Monday, June 20, 2016

God is the cause of loving God

Reading notes on a book I read over a year ago, I am once again astounded by the truth of this. It refers to the work of Bernard of Clairvaux, a French Cisterian Abbott in the 12th century.

Even though our heart longs for God, it seems almost audacious to think that God wants us just as much, or even more, than we yearn for him. God is the initiator, always, of our longing. But more, Bernard tells us that

God is the cause of loving God . . . He himself creates the longing. He himself fulfills the desire. He himself causes himself to be such that he should be loved. He hopes to be so happily loved that no one will love him in vain. His love both prepares and rewards ours. Kindly, he leads the way. He repays us justly. He is our sweet hope. He is riches to all who call upon him. There is nothing better than himself. He gives himself.
That has been a great wonder for all lovers of God. They have consistently asserted its truth. Because of God’s compassion—of what God is (see John 4:8)—he comes to us. He comes to us faster than we ever wish to come to him. It is said that for every single step we take toward God, he takes a dozen toward us. It’s a fact that never stops astounding us.

Quoted from “You Can Know God: Christian Spirituality for Daily Living,” by Marilyn Gustin. Her book contains the passage from “Bernard of Clairvaux,” translated by G.R. Evans.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Creating space for the Father to work

The search continues, the lessons keep coming, my advanced age notwithstanding. A gnarly issue has been coming on for a while, but it has come to a head. The specific issue and person involved are not important to the story—what is important is that I learn new ways of dealing with common frustrations.

In a nutshell: I came home last night from an event and I was steaming angry. There was a person at the event (hereafter referred to as “the person”) who has been a thorn in my side for a variety of reasons. I could enumerate the specifics, but that would only be my attempt for validation, to gain allies. I don’t need allies; I need God to sort it out for me. So I came home and prayed. But I was still too angry to make real progress.

So this morning, I got up, skipped church, and spent the morning sitting in my garden reading Scripture, praying, and sitting in silence listening for God to show me the way.

It’s Father’s Day. I deeply miss my earthly father, but I’m keeping my heavenly Father busy, relying on Him for fatherly advice. I am still amazed that the same God who created the universe and raised Jesus from the dead is my Father. It's personal. He is in me and I am in Him. He guides me with more wisdom than the wisest person I could ever imagine. So when I get churned up with these petty earthly “people” issues, I only need to look to Him, cling tightly to Him, and push the pettiness away to focus on Him. The distractions are just Satan’s attempts to distract me. “Don’t go down that road,” I tell myself over and over again. Don’t go down that road paved with self-centered pride. Don’t get caught up in envy, don’t make comparisons, don’t get churned up about the things of this world that aren’t important. Focus on what is good, look to Him, not to appear more spiritual or more holy in the eyes of others, but to do what is good and true between the Lord and me.

My knee-jerk reaction is to tell someone about the person’s behavior, to get allies, to do something in retribution. This is the way I have usually behaved. But after so many years, I’m beginning to realize it is not a productive reaction. I’m not making a big drama out of it as I usually would. But what I am doing is bringing it to Him, my Father. I’m putting it at the foot of the cross and leaving it for Him to fix the situation or to fix me. In this process I skip over the middle man/woman and take it straight to the top.

So on this beautiful morning I read Scripture (the Song of Solomon for some strange reason) and spent a lot of time just sitting on my patio, sipping coffee, and listening for fatherly advice. The phrase came to me: “Move this person to the side. Come to me.” I knew that I needed to keep my focus on communion with the Lord and not let anything or anyone come between us, not steal one second of my time with Him. I move the junk out of the way and make room in my life for a much deeper, much more meaningful relationship with the Lord. And when there is room, when the jar is empty of rancor and pettiness, then there is space for God to work miracles.

