Is it best, at times, to say nothing? It seems that for the past two – plus months I’d say, yes.
Winter is a welcomed season, bringing a long-sought break from summer’s heat. Yet, winter is a two-edged sword. With it’s beauty and snow wrought silences and the arrival of The Baby Jesus, winter also brings, “The Holidays”, that caroling, bright tree, scented wreath, manger scene, family time of year that is a stab to the heart for so many.
It’s tough to hold on. Maybe only the tough do. Or at least those with a strong survival instinct. Or the eternal optimists. Yet, none of these “walking wounded of the heart” remain unscathed from this yearly onslaught. At times the most they can hope for is that their affliction is not contagious.
The season of What If’s, If Only’s, How Come’s, and Why’s will soon come to a close and with that, for tough, survivalist optimists, a return to normalcy. See them.
For those with a Redhead in their lives, thank God.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity…” W.B. Yeats
No, the Center cannot hold. We must stand for something.
“If you be neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelations 3:16).
These past several years we have seen the world turned every way but right. The old maxim, divide and conquer, has proven to be so right. Neighbor against neighbor, child against parent, teacher against student, nation against nation and leaders against their own people. There is an Evil creeping amongst us and It has turned everything upside down. What was good is now bad. What was strength is now weakness. Loyalty has fallen victim to ambition. We have been betrayed.
Hopefully, and I believe it to be so, more and more of us Americans and people throughout the world are realizing that something has gone terribly wrong with our countries and our cultures. And of our common sense and common decency. It has gone beyond mere politics. Just today on a local web site for our little town of Staunton, VA someone posted that they would like to slap the face everyone that wont get the Covid injection. This makes about as much sense as saying that although they buckle up every time they get into their cars they would assault everyone choosing not to wear a seat belt. If an injection or a seat belt makes you safe, how does someone choosing differently impact you? It makes no sense. But, common sense, discernment and civility have been increasingly cast to the wind for some time now.
In the biography of Don Bosco by Teresio Bosco, (click) Audio bio of Don Bosco) it is written, “God, it is said, sends the world saints when they are most needed-not men and women of “general holiness,” but specialized experts who fit into the pattern of the times and are capable of giving God’s tone to their century”.
Surely, these times cry out for another Fulton Sheen or Billy Graham. Even the witty wisdom of Will Rogers would serve us well: “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so”. Or, “ What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds”. (Brainyquote.com)
We have bid our time for long enough. This past week has shown us that each and every one of us is disposable and expendable. We are at the brink. To put it another way: (click) Sympathy for the Devil.
Pray. Pray that God will not let us continue to go astray but will send us a modern-day saint that will guide us back to Him.
The latest Erik Larson book, The Splendid and the Vile, chronicles the WWII Blitz of England and how Churchill and the British dealt with it.
It is continually interesting to read how the people of England dealt with privation, fear and death and how their leaders, particularly Churchill, guided both military and civilian responses to the havoc of Hitler and the Nazis.
Fascinating, too, are the details of how the Nazi government – run by madmen – controlled their own people through a sense of false patriotism, bullying and fear. If a German citizen did not adhere to the party line, or even questioned it, they would face repercussions including physical threats, imprisonment and even death.
One of the most remarkable things going on in England at the time of the Blitz and continuing during the course of the war was the effort to maintain as much of normalcy as possible. Children went to school, businesses were open, factories were working non-stop, pubs remained the neighborhood gathering spot, church services were conducted – sometimes in churches that had been bombed and…tea was still served.
Yes, politics, in every sense, were a consideration of the British cabinet, but the overarching goal was clear: defeat Hitler. Churchill made every effort to instill hope not despair, bravery not fear, selflessness not self-centeredness in his fellow Brits. When he would inspect the air raid shelters or tour neighborhoods just flattened by German bombs the people did not blame him for the destruction. No, they saw him as one of their own and cheered his unwillingness to be cowed by the scourge of Hitler.
Fast forward to today.
The American people are being deterred from maintaining any sense of normalcy. Why?
