Saturday, February 27, 2010


At the Old Mill Tavern, drinking what they call "French Coffee" after lunch. It gives a new meaning to the old phrase, "You will be visited by 3 spirits". Really, it is only 1/3 French, as the other liqueurs are Irish and Mexican respectively. But maybe they go heavy on the French brandy. Who knows.

The day is dreary outside, and the snowy landscape reminds me of an Edward Gorey drawing. It would be a fine day to visit an old cemetery or other spooky place, except...well, it's too snowy. For some reason I am mentally transported to a day at my grandmother's house, a day from my youth. It was a day like this one, but it may have been in the Spring or Summer rather than late Winter. It was gray and damp, and I think it was drizzling outside. The scene flips from my grandmother's sitting room to her kitchen, which were connected. On this particular day, her friends came to visit, the Magees. The Magees had known my grandmother since the eighth grade, and they all stayed relatively close to the town of Whippany where they grew up. There were brown leather chairs with wheels around an oval-shaped formica kitchen table. The adult conversation was boring, so I found myself staring at a confection tin that had the "Monday's Child" poem written on it, as though it were a photo of a piece of embroidery with little roses around the edges for embellishment. I had no idea what type of sweet the tin originally held, but now it held my grandmother's homemade fudge.

The living room is cold, and the walls and decor are in shades of pastel blue and green and white. There is one of those large stereo systems that looks like a piece of furniture; my parents also have one, but theirs opens from the top; this one opens in front. The turntable and radio slide out, and there is a place for storing LP records. I recall that my grandmother had electric heat in her house, and only turned it on in certain rooms at certain times because of the expense. I remember that as I sat there, I was thinking of either Alice in Wonderland or the Chronicles of Narnia--some fantastic piece of fiction, though I don't know why. Maybe because my grandmother's living room closet reminded me of the wardrobe in "The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe." And for some reason the whole image is mildly disturbing. I don't think anything bad happened that day, but I had the feeling of wanting to get away.

I drive towards home from Chester, zig-zagging through country roads that are blanketed with snow on both sides. I notice that the snow is higher on the mountainside; the valleys seem to have only half of what the hills have accumulated. I know now what I want to get away from--winter. I am tired of bare trees, yellow grass, rotten vegetation, and dirty snow.

But Spring is coming. There is something present in Nature--a breeze or a scent, or some other unspecified "something"--that can be felt and experienced, in spite of the fact that the Northeast got at least a foot of snow yesterday. I am still sore from shoveling the mounds and mounds of snow. Still, in spite of winter's great show of strength, She doesn't have long to go before Spring pushes her out. The mailman pulled up to my mailbox while the snow was in full blizzard mode, and left me one piece of mail--the Spring Hill Nursery catalog. As I stood there with my shovel, I had to laugh. But there it is.

Spring also means Easter. As the seasons change, I'm once again reminded of childhood rituals. My siblings were all much older than I, so when I was still a girl of 6 or 7, I was the only one left who went to Church with my Mom. My father wasn't Catholic, and never attended Church of any kind. I think he was raised Methodist, but his mother always went to the Presbyterian Church in town. They weren't denominationally fussy, nor were they particularly religious. But my mother and I went to 8:00 Mass every Sunday, and then stopped for breakfast afterwards, before going for the weekly grocery run. I never minded going to Church unless the Mass went on for a ridiculously long time--like the Easter or Christmas Vigil. I have a great fascination for ritual and the language of ritual. I love listening to the recitation of Hebrew prayers at synagogue visits, and the long Vedic chants at Mahashivaratri during the abhishekhams. My mother tells me that I knew the entire Catholic Mass by heart by the time I was only 5 years old. I was born a few years after Vatican II, so I missed the drama of the Latin Mass, though I did attend one Latin Mass in high school, when I was a Latin language student at the Catholic high school I attended. Religious ritual should not be folksy or mundane--it should not be an endless drone of sermons or a social gabfest. I am left cold by Unitarian services, as I am by Hindu pujas put on by local Indian organizations. These are more about talk, and less about the Mystery. When I walk away from a ritual, I should feel a change, or at least a potential for change. I should be reminded of the greater Reality of things and my mysterious connection to others.

For this reason I also dislike religious services that try to be something they're not. I no longer attend my mother's Church, but she tells me that the pastor (who has been there for a number of years now) is trying to give a charismatic Pentecostal feel to the services, asking people to shout out "hallelujah" and such. She hates it, as do most of the older parishioners in her Church. I have read criticisms of religious services that are "too solemn", but frankly, that's the way Western Catholic ritual works. That approach may be fine for African Baptist Churches, where it is an authentic expression of faith, but it's all wrong in the Catholic services. The Catholic Liturgy is designed to be meditative at best, to make one go inward and meet their God in silence. Any attempt to add these other elements are nothing but cheap showmanship, an attempt to excite a bored congregation with carnival antics. The fact that I know that my mother's pastor is an insincere charlatan doesn't do anything to bolster my opinion of the change. But--he brings in tons of money and loads of new parishioners, so the Church obviously considers him a success, no matter how much of a fake he is. I suppose next he'll open a cafe in the Church and sell Christuccinos, just like the prosperity gospel megachurches. (If you think I'm making this up--check this out). But you can't blame him entirely--he's just giving the people what they want, and it isn't introspection. They want a weekly dog and pony show for their tithe.

I mark some appointments on my kitchen calendar, and sigh. My 2010 calendar was given to me by a local library temp agency, and every month there are pictures of the beautiful Renaissance libraries of Europe. Both the libraries themselves and the books in them are works of art. I would love to work in a building that has the smell of old books, and creaky old floorboards--and the silence that one traditionally associates with libraries. I think about my friend Dan's conjecture about the multiverse. If we really do not have "past lives", but are living all possibilities at the same time, then somewhere in some universe I am the librarian for some old, monastic library. But if all of our possibilities are happening in different "universes", does that mean whatever fragment we are now experiencing is pre-destined to follow some specified course? I tend to think that the myriad of possibilities really aren't separate from each other, and that in theory, anything is possible. I wonder if those characteristics that we are attracted to, the ones that drive our dreams, somehow "bleed" between universes--making us desire the things that we are perhaps enjoying in other places. It's just a thought...

1 comment:

Lilla said...

This is my favorite post so far...have a lot of catching up to do.