freedom of speech…my voice

I began my blog because just like everyone I’m entitled to my own opinions. They’re not carved in stone, but they support my core values. We all seek to align our voices with those similar to ours, that’s only natural. When we absorb others’ opinions, we embrace those from whom they originate, whether in toto or in part. Our own experiences help to determine, consciously or unconsciously, the paths we take in life. Those of us fortunate to live in America have the constitutional right of freedom of speech. So we can give voice to our opinions and beliefs.

It’s obvious that I have found several voices which I felt offered valuable information in the endless discussion that swirls around the demise of Osama bin Laden. Hence my posts “in the aftermath…#1 through #4 (soon to be published). A couple of comments have been left which I always welcome, whether they align with my thoughts or not. I learned early on that good blogging etiquette required I respond to each and every comment left, and so I do, willingly. I wanted to reprint two such comments as a post which I recently left in answer to a couple left on the “aftermath” posts. I wanted to reiterate who it is I am as the author of “hugmamma’s mind, body and soul.”

My first comment:

I’m certain no person with a modicum of intelligence imagines that Osama bin Laden’s death means paradise on earth from here on out. But as with Hitler and other satanic evils before and after, bin Laden himself has exited the scene. But just as with Hitler, bin Laden’s ramifications in the franchisees which have been spun off will linger, probably forever. And again as with Hitler, we can still celebrate the moment of bin Laden’s passing from this world into the fiery one he so richly deserves. Hitler needed to be “taken out,” and it was done in a full-blown World War. Lucky for the world, we did not need another to demolish bin Laden.

With bin Laden gone, I’m hopeful, as are millions of Arabs, not only in the Middle East, but certainly globally, that they can finally determine the course of their own lives rather than be the pawns of self-serving men who set themselves up as autocrats. People the world over go about their business the best they know how, I think, given the circumstances, physically and economically, in which they find themselves. Not everyone was fortunate to land in the United States of America where freedom of speech, and a right to happiness is guaranteed by the Constitution. And yet, even with those guarantees, there are no guarantees. Even Americans must eke out their lives the best they can.

I’m of the mind that we’re all of this earth, so we’re all in this together, Arabs and non-Arabs, whether we like it or not. With industrialization and technology, we cannot climb back into the wombs from whence we came hoping that will spare us dealing with people and places in which we have no personal interest or concern. We are earthlings before we are Americans, and as such are already connected to non-Americans.

I’m always hoping for the best for ALL of us who inhabit earth…a little naive, perhaps…but I feel good waking up with that thought, and laying my head back down upon my pillow at night with that thought. That’s probably why I’m still a practicing Catholic. The nuns’ teachings still resonate in that I can be a vessel for good, from which others might drink. That’s what Jesus was about while on earth. We all choose what we are about.

mine is to be a positive-sayer…rather than a naysayer…hugmamma. :)

My second comment:

Whatever took place in the heat of the discussion, a very important, history-making decision had to be made. In the end, Obama had to make it because the consequences would fall upon his head. If the mission failed, he would have been lambasted the world over, not to mention how monstrously he would be pilloried in America. The remainder of his days as president would be worse than the almost 3 years he has experienced thus far. So, it seems, the man can’t do right even when he does right. But that’s the way of mankind…to find fault. Heck, even the media is on board with that.

we’re all free to exercise our freedom of speech…i do it by blogging…and others, like yourself, are more than welcome to express yours on my blog, Ed…hugmamma. ;)

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an easter gift to ourselves, feeding the hungry

Spent a couple of hours Saturday evening volunteering once again at the community hall serving dinner to those who wandered in from the street. My husband and I decided to fill in wherever needed, rather than commit to a regular schedule. As with most who offer their time, it’ll probably work out to be once-a-month that I prepare a dish that we bring along for the meal.

While 2 or 3 of the women are there more often because they coordinate the effort, others like us are there now and then. As for the needy, most seem to be regulars who are familiar with the routine. They’re very respectful as they enter the hall. Early by about 15-20 minutes, the men and women mill about, settling into chairs while they wait. If dessert is set out some might help themselves to a little, probably too hungry to wait, while others wander about aimlessly, perhaps too antsy, and hungry, to sit still.

Meatloaf

Image by su-lin via Flickr

The woman-in-charge was delayed, so we waited until she arrived to serve up dinner. We didn’t know where the second pan of meat loaf and a side dish of cauliflower were, or if they’d even been delivered. The coordinator arrived, the food was found warming in the oven, and the meal was ready. Meanwhile, the diners had lined up along one side of the hall, patiently waiting to be invited to step up and be served.

Salad with vinaigrette dressing

Image via Wikipedia

I served the meatloaf, another woman served the risotto dish she’d made, a middle-school boy helped with the tomato/mozzarella salad with balsamic vinaigrette I’d assembled, while his mom served up an ambrosia fruit salad. The diners helped themselves to garlic bread and the dessert of homemade strawberry shortcake.