Our government and media are fostering fear of everyone and anger at everything. Why?
The breaking point for many came this past week when President Biden stated:
“By July the Fourth there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together”.
A good chance we can get together with our families and friends in our own yards? Really, Mr. President?
The Fourth of July commemorates the American people throwing off the yoke of tyranny. Have you forgotten this, Mr. Biden? For it seems, with this statement, you have abridged our rights too far.
There’s nothing quite like a dose of history to help keep things in perspective.
This past Sunday The Redhead and I, having hit another endurance limit of Cootie Lock-down, decided to do a bit of exploring in an area of Virginia we haven’t visited much: South West Virginia. So, with a tank-full of gas and a thermos of our Mayorga coffee, we headed out from Staunton down Route 81 to our destination: Paint Bank, VA.
Route 81, while a busy highway, offers some very beautiful scenery. But, as we approached Lexington and diverted onto Route 64 W, the scenery became even more spectacular. We crossed through the Allegheny Mountains, over the Maury River and parts of the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson forests. I cannot imagine anyone seeing this and not feeling the Hand of God.
When we reached the tiny city of Covington we exited the highway and continued along Route 18, toward Paint Bank. Talk about twisting roads! Past farmlands and forests and rivers and creeks , the scenery just rolled by. The route was dotted with a number of abandoned houses – some modest shacks, others quite substantial, holding the secrets of families that had lived there a century or more ago.
Finally, we arrived in Paint Bank, an area or hamlet more than a town. Its “Main” street consists mostly of the Paint Bank General Store, which also houses the Swinging Bridge Restaurant. Tingler’s Mill and several other buildings, including The Lemon Hotel and Depot Lodge are close by.
Across the street from The General Store is Mountain Crafters, a small yet interesting craft shop featuring the works of area crafts people and artists. The owner, Barbara Willard, was in the shop knitting when we visited. Barbara also spins wool and her loom is behind her 19th century work desk. As we browsed, Ms. Willard gave us a brief history of the area, including the origins of the town’s name. Paint Bankgot its name from the ochre and red clay lining the banks of the nearby stream now known as Potts Creek.Cherokee Indians used this clay as body paint as their war parties followed the rivers along the Allegheny Mountains. They also used this clay to make and decorate their distinctive pottery. Years later, the clay was used by the settlers to produce commercial paints and also bricks for their buildings.
By now, The Redheadwas famished so, after a few purchases, we said our goodbyes to Barbara and walked across the street to the Paint Bank General Store and the Swinging Bridge Restaurant.
Just inside the store is an assortment of everything from coolers containing beverages and food items, including local bison and beef. Shelves are loaded with an array of candy, camping foods, homemade fudges, snacks and some gift items. Toward the back is The Swinging Bridge Restaurant, so named because of the swinging bridge connecting both halves of the upper floor of the building where there is a Christmas oriented gift area. But, for us the main attraction was the restaurant. If you enjoy quality, homemade country food this place is for you, especially if you like something a little different: Bison! Yep, Bison, raised locally at Hollow Hill Farm, is served a number of ways, including burgers and steaks. Never having tasted bison before, we opted for a safe bet and chose the grilled, chopped bison. It is similar to a Salisbury steak but much leaner and with a more “wild”, savory taste that reminded me a bit of grilled liver. Very delicious! Also on the menu is chicken, locally raised Angus beef and other dishes.
Painted Bank General Store, Mountain Crafters and all of Paint Bank will surely be on our list of future “tours” for family and friends.
Now, I had not intended to make this blog a restaurant and shop review. Rather, it was intended as a reminder for all of us to get out of our lock-down frames of mind and discover the beauty all around us, especially in small towns. But, in reading and researching a bit more about the area we had visited, I was also struck by one thing in particular: the resiliency of people. The area we had just visited was, less than 300 years ago, The Wilderness of our yet-to-be new nation. Families looking for a new life and a chance to prosper were often attacked and killed by raiding parties of Indians of various tribes that roamed the valleys and rivers along the Allegheny Mountains. If a raid was successful, survivors would often be carried off into slavery, many never to be heard from again.
