Sunday, December 2, 2012


peruvian pepper tree branches from the back yard
Advent means waiting; as a friend pointed out yesterday, urgently waiting...

Maybe that's why I'm having trouble sleeping.

And maybe it's mourning . I am finding the death of my mother a whole different deal than the death of my father, in 1999. Yesterday, my brother Ross emailed this picture of my father in the family kitchen at 108 Post Road in North Hampton, New Hampshire...

The snow banked on the windows! Dad in one of the red shirts Mom made for him on the old Singer! The smell of one of Dad's freshly-baked loaves of bread! The dear silverware drawer, the dark blue oblong plastic bowl that held from-scratch mashed potatoes, or canned corn, the plant hanging between the windows ("was it that ivy thing?" my sister Meredith asked when I described it to her); on the shelves of the cupboard next to the sink, a can of Yuban, the corner of the old green cardboard box that peaches came in where Mom kept the oil and vinegar cruets, and is that a container of Elmer's glue on the top where she would have secreted it away (hey, Elmer's costs).

How could I have moved away? How could I have not been there every second, helping them, accompanying them, telling them I loved them?

Maybe some of us to leave home to find our truest "home" (and I'm not talking about California), but there's a price and of course you can't know the price when you set out on your journey. And of course the questions linger: Was I embarking on a bold pilgrimage or was I/am I just selfish? Have I been on an adventure, or have I been on one long escape?

I have not wanted to think too deeply this year about "the holidays," the first in 60 years without Mom here to psychically anchor them. I skated over Thanksgiving (insofar as you can skate over TWO dinners, cooked with love and with people I treasure) and I've signed on to spend from December 24th to December 26th  at a monastery.

Am I fleeing or going toward? Am I withholding, or longing to give in a new way?

I am urgently awaiting, but for what? For whom?...

"In the brightness of the saints, from the womb before the day-star, I begot thee"...

The chant, In splendoribus sanctorum, from Psalm 110, 
is the communion chant for the propers of Christmas midnight Mass,
sung before the distribution of holy communion.


  1. Oh Heather, I can so relate...why did I leave, where was I going when I so abruptly left in 1979? Why did I not spend every possible minute with them. I know it made sense at the time. They taught me to wander, to travel, to be curious.
    I still feel them close, in another realm, not in their 'clothes' from Bean's or Talbot's or in her tiny body or with his camera on his shoulder, but close, their souls mingling, a laugh, a face, a look, a beach, the beach.
    You know when I was building my house, many nights I would go to bed with a question about a perceived problem, and unsolved dilemma and in the night many times, my Dad would come to me with the answer, once I woke, wrote out the solution and when I woke, it was written in handwriting so close to his, I shook with disbelief and cried with loneliness.
    And Mom I remember more now as she was in her 60's and early 70's, funny, sharp, busy, active. I step back into moments, hiking with her on Monadanock, up the Kancamagus highway, playing bridge with her and her cronies,
    Those memories keep me alive, keep them alive in me. And yes the holidays are the times I yearn for them.
    Thinking of you and will while you are on retreat, it's a good plan, you will learn much about yourself, your life. I just had 4 days alone here at the cabin, magnificently painful, graceful and rewarding,but mostly humbling. I am not who I think I am.
    Another soul in human form,

  2. Heather, my prayers will be with you this Advent, and as you spend Christmas at the abbey. I hope, pray, and trust that God will give you some grace -- perhaps latent and hidden at first -- in proportion to the anguish that you have undergone this year. I think it's a very sage decision you've made to spend the Nativity with the monks. Based on my limited experience, I believe that monasteries are places of health and peace and restoration. May it be a time of healing and hope for you.

    And yes, "in splendoribus sanctorum" -- what a lovely image! The brightness of the saints! I was just writing to another friend of mine, who is not a practicing Catholic, about the Communion of Saints -- perhaps the most consoling and understandable reality of our faith (and one in which I think even pagans believe!): the saints, "on whose constant intercession in [God's] presence we rely for unfailing help." They're there for us, I have to believe, in ways we cannot discern!

