I finished reading “God Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee yesterday afternoon.
I do not think it is impossible to reconcile the two Mockingbird worlds.
This new novel is a “coming home” book. Familiar territory to me, really. I was “born and raised” in a small town in northeastern Indiana. We had 699 people and 1 stoplight. My dad had a barber shop on the main street through town.
My childhood was similar to Scout’s in that we roamed free from early morning ’til the lightning bugs came out. We played barefoot; swam (mostly unattended) in the lake among the lily pads and fish; and created imaginative scenarios for “play” involving whomever was in the back yard that day.
Robert Patton, via Flickr CC Will the Ball Get Her Before She Gets Home
Robert Patton, via Flickr CC Later Summer Sports
We had a cement driveway and a basketball goal (regulation height). We had a playhouse and a yard large enough for kick ball. We had a ranch house that we could play “Ollie Ollie Over” around. My mom would make Kool-Aid and cookies. Grass stains, bug bites, sun burn — no problem. Life was good. Days were long. Fights were rare.
We even had a “haunted house.” It was an abandoned house just a few blocks away from our neighborhood, and we walked by or rode our bikes by it (never alone, though) whenever we were feeling brave enough. The house was not inhabited (alas, no Boo character for us), but the trepidation we felt and the stories we imagined kept us in a state of fear whenever we were near it. That didn’t stop us, though, from finally gathering courage to explore the house (on one very sunny, bright summer day). The mystery was blown. There was nothing there. It was just an old house, mostly empty of everything — except the faint clues and hints about the lives that had been lived within its walls.
Now that I think about it, we did have a kind of Boo Radley character. His name was Slim Miller, and he seemed to live in his car. I don’t know the real story of this poor man’s life, but I imagine it was rough (or possibly a result of mental illness?). He had longish hair, a scraggly beard, and an unkempt appearance (no big surprise since he lived in his car). As far as I know he never did anything illegal and he never said “boo” to me or to any of my friends.
When I turned 18, I went away to college after a summer church youth group trip to Haiti. That trip changed my life. I looked in the mirror at some point during that trip and was surprised to see my white face instead of a dark Haitian one. I could count the number of black people in my home town on one hand, and I believe that moment in the mirror opened my eyes and heart forever.
I attended a large state university for one year and then transferred to a Christian liberal arts college (with an excellent music conservatory). Going home for visits and summers as the college years flew by, brought into focus some of the ways my world views were changing/had changed. Assumptions and beliefs I had never questioned growing up either became stronger and more dearly held or gradually morphed into a larger coherent (to me) framework to include the people, cultures, and experiences of my life — broader and wider than many “back home” might hold with but still centered in Faith and Love.
So, I can relate to Scout trying to make sense of her kin and town folk — Harper Lee’s words ring true.
After reading the new book, I mulled over the troublesome issues trying to understand how to piece these two novels together into one coherent narrative.
Some have thrown up their hands saying, “She never meant for this book to be published” or “She wrote this first, submitted it and then the publisher requested major revisions. Mockingbird is the result.” I don’t buy either of those.
I think it is clear she wrote this as a sequel. However it started out, the version that was published yesterday expects that we have lived through that earlier Maycomb County summer with these characters.
I think it was deemed not publishable for various reasons which might have included fears of inciting violence in the ongoing Civil Rights movement, the fragile state of world politics (Cuban crisis, Vietnam, space race, etc), and (apparently) Harper Lee’s own wishes.
The reconciliation will come in part 2. I’m still working it out.
Let nothing disturb thee. (Nada te turbe)
Let nothing frighten thee. (Nada te espante)
All things pass away. (Todo se pasa)
God never changes. (Dios no se muda)
Patience attains all things. (La paciencia todo lo alcanza)
He who has God lacks nothing. (Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta)
God alone suffices. (Solo Dios basta)
–prayer written by St. Teresa of Avila in the 16th century –all images by The Tromp Queen, CC license
(Wise words from The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis.)
In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency.
I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.
We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.
Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter.
Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past.
But all this is a cheat.
If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.
These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
When I attempted a few minutes ago, to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light… For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world.
Now we wake to find that it is no such thing.
We have been mere spectators.
Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face turned in our direction, but not to see us.
We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance.
We may go when we please, we may stay if we can, no one cares.
Now, a scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate it is not very surprising that they take no notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable Something of which they become for a moment the messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment.