In 1971, the rock band, The Who, released a recording of the song, “We Won’t Get Fooled again”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODKZGBrAtxY. Written by Pete Townsend, it was a cynical look at both power and revolution.Many of my generation misunderstood the song’s meaning. They thought that by adopting catchy slogans such as, “Question Authority” or aligning with “radical” political groups, they would bring about a better, more “just” world and not get fooled again. The sad thing is that nearly all of the problems that were besetting the world back then in ‘71, still are. And, more so. Townsend knew, I believe, that looking toward Power and Revolution as answers to what is wrong in the world is…futile and that by doing so we would get fooled again and again. Boy, was he right.
Here we are, half a century later (I shake my head as a write this!) and we are continually disappointed.Politicians of every stripe have shown themselves less as true leaders than opportunists. Too many to count “religious leaders” have fallen from grace, leaving many of us shaken and bewildered. Neighbors have grown fearful, suspicious and angry with one another. Why?
“Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” Isaiah 35:4
2020 started out with so much promise and optimism. And then, in the blink of an eye, it started to unravel.Maybe our current unrest is all – or mostly – contrived. Maybe there are powers or forces that want to cause disruption and fear. Maybe there is a plan to have us turn against one another. Maybe.
“Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.'” Revelation 1:17
I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what can be done about what’s going on out there. Organize a protest? I don’t think so. Join a protest? Ah, NO! Write to some “Elected Official” and tell them just what I think? Just the mere thought makes me laugh. After probably burning out more than a few brain cells (and having none to spare, believe me) I figured it out: There Is Nothing I Can Do About What’s Going On Out There. But, there is something I can do about what’s going on in here – within me.
“Immediately He spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” Mark 6:50
It is Advent. We await. We anticipate: Not with Fear, but Hope. With Joy.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
This Christmas, the first in our new home here in Staunton, Virginia, we have set up several outside decorations. One of them is something that I have wanted for a long time, but never had the space to do it: a manger scene. One that I have admired and been touched by for its simplicity is a silhouette of The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and The Infant Jesus lying in His crib.
Ours is set up in the front yard. It is constructed of heavy white plastic. Although it is front and center, during the daytime, with a bright sun and a still dirt-filled front yard, it can be less noticed.
But, at night, when everything is darkest, a simple solar light shines on the crib. And there He is: The Baby Jesus. He is there during the day, of course, right in front of me. But, as I said, sometimes He’s hard to see. Do I just naturally see Baby Jesus during the darkest hours? Or, should I just look harder during the day? Maybe.
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27
In April, 2006, I flew to Madrid, Spain to be with my son and daughter-in-law following the still–born death of their daughter, my first grandchild. It was Holy Week.
There are some sorrows that only can be described as profound; ones that leave you speechless and empty. Or, sometimes, in rage. This death, this loss of a purely innocent life, was such a sorrow. In the midst of this ancient city, I asked God to be with me, to help me understand and to save me from bitterness.
As Good Friday night fell, I walked through the narrow, darkened streets from my son’s apartment back to my hotel. Through the Plaza Mejor and down the winding Calle de Atocha, I suddenly found myself within a mass of people. Everyone was emptying the narrow street and moving onto the sidewalk. I had no choice but to move with them until I was able to find a small spot just across the street from Parroquia de Santa Cruz, the Church of the Holy Cross. The street outside of the church was filled with a formation of white robed, black-hooded figures carrying lit torches. I had never seen anything like this, but being American it conjured up unsettling images; I truly did not know what to expect.
Suddenly, the church doors opened. Another robed, hooded figure, carrying a large staff, appeared in the church doorway. He banged his staff on the steps and the robed column in the street came to attention. Another tap of his staff and he and the procession behind him started to move from the church toward the street below. This group was similarly robed and hooded and was carrying a platform supported by long poles. Atop this platform was a statue, but, because of the darkness, I could not determine of whom. The procession came to a halt in the street and the platform was lowered. After a few minutes and some prayers (spoken in Spanish, of course) the leader tapped the staff once. The figures lifted the platform to waist height. Another tap and the platform went to shoulder height. No other sound could be heard along the entire street. Two taps more and the procession started toward Plaza Mejor. Of the statue, all I could determine was that it was clad in black.