  3. Thanks so much, Tom, as always, and oh Joanie..."Funny, sharp, busy, active"...I can picture your mother so well, too...and our little universe of Post Rd., Walnut Ave., the ocean...the memories, landscape, and love are somehow incorporated as time goes on, literally, it seems, into our bodies...I'm so glad for your recent four days alone in the cabin. This will be a short retreat for me but I'm "descending" now into the whole month of December/Advent...much love to you and to Tom, holding down the fort in Arlington, MA...

  4. Dear Heather,
    I have asked myself this " Have I been on an adventure, or have I been on one long escape?" but in relation to my conversion to Christ and later to ordained ministry and still later to leaving ministry for the Catholic Church. I interview tomorrow for a job as a stock boy at Target. Perhaps I've run out of adventure. Perhaps it's just begun.

    You post is endearing. God bless you in your journey. We are always our parent's child aren't we?

    P.S. I believe monastery link if broken and should be

  5. Thanks, Owen, I love that your life may in fact just be beginning with a possible job as a stock boy at Target. Think of the great service you could provide as a warm, friendly, mischievous presence in, say, Housewares...

    According to them, yours is the old link. The new, correct link is (I had, which is why it didn't work.) Thanks for that ever-sharp eye...and good luck with the interview.

  6. Per the link, when I clicked on what you gave in the post the link failed.

    When I click I still get "This webpage is not available."

    I wish I was as excited about Stock Boy but God knows what I need to become a saint and to learn gratitude. be sure.

  7. And per my interview...I am a week ahead. My calendar just reminded me it's not util next Tuesday. So, exciting times must wait.

  8. Pardon all the messages. Just found, this works. "saint" not "st" :)

  9. Dear Heather. I understand your wishes about staying near your parents. Don't forget though, it is always a sign that parents did a good job. Parents also, and I say this from talking with my mother, also like the time they have back to themselves without the children. As to Christmas at the monastery, when are you going to come do Christmas with me at Gethsemani Abbey?

  10. yeah, that's what I was saying, Owen, not standrews, the way I had it. This will give you time to sharpen up your interviewing skills and pick out a nice outfit for your Target gig. :)

    And Stephen, that is so funny and true, like who said my parents would have WANTED me hanging around "accompanying" them...though I think they would have a bit, in the really later years. Anyway, I have a beautiful black and white photo of Gethsemani in the snow (an old Christmas card; looks like the chapel maybe, a pointy turret to the side?) hanging above my desk and I would LOVE to do a retreat there. Isn't the waiting list years long though?
    Advent blessings to you...

  11. We need to abandon ourselves entirely to God - He has the 'answers'. These questions can't be addressed in the abstract.

    St. Ignatius' teaching on discernment is, to me, the most profound and practical. I'd recommend this book:

    The movements of our hears is how we will know where God is leading and where He is not.

    Also, and above all,

    St. Faustina says in Diary entry 2:

    O My God

    When I look into the future, I am frightened,
    But why plunge into the future?
    Only the present moment is precious to me,
    As the future may never enter my soul at all.

    It is no longer in my power,
    To change, correct or add to the past;
    For neither sages nor prophets could do that.
    And so, what the past has embraced I must entrust to God.

    O present moment, you belong to me, whole and entire.
    I desire to use you as best I can.
    And although I am weak and small,
    You grant me the grace of your omnipotence.
    And so, trusting in Your mercy,
    I walk through life like a little child,
    Offering You each day this heart
    Burning with love for Your greater glory.

  12. Or perhaps something even older, on theme "Abandonment to Divine Providence" which I am reading; very slowly.

  13. Hi Heather:

    Isn't it wonderful that we don't know where life will lead? 4 years ago I was working in NYC, the manager of a magazine. Today I watch two boys, aged 3 and (almost)2. It is perhaps the best job I've ever had.

    Life is an adventure, and if you are hiding out, it doesn't matter...God will find you. He is the hound of heaven and will always show you the truth of who you are.

