as Greeks had done in the classical and Hellenistic periods in abstract political philosophy and analyses of the structure of the perfect state, but their shared Greek background ensured that some Jews and some Romans reflected on such matters at least a little, and the vocabulary and rhetoric conventional in each society revealed much about their political conceptions.  Among Romans, more extended political philosophizing was not unknown, but in the imperial period it tended to take the form, as in Seneca’s writings, of personal advice to rulers on ethical conduct and advice to subjects on how to maintain both dignity and morality when deprived of power.  Cicero’s treatise On the Republic, written in the political chaos of the late Republic, contained an analysis of the constitution of the ideal state which combined monarchy, oligarchy and democracy, an analysis which owed much to his judgment about earlier Roman history and the political turmoil of his own times, but such theoretical discussions were not much favoured under the benevolent rule of the emperors. 

[Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations, by Martin Goodman, Vintage Books, New York, 2007. p.196-7]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

In Memoriam Ros, "Shadowlands"

It was a shock last week when I found out a blogger who I considered a friend (never met in person of course, but I consider all the bloggers I comment regularly my friends) passed away in September.  I had a special attachment to Ros, otherwise known as Shadowlands, from the title of her blog, “Living In the Shadowlands.”  Ros’s brother Steve set up a special Tribute Blog to announce her passing.

Ros was the first Catholic blogger I followed and she was integral to my journey back to my faith.  I was certainly at the time striving to return but even before I lapsed I would only consider myself nominally religious.  Ros showed me a path, and with the help of others, I have continued on that path to where I can consider myself fairly devout.  What I really appreciated about Ros was that she wasn’t strident on rules.  It was love of God and Jesus Christ that was most important and letting that love draw you to Him. 

I have to say I loved her blog.  She knew how to keep it interesting.  There are certain bloggers I keep mental note that they have achieved a high level of blogging craft.  Ros was most definitely one.  On the same day she could have a blog on faith, usually a video clip, a blog on current events of the Church, a blog on striving to overcome some suffering, usually connected to her personal problems, and a blog on Christian music.  She taught me to appreciate contemporary Christian music.  I used to kid her that she had an encyclopedic (or something to that effect, I can’t remember the exact words I used) knowledge of Christian music, beyond just the Catholic classics and usual Protestant hymns.  I think she mentioned, despite being Catholic, she had affection for Baptist and charismatic denominations.  I used to kid her that her musical selections were causing me to spend money to fill up my ipod.

I have to mention this.  I remember one Lent season she wrote a little short story about the Holy Week events narrated from the point of view of the donkey that Jesus rode on Palm Sunday.  She called it “A Donkey’s Testimony.”  It was so cute.  I wound up writing about it at the other place I blog, J’s Café Nette.   I wish I had copied the entire piece into that blog, but I only quoted the first paragraph and linked to Ros’s blog so as to not plagiarize.  However in my comments section I did quote my favorite paragraph from the story in a reply to my fellow blogger, Sue.  So I have preserved two paragraphs from her story, and these are Ros’s words.

The opening paragraph:

My grandfather always told us of the very great event that had happened many years earlier, when the King’s Mother had required our assistance in bringing her safely to the stable, for her precious child to be born. As you can imagine, we donkey’s were overwhelmed that the great God would choose to use one of us, for such an immense task. At first, Grandfather recalled, we resisted and thought there must be some mistake, surely a fine stallion would be preferable and much more appropriate? But no, it was confirmed, we were His first choice, and would remain so, whilst He remained on earth and stories would be told of this for centuries to come, until the end of the world as we know it, but the gospel would always include testimony to our service to Jesus...

 And my favorite paragraph: 

The point of me, a lowly donkey, daring to share this testimony, is for anyone, who may feel faraway from the King, due to their own personal view of their ‘smallness’ or ‘unimportance’. The Jesus I met and carried will be looking at you, right where you are now, and in His mind, He does not see an insignificant life. He sees you as someone for whom He has a divine and eternal plan . As He placed stars into the sky, He also, at the same time, imagined you as part of a complete creation. If you were not here, the rest of eternity would be incomplete. You make up a vital part of what was/is/ and shall be. Never mind how the world you live in today sees you. Jesus Christ is your definer, no one else, although they might seek to categorize you, their judgments will fade like flowers very soon. Only His words endure, so read them, read what they say about you, and then hear Him ask you: “Who do you say that I am?”

