Here Is What I Hope

GeneMc-6November is a melancholy month. We are urged to remember, not only by holiday sentiment, but by nature itself, all the people and events not only of the past year but of our lives. There is something in the air in November, the turning leaves, the cooler days that turn us inward. Nature asking us to stop  between the heat and the coming cold to reflect, to both cherish and regret, and if regretting, to correct.

It is the correcting part where I have to place my hope. And hope is one of the cardinal virtues which brings me back around to the earliest teachings and yes, swaddling influences of my life.

Despite the trash talk and controversies and who holds power in the Vatican-- that is all ancillary and distracting from the theology and spirituality of which I was not only baptized into in the back of St. Clare's on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception some 56 years ago, but I was immersed and yes, again, swaddled in the mysteries and the lights and shadows and the lives of saints and gospels stories in the stain glass around the marble church.

And the sanctuary lamp.

The red flame and the gold doors.

All the activity, prayer, songs readings and gestures all focused on who was housed there in the form of consecrated bread.

Not something to be scoffed at or dismissed. No, there was a great mistake in that movement, but that is for a different time.

Here is what I hope: I hope that with our natural time of reflection and feasts of All Souls and All Saints, the communion of saints which uphold us and upon whose shoulders we rest, I hope and yes, I believe, that the mistakes and misunderstandings can still be corrected, forgiven, absolved, not only by God, but by those we miss and mourn, by those we can finally see in a different light, a kinder light, a more generous and Christian light. And they, us.

I hope this, not only for theological or spiritual reasons, but for very human needs, because if our regret stays stuck in the physical fact of our loved ones not being here to touch, to have that last conversation, that last hug or apology, how do we cope?

Perhaps it is my age, (some would say i am in the November of my life) perhaps it is because I now have grandchildren and all the years of family stories and people I carry within me and are carried forward by my children and grandchildren, or just the nature I was graced with, but I am not able to see death as the end, but just one chapter of a much longer life, and because of that, I hope.

A Yearly Ticking

“The colors, the cool breeze, the way the sun sits a little lower in the sky, just there, over the rooftop, in the late afternoon. Red and yellow leaves are mixed with browning ones on her lawn and under the bushes in the garden. They have gathered at the triangles at either side of the garage doors. She is in no hurry to rake and bag them. She cuts across her lawn, noting the crunch as she heads right, around the bend to Webster then south to Hewlett Avenue toward Sunrise Highway and the Long Island Rail Road. Woodbine is her favorite block. The colonial and Tudor houses, the trees and the gardens, are an advertisement for autumn in the suburbs of New York.

There are big lush oaks and elms with patches of bark chipped away and birds calling, still here,awk, still here. This is nature at its showiest, Jenny thinks. Some argue for spring and summer but for her this is the time when earth is at its fullest, its wisest, so to speak. It is the atmosphere for contemplation, for gathering wisdom, for quiet time to put some order on the chaos of the eruptions of spring and summer.

She thinks of the old trees as wise, but smiles as she wonders why wise and old are so often paired. Surely she has known enough old fools in her life, people who managed to tick out the seconds of their clock without softening, without deepening into their wrinkles and soft bellies. Isn’t the trade off for some frailty a dose of wisdom? Is it a choice, she wonders, or a disposition?

 These thoughts stroll through her as she breathes in the sweet air of decaying leaves, delighted at the bit of red, blown and dancing on autumn's breath. Thank you, God, for letting me walk, for letting me see again this beautiful garment of autumn, the colors and the sun splitting its rays through these branches that have survived season after season. Most older than me, older than my mother and grandmother. 

Jenny sees this showing of colors as a message from God to get our attention before we waste any more time. You can still understand, grieve, and allow pain to take root and grow compassion in your soul.

The sun falling lower in the sky and that breeze, just a bit chill, not yet cold, reminds us, grounds us. A yearly ticking, the bass sound of it gathering depth through the blanket of leaves. Forgiveness and generosity and abundance need to be our first things, not our last.GeneMc-8

She winds her way back to her house, goes in and sets the kettle to boil. When it whistles she fills a cup and lets a tea bag steep. The back porch that needs cement work and some new wood around the screens is one of her favorite parts of this house. It is far from perfect and for this she is glad."

Excerpt From: Julianne B. McCullagh. “The Narrow Gate.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=4CDEDFAAADF3D35D308A2D56A8947FED

Excerpt From: Julianne B. McCullagh. “The Narrow Gate.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=4CDEDFAAADF3D35D308A2D56A8947FED



Did you ever get caught by a phrase? A few words that wrap around you, pull you in and let you know you have companions in your sensibilities, in the things that call and bid you over? Scrolling through Facebook, an excerpt from Wild Irish Poet (www.wildirishpoet.com) caught me enough that I downloaded his book on my iPad. (Naked in New York, Alan Cooke)

... I walked to the edge and the water was a mirror to my heart.. I could almost see the old ghosts beneath the surface talking to me.. echoing my longing for it is a longing that is beyond time.. beyond the barriers of life and death.... to awaken the deep buried wildness within..

