Sunday, November 27, 2016

Time doesn't stop

The novel Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry was published in 2004.
I have been teaching it to my freshmen since the Fall of 2012.
I am presently reading it again, in preparation for discussing it with my 2016 freshmen.
I am blessed to be reading it again.  Each time, this book says something deeper to me about my own life.
I know I can't put old heads on young shoulders, but I will try to tell my 18 year olds some things I certainly was not ready to hear when I was 18 years old - things that Hannah, the title character and the narrator, says at age 78.

She observes: "Time doesn't stop. Your life doesn't stop and wait until you get ready to start living it.

She talks about her love for her first husband, Virgil, who went missing in World War II:
 "I went into love with Virgil, and of course wer were not the only ones there. To be in love with Virgil was to e there in, in love, with his parents, his family, his place, his baby. When he became to to our living love in this world, by knowing what it meant to me I couldn't help knowing what it meant to the others. That was our kindness. It saved us, but it was hard to bear."
In these recent years I have thought more and more about my aunts and uncles and cousins, the siblings of my mother and father.  I bitterly regret not asking more questions of my parents about them, stories about their growing up years.  My parents were taciturn people, but I really wasn't interested in their families, and so I didn't push them to tell me stories.  God, I wish I had.
This beautiful novel makes me wish I had.
I want to tell my students:  talk to your grandparents and aunts and uncles!  Get them to tell you the stories of their times together!
It also occurred to me that my parents and their siblings and their parents were all people who did not talk much about their feelings.  This was much like the people in Hannah Coulter's story, from the 1940's in the country in the United States.  It was equally true in many or most of the people in Europe of this same time.  
When did that change?  When did people start to "spill their guts" on TV shows like Oprah?
When did people ask each other: "how did you feel about.....?"
This disclosure of feelings and emotions marks a huge cultural shift, I think.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Age Is Better

One of my blogging friends, "English Lit Geek", recently posted this poem by Rod McKuen:

Age is Better

Age is Better
Rod McKuen, 1933-2015

I have been young,
         a fresh faced sprout,
with agile legs, a muscled arm and smile
to charm the world I went through
         in a rush to get a little older, sooner.

Catching my reflection while passing past
         a looking glass not long ago
I discovered I was older, even old. There was
no sudden melancholy or regret, and yet
some sadness in the wonder that it happened
         while I wasn’t watching,
No pause to proudly ply the autumn into winter

Nothing changed.
I run as fast. I think a little faster and yet forget
at times what I went after there as I left here to
get it. This while crossing half a room
         not half a lifetime.
So I’ve been young and I’ve been old and have
         determined old is better.

Youth unfolds like coy Cleopatra from a rug
spilling all its golden wonders at the foot of age
who seems to envy everything, especially spring.

           The young
pledge anything to get an audience. Delivering
sometimes, most times not, on their way before
         the promissory note comes due.

 Can you blame them as they hurry off, afraid
another runner may beat them to The Score ahead
         leaving nothing to be scored?

Age is oft times bitter, feeling in its failing health
that wealth of life eluded it. Apologize somebody or
some thing for leaving me to find the way I never
found or could not find because it was not there
         or never was.

But having seen the surge of youth, the sag of age
in breast and chest and everything, I still say spring
         is overrated. Age is better.

 Less is expected of the once firm chest that drags
a little lower, the robust voice reduced to murmur
         speaking slower.

Age can finally say aloud what it really feels and
         thinks in after dinner company or crowd.
         No one blinks. If they do, no matter.

 Age erases pretence; replacing it with honesty.
Age is proof you got from there to here.
         Alas so many that you loved
did not complete the journey. You mourn them, yes,
and always will, but age is such a triumph over youth,
again, because you moved across the years to here.
Leaving there where it belongs
         for youth to come along and re-discover.

God, I love this poem.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

On Falling

One of our sisters who is 86 years old and up until last week was robust and sharp and in control of her life, is now dying.  She had a very very bad fall about two months ago; she fell flat on her face, walking on the sidewalk outside of her house. She sustained some broken bones, most notably her cheekbones, and was in rehab.  Then things went downhill from there.  She came up to our skilled care floor up here to continue recovering, but developed blood clots in her legs.  Two days ago she became very confused, disoriented, and was even hallucinating. They took her to the hospital for a brain scan and discovered a new and ongoing brain bleed.  Now she is unconscious and is on hospice.
It happened so quickly that we are all in shock.