 Ros was special.  I don’t know a lot of details of her life (I remember her mentioning her sons quite often) but I do know she suffered.  I do know of her alcoholism and her attempts to break it.  She used to publicly revile herself in such a harsh way when she succumbed, and there was no consoling her.  Somehow I suspected her life’s suffering may have gone beyond the alcoholism, but I’m not privy to anything.  She did away with her “Living In the Shadowlands” blog, and I never understood why.  She would periodically wipe her history out.  I remember just before her blog disappeared she was irate with someone over an argument and then she wiped her blog out, though I’m not sure if those two events were related.  I just found she had started a new blog, “Fire of Their Love.”  I wish I knew.  I would have followed her over.   The new blog looks similar to the old.  She has that “Pray the Rosary” link on her new blog as she had on the old, and she carried over the black background with the white font.  I got a kick of her “About Me” blogger user profile.  There she asks the question, “If you were a wrestler, what would be your finishing move?” which is some sort of stock question that goes around.  Ros’s answer: “A prayer, for the loser.” 

Two things I learned from her brother’s tribute blog.  One, Ros’s full first name was Rosalind, a fitting name since it’s the same as one of Shakespeare’s most likable and attractive female characters from “As You Like It.    I wonder if she knew that.  Second, she and I were the same age, born in 1961.  In many ways she was the teacher and I was the acolyte.  When I started this blog, just less than two months ago, I thought of Ros.  I had so hoped she would find her way here and either give me some tips or pat me on the back.  Well, I had no idea she had already passed on.

I post this memorial to Ros in lieu of my regular Music Tuesday blog, not because I’m not going to post any music, but because I am.  I think that would honor my memory of Ros best.  In Christ Alone”  was certainly one of her favorite songs.  When she introduced me to it, I was blown away, and I remember having a conversation with her over it.  She posted the song, this version by Adrienne Liesching and Geoff Moore set to scenes from the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” a few times, so I know she liked it.  Of all the versions I have heard, I like this the best.  I’m not sure if Ros picked it for this musical arrangement or for the scenes from the movie, but every time I hear the song I think of Ros.




No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

[Lyric excerpt from here.]                                      

Those words are so applicable to Ros.  It’s as if she’s speaking them.  Well she  is finally at peace.  I will miss her.  Eternal rest in Christ my friend.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Notable Quote: T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot was in the air this past week.  I blogged an extended quote on Wednesday from his poem "Ash Wednesday," and The Anchoress had an extended quote and some videos of a reading from Eliot's long poem "Choruses from The Rock."

For my notable quote this week, I will continue the Eliot motif and highlight a passage from his most famous and influential poem, "The Wasteland."  This passage was so distinct I used to have it memorized.  Unfortunately my memory is not what it once was.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 20
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock, 25
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Lots of memorable phrases in that passage, but the the phrase that sticks out for me is "you know only/A heap of broken images."  God is omniscient; man only sees limited and fragmented impressions.  That's one of the keys to understanding a lot of Eliot's work.  You can read the entire poem here

Friday, February 15, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: Lent

Two video clips to ponder, both explain Lent in their own ways. 

The first comes from Father Robert Baron who explains the theological roots.


And then there is this video that puts Lent into perspective.  Yes, there is fasting, but through fasting we arrive at a feast.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

We will not be burning roses to ashes here today, but palms.  Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a time of prayer and penance, especially for Roman Catholics. 

By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread,

Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken;

For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

                                         -Genesis 3:19

There is a great poem by T.S. Eliot, titled "Ash Wednesday."  It's a long and complicated poem, but it's one of my favorites, and I always turn to it on this day.  It is too long to quote in its entirety but I will quote what I think is the most beautiful part, Part II.