We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in the universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret.
There used to be a saying that if a black performer — it was four theaters you had to play and be accepted before you would be accepted as a true entertainer. One of those theaters was the Howard Theatre in Washington, the Royal Theater in Baltimore and the master itself was the Apollo Theater in New York, in Harlem. … The fourth theater was the Regal Theater in Chicago. My manager said, “Do not go to New York trying to be Nat Cole or anybody else that’s trying to be slick, because there are people that are sweeping the floors that are much better than you’ll ever be. So the best thing for you to do is go there and be B.B. King. Sing ‘3 O’Clock Blues'; sing the songs that you sing the way you sing them. All these other people can do all of those other things, but they can’t be you as you can be you.” That I’ve tried to keep from then until now.
On the best advice his manager gave him — Quote from a Fresh Air (NPR) interview which originally aired on Oct. 22, 1996.
May you rest in peace and sing some heavenly blues.
On a recent visit to a nursing home to visit an ailing relative, my mom and I had a memorable encounter with one of the residents.
Her name is Lily. She is 102 years old. She came to the door of my aunt’s room pushing a lawn chair. The lawn chair was sitting on a wooden square with wheels that must have been custom-built for her. She uses the chair as a cart. Every day she delivers ice cream to residents and to visitors. She uses coupons that a fellow resident wins at Bingo to acquire the ice cream. Lily will try to get special flavors for people but adds with a smile that she might not remember.
As our conversation continued, she asked if we knew of any overseas service men or women to whom she could send a care package. She explained that she has been sending boxes to troops for over 10 years. Several years ago a nearby veterans’ group offered to pay the postage for all her care packages which adds up to over $1,000 each year. Other people have sent her checks or given her donations to help with costs as well.
As I mulled over all Lily said, this quote came to mind:
This 102 year-old woman is doing good deeds for as many people as she can every single day. Her good deeds don’t just stay within the walls of the nursing home — she makes a positive difference for young men and women all around the world by sending care packages.
Gladys Culver was my 2nd grade teacher, and she retired at the end of that school year. She is now 104 years old! She still plays piano for her fellow nursing home residents quite often. She made a difference in so many lives in my small hometown community not only as a school teacher (for 50 years!), but also as a woman of faith in my home church. I fondly remember her playing the organ for decades of church services. She encouraged my sister and me to sing duets together and to play piano duets together. (Singing was more successful than the playing.) I don’t remember her ever not having a smile on her face.
I have a quilt that Gladys’s mother-in-law hand pieced and tied (completely made of 1970’s era double-knits). It turned out to be king-sized! Looking at the fabrics brings back so many memories of the clothes my mom made for my sister and me throughout our childhood. I don’t remember exactly how old she was at the time, but I’m fairly sure she was well over 90.
My Aunt Ruthie was still “taking care of the old people” even as she closed in on her own 90th birthday. She died just a few months after reaching 90. I still take inspiration from her work ethic, loyalty and generosity. “Be a good neighbor” and “Always vote” were the family words of wisdom, and she reminded us of these expectations frequently.
All these women embody/embodied the phrase “young at heart.” They seem/seemed to be living lives about 20 years younger than their chronological age. They do/did not let “old age” dictate what they could or could not do.
What needs to be done?
What can I do to help?
I will do it — that is what these women say/said.
I love looking for great books at low prices at places like Goodwill, Thrift shops, and used book stores. I love buying a hard back novel for less than $2 or a recent bestseller paperback for less than a dollar. I also love taking them back to the store again as a donation if I don’t think I will want to ever read that certain book again.
I do not, however, like the fact that I sometimes have to put up with underlined passages, highlighting or even comments written in the margins. Unless it is a book I really, really have been wanting to read for a long time — I usually pass on buying a used book with any markings at all. The marks bother me, probably more than they should.
I find myself trying to figure out why someone would underline that particular passage or word. I almost feel like I’m reading someone else’s journal or peeking at their notes or journal without permission.
Imagine my surprise at finding a website called “The Pages Project” that is devoted to preserving specifically this “marginalia.” The “about page” says that “the goal of the project is to demonstrate the layered expansion of meaning and insight that occurs through the marginalia left by ordinary people within printed books.”
If you have pages to share, follow the steps given under the “Submit a Page” tab.