There were a couple of newcomers that made me reflect. One was a young boy about 15 years old, I think. He looked as though he’d not bathed in a while, his hair disheveled, his face streaked with dirt, his ti-shirt and pants wrinkled and perhaps a little smelly. He arrived late, quietly approached the table, and mumbled that he was starving. My mother’s heart quickly sprang into action, offering him a couple of helpings of meatloaf, huge servings of mashed potatoes and risotto, and several slices of the tomato/mozzarella salad. He also got a spoonful of the cauliflower dish from another volunteer.The boy accepted everything gratefully, as they all do. Of course they may not like everything, but they’re not forced to eat it all. Later I did see the young man very discreetly throw out what remained on his plate, including the tomatoes and cheese. I felt for him as he stood at the  trash bin, seeming unsure as to whether or not he should discard the food given him. I think he did, finally. I’m glad. Just because he’s destitute, doesn’t mean he’s not free to still choose. My husband said he’d encountered the boy as he neared the hall. Standing outside until he could be useful, my husband informed the boy who asked what time it was, that, in fact, a meal was being served for any who desired to partake. My husband was also touched to see such a young person obviously in need of something to eat.

strawberry shortcake

Image by QuintanaRoo via Flickr

Late into the meal, a mother pushing a stroller arrived, accompanied by a younger relative carrying the baby. We had to scrape together what remained of the food, except for the salad of which there was lots left since I’d brought 3 platters. The latecomers seemed happy to be getting whatever they could. They, and the others, are a reminder that there are those who will eat anything, rather than have nothing whatsoever to eat.

As he did the last time we volunteered, my husband got to work scrubbing what serving dishes were emptied of food. Most had been cooked in disposable aluminum foil pans which were tossed, so there was less to clean up than before. As a result we left earlier than others who remained behind chatting. In taking our leave, we agreed that it was another evening well spent at the community hall. It felt especially good since we were celebrating Easter the following day. Feeding the hungry meant we were doing what Christ had done.

What Good Are These For So Many?

Image by andycoan via Flickr

giving to others…what we take for granted…hugmamma.  

celebrate life…every day

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic C...

Image by sarowen via Flickr

It’s kind of a running joke in the Catholic Church, actually it’s probably true of all religious denominations, that there’s an explosion of attendance on two annual occasions, Christmas and Easter. Regular churchgoers have to literally suck in their breaths to make room for the masses of people who join in celebrating the birth of Jesus, and then His resurrection from death. But all are welcome, regardless if they only come once or twice a year.

I acted as a meet and greet person for 8 a.m. Mass this morning. Seems to be a volunteer job I’m becoming more and more adept at doing. No cowboys here though, like there was at my previous gig. Just regular folk in their Sunday best. My husband helped usher people. We arrived about 15-20 minutes before the start of services, so there weren’t a ton of empty spaces left in the pews. I had a hunch we’d be one of the many standing the entire time, which we did.

After fulfilling our tasks, I remained in the vestibule where I’d been welcoming fellow worshippers with “Good morning. Happy Easter.” Meanwhile, hubby stood directly opposite me at the other end of the church. We could’ve waved “hello” but we didn’t. We were respectful, and minded our “P’s and Q’s,” or at least I did. He’s always reverential. Did I tell you he was a seminarian studying for the priesthood when he was in high school? God decided he had a more difficult job to undertake…keeping me on the straight and narrow, which he’s done, at times with difficulty. I’m not the kind of sheep who’s easily led. I like to ask “but..why?”

Because I was standing where families gather, outside the glass doors that separate them from the other parishioners, I couldn’t follow the priest’s words very well. With babies and toddlers cooing and talking, or parading up and down the aisle, or running in some cases, I quickly decided that God was also present among them and all of us standing on the periphery, not just within the main body of the church where the altar was. So I watched, and enjoyed, the children and their parents interact. Jesus, Mary and Joseph must’ve carried on like any one of these normal families.

La vierge aux raisins

Image via Wikipedia

A young couple whom I had brought over to an empty chair in front of me, were wonderful to watch. The husband encouraged his wife to sit with their baby in her lap. Taking off his jacket, and draping it over the back of the chair, he gently stroked his wife’s back as she tended to the little one’s needs. At times, he would lift the girl up into his arms to give the mother a little respite. Once he left, taking his daughter with him. They were gone a little while so I wondered if he’d taken her somewhere to change a diaper or use the restroom. Of course I didn’t know for sure, but he seemed the considerate type who wouldn’t flinch at the task. At the kiss of peace,” I wished them a “Happy Easter,” and told them how much I enjoyed their wonderful family.