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

Read the entire poem here.  You may not get it all, and trust me, I don't get it all either.  But it's worth reading.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Music Tuesday: Louis Armstrong, "When The Saints Go Marching In"

Today is Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  [Side note, I didn't realize until now that "Mardi Gras" was French for Fat Tuesday, but yeah I see that now in the words.]

To celebrate, I'm going to suspend Blues Tuesday for Music Tuesday so I can play this wonderful piece.  [Actually I think I will change it permanently to Music Tuesday.  Limiting it to just blues doesn't do justice to all the different music I enjoy.]  "When the Saints Go Marching In" is a hymn which morphed into a joyous jazz piece.  It actually started as a funeral march.  I don't think I've ever heard it played as a dirge.  You can read about its impressive history here.

Of course, if I'm going to post this song, it has to be played by the great Louis Armstrong.  I really like that quote by Duke Ellington at the beginning of the video clip.  From everything I've ever read about Armstrong he was a decent man and a good soul, not something you can say about many prominent musicians.  Reading through his Wikipedia bio, it says that as a seventeen year old just married, he adopted a brain damaged three year old boy, a child from a cousin who had suddenly died.  How many seventeen year old men (if you can even call them men by today's standards) would do that?  He took care of that boy the rest of his life.

I was curious about Armstrong's religion, since New Orleans is predominantly Catholic and this has such a Catholic feel.  The Wikipedia bio says this about his religion:

When asked about his religion, Armstrong would answer that he was raised a Baptist, always wore a Star of David, and was friends with the Pope. Armstrong wore the Star of David in honor of the Karnofsky family, who took him in as a child and lent him the money to buy his first cornet. Louis Armstrong was, in fact, baptized as a Catholic at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in New Orleans, and he met popes Pius XII and Paul VI, though there is no evidence that he considered himself Catholic. Armstrong seems to have been tolerant towards various religions, but also found humor in them.

Hope you enjoyed it.  Tomorrow begins our time of penance.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Matthew Monday: Blizzard of 2013

A blizzard hit the northeast this weekend as many probably heard.  There was a place in Connecticut that got 40 inches (101.6 cm).  Most places in Massachusetts got over two feet (61 cm).  Staten Island, which was in the south west corner of the storm probably got the least of the major city areas.  One news report said we got ten inches and one newspaper said we got just under seven inches.  The local paper said we got over eight inches.  So take your pick, we were spared this time. 

Still it disrupted the weekend.  But Matthew had a ball.  Here are some pictures from Saturday.

Mommy trying to take his picture, but I took their picture from upstairs window.
OK, he really wants to hit me with a snowball.  ;)
He was really proud climbing to the top of the mountain.
He just didn't have the hang of shoveling yet...lol.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

2013 Reading List

As you can see I juggle reading several works at the same time.  If it's a completed or current read, it may have a blog entry, and I've included a link to the entry.  If you have a question on any of the works below, and it does not fit the blog entry or it doesn't have its own blog entry, feel free to ask here.


“A Star Trap,” a short story by Bram Stoker.

“Grandfather and Grandson,” a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer. 
Blog Link Here.

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, a novel by G.K. Chesterton.
Blog Link Here.

“Feathers,” a short story by Raymond Carver.
Blog Link Here.

The Cossacks, a novel by Leo Tolstoy.
Currently Being Read:

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations, a non-fiction history by Martin Goodman.
Blog Link Here.
Les Misérables, a novel by Victor Hugo.

“The Lovely Lady,” a short story by D.H. Lawrence.

Imagist Poetry: An Anthology, a collection of poetry edited by Bob Blaisdell.
Catherine of Siena, a biography by Sigrid Undset.

Upcoming Plans:

A Soldier of the Great War, a novel by Mark Helprin.

Second Book of Chronicles, a book of the Old Testament, KJV.

“Purgatorio,” 2nd part of the epic poem of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Life on the Mississippi, a memoir by Mark Twain.

“In Another Country,” a short story by Earnest Hemingway.

“Hills Like White Elephants,” a short story by Earnest Hemingway.