By the way, a great source for buying good quality used books is Thrift Books. Most books are $2.99 or less and shipping is FREE! They have a pretty comprehensive list of search categories, but for some reason one must check “hide out of stock items” when searching. Why show items that are not available? That makes no sense to me.
I’ve been interested in my family history since I did a project long ago in elementary school.
I gathered as much information as I could from my living family, but it was not very comprehensive and didn’t go very far back. I liked knowing how long my ancestors had lived in certain areas of Indiana. I liked knowing the names and connections of family members who lived many, many years before I was born.
Late last summer a friend introduced me to Find a Grave. (Thanks, Janet!)
It is a website that helps any interested person “find, record and present final disposition information from around the world as a virtual cemetery experience.” In other words, you can find the burial location of dead relatives. If a photo of the tombstone is not available, there is a method to request a photo (a cadre of willing volunteers provide this wonderful service). The best part is this is all FREE!
You have the ability collect your relatives into a Virtual Cemetery so you can find them easily in the future. Volunteers photograph whole cemeteries and create “memorials” (pages with family connections, tombstone information and photos if available, and obituary information). Family members can leave virtual flowers and messages. If you are within 4 generations of a person you can request that the memorial page for your relative be transferred to you so you can control what is posted. It is quite an elaborate community!
When my friend told me she had gotten involved in this website she warned me that it was “addictive.” Yeah, right — I thought.
But, it is.
I discovered that I enjoy solving the mysteries of birth and death dates, marriage licenses, names of children, and figuring how the various branches of our family tree grew. I couldn’t imagine that sorting out these tangles would interesting but it is!
Another site that I’m using in my research is familysearch.org.
Here, it is possible to quickly and easily locate sources that help clarify connections and family relationships. It is amazing to see electronic versions of actual documents — census records, birth/marriage/death certificates, emigration records, draft registrations, and more. You search for the records in a massive database, then you can attach them as sources for specific relatives.
I quickly learned to be very careful in choosing my sources and in checking dates and locations. As incredible as it sounds, in more than one instance I had more than one couple with identical names and years of birth in the same county married in the same year — but they had divergent records (burial places, children, etc.) that didn’t quite match up.
It is like a scavenger hunt to find sources to verify each child, each marriage, each set of parents — and it all leads backwards and forwards through time. I particularly enjoy finding out which generation made the voyage across the Atlantic to get to America.
I might have found a connection between my husband’s mothers ancestors possibly marrying a distant relation of mine in my maternal grandmother’s branches. I haven’t found proof but some of the facts I’ve uncovered seem to point to this scenario.
There is a family story that claims we have a relative that was close to Cyrus Hall McCormick (the inventor of the reaper). My husband’s family has a story that some of his relatives traveled with the ill-fated Donner party. (Obviously they must have survived the ordeal). I can find evidence to support neither of these claims at this point, and believe me I’ve tried.
Using these two websites, I discovered a cemetery within just a few miles of my in-law’s house where a dozen of my ancestors (all of whom I had no idea even existed before I started this research) are buried. My maternal grandfather’s grandfather had several brothers and sisters and these are the folks that are in that cemetery.
One mystery I unraveled involved John Schwob, Katherine Schwob, Leopold Reuf and Adelheid Schwob. I knew John was married to Mary Miller. I couldn’t figure out how Adelheid fit into the Schwob picture. I didn’t have her anywhere on my list but all the other Schwobs in that cemetery had already been established as my relatives. John and Mary were Katherine Schwob’s parents. Adelheid had been married to Friedrich Reuf and their son was Leopold. Mary Miller died and so did Friedrich Reuf. Katherine Schwob married Leopold Reuf. They are both buried in this cemetery. John Schwob then married Adelheid Reuf and she became Adelheid Schwob.
(This would be like my husband’s mother marrying my dad!)
As confusing as all that sounds, add to the mix misspelled names, errors in birth years, and generally inaccurate cemetery records in that particular cemetery — and you can get a sense of the tangle of mysteries that had to be solved.
Many of my roots are clear back to the late 1700s or early 1800s. Some lines go much further back — to the early 1500s and a few back to the 1100s. I’m leary of the accuracy of these lines that far back, but it is fun to look at the names and follow the trail. One line lists Edward IV, King of England as an ancestor of my husband’s paternal Grandmother’s family.
You can’t say I didn’t warn you. Beware! This hobby can be VERY addictive.