It’s always rewarding to notice God’s handiwork in the smallest moments of daily living. Happiness, I think, is an accumulation of all such worthwhile minutiae. Approaching life this way has meant that I’m able to sustain ongoing joy. I’m better able to keep the “valleys” in perspective, not letting them drain me of my positive resolve. It’s an ongoing struggle, for sure, but one which I’m determined never to lose.

My favorite author, Leo Buscaglia, makes the best case for celebrating every day as though it were Easter, or Christmas, or any other sacred occasion.

A Rose to Brighten Your Day

Image by TT IN THE DESERT via Flickr

Life is meant to be a celebration! It shouldn’t be necessary to set aside special times to remind us of this fact. Wise is the person who finds a reason to make every day a special one.

hugs for every day of your life being special…hugmamma.

   

“balancing action and inaction,” life

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

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Today is Palm Sunday, signifying Christ‘s triumphal arrival into Jerusalem. A week from now we will be celebrating His resurrection from death. That is the pivotal point for all Catholics, when we are saved from eternal damnation. And so today begins the holiest week in the Catholic Church, and the busiest. Each day provides us an opportunity to participate in the ritual leading up to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

During Jesus life on earth this next week, Holy Week, unfolded as his own personal hell. He went from riding on a donkey, his followers waving palm branches as they honored Him, to being scourged and made to carry a wooden cross, upon which he would then be nailed, a sign over his head mocking Him as king of the Jews.

The Passion of the Christ

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Actor/Director Mel Gibson‘s movie shown several years ago, was the most horrific representation of Christ’s suffering from the moment He was struck repeatedly with leather straps whose tips bore lead beads, to the crown of thorns shoved mercilessly into his scalp, to the huge nails that were hammered into his hands and feet. I was unable to watch most of the film, and I tried to muffle the sounds by shoving my fingers into my ears. I hadn’t imagined how overwhelmingly gruesome the depiction would be. That is one movie I will never be able to watch again. Never.

I find it difficult to fathom the suffering human beings can endure. After today’s lengthy reading of the scriptures, Father Brian launched into his homily. The contrast was jarring. Somber words one minute, near-shouting the next. A mimimum of movement one minute, bold, sweeping ones the next. He spoke of a friend with whom he visited in Bellingham, a town bordering British Columbia. It was almost as though Father was speaking of Job, the man who couldn’t get a break from the bad stuff life was throwing his way.

Andy, Father Brian’s friend, was married, with a baby on the way. At about the time he and his wife learned of her pregnancy, he was stricken with cancer throughout his abdomen. He was going through chemotherapy treatment, which left him depleted. Advice from friends and loved ones runs the gamut from fighting the disease with all of his might, to letting go and allowing God‘s will be done. Needless to say the ordeal has Andy wafting in and out of depression. Somewhere along the line, the doctors discovered that the cancer has spread throughout his spinal column.

Jesus calls Lazarus to Life

Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

Wouldn’t it be nice if Father Brian had the ability to relieve Andy of the cancer, by performing a miracle? That’s what the non-believers taunted as Christ hung on the cross. If He was truly the Son of God, then why didn’t His Father rescue Him? That, as we know, was not God’s will.

While Andy’s situation exemplifies human suffering at its worst, Father Brian drew a parallel between his life, Christ’s life, and our lives. Though our challenges may not be as great as theirs, like them we vacillate between agressively promoting that about which we are passionate, to passively accepting our fate and putting our lives into God’s hands. We are constantly seeking the right balance. In doing so Father concluded that we should not only pray for guidance, but that we should also find someone with whom we can openly share our sorrows.  Both will enable us to shoulder whatever burdens we will bear throughout our lives.

a fine balance…this gift of life…hugmamma.   

 

formerly homeless poets

Came across poems written by a couple of formerly homeless. I thought you’d enjoy their perspectives on life. Though their circumstances may differ from ours, their innermost thoughts and feelings can sometimes mirror our own. See what you think…

Music Dogs Love: While You Are Gone Released 2...

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Why We Need More Pets than Shelters
by Cathie Buckner

Pets offer love without hoops to jump through.
They are accepting no matter how or to whom we pray.
They never tell us to go away.
They often give us joy and something to live for.
And never make us leave our stuff in the courtyard
where buzzards lurk to pluck it all up.

Music Cats Love: While You Are Gone Released 2...

Image via Wikipedia

They offer safety in all the unsafe places
and make us aware of devils in the dark blue.
They never turn their face or walk the other way.
They share the things we have and are satisfied.
They are always well-calming even when we feel out of control.
Never a tough tongue or bootstrap rap.
They love the way we smell even when there is no water to be found.
They keep us warm on long, lonely nights.
And they keep the rats at bay.

