Wednesday, March 30, 2011

BACK IN THE USSR

WHERE'D POLAND GO?

TODAY, WE HAVE A CIVICS LESSON ABOUT A LARGE COUNTRY CALLED RUSSIA. 

I have never claimed to be the go-to person for "current events," but the other day I may have surpassed myself.

I was chatting with a friend when she announced that she was thinking of taking a trip to Poland.

"Is that so?" I said politely, thinking dreamily of Czeslaw Milosz, Wisława Szymborska, St. Maximilian Kolbe. "Now is Poland still part of Russia?" 

"Part of…Russia?" she inquired.

"Yeah, you know. The U.S.S.R."

I could tell by the look on her face that I'd committed yet another mortifying gaffe. I'm used to such looks, having stopped watching TV sometime around the time "Mr. Ed" concluded its run. I'm used to hearing, say, "That was a drag about Elizabeth Edwards, hunh," and responding, “Who?” “You know,” my friend will say, “John Edwards' wife?” “Now is he a singer or what,” I’ll grope. “No, wait, he plays basketball?” “Heather, he ran for Vice President. He cheated on her. While she had cancer! He...oh, forget it.”

Anyway, imagine my surprise to consult wikipedia and find that "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or Soviet Russia for short, was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991."

Hey, in 1991 I'd just moved to L.A. and was looking for a job, okay? I was busy that year. I knew something had been going on over there since Sputnik: Glasnost, Chernobyl, Gorbachev, and now, who, Putin, is that his name?

But no, seriously, I try to stay abreast. The problem is my brain tends to skip over everything that isn’t some form of non-political human interest story: bizarre crimes, medical mishaps, backwoods blues singers, obituaries. I’m always dutifully trying to memorize who’s on what side in which war, but no sooner do I get things straight than the battle lines shift again. I can only get my mind around very clear concepts like light and darkness, good and evil, and even now, when I hear “Rwanda,” I have to pause and call to mind the mnemonic device of “Hutu/hate” to remember which side was which.

The fact is, I feel very close to Russia. I've seen Andrei Rublev. I drank a ton of Popov vodka. I keep a whole file of Dostoevsky quotes. I can tell you where I was when I read War and Peace (on the island of Syros, Greece, wasted on retsina). I've practically memorized the passage where Ivan Ilych dies. I've pored over Chekhov’s stories, plays and, especially, letters.  

And I may not know what's going on now, but I totally knew they were in big, big trouble before.  In fact, a few years ago I read a whole slew of amazing books by people who'd been in the prison camps: The Arctic Death Camps by Robert Conquest, Richard Würmbrand’s Christ in the Communist Prisons, The Accused by Alexander Weissberg-Cybulski, Kolyma, and perhaps my favorite: The Woman Who Could Not Die by Julia de Beausobre. Upon learning that her husband Nicolay, imprisoned in another camp, had been shot, Beausobre wrote:

"Look down right into the depths of your heart and tell me--Is it not right for you to be kind to [your torturers] Even to them? Particularly to them, perhaps? Is it not right that those men who have no kindness within them should get a surplus of it flowing towards them from without?"

After which I also read her Flame in the Snow: A Life of Saint Serafim of Sarov.

So while I may not be able to quote you chapter and verse of Russia’s political history,

I know their long history of solitary pilgrimage: St. Serafim, the anonymous wandering monk who wrote The Way of a Pilgrim, Catherine de Hueck Doherty. I know their long history of loving and seeking Christ. I know that they have suffered, unbelievably.

I know (because I’m reading French philosopher René Girard’s The Scapegoat) that Kierkegaard said “The mob is a lie” and that [Swiss literary critic Jean] “Starobinski notes that evil in the Gospels is always on the side of plurality and the crowd,” to which I would add the collective, the bloc, the movement, the ideology. I know that the people who rail against religion can not have looked too closely at what happens when those in power try to stamp it out. I know that simply converting from communism to capitalism isn’t going to sate Russia’s spiritual hunger, because look at us.