“The Masque of Red Death,” a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

“A Descent into Maelstrom,” a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Short Story Review: "Feathers" by Raymond Carver

This is a fascinating short story.  The structure is as simple as can be.  A tiny exposition, the drama of the story, which in this case is a dinner between two couples, and then an epilogue which puts the drama into perspective and provides a glimpse into the future lives of the characters.

Jack and Bud are work friends.  Bud and his wife Olla have recently had a baby and invite Jack and his wife Fran over to dinner.  Bud lives far into the country.  When Jack and Fran get there they find that Bud and Olla have a full grown male peacock for a pet, and it’s rather intrusive into the family events.  Bud kicks the bird outside while they have dinner.  Olla has cooked a wonderful home dinner.  After dinner the baby, Harold, is restless.  Olla brings him out to meet the company.  He turns out to be one of the ugliest babies ever, and while everyone’s attention is with the baby, the peacock, Joey, makes a horrendous noise outside, an expression of wanting to come in.  Olla convinces Bud to let him in. and when inside Joey affectionately plays with the baby as if they are siblings.  The dinner ends, and Jack and Fran are so touched by the dinner events that when at home that night they conceive their only child.  In the short glimpse into the future (the story is being told in first person by Jack with the perspective of many years after the dinner) we learn that Harold has grown to be a youth to be proud of while Jack’s kid has not.  At the end there is an inference that Jack and Fran’s marriage is not happy and there is bitterness toward Bud and Olla.

So what is going on here?  On the surface that’s just a really good story, something one would tell a neighbor while drinking beers in the backyard on a summer day while barbequing dinner.  To be a great story, however, there has to be a unifying theme to the whacky events.  There is most definitely a unifying theme, and that theme emerges based on the contrast between the two families.

Even besides these two families, there are other families that appear through reference into the story.  There’s Bud’s parent’s family.  We learn that his father had abandoned the family when Bud was a kid.  Still another family is Olla’s first marriage, where despite her efforts her husband “didn’t care about anything except where his next drink was coming from.”  The phrasing “didn’t care” is very important to the theme.  Caring about the spouse is what’s at issue in the story.  The families in the story are divided into dysfunctional families where one spouse doesn’t care about their mate and those that do.  A third off stage family is that of Olla’s parents.  We don’t learn much about them but we see that her father was studious, worked for his family, but was tragically killed.  Olla has the sense of what it means to be in a functional family and a dysfunctional family but also with a sense of the challenges that families face.  It is through Olla’s engrossing, mothering power that makes her family functional, and strangely the peacock is a symbol for that power, a power which I think is spiritual.

Let’s look at one of the key scenes.  Jack and Fran have arrived and are sitting in the living room watching a car race on TV while Olla is finishing cooking dinner.

Fran nudged me and nodded in the direction of the TV. “Look up on top,” she whispered. “Do you see what I see?” I looked at where she was looking. There was a slender red vase into which somebody had stuck a few garden daisies. Next to the vase, on the doily, sat an old plaster-of-Paris cast of the most crooked, jaggedy teeth in the world. There were no lips to the awful-looking thing, and no jaw either, just these old plaster teeth packed into something that resembled thick yellow gums.

Just then Olla came back with a can of mixed nuts and a bottle of root beer. She had her apron off now. She put the can of nuts onto the coffee table next to the swan. She said, Help yourselves. Bud’s getting the drinks.” Olla’s face came on red again as she said this. She sat down in an old cane rocking chair and set it in motion. She drank from her root beer and looked at the TV. Bud came back carrying a little wooden tray with Fran’s whiskey and water and my bottle of ale. He had a bottle of ale on the tray for himself.  

“You want a glass?” he asked.

I shook my head. He tapped me on the knee and turned to Fran.

She took her glass from Bud and said, “Thanks.” Her eyes were to the teeth again. Bud saw where she was looking. The cars screamed around the track. I took the ale and gave my attention to the screen. The teeth were none of my business. “Them’s what Olla’s teeth looked like before she had her braces put on,” Bud said to Fran. “I’ve got used to them. But I guess they look funny up there. For the life of me, I don’t know why she keeps them around.” He looked over to Olla. Then he looked at me and winked. He sat down in his La-Z-Boy and crossed one leg over the other. He drank from his ale and gazed at Olla.

