1942 – The Penny Dropped & Stargazing

Over Labor Day weekend I stopped at our local coffee place one morning. I used the drive-through, and while I was waiting in line I watched the person ahead of me pay by phone. I thought to myself we don’t touch many things anymore – paper, money – everything is on a screen. When my turn came I paid by cash and was handed two pennies. I rarely look at coins, that too is of the past, but one of the pennies look old and worn from time. And it was – it was minted in 1942. Pretty amazing that it was still in circulation these 76 years. I started thinking and realized it was about then that the US entered World War II.

Such a long time ago, and hardly anyone left from that time. I put the penny on the console of my car and kept it, thinking about how far it had traveled and how many hands had exchanged it. I enjoy seeing it there, in its little place of honor, every morning when I get into my car.

A few days after I received my window into the past, I decided to do some stargazing. It was a prime time to see shooting stars and a number of planets were visible in the night sky. I was looking at them from my deck and the view was fine, but there is so much “light pollution” that it is hard to compete. The next clear night we took the truck and drove inland about 10+ miles to woods and fields. Off road we went and there it was – the glorious starry night sky. I couldn’t find the old binoculars which worked so well, so I used the zoom lens of my camera for a closer look. I saw shooting stars, and what I think was a dancing star. Not sure. I should read up on astronomy, and while I’m at it pick up an old telescope at a yard sale because now there’s an app to see stars.

About a day later, the penny dropped as the saying goes, and I made the connection between the penny and looking at the stars. I remember my father telling me about his grandaunt Celeste, which oddly enough means heaven in Latin. I vaguely remember her; she was very old when I met her and I was little, but I recall she was an incredibly loving, affectionate, welcoming person with a wonderful sense of humor. She died shortly after; I don’t know how old she was. The details are lost since there is no one left to ask.

I thought of my great-grandaunt Celeste, “Celia” for short, and remember her remarkable story. She was a young widow when the war was going on – perhaps in her mid-30s. Her husband had left her a farmhouse in Tuscany which was unoccupied. Celeste decided, to the shock of her family I would imagine, to leave her young daughter in the care of her sisters, and boarded a ship to Italy, traveled to Tuscany, opened the house and moved in. Right in the middle of the war. She had gone to help with the resistance, and she spent the ensuing years smuggling American soldiers on their way north to battle that would eventually end the war in Europe. It’s quite a story and all true. My father said at the end of the war she was bestowed with medals from General Eisenhower and General Montgomery of Britain.

After the war she sold the farmhouse, came home and resumed her life here. I have seen photos of her – a pretty woman with a mass of lovely hair and a beautiful smile. There are pictures of her with a shotgun on her shoulder – she had a lot of land in the country. There she lived out her days and passed away surrounded by the many friends and family and people who loved her. 

Why didn’t I write down the salient details of this story as it was told to me? Oh well, I’m afraid it’s gone, and my imagination will have to do. As I looked at the night sky I thought of her all those years ago – almost a century. How remote and isolated Tuscany must have been, no wealthy tourists buying up and renting out renovated farmhouses for the summer. She was alone in that house, waiting for friend or foe to arrive. I imagine her looking up at the night sky which must have been crystal clear in those days. Was she afraid? She was risking grave danger: possibly rape, torture, execution. And, as she looked at the sky and heard a branch snap or a rustle of leaves, did her heart skip a beat as she went to the door and saw the relieved and grateful face of a young soldier?

Alan Lightman’s book Einstein’s Dreams captivated me when I read it. There’s a chapter – and I know I’m getting this wrong – where all events in time are still occurring; we just can’t see or access them. So, when I look up at the stars and the heavens I think of Celia, young and idealistic, looking up at the same night sky, and I hope and pray that her spun silver courage, her sense of adventure, her belief in what is right, reaches into and lives in me.

In loving memory,

Clare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget Voguing – Haka!

While channel surfing, a friend of mine came upon the New Zealand Women’s Rugby Team World Cup finals against Ireland. The women of the NZ team performed the Maori warrior ritual Haka Dance. He urged me to check it out and I found it on YouTube. It is great. Talk about fierce! These beautiful strong women executed their synchronized warrior dance with accompanying stomping and shouting – which I couldn’t make out, but my guess would be, “prepare to die.” The Irish team, who looked fairly formidable themselves – and the Irish are a formidable people – seemed a little rattled. They stood close together and made a barrier of themselves, but it was diminished against this wall of power. I don’t know anything about rugby but the message was clear; these women don’t play and they mean some serious business.