I know that estimates for the number of people who died in Stalin’s purges, deportations, exiles, famines and prison camps is estimated to be between 4 and 10 million. 

I know the way I purge, deport and exile in my own heart and that is why my plea, all day, every day, is the Jesus Prayer from The Way of a Pilgrim: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I know this line from Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward: “There is great satisfaction in remaining faithful; perhaps it is the greatest satisfaction of all. Even if no one knows about your faithfulness, even if no one values it.”

I know that Dostoevsky said: “Humble charity is a terrible force; it is the greatest force in the world.” I know that Christ, nailed to the cross, is humble charity incarnate, and that the Resurrection is eternal.

But hunh. Wow. I'll be darned. 1991. You learn something new every day.

(Keep in mind, all you VERY RUDE SNICKERERS, that I passed the Massachusetts Bar AND the New Hampshire Bar AND the California Bar on the first try).

Lagniappe: In 1986, pianist Vladimir Horowitz returned to Russia for the first time in 60 years. From his historic April 20 concert at the Moscow Conservatory, Robert Schumann's Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) for piano, Op. 15 "Traumerei":


Monday, March 28, 2011

NIGHTS OF GETHSEMANE




When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in man’s heart: this is the rock’s victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear. These are our nights of Gethsemane.
--Albert Camus, from “The Myth of Sisyphus”


















Micheltorena Street and environs, Silver Lake, California, in the rain: March 24, 2011.

ALL PHOTOS BY HEATHER KING

Sunday, March 27, 2011

COME HIGHER, FRIEND!

CATHERINE DE HUECK DOHERTY
1896-1985
"A pilgrim preaches the gospel, but in order to preach it he has to live it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. For what is he really about, that pilgrim of mine? He is preaching the gospel with his life and so his pilgrimage has to reflect his life...

It is a strange pilgrimage. It is utterly unhurried. It is a pilgrimage whose only goal is the heart of God. It's not a pilgrimage to shrines. It's not a pilgrimage of seeing countries like so many young people have done lately. No. It's a pilgrimage that has one precious thing besides its poverty. It hold a key, and every day that key goes a little deeper into the heart of God until one day--click!--it will be open and man and God will be one. That kind of pilgrimage creates peace in order to give it to others, since  man is in search of God and in search of peace from the raucous noise of the modern technological society.

It's a strange thing that the pilgrim who walks has the ability to stand still long enough to allow a neighbor to catch up with him...

Maybe it will take him weeks. Maybe he appears to settle there wherever he is, but he never settles. He is always on the march. His particular task finished, he moves on again. There is no settling down for such a pilgrim. Sometimes it may take him years to do what God asks of him...

The pilgrim, being human, sometimes likes the spot where he has been placed. He wants to stay there. He wants to make a flower garden of that spot. Suddenly he hears, 'Friend, come on higher!' and the pilgrim turns his face and sees the mountain of the Lord. There is snow up there. He can hear the cold wind and he clutches the key that was given to him by the resurrected Christ to go higher, to enter a little deeper into God's heart, to enter a little more into sobornost, to do his will better, faster, more joyfully as a voyager. It's not easy, for the voice keeps repeating, 'Friend, come on higher!' "

--from Strannik: The Call to Pilgrimage for Western Man, by Catherine de Hueck Doherty

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MY TRIP TO THE RELIGIOUS EDUCATION CONGRESS IN ANAHEIM

ARENA, ANAHEIM CONVENTION CENTER,
ANNUAL RELIGIOUS EDUCATION CONFERENCE

Last weekend I attended the annual, huge, Religious Education Congress in Anaheim (California). I’m such an introvert that even to drive to the Anaheim Convention Center and stand outside would have been a stretch. But I gamely made my way through the crowd and marched inside to meet a dear, kind editor friend who’d arranged several meetings with potential publishers.

The throng at this thing can top out at 45,000 and the hall was enormous. Booths and booths of candles, rosaries, vestments, and, mainly, mostly, books. Monastic wisdom, catechetical instruction, breviaries, Bibles. Books on prayer, healing, grace, vocation, forgiveness, action and contemplation.