Olla turned red once more. She was holding her bottle of root beer. She took a drink of it. Then she said, “They’re to remind me how much I owe Bud.”

“What was that?” Fran said. She was picking through her can of nuts, helping herself to the cashews. Fran stopped what she was doing and looked at Olla. “Sorry, but I missed that.” Fran stared at the woman and waited for whatever thing it was she’d say next.

Olla’s face turned red again. “I’ve got lots of things to be grateful for,” she said. “That’s one of the things I’m thankful for. I keep them around to remind me how much I owe Bud.” She drank from her root beer. Then she lowered the bottle and said, “You’ve got pretty teeth, Fran. I noticed right away. But these teeth of mine, they came in crooked when I was a kid.” With her fingernail, she tapped a couple of her front teeth. She said, “My folks couldn’t afford to fix teeth. These teeth of mine came in just any which way. My first husband didn’t care what I looked like. No, he didn’t! He didn’t care about anything except where his next drink was coming from. He had one friend only in this world, and that was his bottle.” She shook her head. “Then Bud came along and got me out of that mess. After we were together, the first thing Bud said was, ‘We’re going to have those teeth fixed.’ That mold was made right after Bud and I met, on the occasion of my second visit to the orthodontist. Right before the braces went on.”

Olla’s face stayed red. She looked at the picture on the screen. She drank from her root beer and didn’t seem to have any more to say.

[Excerpts taken from Cathedral: Stories by Raymond Carver, Vintage Books, New York, 1981, Vintage Contemporaries Edition, June 1989.]
What we see is reciprocal caring between Bud and Olla.  Bud cared enough to treat Olla to correct a painful defect; Olla cared enough to be excessively thankful.  What Olla and Bud do for each other is accommodate for the other person, accept difficulties and annoyances on their spouse’s behalf.  Elsewhere we see other acts of accommodation.  Bud didn’t want the peacock but it was a wish Olla had from her youth.  Olla’s mother is a widow and short on money; Bud “sends her something every month” Olla tells.  And we see Olla taking care of the household, accommodating Bud with good meals and domesticity.  She’s referred to as “the only mother around,” the one wearing an apron, the one who sets the table, takes care of the baby, attentive to everyone’s needs, and the one who provides sustenance.

In contrast, Jack and Fran seem to always take the least accommodating path.  Should they take wine or desert over to not come empty handed?  They don’t care, so ultimately they take a loaf of bread.  Jack loves Fran’s long hair, but Fran hates the fuss it gives her, especially at her job at the creamery where she has to pin it up, and so she threatens to cut it short.  They live in the city and couldn’t imagine working a garden.  They’ve lived in the city for three years and never have gone out for a drive in the country.  On that drive, Jack enjoys the beauty of the scenery and says, “I wish we had us a place out here.”  But there is no response.  “It was just an idle thought,” Jack thought, “another wish that wouldn’t amount to anything.  Fran didn’t answer.  She was busy looking at Bud’s map.”  How many wishes are implied there that have gone unanswered?  Olla wished for a peacock and despite limited means Bud provided it for her. 

Then there is a subtle distinction of religiosity that comes through the story.  It is not an accident that Jack and Fran repeatedly swear by taking God’s name in vain.  In contrast we see Bud say grace before dinner.
We sat with our hands on our laps and waited. I thought about those plaster teeth. Olla came back with napkins, big glasses of milk for Bud and me, and a glass of ice water for Fran. Fran said, Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Olla said. Then she seated herself. Bud cleared his throat. He bowed his head and said a few words of grace. He talked in a voice so low I could hardly make out the words. But I got the drift of things—he was thanking the Higher Power for the food we were about to put away.

“Amen,” Olla said when he finished.


We never see Olla take God’s name in vain in the story.   But Bud is not immune from taking God’s name in vain.  He says it when he’s struggling to push the peacock out of the house.  He says it later in the evening when Olla wants to let the bird in the house, calling the bird “dirty.” 
“He’s not dirty, Bud,” Olla said. “What’s gotten into you? You like Joey. Since when did you start calling him dirty?’