She's not the first. I've known of at least five other persons who have fallen , with bad results, in the last year.

This brings me to an article I read recently in Slate  about how dangerous falls are , especially to senior citizens.    I'm quoting from it here:

"...All too often, this is the wrong reaction. The one-year mortality for patients who are admitted to the hospital after a fall is a staggering 33 percent. A fall bad enough to warrant hospital admission can carry as poor a prognosis as some stage IV cancers that have metastasized to the lungs and brain. Of course, the people who are hospitalized after a fall are much more likely to have a higher mortality rate anyway. (They’re going to be older, and have more comorbid medical conditions, but falls still pose a bigger risk than other conditions.) By comparison, the one-year mortality for older patients admitted to the hospital for pneumonia hovers around 21 percent...
"...Why are falls so dangerous? There are short- and long-term risks. In the short term, falls that involve trauma to the head can cause life-threatening intracranial bleeding. Broken bones have their own risk, including lung embolisms in which tiny fragments of broken bone make their way into our circulation and reach the lung, causing impressive and often life-threatening damage. But falls that cause broken hips and legs can cause death and disability even well after the acute phase. Blood clots to the lung are more likely in the months after surgery or prolonged periods of immobilization. People who become more sedentary are more likely to develop a host of other problems, including heart and lung disease...
" powerful prognostic information on fall comes from a careful assessment of the foot. Foot health, much like dental hygiene, provides tremendous insight into a person’s functional status and access to healthcare. The presence of nonhealing wounds imparts significant fall risk. But the biggest predictor of those who are least likely to fall is simply the ability to cut one’s own toenails. Even previous falls or near falls are less predictive...
"...You can also limit your risks by modifying your own environment and behavior. This hasn’t been empirically tested, but in my opinion, the most important thing an elderly person can do to protect themselves from the worst outcomes from a fall is to carpet their home. We often think about babyproofing the home. But geriatric-proofing them is not a bad idea either. Additionally, as we age, it is important that we realize our limitations. The older we get, the more we get up at night to use the restroom. This may sound silly, but turn on the lights. Your spouse may grumble, but it’s worth it so you don’t trip and fall. This happens all the time. Get up slowly, especially in the morning when you haven’t had anything to eat or drink in many hours. (Dehydration-related falls and even loss of consciousness are common in emergency departments.)
 Committed to staying in shape by taking the stairs? Fine, but try to only go up the stairs. Taking the stairs downward provides little exercise, and the momentum of a fall is far worse..."
This information is important to me, and unnerving too.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

What is Late November Doing?

This morning I re-discovered T.S. Eliot's poem sequence  Four Quartets.

It's been a favorite of mine since I first read it fifty years ago in college.  In fact, when I gave the welcome address at our commencement ( NOT the valedictory!)  I spun my speech from its words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Today when I read the whole sequence again, I saw so much that I have missed in it over the years. Maybe I had to be this old to see it.

For now, just look at these lines:

What is the late November doing

 With the disturbance of the spring

 And creatures of the summer heat,

 And snowdrops writhing under feet

 And hollyhocks that aim too high

 Red into grey and tumble down

 Late roses filled with early snow?

 Thunder rolled by the rolling stars

Simulates triumphal cars

 Deployed in constellated wars

 Scorpion fights against the Sun

 Until the Sun and Moon go down

 Comets weep and Leonids fly

 Hunt the heavens and the plains

 Whirled in a vortex that shall bring

 The world to that destructive fire

 Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.


TS Eliot East Coker



It quite describes the sixty and seventy degree days we've been having, which finally have given way to northwest winds and thirty degrees. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

On the Feast of Christ the King

also, the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year

At the Vigil Mass tonight, the cantor sang my favorite Alleluia, the one from Weston Priory. He sang the third verse:

He it is in whom we have found

the light of truth,

source of our hope, abiding gift of God’s love.

Through that love we pass and are born in life unending:

Jesus, our Lord,

the fullness of our joy

Through that love we pass...