Thank you, Lord, thank you. You are so incredibly real to me, so present. My prayer has been answered, not on a specific “solve this problem” level, but on a much deeper level that reminds me where to focus. That is a priceless lesson and it brings me such peace.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Nose to the sunrise

The tally says I have played 12,567 games of FreeCell, give or take a few. I’m not bragging—this brings me nothing but shame. Yet still I play, mindlessly staring at the computer screen, numbing my brain. It’s a really stupid game, even though I’ve become rather good at it. Wouldn’t you if you had played 12,567 games, give or take a few?
I’m writing about this because of the hope that confession is good for the soul. It’s not the computer game that I’m confessing—that is just a symptom. It’s depression. There, I said it. I hate the word, I hate discussing it, I hate being caught in its talons. Trouble is when I’m there, I can’t muster the energy to do much else. I sleep as much as I can, I eat whatever is within reach, and I curse the darkness. All the things I do only pull me deeper into the darkness, but I can’t seem to stop the whirlpool that sucks me down. I feel powerless.
Yes, I have taken antidepressants. I think they work. But I thought I could power through without them, gradually tapered off, and here I am. I know—I’ve already started taking them again. But, damn, it makes me feel like such a failure to need them.
And, yes, I have prayed and continue to pray. I trust the Lord will bring me through this once again and I will find joy after the darkness subsides. It doesn’t change my view of God; it only intensifies my total reliance on Him. Although I feel I'm a failure, I know He doesn't see me that way.
Today I read a quote from one of the books in The Chronicles of Narnia series. Reepicheep, the tenacious little mouse, is trying to reach the lion Aslan (symbol of Jesus) in the utter East. Reepicheep says:
"While I may, I sail East in Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I row East in my coracle. When that sinks, I shall paddle East with my four paws. Then, when I can swim no longer, if I have not yet reached Aslan’s Country, there shall I sink with my nose to the sunrise.”
C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
And so, like the tough little mouse, I may sink, but still I seek Him, my nose to the sunrise.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Cook me a fish

Photo credit:
In worship service yesterday, at the end of the sermon, our pastor lead an amazing guided meditation on a passage in Scripture. He recounted the story told in John 21. It is during the period of time after Jesus's death and resurrection. Some of the disciples were fishing when, from the boat, they saw and had a conversation with a man on the shore. It was pre-dawn and the man on the beach was tending a fire, preparing to cook breakfast. The disciples soon realized the man was Jesus. The pastor invited us to enter the scene, to look into Jesus’s face and to hear our conversation.

And today I repeated the exercise at home. I read the passage in John 21 and sat in silence, my eyes closed, waiting to go deeper, to encounter Him.
His face was radiant, glowing in the firelight as the sun began to peek over the horizon. And He was glowing because it had all come to pass and He had conquered death, just as He promised. There was a tender, gentle glow of satisfaction, of knowing that God’s word had been fulfilled, His work was done. Everything, even the suffering and death, was worth it. I just looked at Him and He looked at and into me, knowing everything. And He said to me: “I will be with you until the end of the ages.”
So I just sat with Him, not wanting to leave, afraid that if I opened my eyes He would be gone. And I said to Him, “Lord, would you cook me a fish?”
It was such a profound, deep experience that I hesitate to try to describe it, that it will somehow sully the experience or reduce it to something unexceptional. But I want to share the reality that—whether it’s this passage for you or something else—it is possible to enter a very deep communion with God. I am not doing anything extraordinary, just opening the door and asking Him to be with me. And maybe cook me a fish.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Psalm 151

Me: Lord, send me somewhere in Scripture. What do I need to hear?

God: Psalm 151

Me: Okay. I can’t remember anything about Psalm 151 but I trust that it has a message for me. (At which point, I pick up my Bible, page through to the back of the Book of Psalms and find that the last psalm is Psalm 150.)

Me: Umm . . . Lord, there is no Psalm 151.

God:  . . . . (the sound of crickets. . . )

A psalm of Donna, an aging woman, in the pre-apocalyptic era

Psalm 151

Lord, tell me what to say to you that would please you. My words are not sufficient. But I can only trust that the imperfection of my words—written in deep love and yearning for you—will be sufficient, for you know that I am a flawed human being yet you love me.

