New Week, New Month, Same Two Choices

Last night on the phone my dad reminded me of a priest who used to serve at the church I grew up in.  His name was Fr. Reginald.  He often gave these short, succinct homilies, with one main point that stayed with you because it wasn’t weighed down with a lot of extraneous rhetoric.

Today’s poem is like that.  Today is the start of a new week and a new month (and only three more months of winter here in the midwest!).  Yet this poem reminds us that in every moment, we have the same two choices–love or fear.  Despite the poem’s repetition of the words “there are” in each line, despite the insistence that love and fear are the only two states of being, you always have a choice about which to claim, to see, to believe.  This is not to imply that’s it’s an easy choice, because God knows, it isn’t.  Nor is fear a “bad” thing.  Without fear, there is no need for courage.  And luckily for us, no matter what, it’s a choice we get the chance to make, over and over again.

Love and Fear

There are only two feelings, Love and fear:
There are only two languages, Love and fear:
There are only two activities, Love and fear:
There are only two motives, two procedures,
two frameworks, two results, Love and fear,
Love and fear.

Michael Leunig (contemporary Australian cartoonist, philosopher, poet and artist)


Today is the second Friday of Lent, and day ten of my Radical Lent: A Poetic Approach to 40 Days in Wilderness project.  I had hoped to write a particularly meaningful post to mark this small occasion, but unfortunately could not pull one together.  Today’s post is, I’m sorry to say, about wrinkly skin.

But not to worry.  This isn’t going to be a long, narcissistic whinge about aging and appearance.  For one, I save those for my husband who LOVES to listen to them; second, too many other people have written hysterical, insightful things about this topic (Nora Ephron in I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman, Carol Leifer in When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win: Reflections on Looking in the Mirror, and Anne Lamott on “the Aunties” in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, for example); third, there is nothing new or interesting to say on this topic–looking older sucks, especially if you are married, as I am, to someone who seems to be getting better looking each year (and I say this with spite, not appreciation).  And finally, I am 42, old enough that some Botox and Restylane would not go to waste, but too young for REALLY old people, like my dad, to take anything I have to say about aging seriously.  Right, he might say, talk to me again after you’ve had your first colonoscopy. Continue reading ““Weathering”*”

We Are Not Alone

My father-in-law, who is wise and insightful, recently posted a comment on my post, “Sit. Feast on your life,” which included a poem by Derek Walcott.  He (my father-in-law, that is) wrote:  “The personal pronoun ‘we’ says: You are not alone, we belong together.  And that’s what I wanted to add to your consideration: Don’t only look into the mirror to see yourself but look around you to recognize all the people who love you or hate you. You are connected to them in good and in bad hours. That’s what gives life to your life.”

He posted this for me to consider so I have been considering it.  And it put me in mind of a David Whyte poem called “Everything is Waiting for You,” which I would like to share with you today.

Continue reading “We Are Not Alone”

10 Ways to Tell if You Are a Hypochondriac

You are a hypochondriac if:

  1. You have memorized your doctor’s phone number, or have it listed under “Contacts” on your cell phone.
  2. You are not a doctor, but nevertheless possess a medical encyclopedia, the most recent edition of the PDR, and/or an on-line subscription to JAMA.
  3. You have ever seriously considered hair testing.
  4. You take more than 5 nutritional supplements per day, and/or you can’t leave the house without one of those plastic pill dispensers with divided sections for all of your supplements.
  5. You have ever worried about spontaneously going blind, specifically while driving.
  6. You remember specific time periods in your life by which disease you were worrying about: age 7–Smoker’s Foot; age 12–kidney disease; sophomore year of college–skin cancer; 3 years ago on vacation at the beach–multiple sclerosis, and so on.
  7. A phone call from the doctor’s office after a routine physical has you immediately listing all of the potentially fatal diseases that can be detected by a CBC.
  8. The idea of an annual full body MRI “just in case” seems like a good idea.
  9. The most visited web sites on your computer are:, the Mayo Clinic Symptom Checker, and
  10. You frequently find yourself silently diagnosing other people’s symptoms, best courses of treatment, and probable chances of survival.

Continue reading “10 Ways to Tell if You Are a Hypochondriac”

“Sit. Feast on your life.”