To awaken the deep buried wildness within...

I used the word 'wildness' in The Narrow Gate when Rose is at her brother's burial:

Did I do this? Did I kill my brother? The questions echo in Rosés head. Did I ask too much of him?

The wildness in her! Standing here while the deacon reads from the Gospels and they make the sign of the cross, even now, she makes the sign of the cross  in unison with everyone while beneath these gestures the real Rose is accused, tried and condemned because of her selfishness.  (p. 281)

I used the word wildness, though I have no adequate definition. An image comes to mind, a dark, mute fury wrangling within the confines of my character, Rose, but bigger, stronger, a force twisting its own logic into her. Something primal, untamed, of the earth and sky. Something of an impolite truth.

And this phrase, echoing my longing for it is a longing that is beyond time...beyond the barriers of life and death, is something I have written of over the years, often with a wry wonder of how such language is received.

These phrases of wildness and longing beyond barriers of life and death have long been attributed to the Irish and their tendency toward poetics. But I contend that they are universal, common to every tribe and gathering of people, a loneliness in their longing, a magnetic pull toward mystery beyond words.

For it is beyond words, the deep silence, that all poets and lovers of words pour their syllables.



My dear good friend Bill Marvel used a word in a sentence at our Salon the other day. Neither of us remember clearly what he was referring to, but the word, bromeliad, struck a chord with me.

What's that? I asked.

One of those little plants that seem to exist unconnected to any roots, he replied, perhaps. (Both of us indulge in memoir from time to time, so I say 'perhaps' because we don't feel the great need to quote exactly, as long as we are true to the gist of things.  which, of course, comes with its own set of problems, memories being what they are, but I digress)

So, I had to look up bromeliads, natch.  I discovered that bromeliad is the larger group that contains the free floating untethered bits of greenery called Tillandsias.  Since bromeliad has a much stouter ring, evoking Jonathan Swift, that satirical Irishman, and his inventions of sounds such as Brobdignagian and Lilliputian, we shall throw all the bromeliads in the same bag and watch it float away.

I had, indépendant of Salon, been thinking about the concept of being untethered for a while. This nagged at me because of a conversation I had with someone dear to me who politely declined my suggestion of 'tethering" her family through a religious rite I hold dear.

Years ago, when part of my job was to teach Baptism classes, the fashion was to de-emphazize Original Sin (sorry St. Augustine) and to emphasize community and heritage and family lore and connectedness to the Big Story, our overarching Christian mythos that binds us one to the other and to God.

I asked the class to bring with them some token from their family history that they held dear. Some brought photographs, coin collections, medals, bits of jewelry, that sort of thing. I brought a potato peeler. Not because the Irish ate a lot of potatoes, but because this peeler was used in countless family meals, both great and small. And so, it held a bit of our family history.

A stretch? Maybe.

But, it stands in place as (shall I say it?) a sacramental. One of the greatest things for a Catholic writer, or a writer who is Catholic, is the abundance of ordinary, everyday objects and physical, rough, elegant, oily, watery, things that evoke the holy by the manner in which they are used and remembered. The ordinary holy burlap and silk of the way we are tethered, one to another, and personally, communally to God.

Untethered is a fiction, for even Tillandsia Bromeliads need water and air and a place to hover.


When I was a kid, one of the jobs I'd have to do the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter, was polish the silver. We'd fill a basin with warm soapy water, rub some pink goo over the knives and forks and spoons, rub extra hard on the little black spots where tarnish had settled and get in the thread-like grooves, or patina, that had been scratched into the silver. The patina is where the stories of the spoons and forks and knives lived. the patina was the interesting bits of the life of each piece of cutlery. So, twice, maybe three times a year, we'd rub the silver like Aladdin rubbing his lamp, and place the shiny bits on the freshly ironed linen, next to the plates and wine glasses. The company would come, and in those early years, in the years when we wore our nicest dress and the boys wore a tie and polished shoes, the silver haired relations would tell stories and hold their shiny forks and leave their imprint on the touchable pieces of family history.

I found a new word yesterday: Wabi-sabi. Two words, really. Japanese. An approximate meaning I gleaned from Wikipedia is this: imperfections that make something interesting, bring its history forward, if only indirectly; hinting, whispers.

That is, the cracks in the crockery, the stains on the linen and lace tablecloth, the patina on the silver.

Which brings me to this short excerpt from THE NARROW GATE, when Rose discovers her grandmother's attic:

From Chapter Thirty-Three

Here is a treasure trove of history in this dusty room. Sheets cover armchairs, a desk, an old bureau. There is a sled, the kind she's seen in movies, that must have been her father's and uncle's. Boxes of old clothes that weren't supposed to find their resting place here, but did because they were forgotten or outgrown when it was time to get next season's garments down. A desk with an old typewriter covered in a towel is the best find. Black enamel keys with gold lettering, the keys are stiff with disuse, bit the indentation where fingers were to be placed, round with a band of metal on each one, feels so much more important than the plastic electric typewriter her parents have.