Lord, my God, I love you and praise you. My heart overflows with gratitude.

You, my father, hold me in your arms, comforting me and protecting me.

Although my feet stand on broken glass, my heart and soul are bound to you, reaching for heaven.

Lord, I can never have enough of you. The more I know you, the more I move into your presence, the more I want of you. I pray that the mustard seed of your presence in me will grow until I disappear and all that remains is you.

Teach me, Lord. Illuminate the ways that please you and extinguish my many faults. Mold me into the image of your son.

Bring me to a higher plain, into closer communion with you until that glorious day when I slip out of this mortal coil and am forever with you.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In my senior year of high school, I took a religion class, taught by a man who studied to be a priest. We were required to turn in weekly papers that summarized an article from a Catholic theological journal. My friend Kathy Murphy and I shared papers. She would turn in her paper, then a couple of weeks later I would copy hers and turn it in as my assignment. And she did the same with mine. We never got caught. I’m presuming the instructor didn’t read the papers. Cheating in religion class must be some special category of sin. I remember almost nothing from the class except the irony of being taught about being chaste and saving ourselves for marriage when there were girls in the class whose pregnancies were busting the buttons on our Catholic school girl uniforms. I vaguely remember being taught about Vatican II, and I remember the words aggiornamento, eschatological, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

I knew nothing about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin except that he wrote about Catholic theology and he had a very sexy French name. But recently I came across a quote credited to him and wished that I had paid more attention in Religion IV in high school. Now I know one iota more than I knew in 1965. Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest and philosopher who died in 1955. He wrote about the struggle to be patient while waiting for God to work. He used the term “the slow work of God,” a phrase that resonates with me.
Enough of my words—here is a poem/prayer he wrote about trusting in the slow work of God:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
-- that is to say, grace --
and circumstances
-- acting on your own good will --
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser. Amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Woman, planet Earth, and the Other, shining like the sun

How I now see things:

     Myself—woman, human being, plant Earth

     God—the Other, incomprehensible, in everything, everywhere

As I child I saw God as an old man with a long, white beard, stern, condemning, impossible to please, voice like thunder, distant.

Over time, as my relationship with God has deepened and evolved, my understanding of Him* has evolved, become far less concrete, yet far more present. I will never understand what God is on this side of eternity. I don’t stay awake nights pondering the nature of the Divine. What’s the point?—it is not to be comprehended; it is beyond the grasp of human intelligence. As I gradually cede the need to understand and visualize Him, it has become easier to sink into feeling God’s presence. God in all the spaces between molecules, in the air I breathe, inside of me and the primary essence of my soul and the soul of every living creature.

It is that presence that we share that Thomas Merton saw in 1958 on a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky. He wrote this description in his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
You are shining like the sun, I am shining like the sun, we all are shining like the sun because God is present in us all.

*Please don’t be snarled up in my use of the word Him to refer to God. I use the masculine pronouns just for simplicity sake. I don’t see Him as an old white guy—that’s just the Children’s Bible version of God.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Porcupines in love

This morning in prayer I had a conversation with God.

          Me: Thank you, Lord, for all your blessings. I love you.

          God: I love you more.

          Me: I know that’s true. Thank you for loving even little old me.

It has been over 4 years since my dear Mike died. Weeks before he died, while in hospice care, he came to faith and asked to be baptized. My friend and former pastor videotaped Mike’s testimony at his baptism. Mike said that reading Romans 6:23 had been the turning point for him, that he realized God’s gift of salvation is available for everyone, in Mike’s words, “including little old me.”

Mike’s use of the phrase “little old me” speaks volumes about the man. He was a big, strong man. He trained horses and climbed mountains. His sentimentality was entwined with gristle. I loved him but he could be so doggone uncommunicative, impenetrable sometimes that I became frustrated trying to maintain a relationship with him. He was a porcupine, quills positioned to protect his tender heart from hurt.