Which leads me to another appropriate song for this feast, one of my favorites from Taize:

Jesus, remember me
when you come into your kingdom,
Jesus, remember me
when you come into your kingdom.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Losing Hope

I feel the way the woman in this photograph looks.   I'm glad the bear is there to comfort her. I don't seem to have a bear nearby,

Perhaps it's because I've been sick for three weeks: one week with a  "barf your guts out" stomach bug, followed by two weeks of really bad sinus infection and bronchitis.  I am still taking the antibiotics.  This physical state tends to depress a person.

However, the news in our country has also caused me to lose hope.  I see a huge ( as our president-elect would say) crash coming.  The prosperity he has promised to his followers, the really poor and disadvantaged working class white people in the middle of the country, is just not going to happen.
In the meantime, if the Republicans do away with Medicare, old people are going to be dying in the streets.

That's the catastrophe I see coming.  I hope I am wrong, but that's almost the last hope I have tonight.

And in my religious community, the three youngest members left a few weeks ago; not together, but one after another.  What does that mean for the future of our province?  I don't have much hope there, either, and I feel guilty feeling that way.

So I am going to post some pictures I like right now, just to have something more colorful.

That was a truly marvelous moon the other night:

This one is titled "Hypocrisy":


Friday, November 11, 2016

It went downhill from Sunday

Sunday November 6 was a lovely day.  Even though I had come down with a bad head cold, I still was able to speak.

I drove through beautiful sunny November country, through Lancaster county, the land of my ancestors,  down to West Grove, Pa, where I gave a poetry reading as a fundraiser for the West Chester Poetry Center.  So many old friends were there!   They liked the poetry, and I had a good time, too.

I stayed overnight with my friends in West Chester.  By Monday morning, the cold had gotten much worse, and I had no voice.

I drove back to Emmitsburg and had a car crash on Rt. 30  about ten miles west of York.
A three-car rear-ender.  I was the third vehicle, and the other two were large heavy pickup trucks.
I was unhurt, but the car was totaled.

Thus began hours of police, towtrucks, waiting for the sisters to get there to pick me up.

Then, of course, Tuesday was Election Day, when Trump and the Republicans won everything.

A lot of my friends were weeping all over Facebook about this.  I was not.  I was not completely surprised, even though the polls were so wrong.  Too many people in this country hated Hillary.

I cannot imagine what this means for our country. I hope it means all the good things that those who voted for this  think will happen:  more jobs and better economic opportunity for so many who have felt so dismissed and ignored .

Then , on Wednesday I went to the doctor and found I have some really nasty upper respiratory infection.  I'm loaded up with a heavy duty antibiotic called Keflex ( she even gave me a huge shot of it in my behind in the office!) and five days of Prednisone.

Then, yesterday,  Leonard Cohen died.

I have loved his music and poetry since I bought his first album in about 1968:

I loved him when he looked like this:

and I loved him more recently, especially as he was on his Live from London tour in 2008:

I can't decide which one is my favorite song.  The first one I loved was "Suzanne"  but more recently
it is "Halleluiah."

I used to sing "Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye"

Goodbye, dear Leonard.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Asteroid

This truly brutal and cruel election season in the USA is over, and Donald Trump will be our next president.


It was fairly close; in fact, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but Trump's electoral votes were over and above what he needed.


I've read some articles which explain this to me.


However, I am still worried about what will happen to our country during the next four years.


I feel the truth in this remark by the comedian Stephen Colbert:


"It seems like we're trying to avoid an apocalypse, and half of the people are voting for the asteroid."

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

All Souls Day

I love this poem by Jean Nordhaus:

With Their Wings
by Jean Nordhaus

                    —for Delia

On the evening you were born,
after the tremendous churning
that brought you forth, an owl
flew onto the rail of the balcony
where we sat, as darkness bled
from backlit hills into the sky.
In twilight, she perched on the ledge
measured us with wide, light-

gleaning eyes, then sailed off
on soft wings. Shades of my mother,
I thought, half-believing—the wide-
set eyes and level gaze.

For those who say the dead
have no more truck with us
are wrong. The dead are all around us
feathering the air with their wings.
They see in the fertile darkness
that surrounds this sac of light.
And in these hours we call them back
to steady us, who live in time.

"With Their Wings" by Jean Nordhaus from Memos from the Broken World. © Mayapple Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission