3.30.2013

Semicolon hosts "The Saturday Review of Books." Consider participating this week.

3.29.2013

Happy Good Friday!

For seven years, the man who initialed memos and requisitions "JOB" greeted me such on this day in the Triduum. The first time it staggered me. Happy Good Friday? Even in my child-like understanding of the Roman Catholic tradition, I couldn't reconcile "Happy" with "Good Friday."

"It's the beginning of the greatest mystery of our faith," he explained. "He dies, but we know how the story ends. He rises. It is a celebration, the greatest celebration in our tradition. Happy Good Friday."

Happy Good Friday.

Once upon a time ago...
I was a lector in one of the city's large Catholic parishes. I am a great reader-aloud, and the stories on the liturgical calendar are among the greatest ever told, aren't they? Whether you believe or not, the stories inspire awe. And it is this reader's opinion that they should not be thundered or mumbled or chanted. The stories simply must be told. Read. With expression, not affectation. Oh, and I loved sharing those stories as much as I love reading aloud to my own children.

It happened, then, that the Triduum schedule was drafted. The liturgical director "scripted" the Passion readings for the evening Good Friday mass, breaking them into parts that five lectors would share. I was one of the lectors asked to read.

When I took my place at the lectern for the third time that Good Friday evening, it was to read the passages concerning Christ's crucifixion and death.

I can affect no false drama -- I laugh when it's funny, cry when it's sad. There can be no pretense. Artificiality is the death of narrative. Heck, it's the slow death of feeling, of everything, isn't it?

Well, at the sentences in which Jesus acknowledges his mother, my throat closed with silent sobs, and at "Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit," I was reading through tears. Usually one to look my fellow parishioners in the eye while lectoring, I simply couldn't see anymore. I chose to keep looking at the page. I can't tell you what I thought or observed in the long moment that followed my last word and my move away from the lectern to take my place among the other lectors. I knew only that these were among the most profound passages in perhaps the greatest narrative ever written, and that they overcame me. (Later, I realized that, believer or no, if these words do not arouse in one overwhelming emotion, then one simply isn't human.)

I stood with the other lectors and, as they say, collected myself. Writers know that these moments arrange themselves and occur far more quickly than we can possibly describe. As regular awareness returned to me, though, I realized that silence was an immense roar in my ears. That "what comes next" had not begun, seemed unlikely to begin. That the hundreds of people crowded into that large, darkened church, the priests on the altar, the Eucharistic ministers behind me... we were, all of us, spellbound.

Of course, at some point, the liturgy did continue, in its power and the promise of hope and renewal.

But, for a few moments, we were, that Good Friday night, aware of terrible sorrow, the ineffable sadness that precedes a renewal or realization of a hopeful promise.
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What wise man said that we must look at Christ and not Christians because Christians disappoint but Jesus himself never does? If we were spellbound, then the spell did not last nearly long enough. Many parishioners felt compelled to talk with me afterward, about how this was the first time they had actually heard the words, felt them, been moved by them. A hundred, two hundred, and more thank-yous and hugs and tears. My legendary personal space issues had been lifted from me for this one evening, and I began to understand the meaning of "a community of faith."

On the Monday after Easter, however, I learned that a young new priest was disturbed by the "drama" of the Good Friday liturgical celebration and was vehemently recommending a more traditional approach -- notably a "straight read-through" delivered by priests or deacons, not members of the lay ministry.

My faith is usually strong, but my religion? A fragile thing in a glass menagerie.

It shattered that day.

Christ is in my heart, I think, in the hearts of anyone who can even begin to sense the enormity of his narrative. And today, he acknowledges his mother, giving her to his trusted friend. And today, he dies. Again. Because it is only in the repetition of the narrative that we humans get it. He will die every year. And he will be born every year.

It's a story that perhaps mothers see most clearly.

And it makes us weep.

And that's not drama, you foolish priest.

It's life. And, perhaps, the promise of something beyond it.

Happy Good Friday.

3.28.2013

Reading life review

Number of books read in 2013: 24
Complete list of books read in 2013 can be found here.
Number of books read since last "reading life review" post: 4
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Measure for Measure (William Shakespeare (1603); Folger ed. 2005. 288 pages. Drama.) With the Misses, in anticipation of the Goodman Theatre production. (Reviews here and here.) I purchased the tickets the day the went on sale. Alas, the "Intended for mature audiences" note was appended to the to the play description some time after my purchase. While the Misses are certainly mature, you can't un-see what folks are saying is quite the spectacle, so it looks as if I'm going alone. We have ordered the BBC film from the library, though.

Wave (Sonali Deraniyagala; 2013. 240 pages. Memoir.) From the horror of Deraniyagala's loss to the brutal honesty with which she describes her grief journey, this was a difficult but worthwhile read. Recommended.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death (Jean-Dominique Bauby; 1998. 131 pages. Autobiography.) Teresi mentions Bauby in his book, and as this memoir had been sitting of the shelves forever, it seemed as good as time as any to read it. Intelligent, beautiful, and haunting. Highly recommended.