Today is the first Friday of Lent—no meat for those observing Lenten practices.  And here’s some interesting Catholic trivia I found while looking up Lenten fasting: “abstinence,” which in this case refers to not eating meat, does not include “meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consommé, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. So it is permissible to use margarine and lard.”  Mmm!  Also, “even bacon drippings which contain little bits of meat may be poured over lettuce as seasoning,” and (thank goodness someone has cleared this up once and for all), “no one considers gelatin or Jell-O to be meat”  (Father John Huels, The Pastoral Companion).  So you can’t eat a burger, but you could eat, say, a salad with lots of bacon bits, or even pasta with marinara sauce.  And in case it was theological doubt holding you back, go right ahead and enjoy that Jell-O, guilt-free.

 Like almost every woman in the Western world, where we have the luxury of worrying about eating too much, food is sometimes often almost always an issue for me.  I have used it to play out a variety of neuroses over the years—mostly by hypochondriacally imbuing it with magical healing powers–and have practiced vegetarianism, veganism, low carb/high proteinism, and most disastrously, macrobiotics.  I once asked one of my friends who is up on a lot of Asian practices what he knew about macrobiotics and he said, “I think it involves a lot of small containers.”

Continue reading ““Sit. Feast on your life.””

“Something New in the Ashes of Your Life”*

A few weeks ago, I was talking with my dad about what he and my mother plan to do after they retire in June.  Somehow the conversation got around to where they wanted to live, “down the road,” which I took to mean when they are quite a bit older, and when they may need more help.  My parents and siblings live on the east coast and I live in Illinois, which I believe my east coast father thinks of as “the prairie.”  I told him that they were very welcome to live near us, mentioned the lower cost of living, the relatively good healthcare, the proximity to us, and he said, “Well, the thing is that you have terrible weather.  All year.” 

Continue reading ““Something New in the Ashes of Your Life”*”

Radical Lent—A Poetic Approach to 40 Days in the Wilderness

So it’s Lent.  If you’re Christian, that is. Lent spans 40 weekdays, beginning on Ash Wednesday (today) and ending the Saturday before Easter.  I grew up Catholic, which I consider a privilege, mostly because grounding in any faith tradition gives you something to work with.  Whether you practice it or not as an adult, a childhood spent in a strong religious tradition means you are never homeless.  I may be wrong, but leaving home, while difficult, may be easier than never having had the feeling that you belonged somewhere.

Lent has some beautiful theological significance, which you can read about if you are so inclined.  But one of Catholicism’s (Catholic school, specifically) greatest weaknesses is the inability to translate deeper spiritual practices into meaningful experiences for children, so what I remember about Lent is that you either give up something you like or do something that you don’t like.  Forgive me, but the spiritual gap between Jesus’ self-sacrifice and giving up chocolate (or, as my son Jacob decided when he was 8, beer) for 40 days is so enormous as to be absurd almost beyond words.

This year I have decided on a radical approach to Lent—I am going to do more of something I love and less of things I do not love. Specifically, I have committed to the discipline of reading one poem each day for 40 days, and writing about what it reveals.  This is not really radical, because my belief is that unlike the giving up beer approach to Lent, which treats us as if we are spiritual babies, this approach will bring me more into an adult-adult dialogue with myself and the world, which I believe is what God would prefer anyway.

Continue reading “Radical Lent—A Poetic Approach to 40 Days in the Wilderness”

why laundry is better than meditation

About seven years ago, Jack Kornfield, meditation teacher, writer and psychotherapist, wrote a book called After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  As someone who feels pressured by concepts like enlightenment and mindfulness, I was thrilled when I first saw this book. Its common-sense title gave me a secret feeling of relief. I hoped it meant that I wasn’t the only person who was deeply uncertain about the possibility of finding joy in the mundane aspects of my life. I even hoped it would say that ecstasy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, just to take the pressure off.  But, as when I came across a book in the library called, “Prayers for Dark People,” and giddily assumed it was for people like me who want legitimate space for weirdness and doubt in their faith lives, it didn’t pan out.  “The “Prayers for Dark People” turned out to be a book from the 40’s for African Americans, and Kornfield’s book is more about how ecstasy IS actually all it’s cracked up to be.  And, with the right mindset, you can find it pretty much anywhere, like the laundry room.
Continue reading “why laundry is better than meditation”

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