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

Baker’s Dozen – I

I’ve been mulling over whether to write this post or not, consulted friends, and as I start this now I still don’t know. Last week, I was in Trader Joe’s and I remembered that I once wrote an article about TJ’s beauty aisle for a now defunct fashion/beauty website: “Trader Joe’s Baker’s Dozen Best Buys for Beauty.” The site went out of business before I submitted the final draft. I dug around and found the article – it’s a bit long and heavy on the lavender and tea tree oil – but informational.

What stumped me most was the alarming note of not recognizing myself in the writing. I sound positively giddy. To be sure, I was writing it for a specific purpose/audience, and it was a number of years ago – at least five. But that wasn’t it, I’ve found writings and “scribbles” from when I was a kid and I see myself. All I could think was, “Who is this woman?” “And, what extraordinary cocktail of drugs is she taking?” The answer is none, so I have no excuses. I’m attempting to recall what was going on at that time, and it’s vague because it wasn’t particularly interesting. I was friends with a girl who normally I wouldn’t be friendly with – we had mutual acquaintances. Anyway, she was…I sound like her in this which really scares me. I can’t remember now, but I may have deliberately tried to channel her “voice” since the audience for this piece would have been girls/women like her. Nice, safe, conforming, aiming to please, nonthreatening…blech. Sadly, or not, I don’t fit this role as much as I may try. I lean more in the direction of say her (right), or this (below):

Now, I am less drawn to the make-up and creams as I was a couple of years ago. Obviously, there are other products at TJ’s that actually may contribute to my health like juices, nuts, fruit, and of course candy (reward motivation system?). The 99 cent greeting cards are excellent too. So, I’ll frequent TJ’s until the farmer’s markets gear up again.

Now I have to figure out how to add the article without making this an endless word salad. Help!

Tripped Up & To Be Continued –

                                         Clare Irwin

Okay, it’s done. See the above post “Beauty’s Baker’s Dozen II” for the article where I dost not know my self.

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

Portable Magic – Part II

What to read…what to read first? I visited my local libraries and the displays were vast and tantalizing. I will enjoy reading their new books recommendations in the near future, but too many choices tend to baffle me.

So I return to the “classics” – ones I never read, and ones that deserve to be read again.The first work I picked up was a collection of Washington Irving’s short stories. I wanted to reread “The Legend of Sleep Hollow,” and while I was thumbing through the table of contents I noticed how many of Irving’s stories are part of the American lexicon, particularly Rip Van Winkle, and of course Icabod Crane and his Headless Hessian Horseman. In the introduction, I read about Irving’s life which was quite fascinating: he spent 17 years living abroad, and was highly prolific in all genres: histories, biographies, travelogues, etc. While in England he visited Walter Scott, whom Irving revered, and Scott was an admirer of Irving’s History of New York. Irving took posts with the Navy and accepted numerous diplomatic positions. Upon his return to America, Irving was nominated by Tammany Hall as mayor of New York – a position he declined. He traveled to the Oklahoma Territory which yielded A Tour of the Prairies. At 52 Irving bought the property which would later be known as Sunnyside – his home near to the locale of his famous tale. Irving is distinctly old New York: the early Dutch heritage, and the mystery and beauty of the Hudson Valley north of Manhattan island. Irving Place in Manhattan is named after him, and his family home there has enjoyed an distinguished provenance of creative people.

While thoroughly enjoying Irving’s marvelous tale and description of life in Sleepy Hollow, a memory from my childhood returned to me – of a trip my mother and I took to see Washington Irving’s home, which is open to the public. My mother planned special trips with each of us on our own with her. Irving’s home is in Irvington, and I recall the weather was beautiful. It was a wonderful day – a special day – the house was delightful and the docents were dressed in clothes of the time. At the end of the tour the kind ladies invited the visitors to a spread of tea things, lemonade and ginger spice cookies – which were excellent. The docents offered the recipe on elegant cards…in green ink and a pretty William Morris-like pattern border. It’s a sweet memory.