I don’t want to spoil the ending but this was last year and NZ won. I wonder what the Irish team made of all that. I remember in school while studying the Roman Empire, we learned that the Romans attempted to invade Ireland several times – unsuccessfully. As our teacher put it, the Irish were too fractious. Her words not mine. Obviously, they were excellent fighters too since the Roman Army wasn’t anything to sneeze at. Maybe the Roman generals finally thought: screw it – there’s a whole lot of world to invade, so move on.

Back to the Haka. The Maori tribe is, like many of our indigenous tribes, a warrior society. As my friend put it, there were probably *some* other indigenous tribes in NZ, but not for long. You can see why. After watching the women, I checked out the men’s rugby team performing the yang version of the dance against France. Another wall of fierce strength and power.

On a more serious note, having seen movies like Once Were Warriors, it is evident that the Maori have not had an easy time assimilating from a warrior culture to whatever it is we live in today. The same is true of many of our Native American tribes. Not that I am in favor of fighting, but what do you do to a people when you take their society away from them? 

The heroic ideal is an ancient concept, where the warrior class was held in the highest regard. Think of the Iliad, Beowulf, The Old Testament, the oral poetry of Scandinavia, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Japan, Asia, Africa – it is worldwide. Prowess and courage were honored.

Women, feel not excluded in this category. There are women warriors and women of great courage and prowess in myth and legend too: Athena, Diana, Penelope, the Amazon tribe, Kali, Grendel’s mother, Scathach, Queen Maeve, Joan of Arc..the list goes on. No “goat yoga” for this bunch! I can only imagine their scorn for this bougie “fad.” By the way, did anyone ask the goat if he/she wanted to be part of such ridiculousness? I’ve heard the term goat f*&%king which is military slang – not bestiality – where everything goes completely wrong. Now that our warrior women would appreciate. 

How the hell did I get here? With the news, nearly daily, of some man in power doing something unspeakable and non-consensual to women who are subordinate to them, perhaps we should take a leaf out of the NZ Women’s Rugby Team’s book and meet that indefensible action with a wall of ferocity, roar and the right amount of fury. Strike the pose! Or better yet: strike.

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

P.S. Another wonderful movie from New Zealand about a young girl’s struggle and victory is Whale Rider – highly recommended. And for those who still read, Milman Parry was the preeminent scholar of epic poetry and the oral tradition. Might be time to revive the old boy.

Boyhood, Girlhood – Childhood

It’s been an odd summer. I was informed that significant planetary activity – retrogrades, eclipses, blood moons – is contributing to “the time is out of joint feeling.” Shakespearean, isn’t it?

Weather-wise summer never quite hit the target. I was out by the water days before the 4th of July and needed a fleece hoodie. Then we crashed into scorching heat advisory weather and thunderstorms…it certainly curtailed outdoor time. The flowers suffered, most weren’t all what they should have been, others couldn’t cope at all. Now the summer is winding down, not entirely, we often have a long Indian summer, but the flurried fever of back-to-school is in the air.

I was talking to a friend who has three boys, and I was marveling at  how she manages to organize and track their myriad activities. I think she would need a board bigger than what Eisenhower used for D-Day. She was ruminating over the brevity of childhood now, and remarked, “Remember when you would just lay in the grass for hours and look at the clouds and feel the earth moving beneath you…?” As she said this I saw the image (above) from the movie Boyhood – then other images flashed of my childhood experience: looking for four-leaf clovers, catching fireflies, exploring woods and fields, finding old horseshoes, arrowheads, swimming in the local swimming hole which had a huge old tree with a knotted rope to jump off from.

In my email inbox was an affirmation: “Today, I reflect on positive memories with genuine gratitude.” I regarded this as a sign to pen this post. While I was down by the sea I saw a childhood ritual in keeping with the eternity of things. There’s a small bridge that connects the island to the village and it spans a saltwater bay. High tide brings kids for the joy of bridge jumping. No equipment needed – just a swimsuit and some nerve. On my way home I saw two girls selling lemonade. I was transported back to doing that myself with my best friend on a quiet country road. The first foray into “commerce.” Our dads and friends would stop and buy a glass from us.

My mother used to read us a poem, “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity.” It beautifully captures that heavenly time of summer in childhood. I hadn’t thought about that poem for ages, I found it online and untarnished. Worth a read.

This afternoon, I returned to the lovely coastal setting because the weather gods relented and gave us some fine summer days. There was a girl blowing bubbles that traveled far in the sea breeze, and the kids were again at the bridge – fathers, sons, and daughters.

More memories came flooding back. Once the gate is open it is hard to close. I remember a boy I knew from summers out at my parent’s place. I have two lovely memories of him. We were leaving for Europe – gone for most of the summer  – and he had stopped my sister who was walking ahead of me. He was straddling his bike and I could only see his profile, but he was smiling and wishing us a good journey. Some years later, I ran into him at a train station – again in summer. He was all dewy and moist from rushing to catch the train. He had that high color and glow that only sweet youth doth make, and he was wearing a seersucker jacket. I found that charming. We started a friendship, a small romance, which was simply sweet. No tears, no recriminations, just ripe and happy that only the young can manage. I saw him once again five years later; he was the same pleasant intelligent person, and had newly become an attorney. I could still see the young flushed boy in him, yet something a little darker had claimed his spirit.

At the end of my reverie I stopped at the village shop where they make their own ice cream. While I was eating my Moose Tracks cone, I thought about all and more of summers past, and as happy as they are, for a moment, I break a little inside.

Let’s seize the day and enjoy the salty and sweet pleasures of summer – shut out the noise, listen to the cicadas, keep it simple, enjoy the ice cream. Sweet summer is there to grasp – the gossamer silk of now and then. As our older and younger selves, we look together up at the clouds and imagine.

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

N.B. The poem “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…” was written by John Tobias and is in an anthology of poems of the same title edited by Stephen Dunning et al.

Happy Second Birthday to Phantom Noise in Ordinary Time!

Two years ago yesterday I penned the first essay here. I remember it was Bastille Day, and I wrote in my post, titled Day 1, about what had happened in Cannes – the terrible attack of a truck plowing into crowds of celebrants. I didn’t know until later that a friend of mine was there, pregnant with her first baby. Thankfully, she and her family were not at that locale. And, today the French won the World Cup. I am not sure how that connects but somehow I believe it does.

I reread that post this morning and the one from last year marking the first year. What is different, I wonder? I sense in myself a more somber feeling. I think the last 18 months have been wearying, downright crazy more often than not.

I still hold to the sentiments I wrote on the first year anniversary. I have loved every minute of writing this blog and hope that I, and it, will continue to grow. So many essays in my drafts folder, never enough time. It’s been a joy, and once again I am deeply grateful to those who come and read it.

I started the blog as a way to connect with my family – who are gone. There’s no “remember when…” family member around, so this is my way of sharing memories with them. I would like to imagine that my writing, traveling through the ether, is a delivery system for my message. Most of all, I began this endeavor because of my father who was the last to pass away. He always encouraged and supported me, and believed in me when I did not. He showed me how to be strong and courageous, loyal and true. I can only hope that I might come close to the example he set. So, in the overall, this…all this…is a love letter to my father.

Thank you Dad – I don’t know what you would make of this world gone mad, but I know it wouldn’t shake your core value system one bit. You would carry on. Not just carry on, but live in love, live inside your heart.

My hope is that we are kind, gentle and understanding with each other – even when it appears to be impossibly difficult. Perhaps it is the only, or best, stratagem while we wait for the world to come to its senses. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

Thank You For The Days

These past two months have been busy and I haven’t had much down time. Work is a full court press, and I grab snatches of “me” time with middling success. I am also feeling a bit of melancholia. People who I care about deeply are seriously ill, some have passed, and others are nearing their end of time here on earth. The nature of things is not always easy to accept.

These circumstances led to my thinking a great deal about my family who are gone. My father most of all, but also my maternal grandmother, and my great grandmother. As I walk along the water and have time to empty my mind of the mundane, memories of them come – unbeckoned yet not unwelcome. I haven’t been able to shake this feeling and I am not sure I want to.

While I was driving the other day, I was stopped at a school crosswalk, and as I was waiting I turned on the local high school radio station. The song, “Darling Be Home Soon” came on, sung by Tedeschi Trucks. I had first heard the song right after my dad died and I burst into tears. I think it particularly affected me because the song was sung by a woman. In my detective work to find the song I discovered it was written by John Sebastian, and was also covered by Joe Cocker. It captured how I felt, the ache, and also the thankfulness for such love

Shortly after I first heard “Darling Be Home Soon,” I heard “Days” which did me in as well. As I was trying to discover the song writer, I saw a few people wrote that it was a song that was played at their fathers’ funerals. I learned it was written by Ray Davies of the Kinks. “Days” elicits the similar cathartic feeling, it’s a little darker –  the end point is acknowledged straightaway.

In the last week I have heard both these songs again on the radio. Curious chance of odds that I caught both randomly. I’d like to think that in the continuum where time and space collapse that the beauteous spirit who I am missing is letting me know, “I’m here Clare, and it’s okay.”

Clare Irwin

I have included below the words to both these beautiful songs which are intricately layered:

 

Come
And talk of all the things we did today
Here
And laugh about our funny little ways
While we have a few minutes to breathe
Then I know that it’s time you must leave
But, darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
And now
A quarter of my life is almost past
I think I’ve come to see myself at last
And I see that the time spent confused
Was the time that I spent without you
And I feel myself in bloom
So, darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
So, darling
My darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
Go
And beat your crazy head against the sky
Try
And see beyond the houses and your eyes
It’s okay to shoot the moon
Darling be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
John Sebastian
 
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day, believe me
I bless the light
I bless the light that lights on you believe me
And though you’re gone
You’re with me every single day, believe me
Days I’ll remember all my life
Days when you can’t see wrong from right
You took my life
But then I knew that very soon you’d leave me
But it’s all right
Now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me
I wish today could be tomorrow
The night is dark
It just brings sorrow, let it wait
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day, believe me
Days I’ll remember all my life
Days when you can’t see wrong from right
You took my life
But then I knew that very soon you’d leave me
But it’s all right
Now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me
Days
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day, believe me
I bless the light
I bless the light that shines on you believe me
And though you’re gone
You’re with me every single day, believe me
Days
Raymond Douglas Davies

Pandora

You’re probably thinking I’m going to lay another Greek myth on you. Not exactly. Well maybe…I’m not sure where this is going. The Pandora of which I speak is the music streaming company. I forgot it was installed on a bedroom TV. I had it for my father who lived with us in the last years of his life. So, the stations are his, and as I have been listening to them these last weeks, I think of my dad and what an amazing person he was. Since it’s his selection of music, I feel him with me even more – music is one powerful force. I love how nothing is by accident, and by mere happenstance (not really), I just read an article on how music affects the brain. Even if you’ve heard a song hundreds of times, the anticipation, the frisson, is as strong as ever, and dopamine and other happy chemicals are emitted by the brain. Then, I was listening to a show on YouTube about essentially the same thing – that music is good for you, and if you want to listen to your favorite songs for the 1,000th time: go for it!

Perhaps I did open Pandora’s box –  actually in the versions of the myth it’s a jar. Nevertheless, what was released for me were not plagues and evils, but beloved memories. I was impressed by the variety of music my father enjoyed: classical – Cecelia Bartoli, Shostakovich, Brahms, Schubert, Mahler, – Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday (he adored her), Louis Armstrong (I think “What a Wonderful World” was my dad’s personal anthem), Bob Marley, Wilson Pickett, Milton Nascimento, Big Band orchestras, Jo Stafford, The Beach Boys, the Beatles, Charlie Parker, and here’s a few I found amusing: The Go-Go’s, R.E.M., ABBA and Cyndi Lauper. Where the hell did he come up with those? There’s many more – I’ll stop grocery listing – but they are indeed intriguing and genuinely eclectic.

Dad’s Pandora stations reaffirm for me his marvelous ease and joy of life, his open-mindedness, his embracing of all, his massive capacity to love, to forgive, and to endure. I’m not canonizing him, he was a beautiful wonderful flawed human being like the rest of us, but I must say that he did have an extra dazzle and sparkle that was a joy. He was a true gentleman, to the marrow, and women seemed to intuit this because they all loved him – often to my mother’s dismay. His humor and wit were superlative, and even when life threw him cataclysmic losses – they had no dominion over him. He remained the glorious generous person he always was.

Pandora in the ancient Greek means all-giving, I had forgotten that. How appropriate. It sums my father up – it is also what music does. At the end of Pandora’s story, the only thing left in the jar is Hope. Among the scholars and philosophers, Hope is another evil, a mixed bag at best. Much debate abounds – even drilling down to the meaning of the ancient Greek word, which is ambivalent at best.

