". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, July 5, 2020

This is great literature

By Grandmother's Sickbed, Michael Ancher, 1879, Wikimedia Commons
I'm currently reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It's my first time to read it. I am not finished with it, so no spoilers, please. I'm enjoying having a fairly easy, accessible but engaging Gothic-style mystery to take my mind off our vexing national and world events. I relate to the narrator. She's highly introverted, to the point of getting lost in the twisting, turning hallways of her own home because her new husband is not around to greet some unexpected guests and she is afraid to do it herself. That's one way to discover that your new house may have some secrets. 

Last night in my reading of Rebecca I came across a passage of the sort that, for me, takes a work of literature from the level of "good" to "great." It's a passage that can stand on its own in capturing something that rings universally true about the human condition. It's possible to read this passage out of the context of the entire story and still appreciate it. The language, setting and characters come together in a way that makes the reader say, "Yes, that's just how it is."

See if you agree.

I felt rather exhausted, and wondered, rather shocked at my callous thought, why old people were sometimes such a strain. Worse than young children or puppies because one had to be polite. I sat with my hands in my lap ready to agree with what anybody said. The nurse was thumping the pillows and arranging the shawls.

Maxim's grandmother suffered her in patience. She closed her eyes as though she too were tired. She looked more like Maxim than ever. 

I knew how she must have looked when she was young, tall and handsome, going round to the stables at Manderley with sugar in her pockets, holding her trailing skirt out of the mud. I pictured the  nipped-in- waist, the high collar, I heard her ordering the carriage for two o'clock. That was all finished now for her, all gone. Her husband had been dead for forty years, her son for fifteen. She had to live here in this bright, red-gabled house with the nurse until it was time for her to die. 

I thought how little we know about the feelings of old people. Children we understand, their fears and hopes and make-believe. I was a child yesterday. I had not forgotten. But Maxim's grandmother, sitting there in her shawl with her poor blind eyes, what did she feel, what was she thinking? Did she guess that we had come to visit her because we felt it right, it was a duty, so that when she got home afterwards Beatrice would be able to say, "Well, that clears my conscience for three months."

Did she ever think about Manderley? Did she remember sitting at the dining-room table, where I sat? Did she too have tea under the chestnut tree? Or was it all forgotten and laid aside, and was there nothing left behind that calm, pale face of her but little aches and little strange discomforts, a blurred thankfulness when the sun shone, a tremor when the wind blew cold?

I wished that I could lay my hands upon her face and take the years away. I wished I could see her young, as she was once, with colour in her cheeks and chestnut hair, alert and active as Beatrice by her side, talking as she did about hunting, hounds, and horses. Not sitting there with her eyes closed while the nurse thumped the pillows behind her head. 

"We've got a treat to-day, you know," said the nurse, "water-cress sandwiches for tea. We love water-cress, don't we?"

"Is it water-cress day?" said Maxim's grandmother, raising her head from the pillows, and looking towards the door. "You did not tell me that. Why does not Norah bring in the tea?"

"I wouldn't have your job, Sister, for a thousand a day," said Beatrice sotto voce to the nurse.

"Oh, I'm used to it, Mrs. Lacy," smiled the nurse, "it's very comfortable here, you know. Of course we have our bad days but they might be a great deal worse. She's very easy, not like some patients. The staff are obliging, too, that's really the main thing. Here comes Norah."

The parlour-maid brought out a little gate-legged table and a snowy cloth.

"What a time you've been, Norah," grumbled the old lady.

"It's only just turned the half-hour, Madam," said Norah in a special voice, bright and cheerful like the nurse. I wondered if Maxim's grandmother realized that people spoke to her in this way. I wondered when they had done so for the first time, and if she had noticed then. Perhaps she had said to herself, "They think I'm getting old, how very ridiculous," and then little by little she had become accustomed to it, and now it was as though they had always done so, it was part of her background. But the young woman with the chestnut hair and the narrow waist who gave sugar to the horses, where was she?

From Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, Chapter 15

Edited to add: I didn't like the way this book ended. But I still appreciate the writing in many parts of it. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

An Ode

Back in March, my son wrote a poem for his freshman English class. It was a summary, in verse, of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. You can read it here.

Last week, he wrote another poem for English class. The assignment this time was to write an ode. I would have predicted an ode to dogs, or video games, or ice cream, but instead, he wrote an ode to odes. His English teacher thought he did a very good job. I think so, too.

An Ode to Odes

Oh, how I love the odes!
Blessings you bring to all you speak of.
Oh, how you tickle the senses!
In your words I hear glorification
To that of which you speak.

An ode to popsicles, a sweet
Taste to my tongue.

An ode to the viola, a
Lullaby to my ears.

An ode to red hair, long, flowing
And beautiful to my eyes.

An ode to water, washing past
My fingers.

An ode to spices, a wonderful
Aroma from the Caribbean.

Odes, odes, never ending odes,
Thousands, millions, infinite words
Brought to life by the writer's quill.

Wonders you bring, eternal words, like
Eagles that soar full of that wonder.

An ode to odes.

By Evan Magness

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Memory Lane

I'm doing some unpacking & organizing today--almost 18 months after moving into this house we still have so many boxes to sort through--and came across some boxes of pictures, which is not good because it slows down the unpacking as I pause to look at pictures. :-)

But it got me thinking about how it's been years since I have had any pictures printed--photos are almost all digital now. My two oldest regularly used to look through family photo albums; my youngest has experienced that less, because I don't put pictures in albums anymore. Looking through photo albums leads to telling stories about the people in the pictures and fosters one's ability to remember family events. I'm sorry my youngest hasn't experienced that as much as his siblings. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to go through the family photo albums. I'm convinced that there are memories I have of my childhood that I have held on to because I had pictures of them.

Then there's the cultural impact of the digitization of photography--20, 50 or 100 years from now, it is much less likely that people will stumble on old boxes of pictures sitting in their grandparents' attics. That's kind of sad.

On the other hand, I guess digital photos are forever, impervious to damage from light or spills and more accessible/less likely to get forgotten in a box somewhere. And they're probably more likely to be tagged with dates and names and places, so I guess that's a good thing. I have so many photos from my parents that have no names or dates, and I have no idea who the people are. Even among my own photos, I sometimes have trouble remembering exactly when the picture was taken or who all the people in the photo are.

As usual, change and progress are a mixed bag, with good points and bad. Photos are so much easier to take and share and preserve these days, but if, like my 15-year-old, you don't have a smartphone and aren't on social media, you may not see many pictures at all, including of your own family.

(Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Note to readers

This morning I happened to look at my comments in the blog settings, and I found more than 10 comments over the last couple of years that I don't ever remember reading or getting notifications for. I just assumed people weren't reading and commenting on blogs anymore, but apparently I need to pay more attention! For some reason, Blogger has not been notifying me of comments. I apologize if you felt ignored!

Hmmm, I wonder if I should take comments out of moderation since probably the only people reading these days are my husband and a few friends and family.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

So Sing the Mockingbirds

Northern Mockingbird/Wikimedia Commons

My son wrote this poem for his English class. The assignment was to write a summary, in verse, of To Kill a Mockingbird. He also set it to music. The English teacher liked it so much he put it on the test.

So Sing the Mockingbirds
by Evan Magness
In Maycomb's nest live many flocks;
Hawks, Blue Jays, Robins, Finches too;
And many more, make here their nest;
So sing the Mockingbirds this morn.

Finches, they say, fly from their ways;
Hatchlings, they say, migrate today;
'Tis not to be a Finch they say;
So sing the Mockingbirds this morn.

The Mockingbird, He do they mock;
But leave them gifts by tree he does;
And lure him from his nest they try;
So sing the Mockingbirds this morn.

The chick they say, must learn this night;
Just how to live her life just right;
Or fall the pit of shame tonight;
So sing the Mockingbirds this morn.

The Robin calls to Finch for aid;
Fly to his aid, the Father does;
Oppressed by Hawks are they this day;
So sing the Mockingbirds this morn.

Opposed by Hawks, Blue Jays and Wrens;
And Family calls, "Shame us you do!"
"His debt must pay, but still you stand."
So sing the Mockingbirds this morn.

The father weak, the children think;
His only skills, in pen and ink;
He cannot save the Robin, he;
For weak is he, and frail is he.

Yet from the hound he saves his nest;
His gunmanship, by this he's blessed;
Weak be he not, hound dog he's caught;
So sing the Mockingbirds this morn.