When I decided to write about Irving and promised the recipe, I was gripped with anxiety. How was I going to find it amid all the recipes and papers and “stuff” I inherited from my faithful departed? I pulled out the accordion file aptly labeled “cookies” and the recipe gods smiled on me: I found it right away. It’s not the original green ink card, it looks like a 5th generation xerox copy. But it is the recipe with notes from my mother – it’s both comforting and jarring to see a loved one’s handwriting – there’s an intimacy about it that reconnects me to the person. Here it is. My mother used to make the cookies at Christmastime, but the recipe is suitable anytime of year. They are not too ginger-y: they are just right. 

So Washington Irving, his lanky schoolmaster and the quiet town where people tarry, brings me to my memories – all supplied by a bite of a ginger cookie.

Enjoy!

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postscript: If anyone can’t read the recipe and would like it, I would be delighted to post it in more legible form.

Post Postscript: In the introduction of Irving’s collection of stories, Charles Neider, the editor, writes: “‘Rip Van Winkle’ is a fairy tale of bewitchment and a story of the magical changes wrought by Time. It has been insufficiently stressed that Time is one of Irving’s chief characters…he was endlessly fascinated by the effects of Time. It was an artist’s fascination.” I wonder if that is why, unconsciously, I was drawn to Irving first; for Time plays a significant role in this blog – it is the thread I hope, at least, that I weave into the fabric of the writing.

Portable Magic – Part I

There’s a hash tag on Twitter entitled Shakespeare Sunday. Today, I tweeted a quote from The Tempest  – Prospero speaks wistfully of the worthiness of books: “Knowing I loved my books, he furnish’d me/From mine own library with volumes that/I prize above my dukedom.”  I come from a family of voracious readers, the house teemed with books: in the library – my father’s and the family’s, in everyone’s rooms, left on side tables, and of course huge piles next to one’s bed. I think my mother’s was the highest of all. Looking back, I am so grateful that I came from a family of readers – it’s a wonderful gift. I still read, but less than in past  years – I am busy with work, like most of us, in the nice weather I am outdoors, I started this blog – and I am drawn to the competing force of legion television/movie availability. We have Netflix and a fairly loaded cable package which needs to go. Our local provider raises their rates monthly, and we’ve reached the point of whether it’s a little luxury or a huge bill. Even at the risk of missing something EVERYONE will be talking about, and will eventually be aired somewhere, I think we shall reduce.

The startling revelation came to me that if I wasn’t doing so much viewing I would be doing more reading (duh!). I’ve started again – mostly catching up on past issues of The London Review of Books, The Guardian and The New Yorker which is still a standard of fine writing. In a past issue there’s an article on Julian Assange and Protest Theory – both deserve a look wherever you fall on these issues. I also love how once you delve in, the author leads you somewhere else. The Assange article mentioned Philip Dick’s book The Man in the High Castle which reminded me of Dick’s other prescient works that inspired blockbuster movies: Blade Runner, The Adjustment Bureau, Total RecallThe Minority Report et al.

I am delighted for the return of that gemutlich feeling reading elicits. There’s more I could mention from these three issues – but I’ll end here. With a little bit of time management (ha!), I will post Part II in a few days which starts with a memory, a book in the overall, and includes a recipe! Imagine that!

Happy Exploring

Clare Irwin

N.B. The title of this post is taken from Stephen King’s widely well-known book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Be True To Your School

I heard The Beach Boys song of the same title this morning. Upbeat, it’s endearing and anachronistic. Coincidentally, I had just received one of my schools’ quarterly magazines. The magazine is designed and edited with exquisite taste, and the thick paper stock makes it tactilely satisfying. Like all my reading material, it was placed on the ever-growing teetering pile.

I finally got to it. As usual I am filled with bursting pride of all the accomplishments and truly unique endeavors the alumni of this matrix produces. For a small house of education it churns out an inordinate amount of famous and successful people. At the same time as experiencing pride, I feel a sense of gross inadequacy – not of self, but in “notable” yardstick achievements. It’s a confusing dichotomy of emotions. A fellow alum and I have discussed this, proposing the idea of creating the anti-version, or the “Un-version,” of this periodical of success. I guess we would fall into the “late bloomer” category.

What I find amusing is that the school itself has no school spirit, nor encourages it. It doesn’t attract that sort of person.Thinking back I don’t remember anyone expressing much interest in esprit de corps. Sure, we played field hockey, soccer, softball and all that, but for the most part it was because we enjoyed it, and didn’t care about whether we advanced, or if it would look good on our college application.