Well shoot, it’s a sunny day, I’m in a good mood, and I need to wrap this up, so I’m going to go with the Pollyanna view which is hope is good thing. Hmm…isn’t that from The Shawshank Redemption?

So…Rock Out?

Clare Irwin

Remembrance of Things Past – The School by the Park

I hope everyone is having a merry time visiting family, traveling and relaxing, as we round the turn to the closing of the year. I too have been enjoying this time. Simultaneously, I can’t help but think about all the people I love – family, friends, loves – who are not gathering around my table any longer. I do miss them but I am blessed to have the memory of these exceptional souls.

This feeling was solidified when I was searching The New Yorker website for an article, and accidentally came upon a wonderful piece by Muriel Spark. She was the Scottish writer best known for the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The essay is entitled “The School on the Links,” and it is a non-fiction look back at the girls school and teacher who inspired Spark’s book. Like all her work it is flawlessly executed, beautiful, funny, poignant and wise. It’s definitely worth reading. Spark describes the school and her friends, recalling the thrill of learning new things, and the fascination and speculation of her teachers’ private lives, particularly her exhilarating Miss Kay on whom Jean Brodie is based. 

I went to a small private girls school, eons after Muriel Spark and it wasn’t in Scotland, but here in the States. It also wasn’t on the links, but it did face an exquisite historic park. Even so, there are elements in common that are eternally true: school “chums,” everything and everyone seeming, to us, to have a sex appeal charge. Most importantly, the appreciation, even while young, of the “grown-ups” in our lives and their endearing qualities. I think of what was once my somewhat large family: high-spirited, vital, courageous, trail blazers, smart, funny, and dare I say it – quite glamorous. Of course none were perfect, not by a long shot. But I do know this, the world isn’t as interesting with them not in it. They all added more than a splash of sparkle to the world. I think too of my one true love, the love of my life – my immortal beloved who left this world too soon. One by one they passed over, some way too young, some after long illnesses, and some at a good old age.

A number of years ago, at that point it was just my father and I who remained. I remember we were outside in a parking lot or someplace random. I think we had run into each other (we lived in adjoining towns), and we were chatting about this and that. I think I adored my father most of all – he had such lovely ways about him. As the conversation, which I cannot remember, wound down my father was laughing and shrugging his shoulders, wearing his sweet shy smile that was completely disarming. And then he said, “Let’s face it Clare, you’re the last of the Mohicans.” I thought it was amusing, and now, at this vantage point, those words echo often in my mind and I see how true and how right he was. 

Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I like that. But as I look at the road forward, I can’t help but at times look back. Over the past few years my memories have taken on an appropriate hue, and I can think about all that was and smile, laugh and be so deeply grateful for the knowing of them all. What I owe the ones I love is beyond evaluation.

In The New Yorker article, Spark wraps up her story, “It was sixty years ago. The average age of those high-spirited and intelligent men and woman who taught us were about forty; they were in their prime. I cannot believe that they are all gone, all past and over, gone to their graves, so vivid are they in my memory, one and all.”

Clare Irwin

Holiday Wishes! & I’m Just Wild about Harry!

Yuletide wishes & happy festivities to everyone! I hope your holiday is full of love and joy and peace. Now and always.

I was on Twitter this morning, composing a holiday greeting, and on my feed I saw a sweet tweet from a gentleman in England: Harry Leslie Smith. The tweet read: 

“Happy Christmas to all my friends and followers. Love will triumph even in this darkness, if we show the courage of compassion to our fellow travelers. All the best, Harry.” I went to his home page and learned that Harry is a remarkable man. Nearly 95, he has decided that, “I’m spending the last years of my life touring the refugee hot spots of the world to find a solution to this crisis…” How fantastic is that? Harry’s profile reads: “Survivor of the Great Depression, RAF veteran Activist for the Welfare State Author of Harry’s Last Stand Love Among the Ruins, 1923 & The Empress of Australia…”

I hope I’m like that if I make it to 95 – but why wait? I think I will take a leaf out of Harry’s book and start…now. All that courage, concern, heart, resilience and joy. It’s admirable stuff. I remember that The New Yorker magazine used to have mini-columns (maybe it still does), that were usually at the end of an article where some space needed to be filled. There was: “Block that Metaphor!” and “There’ll Always Be an England.” Of course they were clever and funny, and I am thinking of Harry, but more in connection to the song,”There’ll Always Be an England,” which I vaguely know. It embodies British pluck and courage even in the midst of the “darkness” to which Harry refers.