Against these winds, the birds still fly;
Against the Hawks, their heads held high;
The Robin save from death, they try;
So sing the Mockingbirds this morn.
So sing the Mockingbirds this morn.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

Today in church we sang, "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say," Lutheran Service Book 699.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
  “Come unto Me, and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
  Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
  So weary, worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting place,
  And He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
  “Behold, I freely give
The living water: thirsty one,
  Stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
  Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
  And now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
  “I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise,
  And all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
  In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk
  Till trav’ling days are done. (Horatius Bonar, 1808-89)

I think it was the first time for this congregation to sing this hymn. I heard a gentleman behind me say that he didn't know it but that he thought it was really nice. It has been one of my favorites for a while now. Three years ago yesterday, I sang it to my mom (Barbara) in the nursing home. It was just a few days before she came home for hospice care. Today I went back and found an old email that I had written to a friend at the time who was offering a virtual shoulder and ear.  It reminded me of a few things I had forgotten.

It is a rollercoaster. This morning I woke up at 4:30, couldn't go back to sleep, so went on over to the nursing home. When I saw her I thought it could be today. She just looked so drawn. :( I prayed Morning Prayer, read Romans 8, sang Jesus Loves Me and I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say, and cried all over her. And then the nurse came in to give her her pills and I told the nurse she wouldn't be able to swallow those and then she did, the stinker. :-) I was there much of the day and siblings were calling (yay) but she isn't able to talk much. She will say hello and say "I love you" when told "I love you" so we do a lot of that. :-) She did ask me repeatedly today to take her to California. I didn't know what to make of that but one of my brothers said that maybe she's remembering a time when she was still married to her first husband with her six babies and they lived in a pretty nice place in a very pretty part of California (I am not sure where). Tonight after choir I took Evan over with me to tell her goodnight and pray with her and she seemed so much more herself. She asked me, "What's this all about?" meaning, I guess, why am I in this place with all these people around. And I tried to explain why she was where she was. There are these little flashes of clarity and I think maybe we're gonna get her back. The problem is that she only weighs 74 pounds. She is too thin for an IV. So she is only getting what she can get in through her mouth. :-( :-( :-( I hated leaving tonight because I'm afraid there's going to be less of her in the morning when I go back. 

They were such hard days, but also beautiful in the way they distilled each moment, bringing into focus what was important and what was not. Less than a week after I wrote the above, my mom died in her room in our house. My husband, youngest son, and I were with her. The next day I wrote the same friend again. She had asked about sending me something to read since I was in vigil mode.

I was going to write back this morning and say yes, please send it, but last night my mama went home to Jesus and my eyes are not good for much right now. Thank you for being on call for me. It was a blessed end and I will be forever grateful for the gift of these three days with her at home and that I was able to tell what was going on to the extent that I called Phillip and Evan to her bedside and we were able to sing and pray over her in her final minutes. Well, they sang. I held her hands and felt their last squeezes this side of heaven. The strife is o'er, the battle done.   

Our former pastor's wife sang "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" as it is in LSB, to the tune SARAH-ELIZABETH, as the Prelude at my mom's funeral. When we got home from church today I went looking for a video I thought I had of her singing it when we were first teaching it to the congregation in Oklahoma, but I can't find it. She sang it so beautifully. It's still her voice I hear in my head when I try to sing this hymn today. 

Bianca, if you're reading, maybe the next time we see each other (this summer???) you can sing it, Phil can play, and I can record it so I can have it for listening in the future because I don't know if I'll ever be able to sing it again myself. Well, maybe in heaven, when my mom is there to help. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

I am baptized!

"Should the Christian stand all day long at the grave of all joys which he enjoyed in past years? Through Holy Baptism a great stream of joy has been conducted in his heart, which does not drain away, but streams forward with his life until its waves carry him into the sea of a blessed eternity. Should the Christian be reminded all day long that the flowers of his youth fall more and more? He stands planted by God in the water of his Baptism as a palm tree which becomes greener and greener and whose leaves never wither. Yes, his Baptism makes death for him like a short winter's nap, out of which an eternal spring--an eternal youth--follows. . . .
"Now then, all of you who believe in God's Word, let your watchword for entering the new year be this: 'I am baptized!' Although the world may laugh at this comfort, the enthusiasts vex its confidence . . . nevertheless, abandon any other dearly held pledges and speak only throughout the entire year to come, in all terrors of conscience and necessity through sin and death: 'I am baptized! I am baptized! Hallelujah!' And you shall prevail! In every time of need, you will find comfort in your Baptism; on account of it Satan will flee from your faith and confession; and in death you will see heaven opened and will finally come into the joy of your Lord to celebrate a great year of jubilee, a year of praise, with all the angels forever and ever. Amen!" - C. F. W. Walther