The Struggle
by Jesse Hayes

Time after time I find I’m drowning in a sea of despair
doubtfully I open up my eyes searching for a road that leads somewhere
when it seems that all hope is gone memory brings back to me what your love has done
so I’ll glory in all my tribulation knowing that it will make me strong
surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses
I’ll struggle until the race is won
I’ll struggle until the race is won
I’ll struggle until the race is won

Jesus with children, early 1900s Bible illustr...

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Faith is being sure of what we hope for
certain of what we cannot see
when the trumpet sounds and Jesus comes to take us
I pray my faith will still abide in thee.

best gift…ever!

Twenty-five years ago today, my husband and I were blest with the perfect gift, our daughter. Without child for 16 years, we’ve counted our blessings every day since her miracle birth. Because of her we know the joy of celebrating holidays, especially Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Because of her we know what it means to love without conditions, and to sacrifice without expectations. Because of her we’ve come to accept who we are, with our own idiosyncrasies and human failings. And because of her, my husband and I have found a deeper love for one another.

Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and child Jesus

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Life isn’t perfect, it wasn’t meant to be. But being gifted with a child surely put us on a direct path to God, not always an easy one. On-the-job training, trial and error, challenges, compromises, and blending individual personalities into one smoothe-running household, was probably not even easy for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family. But look where they are. Sitting at the right-hand of God.

But I don’t need to look that far ahead to know that I wouldn’t trade being a mom for any other gift in the universe. My precious daughter has brought me to where I belong…to my own, true self. Twenty-five years ago, today, I began my journey “home”…

and i owe it all to my daughter…hugmamma.

an energetic organizer, and true christian

Haven’t posted about our pastor, Father Bryan Dolejsi, in some time. But today’s Mass reminded me of the gifts with which he has been blest, and which he uses with enormous energy, and generosity. I’m sure there are many others like him, in positions of leadership, within the religious world, as well as within the secular. I, for one, have rarely seen someone possessing all that it takes to be a force for good, in a world that has gone so bad. I say we clone the man, and distribute him to the furthest corners of the universe. Yes, even the aliens could use Fr. Bryan.

Why do I go on singing his praises? Have you ever heard of a pastor, one in his late 30s, instigating neighborhood gatherings? After Mass, the parishioners were invited to sign up for community dinners according to our zip codes. If no one steps forward from among those listed, Father hosts the dinners at his own home. I’m certain it’s a pot-luck meal, but still. In my 61 years, I’ve never eaten a meal at the home of a priest. I’ve had them to our home, but never been reciprocated, and never expected to be.

Obviously Father Bryan’s purpose is to bring his congregation together, to know one another, beginning with small groups, and eventually growing so that there is camaraderie among all in the parish. Sensitive to the isolation of individuals, Father attempts to gather all unto himself, infusing us with his love and energy to go forth and spread God‘s word of charity and compassion towards others.

Breaking of the bread.

Image via Wikipedia

After Communion, Father Bryan asked that parishioners of less than a year gather before him to receive his blessing, and ours. Then he asked that they turn toward the congregation and receive our applause, welcoming them into the fold. He then asked that we speak to our new members, say “hello” or offer assistance if needed.

Now what mom wouldn’t be proud of a son like Father Byian? Not having met the woman, I’m positive his mom couldn’t be prouder of the man she raised from birth. 

for a leader who shows by example…and for the mom who set the example…huge hugs…hugmamma.

daughters, vicious cycle?

If anyone asked my best advice in rearing a daughter, I’d have to say “refrain from a feeling of ownership.” Because my daughter’s birth seemed a miracle after 16 years of marriage without conceiving, I sincerely thought of her as a gift from God. Corny as it may sound, I surmised I was to her as Mary was to Jesus, someone into whose hands my child had been entrusted, that God had chosen me as her caretaker here on earth. I never looked upon my daughter as a possession; I still don’t. She remains a gift to be cherished.

I have the luxury of doting on an only child, within a middle-class environment. She has been loved unconditionally and has thrived on mine and my husband’s undivided attention. Lucky for us that she is humble and self-effacing, never over-stepping the limits of our generosity. She’s never been in the habit of asking; we’ve always been inclined to bestow, especially since we went without, as children. This might be said of most baby-boomers. Had our daughter had siblings, or been of a more rankling temperament, our lives would most certainly have been different. To say that our family is blest is an understatement.

Is it ever certain which is derived from which, a good child begets a good family, or a good family begets a good child? I don’t know the answer, maybe the experts do. What I have always felt is that children are “clean slates” upon which adults leave their marks. While we are humans unable to control our every word and our every act, we should be vigilant in our efforts to do just that. Unlike a chalk board, we cannot erase what we have inscribed onto our children’s minds, hearts and souls. Our legacy remains for good or bad, the latter to be dealt with by our offspring as best they can. Some are strengthened; some struggle to recover; some distance themselves forever from their parents.