So dear friends, have a happy and raise a glass to Harry, to yourselves, your loved ones, and to bravery. 

Cheers!

Clare Irwin

“Go West, Young Man, Go West”

Greeting and Salutations, it’s the Christmas, or holiday, season. Either way you know it the minute you head out on the road, which is traffic jammed and full of people who seem to be in a shopping delirium. After the last impatient person blew their horn at me, I started having unkind thoughts that the herd really needs some thinning.Or, it’s time to move on. Here where I live, which could be any suburb suffering from afflulenza, I find it perplexing that these same horn honkers are usually driving a huge SUV that is almost large enough to require union membership in the Teamsters. The Chevy Suburban, I think it is, reminds me of a hearse. It’s a gloomy and aggressive looking machine. I know, to each his own, but oddly enough I never see more than one person in these vehicles, and often notice that these same people are rabid about separating the plastic from the paper but drive a car that gets 20 feet to a gallon.

I’m digressing. Lately I’ve been spending time with an friend who is working hard at breaking the shackles of suburbia. It’s a fight — more like a prison break than a shedding of mores. I admire him greatly and his journey has been both blessed and arduous. But he’s doing it. Leaving in two months and heading west. Wyoming, to be more precise. I’m a little envious, but at the same time I am grateful that he may be an example that I could follow and speed my own plow to find my “West.” Wyoming is beautiful. I’ve driven cross country twice – something I would strongly recommend – and the summer trip took me to the big country of Wyoming and the Black Hills of the Dakotas — all that purple mountain majesty. But I’m not a winter person, the winters there would kill me. So my west will have to be more southern and warmer. I could do summers up there. I’ve always wanted to see a buffalo wallow. I remember when I was a kid reading a book about a girl growing up in the Dakota territory and she comes upon a buffalo wallow filled with wild violets. It’s a lovely image and it’s on my to-do list.

I’ll get there, it may take me a little longer. Not too long I hope. Living in the hustle and bustle has become too much – I am seeking a quieter more serene daily existence. I have it to a large degree in the way I live my life, for which I am most grateful, but I’m out of sync with everything around me. And that is okay, but it is enervating. When I looked up this old quote, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” credited to Horace Greeley in the 19th Century, it was written in the context of America’s expansion westward. Now in the 21st Century, within the context of my friend’s and my own desires, are we longing to escape all that has been built? Are we looking for a new frontier that eschews “opportunity” in exchange for the freedom to live our lives the way we wish? 

I don’t know. This raises a lot more questions than I intended. Not sure where I’m going with all this. I’ve been thinking about my friend and going through all my post ideas that I keep on the WordPress dashboard – 28 pending at last count! Not to mention the ideas on Post-its on the actual dashboard of my car. My 20 year old marketing adviser/whiz kid tells me I have to write more and often. He is absolutely correct and I know it.

So this is what I have after a Sunday of battling the consumer mania.

Happy Delirium!

Clare Irwin

Unchurched?

Greetings! I wrote this post nearly nine months ago, but didn’t publish, because I wasn’t completely comfortable with it. As I sat down today to write a new blog post, I reviewed this and thought I should put it out there. In advance, I have included a prologue and epilogue which I wrote today. Also, I want to add that although I say things in jest here, I have nothing but the deepest respect and gratitude for everyone and everything I mention – all are kind, good, and deeply well-meaning.

Prologue

It is Sunday morning and normally I would be heading to church. Truth be told, I haven’t been for more than four Sundays. One reason is because those Sundays happened to be beautiful days and my only chance to be out in the sun and nature. The other reason is that I haven’t been feeling “it.” This is a cause of some consternation for me – while simultaneously I am allowing it to happen, trusting in the organic ebb and tide. The moments of transcendence that I experience during a service – where I feel my heart full to bursting, moving me to tears, have eluded me of late. I treasure those moments, and perhaps I am being unrealistic to think they should happen regularly. But those moments that I like to call breaking through that lace-like caul membrane to another plane, to God…they are remarkable. To be sure they don’t all happen in church. They happen in nature too. I think right now I’m am ever so slightly disenchanted with the inevitable “institutional” aspect of any body of people who gather together. So here goes:

Recently I discovered that I am unchurched. I didn’t get the memo. My family was consistently relaxed and open to our exploring and deciding for ourselves what we chose to be or not be. We were encouraged to visit all houses of worship if we wanted. Technically, we are Catholic and Protestant depending of what side of the family, but no one particularly staked their claim or identified themselves solely as one religion or another. That isn’t to say that they weren’t believers, I am certain most of them were. It merely wasn’t necessary for anyone to put a label on it.