Most of the crowd waited in front of the church, Santa Cruz. With nothing waiting for me except a silent hotel room, I, too, stayed, unsure of what for. The tap of the processional leader’s staff could be heard echoing through those dark and still silent streets, first sounding more and more distant and then becoming closer. Whatever was coming, it was coming soon. Gradually, flickering torch light could be seen at the far end of Atocha, approaching our position in front of the church. I took out my camera and moved into a position to better see what was being carried by these silent, dark-robed, anonymous marchers. Perhaps it was the expectation, but through the absolute silence that filled the street I could feel something welling up inside of me. Fear, sadness, grief? I was not sure.
And, then it, rather she, was there. Atop this heavy wooden platform was a life-sized figure of the Blessed Virgin, depicted as the Mother of Seven Sorrows, adorned in black velvet with silver threading. Into the church she was carried. I moved on, but knowing something had happened that I could not express, even within myself.
The following day, returning back to my son’s apartment, I again entered Calle Atocha knowing I would go into the church and see the statue up close. On the steps of the church, against the wooden doors, sat two beggars, gypsies, actually. I had been cautioned about gypsies, but their presence did not concern me. Inside, I found an alcove, enclosed by an iron gate, in which was the statue I saw the night before.
I have been a Catholic my entire life and have seen thousands of statues and religious icons of every sort. But this, this was no ordinary statue. Beyond the absolutely stunningly beautiful garments was the face. The face of Mary. A face of unspeakable sorrow, a face of grief so profound and complete that it could only be brought about by the death of a purely innocent child. She took my grief onto herself. But, something else would happen that will stay with me – forever.
Call it imagination. Or transference. But, on the way out of the church I took closer notice of the two beggar/gypsy women. One was older than the other and I would later learn that they were mother and daughter. I gave each a small coin and went to my family. Later that afternoon, returning to the hotel, I again came to the church. The women were still there, sitting against the doors, bundled against the chilly spring wind. A quick visit inside and on the way out, as I passed them, I noticed their faces. The mother was perhaps 40. The daughter – I had to turn around and go back to view the Blessed Mother. Outside, again, it was true what I had thought. The faces were the same. Several days of visits further confirmed this. After about a week, my daughter-in-law asked to go for a walk. Of course, we went to the church that was only about a 10 minute stroll from her home. The women, as expected, were again on the church steps, their “spot”. I mentioned to my daughter-in-law my observation about the younger girl.
A week or so later, before returning back home, I asked that my daughter-in-law accompany me to the church to say a prayer – for healing, both emotional and physical. After our prayers I asked that she, since she was a native Spanish speaker, interpret something for me to the women. I explained how I was struck by the similarities in the faces and how interesting it was that it was this particular church, with that particular statue, that they chose to be close to. They agreed to have their pictures taken (something that is very unusual for them). The girl was, Magdalena.
Two years later, when my daughter-in-law had to return to Madrid for business, she paid a visit to Santa Cruz. There was Magdalena. She asked if I was there, too. When told no, I was back in the U.S., she got up and went into the church. When she came back out she handed my daughter-in-law a picture and said, “I will never forget your father”. The picture was a photo of the statue and the faces are still identical.
That Easter of 2006 was, indeed, a Holy Week. And I will always remember to look closely at what is in front of me. It just may be a face from heaven.
For those that are suffering or grieving this Easter, please know that you are remembered and not alone.
At 7:00 a.m. this morning there was a worldwide sharing of prayer for the end of the Corona Virus. Rather than being a sign of panic, this uniting in prayer is one more – and probably the best – weapon in our arsenal to defeat this sickness. If you missed this event, rest assured that millions upon millions of people are praying all the time for this scourge to end and we can join them at any time.
But, in addition to prayer, we can do something else with this quiet time we have been forced into.