Within the past 2 to 3 weeks I’ve read My Mother’s Keeper by B.D. Hyman and The Girl Who Walked Home Alone by Charlotte Chandler. Both were biographies of actress Bette Davis, the first published without her prior knowledge, while the latter enlisted her complete involvement.

Hyman’s book was a tragic ending for both Davis and her daughter. It was written and released in 1985, 4 years before Davis’ death in 1989. The vendetta as detailed in My Mother’s Keeper, publicly impaled Davis upon the sharp-tongued ramblings of her birth daughter, who wrote the book as an ultimatum, as much to right all the wrongs against her, her husband and their 2 boys, as to gain the upper hand in their relationship going forward. Upon first read the book was a revelation of sorts, although it seemed in keeping with Davis’ on-screen persona as a tough broad who brooked no-nonsense. But more than halfway into the book it seemed to acquire a mean-spiritedness. Davis was portrayed as having no redeeming qualities, while Hyman looked upon herself as a victim. Unnerving, it allowed a bald view into  family secrets which should have remained just that. Whether or not Hyman should have “grown” a backbone and confronted Davis in person, severing ties if necessary, is a question that goes unanswered. Hyman’s reason for suffering Davis’ abuse, love. If true, why the need to diminish Davis in the eyes of her fans? Was that done from love?  

“Bette had been told her daughter’s book was terrible, that it would hurt her deeply, but she hoped those who had told her had exaggerated. …’I had to know what it said. I read every searing word. I read it only once. I will not need to go back. I will remember every hate-filled sentence branded on my soul, as long as I live.’ It was, Bette said, more painful than anything she had endured in the hospital, worse than her mastectomy, more terrible torture than the strokes. ‘Finding out that my only natural child not only didn’t love me but actually detested me was the most terrible thing that happened in my life. Absolutely.  …She broke my heart, if that’s what satisfied her.’  … Bette never again spoke to her daughter.”

The Girl Who Walked Home Alone brought the balance I sought after reading Hyman’s book. While Chandler’s book did not excuse Davis’ behavior as a mother, it gave me the opportunity to “walk in her shoes.” 

” ‘All my life I’ve talked about the importance of my mother. And I’ve brushed aside my father, because he brushed me aside. Since my father walked out on Ruthie and Bobby and me, I’ve always said I didn’t care, but…Oh, hell! I did. He was a brain. I tried so hard to win him, to get his attention, but he didn’t seem to like children, especially his own.  … The first man in my life, my father, left me, and that started the pattern. I was always afraid it might happen again, so I tested each man until he failed.  … I had to work, to compete, to struggle, because I had to show him what a mistake he’d made in leaving his seven-year-old daughter who worshipped him. And, indeed, I did show him, except he didn’t see it. I think that everything I am, as a woman of a certain age, was present in that little girl I was, trying to get the attention of my father. He was not interested. Now, he’s long dead, my career is largely over, and so is my own life, but I think I’m still trying to get his attention.  …Sometimes the shortest distance between two points of view is a straight lie. I’m still direct, but one can carry directness too far, where one goes around being so bright and so honest that you hurt people. I learned wrong lessons from my father that probably hampered me as a woman. But he gave me a very good brain, and that helped me to hang on. In his whole life, Daddy loved only one creature that I know of–his dog, a vicious chow who bit everyone in sight. Daddy would roar with laughter when I went to visit him and he saw how terrified I was by the dog’s purple tongue and its sharp, fierce teeth. I think he enjoyed it immensely when his dog bit people. The last time I went to see him, Daddy was alone with that dog. My father died at only fifty-two. I think he was too bright to enjoy being alive. His contempt for all of humanity included himself. Poor Daddy! Now I understand and can have sympathy for him. How isolated from the world he was! I can only guess at his unhappiness; I understand his loneliness. He left me his wife, his daughter, all of the responsibilities of a man–and a lifetime of trying to fill the legacy of his absence.” 

All mothers are daughters first. Experiences in childhood forever impact our own dealings as adults, especially in raising our offspring. It’s never too late to understand and forgive. But there’s no prescription as to how this happens. It’s a path we have to choose for ourselves, but it’s best done with compassion, and hope… for a better tomorrow.

hugs for daughters, and mothers…hugmamma.

humility, with a southern drawl

I was invited by a very, dear friend to attend Sunday Mass at her church, the diocesan Cathedral. I’d been in it before, some time ago. Upon entering the nave, I was surprised for I hadn’t remembered its simplicity. The seat of the diocese from which the Bishop administers to local area churches, usually instills awe and if not fear, then certainly timidity. Rather than gazing upon impressive architectural details, I noticed the people sitting quietly in pews, others walking down the central aisle looking for seats. When my eyes came to rest upon the front where Mass would be celebrated, I was perplexed by its lack of ornamentation. The altar was empty; 3 wooden chairs sat to the right. To the left stood the podium, partially blocking another wooden chair. And across the back, imposing in size, was a white marble sculpture of Jesus on the Cross, the Blessed Virgin standing beneath and to his left, eyes gazing upon His face, and St. John standing on the right. Cradling Jesus’ feet was a woman, perhaps Mary Magdalene. 