One of the little perks I give myself on a cold winter day on the way to school is a trip through the McDonald’s drive-through. I like their breakfast sandwiches. I realize it may not be the healthiest choice on earth, and that many people have philosophical issues with the place. But I enjoy an egg McMuffin, a sausage biscuit with egg or sausage and egg burritos now and then — I just DO.
I found a McDonald’s that is not far out of my way that has lightning quick, reliable service in the drive-through so I’m tempted to stop every once in a while.
Today was one of those days.
I didn’t sleep well.
Our coffee maker is on the blink.
I was hungry but didn’t want to cook anything at home.
I drive up.
Place my order.
Dig around in my bag for some money.
Drive up toward the window to pay.
I find myself facing the tailgate back of a big red truck.
On the left side of the tailgate is a very large bumper sticker:
It says — I’m Pro-Choice on Guns.
Under that there is an image of a machine gun.
Instantly I am perturbed. Irritated. Upset. Angry.
I work in an elementary school.
Guns and schools — well, we all know the horrific things that have happened.
I had to fight the urge to flip the guy off.
My friends know that I am not a frequent flipper.
I’m being honest here.
Not my usual response to these things.
But this bumper sticker really hit me wrong.
I did manage to restrain my flipping urge.
I looked further down to see what other tidbits of wisdom this guy had on his bumpers.
The next one I see is a large black-bordered white oval that simple says IRAQ in black letters in the center.
In smaller letters curving around the bottom of the circle were the words:
He served in Iraq.
I’m instantly ashamed of myself.
I send a silent apology and a fervent “thank you for your service” thought toward the red truck with all the mental force I could muster.
I give myself quite a “talking to.”
No wonder the guy wants a machine gun handy. After living and working in Iraq I might want one, too.
I don’t begrudge him his gun sticker any longer.
The next thing that happened brought me to tears.
I drive up to the “pay here” window. The young woman says — HE PAID FOR YOU.
I am flabbergasted. Speechless.
Most people would react by paying for the person behind them, and I wish I had done that!
But I was all caught up in my inner drama.
I drive up to the next window to get my order. The server has a huge smile and obviously knows what the guy had done for me, too. I say “Thank you” with tears in my eyes and try to mumble something about what a nice surprise and that this has never happened to me before. I don’t know what I said, really.
I looked around for the red pickup. I wanted to say “thank you.”
I saw him heading toward the stoplight in the left turn lane.
Normally, I would need to turn left to get to school but I quickly drove up beside him in the other lane. I rolled down my window and yelled “thank you” and gestured from my heart over to him. He nodded and waved as if to say “no big deal” and then he drove off.
As I drove to school I mulled over all the thoughts and emotions as I munched my burrito and sipped my sugar-free latte.
As a Christian the ramifications of “HE PAID FOR YOU” is glaringly obvious but equating my free breakfast with eternal salvation seems trite and ridiculous.
Why did this kind gesture surprise me make the tears well?
I surmised that it is because I was so mean and judgmental about the first bumper sticker. Then already felling chastised by the second sticker, all my assumptions were blown away by the incredibly kind, thoughtful and simple gesture of his “paying it backward.”
This young man who risked his life in Iraq while I lived my comfortable Midwestern American life bought ME breakfast.
The point that stuck with me is that caring (or hurting, for that matter) for each other doesn’t always need to involve grand gestures.
Simple words and actions matter.
Do good things.
Mean thoughts can lead to mean actions.
Don’t go down that path.
Be kind. Be generous. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful.
Let’s do it.
Pay for the person behind you in line. Soon.
I’ll tell you my story. Please share yours, too.
Oh. And the next time you see vet?
Gather your courage, and please take a moment to thank them for their service.
Though it drives our sixteen year old daughter crazy at times, our family often has “deep” discussions after watching movies, plays, musicals and sometimes after viewing art exhibits and the like.
We finally (in our fast-paced-first-world-lives one week after opening seems like “finally”) saw the new Into the Woods movie last night.
I’ve been thinking about various themes from the show —
People make mistakes. So many mistakes.
Even when you think you are doing “the right thing,” people often get hurt.
Stand up for yourself. Stand up for what you believe is right. (Doing this is easier if you don’t have to do it alone; see #4).
Being “in the woods” is confusing, sometimes scary, and often dangerous. Take a friend; don’t go alone.