What is suggested I think is that Olla has transformed Bud.  It’s Olla’s influence that makes Bud say grace, albeit now self-consciously with guests at the table.  It’s Olla that has Bud drinking milk and no longer swearing.  At work Bud and Jack are friends, birds of a feather flocking together.  Given his family history Bud could easily slip into a dysfunctional family life.  Except that Olla holds the family together.  And she has held it together partly with presence of the peacock.  Here’s the scene with the peacock in the house playing with the baby.

By this time, the peacock had gathered its courage and was beginning to move slowly, with little swaying and jerking motions, into the kitchen. Its head was erect but at an angle, its red eyes fixed on us. Its crest, a little sprig of feathers, stood a few inches over its head. Plumes rose from its tail. The bird stopped a few feet away from the table and looked us over.

 “They don’t call them birds of paradise for nothing,” Bud said.

Fran didn’t look up. She was giving all her attention to the baby. She’d begun to patty-cake with it, which pleased the baby somewhat. I mean, at least the thing had stopped fussing. She brought it up to her neck and whispered something into its ear.  

“Now,” she said, “don’t tell anyone what I said.

The baby stared at her with its pop eyes. Then it reached and got itself a baby handful of Fran’s blond hair. The peacock stepped closer to the table. None of us said anything. We just sat still. Baby Harold saw the bird. It let go of Fran’s hair and stood up on her lap. It pointed its fat fingers at the bird. It jumped up and down and made noises.  

The peacock walked quickly around the table and went for the baby. It ran its long neck across the baby’s legs. It pushed its beak under the baby’s pajama top and its head back and forth. The baby laughed and kicked its feet. Scooting onto its back the baby worked its way over Fran’s knees and down to the floor. The peacock kept pushing against the baby, as if it were a game they were playing. Fran held the baby against her legs while the baby strained forward.

“I just don’t believe this,” she said.

“The peacock is crazy, that’s what,” Bud said. “Damn bird doesn’t know it’s a bird, that’s its major trouble.”

Olla grinned and showed her teeth again. She looked over at Bud. Bud pushed his chair away from the table and nodded.

We see the motifs coming together in that scene: Olla’s teeth, her influence on Bud’s life, and the peacock as a transcendent symbol of family love.  It should be pointed out that Bud’s reference to the peacock as a “bird of paradise” is the second time in the story.  It’s not a coincidence.  Raymond Carver is not a religious writer, nor was he known to be religious in his personal life.  However there is a spiritual streak that runs through several of his stories.  The peacock as bird of paradise is representative for the Holy Spirit that holds the family together.

When Jack and Fran get home from the dinner, as a result of the benediction from the evening’s events, they make love and conceive their only child.  But ultimately, they reject that benediction, especially Fran who stands in contrast to Olla.
Later, after things had changed for us, and the kid had come along, all of that, Fran would look back on that evening at Bud’s place as the beginning of the change. But she’s wrong. The change came later—and when it came, it was like something that happened to other people, not something that could have happened to us.

“Goddamn those people and their ugly baby,” Fran will say, for no apparent reason, while watching TV late at night. “And that smelly bird,” she’ll say. “Christ, who needs it!” Fran will say. She says this kind of stuff a lot, even though she hasn’t seen Bud and Olla since that one time.

Fran doesn’t work at the creamery any more, and she cut her hair a long time ago. She’s gotten fat on me, too. We don’t talk about it. What’s to say?

Fran is wrong about when their family went dysfunctional.  It wasn’t after the benediction from that bird as she claims, but after she rejected the benediction, in effect rejecting God’s love.  A child requires quite an accommodation, and it’s not a stretch to assume that Fran and Jack are not up to accepting the little annoyances of family life.  She even has cut her hair, the hair that Jack loved so much. 

This is a fine story. 

Faith Filled Friday: A Writer's Prayer

I came across this prayer for writers and I thought it would just be perfect for my Faith Filled Friday blog.