In contrast to the starkness below, the dome over the altar displayed colorful paintings. The lone, central figure was God, left hand extended holding the world with a cross on top. The figures to His left and right may have been of a risen Virgin and St. John, but I’m not certain for I only glimpsed them momentarily. Having seated ourselves, I continued to look around for other tell-tale signs of grandeur befitting the Bishop’s Church. They only seemed apparent beyond the pillars that flanked either side of the nave. Structural details such as cornices, sculptures and stained glass windows enhanced the otherwise, unassuming house of worship. Use of soft pastels in hues of blues, peaches and beiges both in paint colors and floor tiles, imparted an air of serenity.

Awash in calm, I observed those around me. Smiles lighting up faces as friends recognized one another. Young sons kept separate by a mom, as the family of 4 made their way into a pew. A middle-aged, silver haired couple, husband with his arm lovingly draped about his wife, fingers massaging her shoulder. Two 30-ish year old women with ebony, straight, shoulder-length hair, dressed similarly in print skirts and simple black tops, quietly stepped into a pew a couple of rows ahead. One turned her head looking over her right shoulder, a smile lifting the corners of her lovely face. Was she part-Asian, part-Caucasian, or part-Hispanic, part-Caucasian? It was difficult to tell, but she was pretty nonetheless. The single element which disrupted the contemplative surroundings was the couple seated directly in front of us. Blonde hair in a short pony-tail, the woman, dressed in short jean skirt topped with a white, slightly off-the-shoulder blouse, cinched at the waist by a beige, elastic belt, spoke in non-stop whispers to her male companion. I found myself repeatedly focusing my attention elsewhere, trying to assimilate the peacefulness that enveloped me. It wasn’t difficult.

For me the “jewel in the crown” is always the person celebrating the Mass, and I wasn’t disappointed. Different from youthful, 38 year old, 6’4″ tall, dark and handsome Father Bryan, the pastor of my church, Father Edward Steiner, the Cathedral’s rector, was nearer my age, 5’10”, bespectacled, pleasantly rotund, with silvery-blonde hair, mischievous eyes and a ready smile. When he began his homily his voice, not booming like Father Bryan’s, but soothing and comfortable, invited me to rest my back against the bench, to sit-a-spell. With a lilting, southern drawl, Father Steiner spoke of humility, the Gospel’s lesson.

I’m certain I’ve heard this particular Gospel many times over many years. Perhaps maturity gained with age and a lifetime of experiences, coupled with Father’s engaging demeanor kept me hostage throughout his homily. Drawing our attention to the calendar, he reminded us that there were only so many days left until Christmas. The congregation joined in his chuckles. Continuing on, Father said that most of us give obligatory gifts, among these are those to teachers, secretaries. Not intending to dissuade us from gift-giving, he encouraged that we do it for more substantive reasons than obligation. He then explained the cultural premise of the Gospel reading.

According to Jewish practice whoever was positioned directly across from the host while dining, was held in the highest esteem. The remaining positions were then distributed with consideration for the host’s regard toward those invited, the least favored being seated at his feet. Mediterranean practice had diners lying on their sides, dipping torn pieces of bread into serving dishes shared by all. Western practice is less stringent, with the hostess assigning, or not assigning, seats at the table. If in the latter case, a person seats himself across from the hostess and is asked to move, then that guest is humbled. Where if a guest is moved from a lesser position to the most prominent seat, then that person is rewarded for her humility.

Rather than inviting guests to dine based upon a sense of obligation for their having first invited us, Father Steiner suggests we invite those who are unable to return the favor. By bringing the humble (“low in status” according to Webster) to our table we are advancing their honor, and our own. In giving gifts, we should do so not with the expectation of receiving, we should give because we want to honor those to whom we give, knowing that they are unable to give in kind. We honor them, and we honor ourselves.

Among Jews, striving for honor was a constant. But it seemed to be a subsequence of humility. When Mary told Jesus that a wedding reception was running low on its supply of wine, she intended that he do something. Knowing that he would help to preserve the groom’s honor, Mary was advancing her own Son’s honor. Without fanfare and with only a handful bearing witness, Jesus performed a miracle to keep the wine plentiful. This act, done with humility, brought honor to Himself while maintaining the honor of His host.

After Mass I thanked Father for his sermon. The same warmth that emanated during the eucharistic celebration continued to flow from him as we chatted. When my friend and I took our leave, allowing others patiently waiting to speak with Father, I hugged him in Aloha. Comfortable in returning the gesture, Father elevated a humble follower to share his proximity to God, thus honoring me and in the process, advancing His honor as well.