How are we spending this time? For me, I have, for now, just about reached my limit with both Netflix and Amazon. The other day I attempted to find movies dealing with how people endured times of war. Not much luck – at least with finding decent movies that did not require additional fees. So much for watching the classic, Mrs. Miniver. Reading has always been a passion for me, but nearly all of our books have been packed in anticipation of our move. Thanks to our friend, MaryEllen, I do have a few that are still unread and were tucked under my nightstand. Whew!
Social distancing has certainly kept our personal contacts at a minimum.
But, many folks continue to check on family and neighbors however possible, even if it’s a text or phone call just to say, Hello, how are you, can I do anything for ya’? Small things go a long way.
Speaking of small things, one small but significant highlight for us is our cup of coffee. Usually, we’ll have one (maybe two) in the morning and later in the afternoon. We enjoy it and recently my doctor told me that coffee, in moderation, can be beneficial. Since Costco is off limits for us now, we no longer have access to their store brand of “100% Colombian” coffee. For what is termed, commodity coffee (basic), it’s pretty darn good and cheap. With all this new found time and the need to seek other sources, I’ve “discovered” two new favorites.
First, is a whole bean, Mocha Java coffee from Mayorga Roasters. It’s smooth and flavorful. It’s available in 2 pound bags from Amazon or directly from Mayorga. Our Second new favorite is an organic whole bean Honduran coffee available from Aldi. Pretty good and we’re glad we found it.
So, what’s your favorite coffee that you make at home? Let me know!
Pray, stay healthy, keep in touch and… Wake up and Smell the Coffee!
Ernest Hemingway, in a 1929 interview with columnist Dorothy Parker in which they were speaking of courage, stated that “guts”was having “grace under pressure”. Lately, I have seen more than a few examples of grace under pressure.
We hear stories of cops and firemen and medics (personally, I dislike the term, First Responders) who risk their safety to come to the aid of others. Whether by training, habit or vocation, most of them do this day in and day out throughout their careers. And much of the time without recognition or fanfare.
But, it is of the everyday acts of generosity, thoughtfulness, courtesy and, even, humor that I have recently witnessed that I am now referring to.
The all-pervasive virus news has featured stories of people loading up multiple shopping carts at the Costcos and Walmarts with toilet paper and paper towels. Maybe they have a hygiene issue or maybe they’re just plain “panic hoarders”. But, the image that comes to mind more frequently is that of a lady at our local Food Lion walking ahead of us in the “paper goods” aisle. Only two packages were left in the entire otherwise empty aisle. She looked at them and said, “Take one and leave one”. Thoughtful. A similar situation at another nearby grocery store took another twist. The paper goods aisle had only a few packages left and people were looking anxious (kind of like seeing a highway sign saying, “next rest stop 25 miles”. Suddenly, you gotta’ go!). A nicely dressed woman eyed the situation and blurted out, “I don’t give a darn about the toilet paper, but they better not be out of coffee”! Grim faces suddenly turned into grins. Laughter is truly the best medicine.
Our little Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton is coming together, one neighbor to another. Small food businesses are helping area residents and one another by setting up an on-line ordering system for food staples from nearby organic farmers and food suppliers. These suppliers and farmers will bring the orders to a central location and the residents can pick them up without even getting out of their cars. Restaurants are offering curbside take-out service. It’s a win-win in difficult times.
Churches, including our beloved St. Francis of Assisi parish, are increasing their aid to the needy and to those that may be more vulnerable to catching something. Our pastor, with the aid of parish staff, managed to livestream this Sunday’s Mass. To partake spiritually in the Mass along with our fellow parishioners, even from a physical distance, was a great comfort to us .http://stfrancisparish.org/homily-lent4.html
In the meantime, despite setbacks and these very trying times, the construction on our new home is continuing. The siding seems to be nearing completion. Installation of the hardwood floors started this past Saturday. Our newest target date is from the end of April to mid-May. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!
So, let us all remember to be calm and kind and patient with others and ourselves. And, to have Faith. We will be alright. God is watching over you and us, especially in these crazy times!
