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.

Excerpt From: Julianne B. McCullagh. “The Narrow Gate.” iBooks.


Smoke Signals


Frankie sat on the steps of the landing near the front door, head raised as if to howl at the moon, and he barked some short barks, several at a time, waited, the dog next door responded, then he did it again.

We could not see what the issue was, or perhaps, more precisely, we couldn't hear what the issue was, communicated between dogs, each inside their homes, talking about something of interest to both. I would like to think that the dogs down the row of houses each had an opinion in this conversation, but my ears are not that sharp.

This morning, enjoying my coffee in the yard, breathing in the not yet hot air that will descend later, I listened and watched as a bird, perched on a naked branch in a yard a few down from mine, raised its head, much like Frankie does, and chirped out a message that was reciprocated.  A moment later several birds followed the herald and flew east, I assume to meet at the other end of the conversation.

We all want to communicate. We all want to be connected.

Yesterday morning our Tuesday Prayer group resumed for the season. We've been meeting, with membership drifting according to life and work and transfers, for more than twenty years. Our founder, Theresa, who was our glue for ages, recently moved far away. A page in our chapter turned.

We met at Marilyn's, she of the delicious scones and clotted cream, each of us grateful to be together again. Brenda brought a list of questions from her goddaughter who is to be confirmed. We discussed what is important about believing in God, what is important about belonging to the Catholic Church (sacraments, community, Mary, two thousand years, and each other seemed to win, from my hearing) and, being us, we covered so much ground not asked in the original questions.

Smoke signals, drum beats, pony express, e-mail, twitter, Facebook, and, oh, yeah, actually getting together in person. Good stuff.


I'm too old to care about being cool, though I like to think I never cared about being cool. Same goes for PC. Not as in personal computer, but as in Politically Correct. I disdain group think, I believe bandwagons and many causes are just opportunities to check your brain at the door and leave all answers to the loudest, brashest and most annoying person with a megaphone. I am a registered Independent, though there is some irony in that statement. I am Catholic, but with a strong streak of "yeah, but... let's look at it this way" coursing through my veins. I have always been a "feminist" but I refuse to go along with equating feminism with the right to destroy life.

Ah, see, there's the rub.

I live in Texas, raised in NYC. The big story here is the crowd, huge, massive, noisy crowd, cheering and hollering in Austin for the defeat of a bill which would have further restricted access to abortion.

What a terrible word. It sticks in my throat, it hesitates in my mouth before tumbling out. Abortion.

I am an advocate for women and women's health care. I know personally the difficulties and dangers of pregnancy and childbirth. I have four children and have been through life threatening situations with some of their births.

I realize that many women have no "choice" when it comes to sex. I realize many women are abused, physically, psychologically and emotionally. I know my own church has bullied women for generations against exercising any control over how many children they could bear.

I want to shake the men, whether they wear a suit or a cassock or torn up blue jeans, to just shut up when it comes to women and their reproductive lives, since even the most well meaning really knows nothing, not a thing, about what it is like to be pregnant, to give birth, to be the main, and too often sole, provider for that child.

But that's what "it" is. No matter how you would like to toy with words and play semantic games of what grows inside a pregnant woman, "it" is a child.

With all the celebrating and partying and reproductive "rights" rejoicing, let's be honest and at least remember that much of the truth.

Girl, Ferocious

We have two refrigerator pictures of the grandkid's visit to Santa. One is the before shot which Katie took while they were waiting in  line, a very long line. Both Jude and Sophia look happy in their Christmas finery, though Sophia is scratching at the stiff fabric of her fancy dress. Fast forward an hour, and three and  a half year old Jude is smiling like the proud and happy little man that he is and his just about to turn two year old sister is squealing and squirming while the man with the big white beard has his broad arm around her belly. Typical, huh? Yes, it is. (Now we have no pictures of our youngest child with Santa because the few years we attempted it, he screamed from his stroller. He was not going to sit on a giant red-clad bearded man's lap.)

I had both pictures on the refrigerator until one of my son's bandmates-- thank you, Rob-- commented that this was one unhappy little girl who didn't want to sit on the creepy man's lap. (I make no judgment on that man in the beard who puts up with all variety of children, some damp and smelly, some thrilled to be in the presence of the king of fairy tales.)

Rob's comment brought into sharper focus my initial reaction to the picture, that is, we need to respect when little girls and big girls do not want to sit on someone's lap, or however you would like to extend the metaphor. (Really, I am not leaving out little boys, but this piece is about girls. I have much to say about little boys and the broad 'taming' of them so they sit still in school, but that's a different piece.)

A few weeks ago I attended a GirlsRising/Room to Read ( presentation of the conditions of half the world's population and their systematic abuse decreed by state, family, tribe and 'tradition'.  Tradition.  A term used to evoke a nostalgic feeling of the good old days where families were always warm and loving and, within the protective arms of 'the way we do things' peoples lives are safe and ordered. Ordered, perhaps, but safe has nothing to do with it.

Girls around the world are discarded, sold to pay family debts, married off as nine year old children to grown men who can use them any way they desire and are bearing children their tiny bodies are not designed to accommodate. Then, when they are broken in childbirth, they are exiled to live out their short lives where their problems present no offense to their families.

Many girls are taught to be docile, pretty, compliant, uncmplianing and illiterate. Then they are blamed if a man cannot control his sexual desires toward her for having these very qualities they are told will provide them with security.

Our little Sophia likes pink ribbons, pink shoes and pink polish on her tiny toenails. She is also fierce, fearless and ferocious. May those traits never be educated out of her.

Beautiful Day

It’s September 11, again.  Another beautiful day.  Here in Texas the breeze is cool on my back porch and I am delighted to sit and feel the soft wind on me, and breathe, breathe and say ‘thank you’. But it is September 11.  I run through my various emails from several writers’ and blog sites, and, inevitably, there are promos to ‘come read my reflections on this anniversary’.  And I scroll down, avoiding the latest memorial.

It is too soon. Eleven years on and it is too soon. The first anniversary I watched the TV memorial held at Ground Zero and cried, really cried.  I listened for the name of my friend, Mary Yolanda Dowling, but she must have been read out during a commercial break.

I looked out on the mourners when the cameras panned the crowd, still raw a year on.  I listened for the accents of my youth, the voices I could not recognize as accents until we moved across the country and were told we were the ones with the funny voices.

But I pass them by now. Pass by the television remembrances, fewer now. I cannot live there. Other tragedies are current. Other outrages take up space in my allotment for mourning. I am filled up.

I watch History Channel shows, so many dedicated to battles and tragedies and outrages against our common humanity.  My family teases me that I am fascinated with ‘murder shows’ and mysteries.  And I am.  I continue to be puzzled at how capable we, people, that is, are of destroying life. I don’t understand.

I don't.