I meant it when I told Father Steiner that my experience with southern hospitality is that it is akin to Hawaiian Aloha. Both have their faults for sure, but they have their blessings as well. Rather than use a broad stroke to define a culture, I prefer to use a fine brush to detail their compassionate and positive qualities. Focusing upon the humbler side of human nature advances its honor, and the honor of all mankind, and ultimately, God’s.

hugs for a humble southerner, Father Steiner…hugmamma.

cemetery scavenger hunt

On a recent trip to California’s Orange County, to see our daughter perform as part of the National Choreographer’s Initiative, my husband granted my only wish for my 61st birthday, which occurred while we were there. We visited Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. I wanted to see Michael Jackson’s burial site, but also glimpse where stars of Hollywood’s “Golden Age” were buried. I’d picked up a thick paperback from Barnes and Noble, which was like an encyclopedic “map” of historical celebrity sites, hangouts, studios, homes. Hollywood: The Movie lover’s Guide – The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie L.A. by Richard Alleman, even detailed the specific locations where the famous were entombed. Book in hand we went on our very own scavenger hunt, seeking out dead people.

Pulling through the enormous wrought iron gates of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, we were taken aback by the serenity that greeted us. Yes it’s a resting place for the deceased, but it looked like a park with acres of lush, green grass. It seemed like an oasis in the midst of Los Angeles, for right outside the gates were strip malls as far as the eye could see in all directions. Just inside the entrance was a Tudor style building which lodged a combination floral/gift shop, as well as an information desk and restrooms. From what little I saw during MJ’s private burial ceremony on TV, I expected more security and less warmth from staff members. To my amazement there were no security guards patrolling the compound, and the few workers with whom I spoke, were pleasant and forthcoming with answers to my questions.

Driving on in our rental car, we meandered along tree-lined roads that wound their way through the verdant landscape. I could not stop “oohing” and “aahing.” Along the way we saw a few cars and other tourists, but luckily nothing compared to the likes of Universal Studios and Disneyland, which we vowed not to go near. In his book, Alleman describes Forest Lawn where “there are no rows of ordinary tombstones. Instead, there are acres of gardens and courts, with names such as Slumberland, Lullabyland, Everlasting Love, Inspiration Slope, and Babyland, where flat stone markers scarcely alter the smooth contours of the green lawn. There is a swan lake. There are two mausoleums—one of which resembles a great sprawling Medieval abbey. There are churches that are full-sized reproductions of churches in England and Scotland. Not only used for funerals, these are sometimes the scenes of weddings. In 1940, for example, Ronald Reagan married Jane Wyman in Forest Lawn’s Wee Kirk of the Heather.”

After visiting a couple of the churches and a museum showing works by artist Paul Gauguin, we finally went on the hunt for movie stars, albeit dead ones. At the Court of Freedom, we viewed a 20-by-30 foot mosaic replicating John Trumbull’s famous painting, “The Signing of the Declaration of Independence.” In the nearby Freedom Mausoleum I spied my first celebrity crypts, those of Alan Ladd, Nat King Cole, Jeanette MacDonald and Clara Bow. On the lower level, Gummo and Chico Marx were laid to rest, as was Larry Fine, one of the Three Stooges. Back outside I went in search of Walt Disney’s resting place without success. According to Alleman, “Whether Disney is here or not (and it appears highly likely that he is at Forest Lawn), it seems fitting that he should be remembered in a place that has the same fantasy/reality quality of the great park that his own dreams created: Disneyland.”

The “piece de resistance,” Jackson’s burial site was off-limits to the viewing public. Set apart from the main section of the Great Mausoleum, his body rests in an annex with a guard posted outside the wrought-iron gate. Keeping watch with him the day of my visit, were 3 women in their late 30’s, early 40’s. They seemed contemporary counterparts of the women who watched and prayed on the ground outside Jesus’ tomb. Their eyes hid behind dark glasses. One had brought sunflowers, placing them against a column at the corner of the building where they would go undetected by the guard. I inadvertently drew attention to them when I asked if I could snap a picture, knowing they were MJ’s favorite flowers. Flummoxed, the guard nodded his assent, but added he would need to remove them to another area where well-wishers left keepsakes in memory of the entertainer. I think the woman who brought the flowers was upset that I had pointed them out. Turning on my heel, I heard her plead to have them remain put.

Inside the Mausoleum we were directed to a viewing of the gigantic stained-glass version of The Last Supper, “which is unveiled several times a day at regular intervals complete with special lighting effects, music, and ‘dramatic narration.’” In the same room are reproductions of Michelangelo’s Pieta, Madonna in Bruges, Medici Madonna and Child among others. With a handful or more in the audience, I listened to the beginning of the narration. Antsy to hunt down the stars, I quietly stepped away into the nearby Court of Honor. Unfortunately a metal link chain kept me from moving through the hall for a better view of the names inscribed on the bronze plaques, vertically lining the walls on either side.