And, for goodness sake…Don’t Run Out Of Coffee!!
As always, Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome.
If you are, you have lots of company. Not since Y2K or was it the Bird Flue epidemic or maybe it was the AIDS epidemic has there been such widespread panic and fear among us.
Today, The Redhead and I went to the grocery store to stock up a bit since we had heard there was a run on basic staples such as food, medicines and “personal items”. There were plenty of groceries and produce at our local Martin’s Grocery. Some milk items were a bit sparse as was the bread aisle. But, no, nada, zilch of “le papier toilettes”, as the French would say. It was the same story at Walgreens, Food Lion and, believe it or not, Costco. Forget about investing in gold in case of the stock market going haywire. Put your moneyinto Charmin!
No doubt there will be lessons learned from this viral epidemic. But, until we learn the cause and the non-hyper facts, let’s try to keep a level head, protect ourselves and our families and have Faith. Everything will be alright.
In the meantime, a little dose of reality and pleasantness for you all.
Our house here in Staunton is coming along nicely. Since my last writing, the siding is being installed, the interior has been sheet rocked, the electricity has been turned on, the lines for the propane gas have been run and the ducts for heating and cooling have been installed. Preliminary grading of the landscaping has also begun this week.
Interior painting will start this coming Monday. The Redhead and I had fun picking our paint colors. We’re keeping it simple – one color for the common areas of living, dining laundry and sun rooms and another color for the bedrooms and baths. The extra-tall front door will benefit from Red’s long-standing wish of having a front door painted red.
Our flooring was delivered today and is “acclimating” in the garage. It is hickory wood of four and five inch widths and various lengths. The floor will be stained and finished “on site” by one of the last skilled craftsmen, working here in the Shenandoah Valley, who can provide a custom finish. Pre-finished flooring is now the “go to” product for most home builders.
We have also picked out our gas fireplace and logs. The logs will be a new hybrid mixture of special concrete and ceramic. The surround of the fireplace will be made by our builder, Eric Argenbright, who will also build our kitchen cabinets. The Redhead will truly be in her glory “starting” a fire with the push of a button.
All for now. As always, Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome!
January, so far, has been one of those periods of time when it seems life runs its own course and we just have to sit back and wonder at it all.
Such was the case when, earlier this month, The Redhead’s father passed after a lengthy illness. No matter when it comes, the passing of a parent stirs emotions that cannot be expressed but is understood by everyone that has gone through it. During it all, our family and friends in Connecticut, Florida, here in Staunton and elsewhere, brought us much comfort, support and love.
Death, for those that believe in its finality, can be devastating. Yet, if death is understood more as a passing or moving from one reality to another, it can bring comfort and even joy. To experience contrition, forgiveness and love at any time is wonderful, but at the end it is beautiful. Truly, God’s Hand in all matters is a wondrous thing.
Before her dad passed, The Redhead had us facetime. We spoke about several things, one of them being the building of our house here in Staunton, VA and his happiness that his daughter would be living in such a beautiful home and area. He reminded me of our walks and talks along his beloved Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine and I told him that I would also remember his tips about planting a flower garden – “always add a pop of white, it brings out the other colors”! I’ll do my best, but Augusta County clay soil is a far cry from the soil found in coastal Maine. Thanks for the tips, Norman. And, thank you for The Redhead.
So, now things are starting to really come together at the house. The framing is nearly complete and the rooms, while still only 2×4’s, are now clearly defined. A few tweaks here and there remain: a repositioning of the vanity in the Master Bath, the addition of an entry hall closet and a little tweak in the dining room to accommodate a hutch – little things that will mean a lot to us now and later. Our Builders, Eric and Amy Argenbright, have been very understanding of what we are trying to accomplish: a beautiful home that will suit us now and for a long time to come. We appreciate their ideas and especially their attention to quality and craftsmanship.
Following are a few photos of the work that has taken place in just these past few weeks:
Thanks for reading and a special thanks to our very special friends that are our family.