A Writer’s Prayer

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Blues Tuesday: Eric Clapton, "Holy Mother"

I love this song.  It was running through my head all weekend and couldn't wait to post it as this week's Blues Tuesday.  It's quite amazing that a rock star would have such a religious song; it's amazing that he played it live at a concert; and it's really, really amazing that he played it as his encore song.  He's also got a nice choir behind him on this.  Hope you enjoy this song as much as I do.

Holy Mother, where are you?
Tonight I feel broken in two.
I've seen the stars fall from the sky.
Holy mother, can't keep from crying.

Oh I need your help this time,
Get me through this lonely night.
Tell me please which way to turn
To find myself again.

Holy mother, hear my prayer,
Somehow I know you're still there.
Send me please some peace of mind;
Take away this pain.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Matthew Monday: Laura's Blanket

I heard from a friend I hadn't had contact with for over a year last week.  The occasion was that her contact list in her email account was hacked and everyone on the list was given one of those spam messages.  I didn't open the message since a similar thing had been done to my contact list a year or so ago, and I recognized immediately what happened.  But then Laura followed up with a note to everyone on her list informing them of the issue.  I replied and we had a nice little conversation.

Which reminded me of the extraordinary kind gift Laura sent Matthew shortly after we had him home.  Laura knitted this beautiful wool blanket for Matthew.  Here are a couple of pictures from October 3, 2010 when Matthew was 13 months old.

Laura included a nice letter to Matthew in the box explaining all the different images on the blanket.  It's got horses and trains and elephants and hearts, but on the bottom you see three flags: that of Khazakstan, representing Matthew's birth nation, the United States, representing his new home nation, and Italy, representing my ethnicity and family name. 
Isn't it beautiful?  And Laura isn't some older woman who's been knitting for fifty years.  Laura was at the time in her early twenties and working on her PhD.  I am grateful she found the time to do this.  We're still using that blanket these past cold nights.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Notable Quote: Isaac Bashevis Singer

In a comment to my blog entry on the Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story, "Grandfather and Grandson," my friend Sue mentioned she had just come across noteworthy quotes by that very author.  So in this Notable Quote entry I shall highlight one of his penetrating insights.

The very essence of literature is the war between emotion and intellect, between life and death. When literature becomes too intellectual - when it begins to ignore the passions, the emotions - it becomes sterile, silly, and actually without substance.
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Singer identifies the two extremes of poor written art, overly emotional or overly intellectual.  With overly emotional, the writer is expresses everything with no shape.  With overly intellectual, the writer provides a clever puzzle that ultimately doesn't engage the reader.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: Psalm 23, The Lord Is My Shepherd

The windy storm from a few nights ago really affected us.  My cable TV, my land line telephone, and my Internet were all down for several days.  They are finally back on, just in time to post a Faith Filled Friday.  God must be with me! :)

Today my family and I went to a funeral service for the passing of my wife's great uncle, Uncle Marty.  He was 93 and the last few years were a struggle for him.  He's now at peace and with his beloved wife Esther.  May the Lord eternally shine upon them both.

I have mentioned that my wife's side of the family is Jewish.  I really enjoy Jewish religious services.  I've only been to weddings, Bar Mitzvah, and funerals, and unfortunately mostly funerals.  I love the Hebrew prayers.  Of course I have no idea what they are saying, but sometimes a prayer is spoken in both Hebrew and English.  I love wearing a yarmulke. It's a shame we Catholic men are not required to wear head covering before the Lord. 

In honor of Uncle Marty, I'm going to post a video of Psalm 23, sung in Hebrew.  This clip tries to capture the how it might have been sung in ancient Hebrew.  The accompaniment is very simple, as ancient music was assumed to be.  It provides a transliteration of the Hebrew and English translation, of which we are probably all familiar with. 

I also found this fascinating exegesis of this great psalm.  I have no idea who is this Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, but he provides penetrating insight that can only be obtained from understanding the subtle connotations of the Hebrew.  We lose some of that in an English translation.

So much of this Rabbi reminds me of what is wonderful about older Jewish men: the gentleness, the humor and wit, and the love of intellect.