And I was a porcupine too. The deep hurt from my failed marriage kept me in protective mode, so afraid I would get crushed again.

In the final year of his life, we both let down our prickly defenses and just loved one another like there was no tomorrow. Because, for one of us, there was no tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Quit trying so hard


James Finley is a former Trappist monk who, when he was a young monk, studied under Thomas Merton. In his book, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, Finley recalls Merton telling him not to try so hard to pray:

He said, "How does an apple ripen?  It just sits in the sun. A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes, and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red ripe, and juicy beside its small green counterparts.  Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of the true self takes place in God's time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in God's hidden action within us.” 

Okay, I'm not trying so hard. I'm just sitting in stillness, in His presence. There is nothing I can say to Him that He doesn't already know. I'm learning that the most powerful prayer of all is listening.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Perfection in the guise of a lemon bar

Can there be a state beyond perfection? Technically not, I suppose. Yet these are as perfect as perfect gets. Yesterday I went on a quest for a lemon bar recipe. At last the weather forecasters were calling for a touch of spring today. I need to bring something sweet to a meeting tonight and nothing says spring like lemon bars. Of course there are many, many versions, but I trust Ina Garten and Smitten Kitchen above all others. When I found that Smitten Kitchen used Ina Garten's recipe (with minimal adaptations) I stopped looking.
So here it is--lemon bars via Smitten Kitchen via Ina Garten. I used Smitten's version for the thinner lemon layer. If you want to see her original post, it can be found at She adapted them from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.
Lemon Bars
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Lemon layer:
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (3 to 4 lemons)
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease parchment paper with butter.
For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into the greased baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill (about 10 to 15 minutes).
Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for about 20 minutes. (Check the filling to see when it sets. Once it has set, back for five more minutes.) Place it on a rack and let cool to room temperature or put in refrigerator overnight.
When ready to serve, cut into rectangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Makes about 3 dozen.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Love unabashed

If I had long, flowing hair and I had an opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus, I would have done this. Jesus shows such incredible mercy and forgiveness toward this woman, a woman scorned and viewed as a sinner in her community. What moves me most is her unabashed love of Jesus. She doesn’t beg his forgiveness, says not a word. Despite her sinfulness, her faith saves her. “Go in peace,” He says to her.
This is the freedom we have when we repent and love Him. It’s all we need to do to be forgiven. Nothing equals this freedom, this confidence of living life in faith, knowing. There may be a lot I can’t understand, but this I get. I repent because I love Him. He forgives me because He loves me. And as He forgives me, I love Him more and more deeply. And I begin to see what love is.

Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How not to be a food writer

There is a relatively long list of ingredients. The cooking technique is rather simple. And I have to report that the results are quite delish. There is no risk at all that I will ever get hired by America's Test Kitchen. Here's my recipe for a mélange of oven-roasted vegetables.
Baby carrots
Baby cremini mushrooms
Baby zucchini
Extra virgin olive oil
Laconiko Greek chive olive oil
Laconiko Green sweet lime olive oil
Butter-flavored olive oil
Jalapeno lime balsamic vinegar
Maharajah curry powder
Rocky Mountain seasoning
Herbs de Provence
Ground ginger
Lemon pepper
Coarse Kosher salt
Most of the vegetables are organic. I'm sure you're impressed. Most of the olive oils as well as the balsamic vinegar are from an artisanal oil and vinegar store called Ah Love Oil and Vinegar. Most of the spices are from Penzey's. The herbs de Provence were carried with love directly from Provence by my cousin. I buy Kosher salt in a large box and keep it on the kitchen counter in a vintage salt box that belonged to my late beloved mother-in-law. I used my iPhone to take the photo at approximately 3:30 in the afternoon and the temperature in my house was approximately 67 degrees. I roasted the vegetables on cookie sheets lined with unbleached parchment paper in an oven using the convection option at 375 degrees.
What I failed to do was to keep track of what I put on the vegetables and how much I used. Yes, I used everything I listed. I think I put the ginger on the carrots and maybe I used the butter-flavored oil, or maybe it was one of the others. I'm pretty sure I splashed a bit of balsamic vinegar on the broccoli. The curry powder was on the cauliflower. I have no idea how much but it should have been more than that. Maybe I used the herbs de Provence on the mushrooms. Or was it the zucchini?
I am shamed by all the American Test Kitchen books in my collection. The writers and testers go into intense detail on techniques and ingredients. For this I flew by the seat of my pants and could not duplicate this if I had to. I'm living in the moment--it's a flimsy excuse.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

