Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Encore

Here is a repost from 2011. 

Cheer up, friends and neighbors,

Now it's Eastertide.
Stop from endless labours,
Worries put aside:
Men should rise from sadness,
Evil, folly, strife,
When God's mighty gladness
Brings the earth to life.

Out from snow drifts chilly,
Roused from drowsy hours,
Bluebell wakes, and lily:
God calls up the flowers!
Into life he raises
All the sleeping buds;
Meadows weave his praises,
And the spangled woods.

All his truth and beauty,
All his righteousness,
Are our joy and duty,
Bearing his impress:
Look! the earth waits breathless
After winter's strife:
Easter shows man deathless,
Spring leads death to life.

Ours the more and less is;
But changeless all the days,
God revives and blesses,
Like the sunlight rays.
'All mankind is risen,'
The Easter bells do ring,
While from out their prison
Creep the flowers of spring!

--#147 from the Oxford Book of Carols

This particular song took the children's fancy when they were quite small. They dug it out of the Oxford Book of Carols and, being unable to read music, sang it to the tune of a Christmas carol. In the last line of the second verse, in order to preserve the rhyme, they used to pronounce "splangled wood" as "spangl├ęd wud," a usage which passed into family vocabulary. Fillius gave me a rousing rendition of it as we drove home from Mass this morning, bringing a nostalgic tear to his mother's eye.

2013 Update: Fillius came caroling down the stairs this morning lifting my heart which had been rather low last night: lo, the power of words, music, and memory. 

A blessed Easter to one and all!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Katy was naturally fond of reading. Papa encouraged it, He kept a few books locked up, and then turned her loose in the Library. She read all sorts of things: travels, and sermons, and old magazines. Nothing was so dull that she couldn't get through with it. Anything really interesting absorbed her so that she never knew what was going on about her. The little girls to whose houses she went visiting had found this out, and always hid away their story-books when she was expected to tea. If they didn't do this, she was sure to pick one up and plunge in, and then it was no use to call her, or tug at her dress, for she neither saw nor heard anything more, till it was time to go home."

--What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, 1872.

I always enjoy meeting kindred spirits, even when it's only between the pages of a book.

Monday, January 23, 2012

unPLANNED by Abby Johnson, 267 pages, Ignatius Press, 2010.

Abby Johnson had invested herself, -- her heart and her career -- in Planned Parenthood because she cared about women in crisis. As a junior at Texas A&M, she was recruited by a Planned Parenthood representative who presented a warm, compassionate image and ignited Abby's idealism by her presentation of Planned Parenthood as an organization that served women in crisis, which protected the rights of women, and which, through its promotion of birth control, was helping to make abortion both safe and rare. That last held some appeal for Abby because her family was pro-life, although she herself had never thought through the  arguments on both sides of this issue. But what might also have influenced her decision was a secret she kept hidden from her family and tried never to think about. About a year earlier, pressured by her boyfriend, Abby Johnson had had an abortion.

"Today, I wonder if one reason I was so quick, so eager to embrace Jill's presentation about Planned Parenthood -- which I heard just about twelve months after that abortion -- is that it validated my own secret decision to abort. As Jill [the PP representative] spoke, I saw myself as one of the wise and lucky ones who had control over my reproductive rights and utilized my access to safe medical procedures. Jill clearly didn't look down on the decision to abort. She understood the crises women found themselves in."

Abby's sympathy was quickly aroused and she imagined herself helping other women to "exercise their 'rights' and protect their 'access' as they faced their crises."

But her first shift as a volunteer, escorting clients from their cars into the clinic, left her with mixed feelings.  On the other side of the fence which surrounded the clinic were a motley group of pro-lifers, and the tension inside the fence made Abby feel as if she were in a war zone. For two weeks she debated whether to return or not. Finally, she decided that her comfort level didn't matter. Inspired by the compassionate image which Planned Parenthood had presented at her school's volunteer fair, and repulsed by a few members of a creepy fringe element among the pro-life protesters, Abby Johnson decided to give it another shot. And from that moment on, her outlook changed. The people on the other side of the fence became the enemy.

"My cause -- helping women in crisis -- was just, I believed, and they were the ones opposing that just cause. So I had to oppose them. With conviction. I wouldn't be rude, I wouldn't shout -- I would even try to be be friendly to this obviously misguided group. I didn't see any reason to be hostile with them. But I would be definite and direct and firm."

And Abby maintained that attitude as she rose through the ranks of Planned Parenthood -- from volunteer, to employee, to director of a clinic. Even though she eventually came to the grudging conclusion that the vast majority of the protestors outside her clinic were as compassionate and concerned about women as she was, she still believed that they were dead wrong ideologically. But then, on the day she was required to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion of a thirteen week old fetus, her whole world turned upside down.

