My gratitude stops short of thanking the tiny tick I found on my hip. But if this period of isolation and fear due to the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it’s taught me to value the small things.
There are the gardening gloves given to me by one of my boys–for Mother’s Day, last year, I think. They are actually a little small for my long fingers, but they are also a beautiful turquoise. So I admired them as I weeded the flower beds around our house, yesterday afternoon–for a short time only, because my husband is a fastidious gardener, which is not a small thing.
Then there are the lilies of the valley I picked, which haven’t been overrun by the hulking hostas, this year, and whose little bells smell so sweet.
And then there’s the tree swing made by my dad, upon which I had a good swing after weeding and flower-picking–yep, this lady swinging away. It didn’t even make me nauseous, which is a pleasant small thing.
Today, it’s a soggy mess out there. But yesterday it was warm and clear and it seemed every neighbor was out cleaning his gutters, mowing the grass, or weed-whacking: in-town sounds, a minor suburban symphony.
My husband was in the veggie garden. Our boys finished their school work and came outside to join us, and eventually my little family lay down in the grass, feeling the springtime sun on our faces.
Enter the tick.
Many thanks to the WordPress editors for providing daily WordPress Discover Prompts in April! They helped me to chronicle our isolation. This post was in response to Discover’s daily prompts: List and Grateful. Read others’ responses here. My other prompts responses:
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The holy water font had brown cardboard over it–a haphazard lid to signal emptiness. The water had been drained from all the fonts at the church entrances but not the baptismal font. Not yet anyway; somebody said there was one baptism after Mass that morning. I saw the baby–rosy-cheeked in his mother’s arms–on my way out of church. My last Mass, maybe for all of Lent. My last time singing with the choir. I haven’t sung a note since, as if doing so would signal that this is the new normal: sad, bad impromptu soprano solos locked in my home office, dressed in my bathrobe, alone.
Gone was the singing in communion, the holy water, the hand-holding, and hand-shaking at the Sign of Peace. The next week, there would be no Mass at all. Should we shake some of our holy water around the house? My husband and I brought bottles home from Knock, Ireland, the only shrine I’ve ever visited, which we did for a day on our honeymoon, in between pubs and church ruins. We may have a bottle around still, though it might have gone moldy. We’ve been married 16 years as of yesterday. We got carry-out to celebrate, our first since we started playing keep-away from everybody we don’t live with, and it was wonderful. Every stranger-interaction–even picking up carry-out at a curb–seems imbued with a little holiness now, or grace, or gratitude in communing, however you like to see it.
Maybe I’d been spoiled by the choir voices around me, the Signs of Peace aplenty, a whole church full of, if not all friends, congregants–the whole of us choosing to be in the same place at the same time, for the same reason, more or less. I try to remember that it only takes two or three gathered in His name, but there is comfort in a crowd. In Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction, a title that just keeps feeling more and more prescient, author Nick Ripatrazone says, simply: “Catholicism is a communal faith.”
In his book of essays, Ripatrazone unveils the role of Catholic storytelling in the American literary cannon. He takes the reader from Flannery O’Connor through Andre Dubus to living writers, like Cormac McCarthy, Alice McDermott–and Phil Klay (whom I’ve yet to read)–among others. Raised on the Mass, these writers share some sensibilities: the idea of faith in community, of liturgical seasons–rituals a comfort. Says Ripatrazone, “Catholics raised on a religion of mystery, image, smell, and song are particularly vulnerable to the pull of sentimentality.” Can me sentimental then.
Another modern novelist, Ann Patchett, has credited the Catholic faith for giving her “a boundless capacity for creativity and appreciation for metaphor.” If you’ve ever stepped foot in a Catholic church you can probably see that: everything is imbued with meaning. From Ripatrazone:
Catholicism is an assault on the senses. The thickly sweet smell of incense clouding a church. A finger dipped into the holy water fount; the almost otherworldly touch of it. The feel of a back against the hard pew…The Rise and refrain of hymns…the silence of prayer…the high drama of Lent.
It all means something, more than one thing. And certainly, there’s a performance aspect to the faith that isn’t lost on this Catholic kid raised on church and ballet–pretty much in equal measure. I recently, mistakenly, called the altar “the stage,” and it’s no wonder why. There’s the Mass’s “script,” with its accompanying ritualistic movements–very much body-centered–a reverential dance of signs and postures. There are “costumes” whose colors are filled with meaning. Right now, we’re penitential purple. Are we ever.
Which might be why that piece of ordinary brown cardboard over the drained holy water font bothered me so much–the lack of performance or ritual. Or, preparation. Ritual takes preparation, and none of us had any rehearsals for the effects of this pandemic.
So, my hope today is that we all lean into the rituals that provide us some comfort and connection–even if virtual.
What are you reading? How are you dealing? What rituals are you keeping or instilling in your household as you physically distance yourself from others?
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From my table to yours on this Thanksgiving Day, thanks for being here at the ol’ blog. Three years and more than 1,300 followers from 126 countries, we’re still reading and writing the American Rust Belt–and beyond–together.
Another WordPress Discover feature this year, My Interview with Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas, brought more of you here, and I’m so grateful. Who would I talk to–about the power of poetry, memoir, fiction, and place–without you? 761 comments this year, nearly every one an exchange, and we learn a little more about story–on and off the page–and about each other. Stay tuned for my next author interview on Monday!
In the meantime… On a personal note, a couple of my most recent posts have helped connect me with my late mom’s dearest childhood friend, a friend who kept photos and keepsakes and so many memories–and is kindly sharing them with me. The photo above isn’t a Thanksgiving table, but New Year’s 1966. That’s my grandma, Nana, in red, looking like she has a secret to share; Papa’s at the head.
Times and traditions pass us by, but this holiday remains one for joining together in gratitude. So, thanks so much for being at this table, friends.
If you’re celebrating, how are you celebrating?
Need a read? Head over to my FB page, where I’ve linked to a great Cleveland-inspired list of books, a few of which we’ve discussed here at the blog. Check out my Categories above for book reviews and more. And there’s always book talk at Twitter, where I’m @MoonRuark. Thanks!