The Pebble

If you watch TV at all (and I watch it all too much) you cannot help but see the jewelry store ad with the penguins. Oh, it's so sweet when the cute boy penguin waddles over to a girl he's been working up the courage to talk to and drops a pebble at her feet. We anticipate a cozy cuddle and the two of them waddling off to happily ever after.

Alas, she waddles away. Poor guy. We were rooting for you.

In this world of penguin wooing, there is a clever fellow who dazzles his sweetie with gold and diamonds and she snuggles up with him. That's how you find true love, kiddos!

Wow and Merry Christmas to you too, you jaded cold hearted, well, you can fill in the adjective.

I know the jewelry store is trying to make a buck or two. I know that the 'Holiday Season' is their make or break time of year. I know that shiny jewelry at Christmas has become part of our mythos. Heck, I got a lovely shiny ring at Christmas many years ago from my honey and we've been happily ever after for several decades.

We in our house agree that the schlub with the pebble is cuter and more lovable than the slick haired piece of poultry who dazzles his honey with a rock that refracts sunlight and blinds the silly hen to his shallow heart.

Yes, I know I am super-imposing my own take on the birds in this thirty second romance. I do that sort of thing.

The humble full-hearted gift of love (see, I am granting the pebble penguin sincerity and not stinginess) resonates true considering the original Christmas presents were given to a boy tucked in to a bale of hay and kept warm by donkeys and sheep. 

Would the parum-pa-pa-pumming of The Little Drummer Boy be covered by crooners and rock stars all these years if it didn't resonate as true?

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


And All Will Be Right With the World

Its been two months since my father died. Nearly seven years ago he had a stroke. I went to New York, packed for a funeral.  It was a bad bleed in his head. We were told he could go anytime. At first he refused to believe he had a stroke. His mother died of a stroke in 1966.  Maybe what he was experiencing didn't seem to fit his idea of what a stroke would feel like.

I was in his ICU room when he told the nurses that he wanted to go to the john. That’s how he phrased it. He was told, no, you cannot. You cannot walk. He got angry. I am going to get out of this bed and go to the john myself, he protested.

You cannot walk.

That was a moment to witness. The beginning of indignities for this proud man who had overcome so much in his 87 years.

My heart broke a little. Okay, a lot.

When he was 26 years old he was shot in his back, his shoulder, his head somewhere on the Siegfried Line between France and Germany. The surgeons had to remove a kidney.

He was sent home on a hospital ship. He told us that coming into New York Harbor he understood how the immigrants must have felt seeing the Statue of Liberty. I picture him, young and strong, despite his injuries, filling up his lungs with the promise of homecoming, a moment of hope and determination. It was 1945 and we had won the war.

Several months later, while still classified as a patient, he met my mother at a dance for Catholic singles. There hadn’t been any single men around for the years of the war, of course, they were all in the armed forces. My mother was 22 with a good job, a job that before the war was filled by a man. Wars change things, don’t they?

Years later, my mother, struck with the same affliction that took her grandmother, her mother and her younger brother, had forgotten so much.  She didn't remember her children’s names much of the time, but sitting next to her on the piano bench, she looked me straight in the eye and told of the moment she and my father met.

And there he was. That’s how she phrased it. And there he was.

A moment clear amid all the confusion that Alzheimer’s brings. One moment, one life changing moment seared into her above all the other moments of her life.

And there he was.

They arrived at the dance at the same time. She was removing her coat on this February evening, turned around. And there he was.

I was a romantic child and I had her tell me the story several times when I was a little girl.

She recognized him, she told me. And of course, being the insistent child I was, I asked my father about that evening. They looked at each other in those many times I badgered them, again, again, and he said in his own way, I was overcome by romance. And then he would trill a little song and be his silly self, his funny self. And Mom would smile at him.

And all would be right with the world.

Wrap Your Mercy

I have a favorite song. The title is Last Six Hours of Summer, but I always refer to it as the mercy song. You might get a better feel for why it is my favorite if you heard the music, but that I don't know how to do in this space.    Wrap your mercy around me.  Bury me in light.

   All the days get older and older then die every night.

   Last six hours of summer,  driving 'round the lake,

   Silver lights dance over the water 'til day starts to break

                Follow me back home, let the daylight into our bones

                Starts and it stops, breaks all the locks, there'll be peace

                when the morning comes

   Take these chains from my body, hang them over your door

   I don't want to carry the weight  of my sins anymore

   Give me back to the water, lay me down across stone,

   Let the moon call all her waves back to shore,  take my bones

            Follow me back home, let the daylight into our bones

           starts and it stops, breaks all the lock there'll be peace

           when the morning comes.  Repeat

(© Mike McCullagh)

I've been part of a Tuesday Morning Prayer Group since we moved to Texas more than twenty years ago. We were, at the time, a gathering of mothers with young children. Now, twenty years on, our kids are grown and some of us are grandmothers. For all these years, we have been with each other through good times and tough times, through births and deaths and struggles with faith, with life.

Just this week we had an emergency meeting to pray for one of our mothers and her family because they are going through a terribly difficult time. Seven mothers were able to attend, seven mothers praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary with the hope and faith of sending hope and faith and relief to this family, who are dear to us.

These small communities of faith are perhaps the best kept secret of the Church. Many times they are the only face of the church that its members can belong to, for a very, very long list of reasons. Dark nights of the soul, family troubles, illness, depression, confusion, spiritual warfare, just to name a few. The struggles of life that many of us might succumb to if we didn't have a manageable faith group to catch us. There's the Church and there's the church, the small gathering of saints and sinners meeting in each others homes, holding each other together in prayer and fellowship.

Wherever two or more are gathered, you know.



It’s been ten years since my mother died. But no, that’s not right. When I snuggle into the cool sheets on a February night I am again seven years old and the heat rises through the grates under the window in the pink bedroom I share with my sisters. Just a few hours before we billowed the just-out-of-the-dryer sheets, the best part of making the bed, and then tucked blankets and stuffed pillows with pink flowered cases. Everything is new again with this simple bit of housework, or is it homemaking? The next morning I will try to repeat the techniques of bed making that my mother performed so deftly last night. The day after I will return to my hasty pull up the covers move that is a poor relation to her expertise. Something I still do, I admit.

There are moments that can get lost if they don’t tap you on the shoulder when you’re not looking and return you, giggles and all, to the most innocent of times. If we are not careful, or if those whispers abandon us, we can color the past in the wrong shades of blue and neglect the light that was there, tucked away maybe, but there just at the end of your fingertips.