The description of what she saw on the screen is difficult to read. Not because it is gruesomely detailed, but because such simple and plain language emphasizes the starkness of the truth which Abby suddenly grasped: that she was not watching the removal of fetal tissue which feels no pain (a standard line from Planned Parenthood that Abby had repeated to countless clients), but a baby who tried to avoid the doctor's cannula, and struggled when he was pierced and suctioned out of the womb.

Now convinced of the humanity of the fetus, and disillusioned by pressure from Planned Parenthood's headquarters to increase the number of (very profitable) abortions at her facility while cutting back on on low cost or free health services (on which they were losing money), Abby Johnson left her job. Planned Parenthood responded with legal reprisals which were later dropped due to lack of evidence.

At this point, readers of my post are probably divided into two groups. On one side are those who believe that a woman's right to abortion is a positive good -- or at least that access to abortion is a necessity in order to insure the safety, health, and well-being of women in crisis situations. They will view Abby's conversion from pro-choice to pro-life as a betrayal of a benevolent organization and an abandonment of her pro-woman convictions. They are likely to dismiss her book as enemy propaganda.

On the other side are those in the pro-life camp who will welcome this account of her conversion but will wonder how the narrator, who sincerely wanted to help women in crisis, could have been so naive, so gullible about the evil of Planned Parenthood. And they may recoil from her assertion that she and many of her co-workers were "really driven by compassion and tenderness, by motives of truly helping women and making the world a better place."

Both of these groups will benefit from reading unPLANNED because I think that one of the greatest difficulties under which we labor in today's public forum is an automatic tendency to demonize the opposition. But Abby Johnson has experienced the abortion issue from both sides of the divide. She is a sign of contradiction to both camps. As she says in her introductory note:

"My story is not neat and tidy, and it doesn't come wrapped in easy answers. Oh, how we love to vilify our opponents -- from both sides. How easy to assume that those on "our" side are are right and wise and good; how those on "their side" are treacherous and foolish and deceptive. I have found right and good and wisdom on both sides. I have found foolishness and treachery and deception on both sides as well. I have experienced how good intentions can be warped into poor choices no matter what the side.

"But don't slam this book shut because of what I've just said. Read it for that very reason. Read it to understand the surprising hopes and motivations on the "other" side. I was loved from one side onto the other. My hope is that many more thousands will be loved into truth as well. Maybe you will be the one loving someone on the other side of the fence."

As a pro-life reader, I was interested in which types of pro-life protestors solidified Abby Johnson's original pro-choice inclinations. And which pro-life individuals "loved" her into even considering the possible truth of the pro-life position. I also liked reading about the early beginnings of the 40 Days for Life campaign and how its growth contributed to Abby Johnson's amazing conversion.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Really Weird Summer

A Really Weird Summer by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

I found this book on the "For Sale" rack at the public library, and I snatched it up because I've loved every other book by this author which I've ever read.

It's a story about four siblings who have been sent to spend the summer with a great aunt and uncle while their parents are working out the details of their divorce. All of the kids are miserable at being removed from their home, friends, and neighborhood. And they are sooo bored. And then certain elements creep into the story which seem to indicate that this will either be a fantasy or a book with supernatural bits. But alas! It all turns out to be merely psychological.

The eldest, Nels, is coping with the pressures of having to parent the younger children while himself grieving over his parents' abandonment. And he's secretly worrying about where and with whom they'll all be living after the summer ends. Unbenownst to his siblings, their father has privately proposed that Nels go to live with him in Alaska after the divorce. Nels doesn't know what he wants to do, and as the summer progresses, withdraws further and further from his brothers and sister. Then he discovers a wonderful secret and a perfect friend. Or has he?

I think the book would have been much improved if it had been more ambiguous about whether Nels' adventures with Alan had really taken place. But to be baldly informed at the very end that it was "all in his head" was deeply disappointing and far too didactic for my taste.

And I was kind of repulsed by the book's "lesson" which was that kids must stick together because adults cannot be depended on for anything. Family identity has shrunk to include kids only. As Nels tells his younger brother on the last page, "All us kids have to to stay together, that's the big thing. We've got to promise each other. If we stick together, then whatever happens outside -- whatever the grown-ups do -- it won't matter so much D'you see? We'll still be us."