Actions often bring unintended (far-reaching, severe) consequences.
It is impossible to protect everyone from evil and danger. Bad things happen; even to good people.
Getting what you thought you wanted will not necessarily make you happy.
Lies, deceptions, greed, stealing — never the best way to go.
Beauty does not guarantee a happy life.
Stay on the path? Get off the path to smell the flowers? Not an easy decision. “Isn’t it nice to know a lot? And a little bit….not.” One of my favorite lines!
And I know things now,
Many valuable things,
That I hadn’t known before:
And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.
Isn’t it nice to know a lot!
And a little bit not.
from “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods, by Sondheim
I by no means exhausted the list of themes from this show. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.
I drive a lot more than used to. I have three part-time jobs in various locations around Milwaukee, so I sometimes spend more than an hour a day in my car.
It is easy to get impatient especially with people who insist on running red lights (well, they SAW the yellow so that means they should go through the light even if it turns red before they get to the intersection, right?). Sigh. I also see too many people still talking on their phones (Please, people — hands free is at least a LITTLE safer than holding that blasted phone to your ear while you turn left in front of me crossing multiple lanes of traffic). Don’t get me started on all the people one can see clearly TEXTING while driving! Please all of you agree on the roads you want to use and the rest of us will stay off those roads. Seriously.
I grew up in a small town. I used to describe it as 699 people and one stoplight (which was quite accurate at the time, I might add). Now I drive past way more than 699 folks and several stoplights before I even get to the interstate!
Somedays traffic is flowing well, and the other drivers seem reasonably rational and semi-intelligent. As I cruise by all those cars, people, houses, businesses, companies — I sometimes feel disconnected and isolated. I’m in my own little world inside my vehicle and everyone else on the busy highway is in theirs, too.
As I was driving one day recently through the city — I pondered the number of very large cemeteries that I pass going from one of my jobs to another. I catch glimpses of intricately sculpted stones — angels, obelisks, crosses. Row upon row upon row. There is even a quite large pyramid in one of the graveyards I pass. If I go a certain way, the interstate cuts through a military cemetery. There are rows and rows of solemn white crosses on gently flowing hills on both sides of of the highway. At sunset the light is beautiful against the stones.
My most common thought about these cemeteries is that I wish I had time (or tell myself I should MAKE time) to go walk around in them on a nice day so I could look more closely at the interesting monuments and possibly take photos of them.
One day last week, I was driving along beside one of these huge graveyards and I caught sight of a cluster of cars and a back hoe out of the corner of my eye. My heart lurched. I felt sorrow for those people gathered there on the cold grey winter day to honor and mourn their loved one. I wondered if the person was young or old, if the death was from illness or some tragedy, and even what kind of life they had led.. The back hoe was not very far away from the clump of cars and people. It sat with the bucket facing the grave as if it was anxious to dig in immediately after the last prayer was uttered.
I felt like I was intruding on the privacy of the deceased and of the mourners. What a very personal moment to be unintentionally sharing with all the people who happen to be driving by the cemetery at that exact moment. But I felt oddly connected to their sorrow. I had sudden flashes of the many cold, grey funerals I have attended — too many. I mulled those memories over as I drove on, away from the sad tableau.
As several days passed, I wondered why this image (of the backhoe and the gravesite and the mourners) was sticking with me. Why is it still there in my mind? What am I supposed to make of this?
Obviously, we are mortal beings. We live, we die. It’s the circle of life (cue the musical production number).
hah! Sorry. I just saw Lion King (Broadway touring company) and it is still fresh in my music memory.
It doesn’t matter how big or fancy the tombstone might be — we all end up the same way. Dust to dust.
But instead of feeling nihilistic about that fact, I feel a reverence for the fragility of our lives. I want to be remembered for the good things I said and did, not for the way I let small irritations (or big ones) get to me. I want to be kind and loving. I want to be salt and light to the world. I want to spend more time with my family and friends and make more time for the things I enjoy doing, whether by myself or with others. I want to keep my word, do my best at my work, and waste less time in general (FACEBOOK can be a time-wasting vortex).
The back hoe might be revving its engine, but I’m not going to keep looking at it or listen for the sound of its motor.
I’m going to keep looking for the beauty in each person, each minute, each day — and keep looking for that beauty in myself, and in the world around me, too.