As I have mentioned I went to prep school which had Anglo-Catholic or Church of England leanings, but nothing major — no teaching or study — just a period in between classes where we had prayers, hymns and school announcements. I identified myself as Catholic because I was baptized in a Catholic church, but my formal training into any religious institution ended there. About a year or so ago I started attending both an Episcopal and a Catholic church. I love them both for different reasons and I enjoy talking to the priests, nuns, rectors, and pastoral ministers. On one occasion I was talking to a nun whom I had gotten to know at the Catholic church. She’s a remarkable woman, strong, intelligent, funny, open and all around amazing. I can’t remember if I had a question about communion or how the conversation began, but she began asking me a series of questions. Was I baptized in the church? Yes. Did I go to Sunday school? No. Did I have first communion? No. Then there was something after that — I can’t remember, but I know the answer was no. 

I was then informed that I am unchurched, not really a Catholic.  Apparently baptism isn’t enough. And, if I wanted to be a Catholic I would have to start at the beginning and receive religious teaching. I was told that there is a class for adults, and if I was interested she’d put me on the list. I murmured some sort of acquiescence because why not? Might be interesting. But I felt a little unsettled. There was something about all this that didn’t quite add up for me. Some months passed and I received a phone call from a kind and ernest gentleman from the parish offering me the opportunity to join a catechism class that would meet once a week, for like forever, and then finish up around Easter. It actually was a scheduling problem for me and I told him I wasn’t sure. He was cool about it, said whenever I was ready…

I went back to the Episcopals where there are a lot of Catholics. I still attended the Catholic church, usually during the week. I observed that this particular parish is healthily well endowed. It is lush, big, active and prosperous. You can tell. The congregation is made up of “regular people” (now here is where I’m going to get into even more trouble). People who were born and raised and stayed in the same town all their lives. People who did very well by starting businesses that support the infrastructure of their town: construction, landscaping, oil delivery, car dealerships, etc. Somewhat different from the make up of the Episcopal church which is more effete, “liberal,” and diverse, and a whole lot more poor. All the snobby-sounding description aside, the parishioners of the Catholic church are solid. By that I mean, they don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. If you need help or reach out a hand – they are there. That is huge. On the other hand, the Episcopal parishioners, well I’m afraid to say they are lacking when it comes to needing support when things hit critical mass. That is less than optimal.

I do read books on theology, mystics, the deserts saints, etc., and I have received what I think is an clear impression that the message is love and inclusivity. So why all the mixed signals, or am I just not getting it? This is where I have left things, as is my wont, in Limbo shall we say. I’m not at Dante’s juncture of a dark wood where the way is lost. I feel fine right where I am. I’m comfortable with that, and I hope that for all of us that we feel good about where we are. I wish you all an enlightening exploration into….into whatever it is you want. It’s the curious interested mind that will enjoy the expansiveness of experience.

Epilogue

That is more or less where I left off writing. However, since then, I do feel that I am betwixt and between. I went to the Episcopal priest to discuss my “outlier” feeling, and the conversation was welcoming and loving, but I wasn’t sure what came of it – as nice as it was. A couple of months later, I went to see one of the Catholic priests, and I again received understanding, empathy, and stimulating dialogue. Until. Until I came to the point of mentioning that I was attending two churches, and two churches of “different faiths” (I don’t see the drastically dramatic difference between the two quite the way he did). Then, it was firmly suggested that, “I don’t belong anywhere until I make a commitment to one or the other.” I told this to a friend of mine who is smart and spiritual and she said, “So I guess you either wander aimlessly hither and thither, or you drink the Kool-Aid.” Funny and on point.

Right now I don’t know what to do. My genetic make-up demands rigor in such matters, but maybe over time I have come to realize that the delicacy of this particular “dilemma” requires a more gentle approach. If I stay open, present, and live inside my heart  – everything will fall into place.

Forgive me.

Clare Irwin