One of my set’s mothers talked us into joining the tennis team. I don’t think we ever set foot on the court. I do know we spent “practice” at Trader Vic’s having neon blue drinks in carved-out coconuts with parasols and plastic swords skewered with maraschino cherries and miscellaneous fruits. I think we drove our coach to the brink; I remember her shaking with anger and anxiety having to deal with us. And, we thought it was hysterical. There’s nothing more ruthless than a teenage girl.

Brian Wilson, the driving force behind The Beach Boys was 21 when he wrote the song. Apparently, it’s a tribute to his Hawthorne High, and the B-side of the hit single was the polar opposite in sentiment: “In My Room.” Wilson grew up with an abusive father, and battled depression and mental issues his whole life. I wonder if at 21 Wilson was already looking back and cognizant of the duality of his reality – the happy, everyone is popular, idealization of school days, and the private aspect where “through a glass darkly” one battles demons and isolation – real and imagined. 21 is a tender age to understand this. Possibly, Wilson knew he was letting go of carefree childhood, and on the flip side, leaving sanctuary. Both songs have an undying appeal – it’s that frisson of nostalgia – homecoming and ache.

So whether you’re teeming with school spirit, or couldn’t care less, as a friend of mine says: “It’s all good.” So pick up your pom-poms or ignore the whole thing, chances are, not terribly far into the future, you’ll feel the pain.

 

It’s a good one.

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

“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

Live and Let Die

Well, we’ve turned the clocks back, the days are shorter, and I certainly hope that I will be writing more often. I always say that, but as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Speaking of Lennon, I have intended to write a post about Paul McCartney. About a month or so ago I was listening to the radio – as I have mentioned before – I regularly listen to a local high school radio station which is well-produced. That day, I happened upon two students, Riley and Jack, sister and brother respectively, who were relating that they had just seen Paul McCartney in concert.

Their account was exciting, visual and effusive. I was charmed by their enthusiasm and pleasure. I tuned in while they were talking about McCartney’s performance of “Live and Let Die” which, as they noted, was the theme song (and title) of the James Bond movie — from 1973! According to Riley and Jack the “graphics were awesome and so were the pyrotechnics” during the song. They played audio of the crowd going wild. I re-listened to the song and it is great – it’s both sweet and cynical: “When you were young and your heart/Was an open book/You used to say live and let live…But in this ever changin’ world/In which we live in/Makes you give in and cry/Say live and let die…Good stuff.

The pair remarked about the “awesome vibe” throughout the concert. Then unannounced, Bruce Springsteen came out and he and McCartney did an old Beatles song, “I Saw Her Standing There.” More crowd going wild. McCartney ended the show with the song “Golden Slumbers” from the Abbey Road album – a year before the Beatles broke up.

I enjoyed listening to them and was thrilled and a little envious – it did sound like an amazing experience. As I thought about it during the day, the envy dissipated and I was delighted to think that in that concert hall were Riley and Jack,  maybe 15 years old or so, along with people of every age — up to McCartney’s contemporaries who are in their 70s. How great is that – to be able to pull that thread of energy and magnetism through nearly five decades?

I follow McCartney’s daughter, Stella McCartney, on Twitter. I’ve been a fan of hers for some time, watching her amazing career as a fashion designer and so much more. She is another woman (see my Tina Fey articles) who I hold in awe. Talented, complete, a spokesperson for many great causes, funny, quirky, cultured – the whole package. Or, the real deal as a friend of mine says. Married with four children, and very much her father’s daughter – and her mother’s daughter too. She often and fondly Tweets about her. Greatness definitely did not skip a generation. Her love for her dad and frequent Tweets about him led me to follow Paul McCartney on Twitter as well.

I am so very glad I caught Riley’s and Jack’s show that day, otherwise, knowing me, I would have missed the whole thing. They reminded me of the continuity of things, the long and winding road (if you will), the endless stream of time and connected-ness – not little isolated parcels as some seem to see it.

Legends – how nice to be a part and a participant in them.

Clare Irwin

P.S. On a lighter note, but in that vein, is also the impossibly enduring staying power of the James Bond franchise.

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