Toward the end of the day, I was invited to participate in a Mass that another of the priests there held in his hotel room. We were twelve or so, standing, sitting on the bed, propped up on the floor. Very simple. Very short. The reading was Matthew 5: 20-26, which begins: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.’”

The priest gave a very short homily. “The true follower of Christ,” he said, “is never defined by his or her stance on an issue. The test is never ‘I’m against abortion and therefore I’m a Christian.’ It’s never ‘I’m for peace and therefore I’m a Christian.’ The litmus test of a follower of Christ is whether you love your enemy and forgive the murderer.”

Love your enemy and forgive the murderer. All the books, all the rosaries, all the Masses, all the lectures: Love your enemy and forgive the murderer. So simple and so deeply, subversively radical. So simple and so infinitely, paradoxically complex. So simple and so seemingly impossible. 


HIBISCUS BEHIND MY CAR IN THE PARKING LOT OF
THE GREAT WESTERN RAFFLES
VERBENA, GAMELY STRUGGLING BY A GAS STATION/CONVENIENCE STORE
LONE LILY, SIDEWALK NEAR THE RED LION HOTEL
ROSEMARY, HARBOR BOULEVARD
NEAR ONE OF MANY GIGANTIC PARKING LOTS FOR DISNEYLAND
"WON'T YOU PLEASE TAKE ME HOME TO PAIR WITH A NICE LAMB ROAST?"
I THINK I HEARD IT WHISPERING...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD

MAX VON SYDOW AS CHRIST
THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, 1965
dir. GEORGE STEVENS
I once attended a literary salon at which a woman, resolutely atheistic herself, pointed out that atheists have no story. This was a very important point, I realized later: no story versus “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” The Passion Play versus an empty, darkened theater. The Word versus no word.

This is in no way to slam atheists. But it is to marvel at the fact that a story can transport me in a way that no preachy sermon, or scholarly treatise, or op-ed article ever has. Emma Bovary’s wax-covered satin slippers, Hazel Motes’ rat-colored automobile, Raymond Chandler’s “He was about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food” instantly commit themselves to memory, while abstractions can’t find purchase no matter how hard they try. A friend once told me of watching a documentary about a primitive Indian tribe who had no separate word for yellow and orange and thus could not distinguish, saw no difference, between the two. What we don’t have words for, in other words, we literally can’t see...

In a way, there is only one story--and an infinite number of ways to tell it: the story of death and resurrection.

The story can’t be “I’m a victim” and it also can’t be “I’m a hero,” though in some sense you’re telling of the hero’s journey. But what makes for an authentic personal story is that the hero is not you; the heroes are the people who put up with or helped you or accompanied you along the way. The star of the story is not you; the star is something greater than you. The astonishment of the story is never that the world finally recognized your genius and showered you with the love and attention you so richly deserve. Nor is the story that the world finally admitted its terrible betrayal of your innocence and apologized. The story is that a God exists who is so kind, so loving, so merciful, that he sees fit to forgive all your trangressions, wrong turns, and mistakes; a God who ministers, with infinite tenderness, to all the hurt that’s been done to you and all the hurt you’ve done to others, and welcomes you back to the banquet table.

To be a sober alcoholic is to have a very particular experience of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Just as the Gospels mostly lead up to the Passion, then give us a very short, very patchy glimpse of the Resurrection, an alcoholic’s story--what it was like, what happened, what it’s like now--is generally about three-quarters “drunkalogue” and one-quarter sobriety. That’s not because sobriety is less “important,” but because the Resurrection is inherent in the way the story is told which is with humility, gratitude and often humor that would do the nearest Comedy Club proud.

When you’re “in” the Resurrection, you still bear the wounds. You haven’t shut the door on the wounds, but the way you talk about the wounds changes. The wounds, and the incurring of them, become right-sized. A sober drunk doesn’t glamorize the wounds, but neither, in spite of the humor, is he or she glib about them. The agony of drinking is never minimized, but the point of the story is that out of pain has come a “resurrected” life ordered to service, to joy.