Perhaps this was not a surprising conclusion for the children to have come to since their parents had shuttled them off to spend their summer in a holding pattern. (And by the way, I wondered why the children had to be sent away just because their mother was now working. Nels was 12, an age at which I was already looking after my siblings, and their mother had planned that during the school year he'd take care of the other children after they got home from school. So why couldn't they have spent the summer in the security of their own home? I'm sure there were latch-key children back in 1977. I felt that the whole dislocation thing was just a clumsy device by the author to set her characters up for the particular psychological response she had in mind.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May-Every-Day: Update

I'm not doing very well at meeting my self-imposed challenge to blog every day during the month of May. Part of the blame may be attributed to Blogger which has been doing Weird Things to its clientele. And now my modem is malfunctioning. Verizon says that the modem is communicating with them but ignoring my computer. They promised to ship me a new modem, but in the meantime I no longer have Internet access at home.

Yesterday I dragged my laptop to the public library so that I could use their free Wi-Fi to read my backlog of email. Today I brought my computer to Borders (while Fillius spends his gift card) in hopes that I could do a little blogging.

Administrative Details: Since I'm dating my posts as if they were written consecutively, this one is dated May 14th even though it's actually May 24th. And my daily blog posts are split between my two blogs, this one and Quilting Bibliophagist.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Frivolity: The Self Arranging Bookshelf

I was thumbing through Sunset Magazine the other day during my break at work when I saw something that caused me to squawk in dismay. It was an artsy home decorating article featuring clever storage ideas. I love that sort of thing -- especially when it involves bookshelves. But what raised my ire was the author's suggestion that the client arrange his books by color. How could you find anything with that sort of system? I may not have a degree in library science, but I must have a librarian's soul as evidenced by the fact that in our home library the fiction is arranged by author and title and the nonfiction is arranged by subject. (I have not, however, gone to the lengths of marking their spines with Dewey decimal numbers.)

Nevertheless, I did enjoy this whimsical video featuring a self-arranging bookshelf in which the books sort themselves by color.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

For Where Your Treasure Is . . .

'"Wicked people never have time for reading,' Dewey said. 'It's one of the reasons for their wickedness.'" --The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket.

However much we biblio-geeks might like to think so, people who do not read are not actually wicked. Yet I can't help being charmed by the above quote even though I hold it to be untrue. I think it must have something to do with the all too human tendency to divide the world into "us" vs. "them," whether it's sorcerers vs. muggles, fans vs. mundanes, or readers vs. nonreaders.

Still, people who don't care much for reading never do seem to have time for it. And those of us who do love reading seem to have no trouble squeezing it in. As I often tell my mom, when she marvels at the amount of time I spend reading or quilting, "We all make time for what we love." (Personally, I marvel at how much time she spends working in her garden and sweeping her patio.)

So here's a question for those of you who did not grow up in a family of readers:

Do you feel that your ability to enjoy reading, or just the fact that you spent so much time doing it, was prized or looked down upon by your family?

I'll go first:

When we were young, my brother and I were the only readers in our extended family. And although there was a general feeling that children ought to be outdoors doing something healthy, such as getting hit on the head with volley balls, there was still a grudging admiration for our ability to spend our free time doing something that everyone else perceived as a chore to be done only under duress. As for our immediate family, I think that our love of reading, a love that was not shared by our siblings, was prized because my non-reading parents had a high regard for education. And the fact that I could read quickly was also seen as evidence of a high intelligence, an assumption which was probably responsible for my having had such a good opinion of myself when I was young.

I think that I was also fortunate in that my parents practiced a benign neglect when it came to supervising my reading material. My mother didn't feel qualified to do so, and both parents had the perhaps naive belief that only good books would be found in our public or school libraries. (And perhaps in the '50s that was not far from true.)

So although I was aware of the negative stereotype that readers had in the culture at large, in my family at least I was more than merely tolerated. I may have been an oddity, but I was their oddity, and they were proud of me though probably glad that they themselves were "normal."

On my part, I don't think I looked down on non-readers, but I'm afraid I did feel a tiny bit superior to them -- at least in the sense of being glad I wasn't one of them. To the classmate who announced, as we stood in line for a mandetory pep rally, that there was more to life than books, I replied, "There's more to life with books!" And therein, I think, lies the source of my sneaking sympathy with the quote from Lemony Snicket.

It's so easy to slip into a sense of superiority about personal gifts that are yours through no personal merit. I read voraciously because God made me a reader. That I find time read is hardly a personal virtue, though it is cheering to reflect that when I exercise my gift and do it well, I give glory to God by simply being what he made me to be. Sort of the way that cats or microbes give glory to God just by being cats or microbes.

Yet I also can't help remembering that "much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more," and I am neither a cat nor a microbe.
As a widow making her way through the final years of middle age, it is not surprising that I should have a sharpened sense of mortality and Last Things or I find myself reflecting more often on the question of what I'm supposed to be doing with what I've been given, even the relatively modest gift of being a reader.


(Well, I seem to have strayed rather off topic, but I'm still curious about the experiences of other readers who grew up in families of nonreaders. So please comment.)