Scared that someone would come along, particularly the woman standing at the entrance of the building, I paced the length of the chain struggling to make out names as far as I could, squinting my eyes. I made a preliminary attempt to go around the chain but thought better of it, and returned to where I’d stood. Extremely frustrated to be so close, and yet so far, I tiptoed back to peek at the audience still seated on the other side of the wall from where I was. Hurrying back I sucked in my breath, passed around the chain and raced with determination through the narrow hall, glancing furiously at all the bronze plaques. At the other end was a smaller, separate room where “Gone with the Wind’s” famous director David O’Selznick was buried. Slowly retracing my steps I almost leapt out of my skin with joy, for in front of me were the names of Clark Gable and his wife Carole Lombard. I was in Heaven, absolute Heaven! I raced back out to where I’d left my husband, heart pounding, grinning from ear to ear. He, of course, was not surprised at my antics, but playfully scolded me nonetheless.

As we all moved to leave the building I stopped at the nearby Sanctuary of Benediction where I could see, leaning over the chain this time, the crypts of Red Skelton and Sid Grauman (of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre). I was unable to see around a wall to the crypts of Jean Harlow and others, who were mentioned in Alleman’s book. During the few hours I was at Forest Lawn, I felt I’d made a special trip to Heaven to meet some of my favorite Hollywood movie stars.

Except for the traffic, I had a “maavalous” birthday,“daahhling”…hugmamma.

a friendly place

Getting up for 8:15 Mass is a struggle. I’m not a morning person, as I’ve said in previous posts. So making it to exercise and church services is a labor of love, or else insanity, maybe both. The “drawing card” for me are the teachers, Kristina at the gym, and Father Brian at St. Joseph’s. Their common denominator is their compassionate, warm, “open” personalities. Neither basks in the limelight, rather they are humbly passionate about spreading their messages, Kristina “speaks” to exercise as essential for our well-being; Father Brian shares the gospel that God loves and cares for all of us.

Probably the youngest priest I’ve ever encountered as pastor of a parish, Father Brian, is a natural-born “shepherd.” He gathers his parishioners, his “sheep,” about him, with concern for our safe deliverance into the hands of God, our Maker. He doesn’t prod us with pokers, rather he relates stories, personal or biblical, which encourages us to think and to decide by what values we should live. The church fills with laughter when Father Brian tells a joke or humorous anecdote. He’s not even above pointing a finger at himself, whether in fun or to confirm that he too is human. His manner is easy, his smiles always forthcoming. He is accepting of ways that are different from his. If there are rules, and there must be, by which the parish operates, they do not seem “set in stone.” Perhaps his youthfulness and relative newness to pastoral duties has him proceeding with caution, allowing himself to blend into the congregation’s routine, to become one with, not one above, us.

Today my ears were extra perked when listening to Father’ sermon. He spoke of our need to focus upon the “small things” in our lives. These, he said, are the building blocks of the kingdom of Heaven. God does not reward us for “flash”, but rather for what we do “behind the scenes.” As stewards of God’s gifts, our services toward and on behalf of one another will be rewarded. Our faithfulness will be recognized. Romans 12:6-8 from The New Testament testifies to this:

“We each have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” 

As an introduction to his homily, Father Brian spoke of witnessing small, but meaningful, human gestures that “built up the Kingdom of God.” Friends from out-of-town were visiting with him. A couple and their 2 daughters visited the popular tourist attractions. In their comings and goings, Father witnessed the loving care bestowed upon the littlest child by her sister and her parents.

On a recent visit with his elderly grandparents at their assisted living facility, Father celebrated the Mass in their apartment, the 3 huddling together. At the “kiss of peace”, his grandparents turned and pecked each other on the cheek, mouthing the words “I love you” to one another. This demonstration of their affection spoke volumes of their 67 year-long marriage.

After weekday Mass one morning, Father Brian noticed a lone woman moving through the pews, collecting congregation booklets, which she would then return to their housing. On another occasion, a parishioner asked Father if she could bring flowers from her garden to place around the altar. Walking over to it, he fingered one of the daisies, lovingly displayed in a vase. Matching arrangements were staged prominently in other areas.

It is obvious that Father Brian is like family to his parishioners. He freely speaks to us of his mother, other relatives, his friends, his love of basketball, his personal impressions of a recent visit to the Vatican, and his own faith journey. And he eagerly awaits us outside after Mass, shaking hands and smiling broadly. He always remembers our daughter, though she’s not a regular. Because he attracts everyone with his charismatic style, I said to Father Brian one day “You could be a rock star!” To which he replied, after letting out a belly laugh, “Jesus is the rock star!”

no “Hell, fire and brimstone” here, only warmth…hugmamma