And just as in the Gospels, in “real life” the Resurrection is patchy, ephemeral, incapable of being held onto. Just as on the road to Emmaus the disciples recognized Christ in the breaking of bread and he immediately vanished from their sight, an authentic story describes our moments of joy, our epiphanies on earth, as fleeting. An authentic story imparts the sense that--just as Christ is described post-Resurrection in the Gospels--sometimes we “see” him, sometimes we don’t; sometimes we recognize him in the flesh, and sometimes we experience him more as spirit. Maybe one reason Christ instituted a Church, I’m thinking, was that so that the whole broken lot of us could gather around the table, throw our death-and-resurrection stories into the pot, and together create something unexpected, strange, and new.

Sometimes the writing itself helps us find our way back to the human table, like Hansel and Gretel’s trail of breadcrumbs. I’ve often been struck by the similarity of the page to bread, to the consecrated Host. That the Gospel of John starts: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” can’t be an accident. Our capacity for language distinguishes us from the animals. The flame of civilization has been passed down through the ages by the sharing of stories. And to continue the metaphor, as writers we almost become the page. We allow ourselves to be consumed: our energy, our blood and bones, our lives.

That’s true even when we simply tell a good story--by which I mean one that’s cost us something--instead of writing it down. In fact, I often reflect that I may owe my whole sobriety to one woman. I can’t remember her name but she was at the same Minnesota rehab I was back in the late ‘80s. She was from Iowa and she had freckles, braids, a gingham shirt. To look at her, you’d think she’d never taken a beverage stronger than milk. It turned out she was a housewife and mother who’d taken to walking her two small kids to the bus stop every morning, then going home and drinking herself into oblivion.

The kids would come home; she’d be passed out. The husband would return from work: she’d serve dinner in a blackout. She lived to drink and drank to live. But what really impressed me was that she’d taken to dyeing her vodka blue and hiding it in a Windex bottle.

I’d never been a wife or a mother, but I was at once flooded with fellow feeling. She was human, she was desperate, her response to suffering had been creative.

If I could hear more people like that, I thought, maybe there was hope. If there were more stories like that out there, stories that were vivid and honest and true, maybe I could find the strength to move forward. If that woman who had suffered like me, who had known shame, guilt, terror, and anguish like me, could start to lead a different life, maybe I could, too.

That was almost 24 years ago. I haven't had a drink since. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

THE PASSION PLAY CHAPLIN AND STRAVINSKY NEVER MADE...

IGOR STRAVINSKY
1882-1971
This anecdote by and about Charles Chaplin seems especially apropos for Lent.

While dining at my house, Igor Stravinsky suggested we should do a film together. I invented a story. It should be surrealistic, I said--a decadent night club with tables around the dance floor, at each table, greed, at another, hypocrisy, at another, ruthlessness. The floor show is the passion play, and while the crucifixion of the Saviour is going on, groups at each table watch it indifferently, some ordering meals, others talking business, others showing little interest. The mob, the High Priests and the Pharisees are shaking their fists up at the Cross, shouting: "If Thou be the Son of God come down and save Thyself." At a nearby table a group of businessmen are talking excitedly about a big deal. One draws nervously on his cigarette, looking up at the Saviour and blowing his smoke absent-mindedly in His direction.

At another table a businessman and his wife sit studying the menu. She looks up, then nervously moves her chair back from the floor. "I can't understand why people come here," she says uncomfortably. "It's depressing."

"It's good entertainment," says the businessman. "The place was bankrupt until they put on this show. Now they are out of the red."

"I think its sacrilegious," says his wife.

"It does a lot of good," says the man. "People who have never been inside a church come here and get the story of Christianity."

And the show progresses, a drunk, being under the influence of alcohol, is on a different plane; he is seated alone and begins to weep and shout loudly: "Look, they're crucifying Him! And nobody cares!" He staggers to his feet and stretches his arms appealingly toward the Cross. The wife of a minister sitting nearby complains to the headwaiter, and the drunk is escorted out of the place still weeping and remonstrating, "Look, nobody cares! A fine lot of Christians you are!"