My job is to observe all of this

It’s April, the cruelest month. Tomorrow it may snow but today the temperature got into the 60s. It was raining early this morning when I headed out for a long drive into the Shenandoah Valley for a day-long retreat on contemplative prayer. Luckily it was still light when I drove home. By then the sun had erased the rain clouds, the mountains were glorious, the redbuds were in peak bloom, and the buds in the apple orchards were just beginning to show some color. I drove home in peace and quiet, savoring the day.

This is not the first time I have gone on retreat, focusing on a getting some specific direction from God—often called discernment—and ending up on a completely different path than what I was seeking. Once again I wanted God to give me some marching orders, to tell me what I should do with the rest of my life. Instead He put me outside a farmhouse in the rolling Virginia hills, watching hens, listening to cows, and smelling the reemergence of life. I wanted a life plan. He told me to love His creation.

This is what I wrote in my journal at the retreat:

It’s early spring. The grass is starting to turn green, as if it is a sentient being and it miraculously knows that it’s time to turn green and soft and it begins to grow again. The buds on the trees start to swell, the hens cluck and peck at the earth, their feathers slick and shiny. The sun has a promise of warmth even when the wind blows with just a bit too much bluster. My job is to observe all of this, to feel the warmth of the sun, to smell the earth coming to life, and to thank God for so many blessings. I have been so deeply mired in the brokenness of the world—my own sorrow, the pain of others, the cruel violence and hatred of humanity—that I have forgotten to simply take in God’s goodness and thank Him.

And I vaguely recalled (and luckily found) a poem by Mary Oliver that expressed the idea that “my work is loving the world.” It is such a perfect reflection of the feeling I had today, the reverence for His work. Here I am, standing still and learning to be astonished.

by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—

          equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
          keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

          and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

          to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

          that we live forever.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Butternut squash stew

Hard to believe, but I have been cooking. Last night I made a chicken chili with poblano and sweet red peppers, hominy, and other things. It was very good. I didn’t write it down. Tonight I made a vegetable stew for the second time and it is positively yummy. If it weren’t for the Parmesan cheese, it would be vegan, but I think the Parmesan is what makes it particularly fabulous. Bonus—it’s really quite easy to make.
Source: In a Vegetarian Kitchen, by Jack Bishop
Butternut Squash with White Beans Stew with Rosemary and Tomatoes
Makes 4 main dish servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon salt
3 medium garlic cloves, minced (divided)
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (or use beans cooked from scratch)
1 small butternut squash (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 Parmesan cheese rind (I used about ½ cup large chunks of Parmesan)
3 cups water
1 tablespoon freshly minced rosemary
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until soft and golden, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beans, squash, tomatoes, Parmesan rind, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the cover and continue simmering until the stew thickens, about 15 minutes.
While the stew is simmering, combine the minced rosemary, the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.
Once the stew has reduced down, stir in the rosemary mixture and cook an additional 5 minutes. Adjust the seasonings with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

In which I call on George to make me smile

The post that you see just below this, entitled The Blonde Deceit, is a piece of trash. I'm leaving it up to remind myself that my whining is really dumb. It's a humbling experience. I only felt that way for a brief time . . . "Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody." It is what it is. I'm generally quite happy in my single state and would be hard pressed to give up my immense independence for any man. Seeing couples together, cooing and feeding one another grapes, just gets under my skin occasionally and I get an ugly shade of green. Smack me upside the head if you catch me complaining again.

