Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Fab Five

A year or so ago, I received as a gift a book by Dr. John Wood: Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission (Five Steps to Winning the War Within).

I'm not big on self-help books. 

But this one came from our parish, St. Eleanor, as a Christmas gift. In fact, sufficient quantities were bought for every person who came to Mass for the holy day. Regular parishioners. Guests. And once-a-year drop-ins.

The idea of using this book as a welcoming tool came from our pastor, who is new. And who, frankly, I love. He has arrived at our church brimming with energy and verve, with an electric sense of faith that I admire and a true, living and vibrant reflection of Christ's love and compassion

I struggle with the acceptance of God's love. Not sure why. I think it's generational. The Catholic Church of the mid-1960s was still steeped in a lot of hellfire and damnation. So the idea that God loves me can be difficult for me to grasp. Because my inner dialog keeps channeling all that baloney from elementary school: How wretched we are; undeserving of God's even slightest attention; on the brink of his eternal scorn and punishment; blah-blah-blah.

I'm working on it.

Anyway, among Dr. Wood's recommendations (one of the Five Steps) is to make a habit of daily prayer.

And I thought I was pretty good at that one. But when I started to look deeply, I realized that on most days, I was coming up short. Sure there was "stupid prayer" like, "Oh God, let me get this green light... let me get this green light... LET ME GET THIS GREEN LIGHT!!!" But very little that could be called actual dialog.

So I decided to make it a part of my day. Every day.

Wood talks about identifying a "Faithful Five" (or something like that; I actually forget what he calls them). This is a set of go-to saints who have special meaning and who readers are advised to talk to on a daily basis.

Something about that recommendation resonated with me.

Each day, now, for the past year, during my morning walks with Parker, I call on my Faithful Five -- which I've dubbed my "Fab Five":

  1. Saint Francis, who I ask to bless all beloved animals, to care for those that are neglected, abused, forgotten and abandoned; those in shelters; those awaiting a home. I ask for special care of all animals who work in service and therapy and alongside first-responders and the military.
  2. Saint Augustine, who struggled with the temptations of sin and found the courage to turn away.
  3. Saint Cecilia, patron saint of church musicians. I ask her to bless all those who spark praise-filled song. I ask her to bless me and my colleagues with sharp minds, strong backs, inspired liturgy, nimble fingers and spirit-filled leadership.
  4. Saint Mary, who I petition to bless all families, especially those fighting illness, abuse, estrangement, in-fighting, addiction, financial difficulties and infidelity. I ask her to watch over parents who are caring for ill children or who are concurrently raising their own kids while trying to balance caring for their aging parents.
  5.  Saint Joseph, who I petition to come to the aid of the unemployed and the underemployed.
If nothing else, it reminds me that saints were just regular people who stepped up by works of extreme faith. They didn't float on clouds or coordinate their fashions with their halos. They were hungry, they got tired, they bled, they cried, they danced at weddings, drank wine, sewed ripped seams in their tunics, fought with siblings, stubbed their toes and stepped in camel poop.

Just like us.

...although I'm not sure I've ever stepped in camel poop.

Who would your Fab Five be? Why not chat them up every now and then?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Try to Remember...

At our office Christmas party, held at a restaurant attached to a nearby mall last month, I parked and went in. It was a lovely time, celebrating the holidays with my colleagues. We were given a few generous gifts and had some terrific food, while toasting each other with the best that the season has to offer.

When I left, I had a devil of a time finding my car.

When I had pulled in, I was somewhat rushed and was carrying a few things and therefore didn't pay 100% attention to where my car was.

But that didn't explain to my satisfaction the nearly 15 minutes I spent trying to locate it. Even hitting the emergency button on my keyfob didn't help.

The episode itself wouldn't be worrisome if not for the fact that just days prior, I was trying to recall a specific Christmas Eve

One of my choir members and I were assigned multiple Masses that had us camped out at church for several hours. Between services, she brought a small Christmas Eve meal for the two of us, complete with candles. In a tiny room out of sight of the altar, she and I toasted each other, exchanging wishes for a blessed season.

...but in recalling the episode, I could not come up with her name.

The incident came back to me during a walk with Parker, and as he and I marched through various neighborhoods, I struggled and struggled. Finally, it came to me, but the annoyance stuck with me. In fact, it still sticks with me.

I also remember a business trip where, upon arrival back at the Philadelphia airport, I took what felt like a half an hour to finally locate my car in the massive parking lot. Again, I didn't pay much attention on the way in. But still -- sheesh, you'd think I'd at least remember what floor it was on!

I'm to the point now where I take a quick picture whenever I leave my car in long-term parking.

Just yesterday, I put a kettle on to boil water for oatmeal... and was later told by Eileen that I had activated the 'wrong' heating element, with the teapot resting on a cold circle while the one next to it was glowing.

No damage, thankfully. But unsettling.

Frankly, I'm scared about losing my memory.

My mother passed away from complications due to Alzheimer's disease that left her in a fog of dementia.

Her father also passed away having slipped from reality cognitively. Now, his condition would be called Alzheimer's; back then, he was simply senile.

Her sister, too, suffered the malady.

It frightens me because, in watching Mom's mental capacities diminish with alarming rapidity, I'm worried that the genes might affect me as well.

Mom's decline was heartbreaking -- and I'm sure it was even more painful for her to endure. She was an RN for, I don't know, 40 years or so. As such, she carried around detailed and complex medical information in her head. She was so sharp that she could (and often did) step into emergency situations and administer expert first aid.

From that pinnacle, she fell to a situation where she could not muster her grandchildren's names. 

By the end, she had lost the ability to speak altogether.

I keep reminding myself that the genetic cocktail that comprises me is also made up of my dad's side, which has an incredible reputation for not only length but also breadth. Dad died at 75 from a burst aneurysm, but mentally, he was fine. His mother -- my grandmother -- passed away at an amazing age of 102, and most of her years found her alert and sharp.

I hope -- and pray -- that I favor that side.

The gradual evaporation of things like my ability to write, to play music -- heck, even to tackle the New York Times crossword puzzle -- fills me with dread.

It's bad enough be slowing down in general. Napping more. Becoming winded. Squinting into the headlights of oncoming traffic at night. The thoughts of losing my children's names or the date of my wedding anniversary or motor skills like bowel control are nightmarish.

I try to ease the panic by thinking that maybe my brain is just too full at this point in my life. Having teenagers at home, I carry around with me the names of the cast of Modern Family and can easily pick Taylor Swift out in a press photo. But by the same token, I know who Peter Marshall is, who Blake Edwards is, who Olivia DeHavilland is.

So maybe it's just sheer overload.

Believe me, if I were to forget Beyonce, I don't think I'd really miss her exit from my brain.

The worry is really worthless; there's not a whole lot I can do about it.



If you want to know.

The choir member with whom I shared a very kind Christmas Eve dinner was named Catherine.