"You see," I told Stravinsky, "they throw him out because he is upsetting the show." I explained that putting a passion play on the dance floor of a night club was to show how cynical and conventional the world has become in professing Christianity.

The maestro's face became very grave. "But that's sacrilegious!" he said.

I was rather astonished and a little embarrassed. "Is it?" I said. "I never intended it to be. I thought it was a criticism of the world's attitude toward Christianity--perhaps, having made up the story as I went along, I haven't made that very clear." And so the subject was dropped. But several weeks later, Stravinsky wrote, wanting to know if I still considered the idea of our doing a film together. However, my enthusiasm had cooled off and I became interested in making a film of my own.


--Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography


Friday, March 11, 2011

A SACRAMENT OF HOPE: GUEST WRITER RACHAEL WATSON

"We must all be saved together! Reach God together! Appear before Him together! We must return to our Father’s house together…what would He think if we arrived without the others, without the others returning, too?"
--Charles Péguy

CONSCIENCE
NIKOLAI GE, 1891

Rachel Watson, a reader from Berkshire, England, writes:

"Confession is a sacrament of hope, at one and the same time sublimely particular and profoundly unifying. Hope, by its very nature, has these all-embracing dimensions. It reaches to our own depths and stretches us out to embrace the whole world. 'Our hope is always essentially hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my personal salvation as well.' (Spe Salvi 48)

When we go into the confessional laden with our own sins, we bring our connection to all the sin in the world. We are part of a vast network of interrelated weakness and malice. Who has had the perfect childhood or received an unflawed genetic inheritance, or lives out their life in utopia? We are constrained to sin by our very humanity and by the time we know and understand what sin is, we are already partially disarmed in the fight to resist temptations and to free ourselves from vice. We are warped in relation to ourselves, to others, to the world. In defending ourselves from those around us, or simply in coping with the effects they have on us, we can become puckered with pride and snarled with self-loathing.

When we do fight our sinful nature and our vices, we often fight the wrong way. We harden our hearts, stiffen our necks and set ourselves against the rest of sinful humanity. We want to control and conquer ourselves, to enter heaven triumphantly holding up our own souls. We grab our own bridles and yank ourselves this way and that, only to ourselves battling seven devils in place of one.

What I am learning is that to confess is to acknowledge my place in space and time. Sinned against, I have sinned in turn. Kneeling in front of that grille, with my sins and my certainty that, without grace, I will sin again, I can look back at this vast inheritance that makes me what I am--the threads of interwoven pride, depression, anger, hardheartedness, selfishness and limitations of all the people in my past, the people in theirs, in theirs, and so on. They are all present in the person I am in that moment, and I also am present in myself, connected to them, yet distinct in my capability to turn all this to Christ.

In asking for his help and forgiveness, I turn also to all of these people. My encounter with Christ changes the meaning of all I have inherited through them, just as statements in a dialogue acquire a new meaning through the interchange and resolution. Their restoration and forgiveness is, in a sense, embedded in mine. Their sinful actions, insofar as they have shaped and affected me, are drawn into Christ, into my and the world’s re-creation.

These threads, however, do not just lead into me, but out. I have contributed in turn to the sins and the weakness of others--sometimes directly and maliciously, sometimes indirectly--by failing to be all that I should have been. I stand not just at the end of a long line of sinners, but at the head of one as well. How, I wonder, will these things I have done play out? Will they terminate in heaven or in hell, and for whom? And with this sense of responsibility, I seek not just forgiveness for myself, but mercy for this world that bears the brunt of my failings and waywardness. The final meaning of what I have thought, said, done and failed to do, is, in part, determined by other souls. My restoration and forgiveness is embedded in theirs. What has passed from me to them will only become a truly happy fault if they are willing to open themselves to the love of God.