To counteract that lapse in judgment, I am repeating a post as a sort of antidote. This is a piece that I wrote and submitted to the Modern Love column at the New York Times. Aim high and get shot down. It was rejected by the New York Times but it did get in the online edition of Texas Monthly. Every word is true. And it reminds me that love comes in many forms. I'm grateful for George and he still makes me smile.

George and the Queen of the Neighborhood

I had lived in the neighborhood only a few weeks when I first began to notice him. My house was on a short street of just five houses and George lived at the far end. For exercise he would walk slowly to the end of the street, then back again, leaning heavily on a cane. One day while I was walking the dog I stopped to talk to him. He was short and stocky with tawny skin, wisps of thinning hair slicked down on his head. His speech was slurred and difficult to understand because he had a thick eastern European accent and, I soon learned, also had been affected by a stroke.

Over weeks, in the course of many conversations, he filled in the details of his life. When I met him, George was in his 70s, widowed, and a retired physics professor from Johns Hopkins University. He was born and raised in Hungary where his father had been a renowned psychoanalyst, a contemporary and a rival of Sigmund Freud. George still lived in the house where he and his wife had lived for many years, the house where they raised their daughters. The daughters had moved to distant cities and he still missed his wife. “My life is so lonely without her,” he once told me, his eyes filling with tears. She had cancer and died just a few years before, prior to his stroke.

Because he walked so slowly, if I saw him from my kitchen window, I knew how to time his walk so I could catch him on his way back. Often I would take out the dog or go to the mailbox, just to have a chance to talk to him. This pattern continued for a couple of years. We talked about the weather, the neighbors, our families, or his health. When the weather was bad or when he traveled, I sometimes went weeks without seeing him.

Two years after moving to the house, my husband left me. When I told George, he was shocked and said, “I can’t believe it. But why?”

“Another woman,” I replied.

“But how could he? How could he leave you? You’re the queen of the neighborhood.”

Salve for a broken heart. To know that this charming man thought I was worth having somehow helped to lessen the grief, the intense pain of the loss and betrayal.

When the divorce was final, my house had to be sold. George kept telling me how the neighborhood wasn’t going to be the same without me. The day before the movers were to arrive, George left a message on my answering machine, saying he needed to talk to me before I left. From the sound of his voice, I thought something was wrong, so I quickly called him back. He said, “I want to see you. Can you come to my house this evening at 7 o’clock?”

We sat in his living room among the photos of his family. We chatted about my new place and how hard it was for me to leave the house I loved. All the while I was worried, wondering if there was something wrong with his health. Why did he need to talk to me? What was the urgency? I braced myself for bad news, but he said nothing. When it was time for me to go, he walked me to the door and hugged me. “I love you,” he said in that distinctive George voice that sounded like Henry Kissinger on sedatives.

“You’re so sweet, George,” I said, “I love you too.”

“No,” he said, “I mean it. I really love you.” I was already at the brink of intense emotion because of the move, but now this sweet old man was telling me he loved me. That was the urgent message he had for me, the thing he had to tell me before I moved away.

I searched for something to say to him, but couldn’t find the words. Now, several years later, I realize how much courage it took for him to say it and I wonder what he was thinking. If only the right words had come to me at the time. If only I had found the perfect thing to say to him. I would have told him that he was such a dear man, sadly the wrong one at the wrong time, that he warmed my broken heart, that he made me feel worthy of being loved, and that I would treasure this moment.

But I just said, “Thank you, George. I’ll miss you.”

The next day I, the queen of the neighborhood, moved away. I never saw him again and recently heard that he died. Rest in peace, George. I love you too.