  14. "The Lord is coming, always coming. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord." Henri Nouwen

  15. Dear Heather: So good to be here at last. I have been a long-time fan and reader of your work but most of all your honesty. Most of what you write in Magnificat make me cry (in a good way). Finding a person who has the same thoughts as you is so healing and so terrible!! at the same time!
    I also am suffering from the loss of my mama, so much more than dad. He had Alzheimer's and we grieved slowly over the last two years when he didn't know us anymore but he loved seeing us. Mother was right there with him the whole way until she simply could not take care of him any longer, her 5'5" -89 lb frame and his 6 ft, 3 in - 200 lb frame, just way too much. But still she hung in there taking him lunch each day and being with him. When he died, she just went about her business of daily living, laughing, hoping, ministering to all she met, energizer bunny style. When she just couldn't take care of herself anymore she went to assisted living and would encourage everyone to do their best each day. She and dad loved the Lord above each other and all other persons. When the time came to scatter my dad's ashes in the Pacific, it was a celebration and I said the happiest day I had ever spent, but when the time came for mama's ashes to be scattered, it was a terrible day. Not that wonderful relief - no more suffering kinda feeling - just loneliness and wishing I could pick up the phone and call her once again. Not morose, just honest. It's very difficult to lose your mother, your friend. I was raised in Los Angeles and left in the early 70's to pursue something. What, again??? Hmm. Why is the best question. Why didn't I stay to finish what I started and to relish in the bird of paradise and roses and the ice plant along the freeways that I love so much. The ocean and mountains call to me all the time from this flatland I live in called Texas. I loved my wonderful parents and will never forget and counsel you to never forget that they are why you are who you are and I am who I am, good, bad, wonderful, horrible, for all we blamed them for and for all they did that we never knew about. You'll see me here from time to time now that I've gotten my feet wet. Happy Advent, my dear new friend. Be blessed and let this your heart be His little stable this year. He loves living in us!

    In Him,

  16. I understand.

    On Thursday I decided that come Saturday I would get away from Michigan for a while (or, maybe forever!). I woke on Saturday morning still without a plan. I found myself in Asheville, North Carolina ten hours later. I did this in the name of adventure, but when I admit that I am sleeping in my car, with no more than $20 in my wallet, and no connection in the city I am also forced to admit that I wasn't "going on an adventure" but that I was escaping.

    I cannot help but to wonder what I might think of this adventure/escape later in life... will it be what I needed for it to be? should I have done it? what did I learn about myself during these experiences? did my journey teach me how to best rely on God? did I trust Him, and did I do my part?

    I am keeping a blog about my experiences, so someday I can look back and hopefully be encouraged and reminded of my past. - in case you're interested. :)

  17. Alicia, great, so identity with forging on, wrong shoes, etc., never say die! And then realizing, What am I doing? Have added South on Saturday to More Fascinating Places, i.e. my "blogroll."

    Michelle, welcome! I just read the galleys of a wonderful memoir about (among other things) a parent with Alzheimer's by Tanya Ward Goodman, called Leaving Tinkertown. It's out next year and I'll do a post with Tanya when the time comes. Let my heart be His stable. I like that...

    Thanks, too, Mel, Patrick and Kim. I am just going to bask in warmth all December is my plan...though as a reader pointed out yesterday elsewhere, Advent is really a penitential season. No accident St. Stephen dies the day after Christmas, and then of course we have the Slaughter of the Innocents.

    Nonetheless--let there be light.

  18. Wow Heather! What an honor; what a gift you have given to me!

    Unfortunately, in the short time that has passed since I first shared my blog, South on Saturday, with you a catastrophe has occurred, forcing me to terminate this adventure/trip/escape.

    However, I have already found myself to be grateful for my decision to write about my experiences because in such a time of mourning as this I have found my own words surprisingly beneficial in reminding me of the good that has occurred during even the first four days of my journey.

    Again though, you have given me a wonderful gift, in adding South on Saturday to your blogroll. Thank you kindly for your gift. I am honored.

  19. The brightness of the saints...light from light...Mary's womb as the womb of the morning. Her child brings her youth, a dying rising ever-newness. And to think that your beloved dead- and mine - are transfigured to this, not remotely, but closely and intimately to us - "a face, a look, a beach, the beach" - how true.

  20. Khalil Gibran: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself. They come through you you, but not from you. And though they are wit you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love, but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies, but not their souls. For their souls live in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children, as living arrows, are sent forth.


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