In seeing this I also see in confession Alice Meynell’s 'bolder way...wilder enterprise' and this is to use my own person to imprint the “Our Father” on my crossroads of space and time. It is to accept what comes to me as the sum of the world’s sin and to give it to God to carry in me. It is to ask God for a healing that is also a wounding, to beg Him to conform my weakness and warping to His own mystery of reconciliation won by self-emptying. It is to give up my own ideas of perfection and to ask Him to make me perfect in a way that I will never understand or see. It is to sift my whole self through that grille for a re-creation on the other side quite inseparable from my neighbor’s."

After I sat stunned for several minutes, I wrote back, "You are kidding, right? You dashed this off yesterday afternoon in your spare time? Are you a writer yourself?"

She replied:


"No, I'm not a famous writer or anything like that, just one more person trying to make sense of my life. I do write more and more stuff like this at the moment, and it all sits there on my computer. I'm not very sure what I should do with it. Most of it comes out of thinking about St. Philip, his spirituality and the Roman Carnival--a weird set of connections, I know--but one that seems to open theological doors all over the place! He didn't leave much in the way of papers or writing, but there's a poem remaining with the line, 'Gladly would I learn from Thee how it is made, that net of love which captures so many.' I think one way he constructed the net was confession...he tells confessors that sympathy with the penitent is the best way of not falling into sin themselves. My thoughts about that mushroomed into this.

I suppose what lies at the back of that piece--in part--is the sense that sin is a loss of relation, and so also of our potential to be ourselves and become ever more ourselves in relation to others. The Trinitarian connection is right there, of course--God gains infinitely by being three in one, one in three. We can't go back and reclaim what is lost for ourselves, but need others to give it to us. If all those totalitarian monsters aren't there in heaven with me, I'll be worse off for the loss of all they could have been. And, of course--my personal sticking point--others will be worse off if I'm not there. God wants us all, wanting and with each other."

CHRIST AND THE THIEF
NIKOLAI GE, 1893
I hope you're as stunned as I was. And can we all pray that Rachael Watson keeps writing?...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

ASH WEDNESDAY: REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS!!

CHRIS STOVER BROWN AND LARRY GLICK,
MEMBERS OF CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN,
WHOOPING IT UP FOR LENT
PHOTO: EDDIE EDMONDS

Fast, pray, give alms--so not my first impulse, any of them. And that is why I need a good seven-plus weeks of intense practice each year.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” the priest will say today, as he makes the sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads.

“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

--Madeleine L’Engle


Monday, March 7, 2011

A HERMIT IN THE CITY

LOS ANGELES CENTRAL LIBRARY
Don’t ask me why, with my hermit tendencies, I’ve chosen to live in a city of nine, or maybe it's ten now, million.  I’m constantly looking for places to hide: secluded gardens, deserted parks. Nothing makes me happier than spotting some tiny leaf-covered niche tucked away beneath a shedding, camouflage-like tree. A bench is good, trickling water is good, trees or flowers are good, but the essentials are coffee, solitude and a book.

Recently I made a real find. I was gazing out a third-floor window of the downtown Central library when I spotted a narrow, patio-like area sandwiched in between two towering buildings to the south. I could make out an alienating modern steel sculpture, a metal waste receptacle and, best of all, but a single person, staring into space in an abstracted posture I knew well. I flew downstairs, checked out my books, grabbed a grande drip and ran across to investigate. Heaven, heaven, I chanted to myself as I settled in on an aluminum bench, took a sip, and opened Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground.

BĀSHO
(1644 (?)-1694), JAPANESE HAIKU POET
One Saturday night soon after, my friend Glenn and I were leaving a downtown gallery opening when I decided to share my find. “I’ll show you this really cool place,” I told him as we walked down Olive. “I'll bet hardly a hundred people in the whole city know about it.” At the library we cut in, stepped over a drunk passed out on the sidewalk, and made our way to the narrow walkway back. As we drew near, I tenderly took Glenn’s hand, as if approaching a shrine. “Check it out,” I breathed, gazing into the grotto-like darkness. “In the middle of the day you can go in there and it’s…quiet.” A couple of days later I overheard him reporting to a mutual friend, “My God, the poor woman has managed to find the only sunless spot in all of L.A. Apparently she goes in there and drinks coffee…”