The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating-Heart Cadavers (Dick Teresi; 2012. 368 pages. Non-fiction.) An article in the May 2012 issue of Discover sent me in search of this book, which, by turns, horrified and fascinated me.

Happy spring!

3.26.2013

It snowed on the first three Tuesdays of March.

And that made all of us playful.

March was a month of accomplishments and adventures: The Misses obtained their permits, finished their driver education course, and began putting a dent in their fifty-hour behind-the-wheel requirement. We attended the end-of-season award banquet, and the Misses returned home with ribbons, plaques, and an abiding sense of satisfaction. We saw Frank Vignola in concert, per a request from Mr. M-mv and Miss M-mv(ii), who continue to study guitar. We also saw Sweet Charity at the Writers' Theater, a delight in every way. And Miss M-mv(ii) became a certified lifeguard. (Yes, I cried just a bit. Has it really been two years since Miss M-mv(i) did the same? And eight years since their brother did? My baby is not a baby and has not been for a long time now. I grow old... I grow old...)

3.15.2013

Semicolon hosts "The Saturday Review of Books." Consider participating this week.

3.13.2013

A mystery

Four boxes arrived from Amazon on Tuesday. Four? I thought. I expected three.

The fourth contained a Capresso Frothpro.

And no packing slip.

Yes, I called Amazon. The rep says it is likely a gift, not an error, as I kept insisting. Then to whom do I express my thanks? They can't and/or won't say.

Reading life review

Number of books read in 2013: 20
Complete list of books read in 2013 can be found here.
Number of books read since last "reading life review" post: 11
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Human .4 (Mike A. Lancaster; 2011. 240 pages. YA fiction.) Matrix-inspired and thus intriguing, but approached a bit too simplistically to be pulled off completely. Still, not bad.

Warm Bodies (Isaac Marion; 2011. 256 pages. Fiction.) No, I haven't seen the movie, but now I think I may. This was a serviceable work of zombie fiction, with a clever twist on the genre's central premise: Maybe the shuffling brain-eaters are not quite as dead as we think they are.

The Underwater Welder (Jeff Lemire; 2012. 224 pages. Graphic fiction.) As an ardent fan of Sweet Tooth, I couldn't resist this fictional account of a man seeking his dead father, including all of the profound ways in which that search affects his emotional development. And the unintentional juxtaposition to Michael Hainey's account of his own search for his father? Just ol' serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity working its magic, I guess.

After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story (Michael Hainey; 2013. 320 pages. Non-fiction.) Excerpt here. Reviews here, here, and here.

From the memoir's conclusion:
She goes silent, and that moment, I see her anew. And I realize, Here I am -- a son who went looking for his father, and found his mother.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Philip K. Dick; 1968. 256 pages. Fiction.) A reread, this time with the Misses.

Accelerated (Bronwen Hruska; 2012. 288 pages. Fiction.) Why did I think this was a satirical sci-fi novel, akin to Edward Bloor's Story Time, but for adults? Insert a shrug. About a third of the way through, I reread the book description online and realized my error. Given the topic -- the obsession with the "right" schools, the best methods, high test scores, achievement, and giving students an "edge," no matter what the costs -- it certainly would have worked as a satire, a sci-fi novel, or a hybrid. It also worked as a contemporary novel, though. Recommended.

The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger; 1951. 288 pages. Fiction.) A reread, this time with the Misses. Related entry here.

Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes; 1966. 324 pages. Fiction.)  A reread, this time with the Misses.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Jamie Ford; 2009. 301 pages. Fiction.) Are you a reader? the clerk asked. Oh, yes. What are you reading? I mentioned that I had recently read and appreciated The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller) and had also recently read Dracula (Bram Stoker). How did I miss that when I was younger? I asked. Oh, you have to read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, he insisted. Here's a question: Did he even listen to my reply? To be fair, the book wasn't awful, but similar themes are explored with far more deftness and magic in The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (Jan-Philipp Sendker), which I read and loved in early 2012.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie; 2002. 104 pages. Fiction.) While history, friendship, and the vagaries of first love contribute to the power of this slim work, books are the real story -- how they change us, grow our imaginations, and sometimes free us. Beautiful and highly recommended.

Revival, Vol. 1 (Tim Seeley; 2012. 128 pages. Graphic fiction.) I liked this more than Girl Detective did, but she's right: It's awfully hard to follow. I picked it up because but it reminds me of Les Revenants (They Came Back), that French zombie movie I raved about a couple of years ago, and I wanted to see where it went.

Notably in progress:

Moby-Dick (Herman Melville; 1851/2001. 672 pages. Fiction.)
Physics for Future Presidents (Richard A. Muller; 2009. 384 pages. Non-fiction.)
May We Be Forgiven (A.M. Homes; 2012. 496 pages. Fiction.)