The next week, I drove up to the thousands of acres of urban wilderness known as Griffith Park and hiked to another of my hideouts. Hunkered beneath a patch of fennel, I opened a volume of Japanese haiku. “When in Kyoto…I long for Kyoto,” Bāsho had written. I put down my book, inhaled the smell of eucalyptus, and gazed off into the middle distance, thinking how I am always longing to be some place I’m not, for things to be different than the way I myself make them: to both live in a major city and enjoy the quiet of the country, to drink coffee and yet be calm, to be by myself and yet connect with other people.

DANTE'S VIEW, GRIFFITH PARK
PHOTO DAWN MEREDITH, VIA DONNABARSTOW.COM
On the way home I stopped off at my neighborhood church. St Basil’s is a big melting-pot parish, with five Masses a day. It’s on Wilshire Boulevard, across from Golf World and Budget Rent-a-Car and Tofu House, and there are always people in there--sitting quietly, praying--even in the middle of the day. I found a pew near the back and knelt. I didn’t think about much. I didn’t look much at the other people but I knew and was glad they were there. High above the altar, Christ hung on the cross: symbol of the fact that no matter how far we run, how hard we try to hide, we can never hide from our own conflicted selves. He looked a little sad up there, as if he could use some company. So for awhile I was in Kyoto without longing to be in Kyoto; I was alone but I wasn’t alone; for awhile we all sat together: them, Him, me.

INTERIOR ST. BASIL'S
PHOTO
(I wrote and aired this piece several years ago for "All Things Considered." Here's the link if you'd like to listen).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I WILL NOT FORGET YOU!

WALKING TO MASS LAST SUNDAY MORNING

In spite of the arctic weather, my trip to New Hampshire comprised two gilded two weeks. Even though challenges arose, I felt happy and useful and grateful the whole time, and somehow the balance between solitude and people worked out perfectly, and to have a rental car AND stay in a hotel were unbelievable luxuries that allowed me to have a whole different experience than I usually do staying at someone else’s place.

I could sit by the little heater in my hotel room and be comfy and warm and look out the window at Route 95—the people heading north toward Maine; the people headed south towards Boston—and ponder. I hooked up right away, as I always do, with the local sober drunks who, also as always, saved my life.

My brother Geordie, in from fishing, called almost every day and we went out four or five times, just driving around or to breakfast. We are both early risers and  just to have someone, however briefly, who will call you and wants to hang out for an hour or two was a huge gift.


MY VERY FUNNY BROTHER ROSS

NEPHEW ALLEN (ROSS'S SON) WITH HIS HAND-CRAFTED "COMB GLASSES"

All is grace. I loved seeing my mother, even if she didn’t seem quite sure who I was at times. I mean what’s not to love, she is so…accommodating. So accepting, so wants to know about you, even if, with the Alzheimer's, she won’t remember from one minute to the next.

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
--Isaiah 49:15


I WILL NOT FORGET YOU, EITHER, MOM!...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY

THE VIEW OF THE SETTING SUN LAST NIGHT FROM THE WINDOW OF ROOM 316 AT
AMERICA'S BEST INN IN PORTSMOUTH, NEW HAMPSHIRE,
MY HOME FOR THE LAST TWO WEEKS
BACK TO L.A. TODAY
I CRIED WHEN I SAID GOODBYE TO MOM
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

--Robert Frost

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES!!: FAITH HEALER KATHRYN KUHLMAN

KATHRYN KUHLMAN, PERFORMING A MIRACULOUS HEALING
Kathryn Kuhlman (1907-1976) was a Methodist faith healer, evangelist and born-again Christian who had a weekly program in the 1960's and 1970's that I sorely regret having missed.





How can you not love someone who was married (briefly) to a man named  Burroughs A. Waltrip of Dallas, and who was sued by her personal administrator for purportedly stashing away a million bucks in jewelry and another million in fine art? What's really funny, as I told my friend, is that I actually agree with everything she says.