Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Take a Hike

It was a crisp, sunny day today and I thought for the millionth time that if I'm going to make it through to April without resembling and feeling like a mobile piece of fungus, I need to get out in the fresh air and take walks.

Except this: I kind of have a walk phobia.

Seriously, you say. PeaceBang, that is too neurotic even for you.

It's true, though. I don't know what it comes from, but it takes a lot of gumption for me to head down the hill from the house to take a walk. I've done it pretty frequently in the past year -- especially when the weather is perfect -- and I feel safe in our little woodland preserve. It's about 2 miles around the loop, and I like to stop at the edge of the North River where there's a little cabin on the water and look at the sparkles on the water, and breathe. Sometimes I stretch out on the warm deck. Sometimes other walkers find me there and I smile sheepishly up at them, i-Pod buds in my ears.

Emerson said that he and his daughter Ellen were professors of walkology. In fact, the whole Transcendentalist movement could be fairly said to have been conducted during walks shared by brilliant friends. Think of Margaret Fuller and Hawthorne, or Emerson and Thoreau, or Emerson and Alcott, or Thoreau and Melville and --Moby Dick and Hester Prynne! Wait! No! They're not real people! --
all strolling through Walden woods expounding on great literary and spiritual themes.

Think about it, then think about how frozen with awkward paralysis PeaceBang feels when she's ready to head out the door for a walk.

How does one go for a walk?
A time step, I can do. A waltz. A foxtrot, even.
A saunter from point A to point B in Barcelona, I can do.
A stroll into the village to pick up a baguette and some raspeberries, I'm good at.
A purposeful stride from Macy's all the way over to Nordstrom's to get to a shoe sale, eat my dust.
But a pointless WALK, the good ole American WALK, I am at a loss. I feel like a total tool. Nothing makes me more self-conscious.

I live on a busy main street, so a walk down my own street is fraught with dangers: busy suburbanites whizzing by in big SUVs, a latte in one hand and a cell phone in the other. I've taken walks down my street to get to littler streets, but I always feel endangered. And then it just seems ridiculous to drive somewhere to take a walk.

I prefer city walks. I like to people-watch and window shop, and to get lost in a crowd. I do not like country walks. Again... what do you people do on walks? Maybe Dan Harper will coach me on this. He seems to be a real pro. I am jealous of his ability to take WALKS.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, my senior colleague and his lovely wife arose early every morning and took walks together. I have always thought that this was the most romantic thing of all time. Walking, talking, planning the day, being wholesome and outdoorsy together in their matching LL Bean fleece pullovers. Boy, is that not me.

But I still think it's important to take walks.

There. Now you feel exceedingly well-adjusted, don't you? And the next time you take a walk, you'll wrack your brain trying to figure out why anyone on earth could make such a difficult job of it.

Plant a Groundhog Day!

Alert Unitarian Universalists who like to try to observe every major holiday might want to know that Feb. 3rd is Tu B'Shevat, or "Jewish Arbor Day."

It might be tough to incorporate it into the same weekend you've already got your pagan group doing Imbolc and your Christian group doing Candlemas (which I'm not sure is official, and I must admit that I don't know what it is), and then there's Groundhog Day to fit in, too.

What's a good small-u universalist to do?

Build a fire to St. Brigid outside, then plant a groundhog!

You can read about Tu B'Shevat here:

It just occurred to me. When my Dad died and we didn't have anywhere to put his ashes for a year, that seemed kind of grim to me. Hell, it was grim. My mom hid his cremated remains in his sock drawer, for Pete's sake (hey Mom, I looked when you were out in California visiting that guy. Sorry.).
When we finally interred his ashes in front of the police station where he had been volunteer police commissioner for 8 years, it made it all right when we planted a pear tree over him. And now that pear tree is a big, gorgeous creature. It was a very Jewish thing to do.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Shamelessly Pimping Your Vote

Gee, folks, thanks to whoever it was that nominated this blog for all those awards!

I'm up for Best Religious Writing, Best Anecdote or Narrative, Best UU Themed Blog, Best Minister's Blog and something else.

You can vote here:

If I win Best Religious Writing (which would be particularly meaningful to me, I must admit), do you think I can raise my fees? ;-)

If you read this blog and don't read many -- or any -- others, it's okay to just vote in a few categories. I don't feel qualified enough to vote, either, as I didn't/don't read all of the nominated entries and blogs, but I voted anyway.

This all reminds me of 1996, when I appeared as Chloe Haddock in "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" for a community theatre in Rochester, NY. I was horrified to find out that the theatre had a competition for best actor/actress and best supporting actor/actress that went on all season, asking audience members to rate the performances and drop the ballot in a box at the end of the show. I said that acting was not a competitive sport and that I wished not to be included in the competition. Too late; my name was already on the ballot. And then I felt like a fool when I was got all excited when I found out later that I won. I still have the plaque somewhere-- a reminder against false modesty. Now I'm like Joan Crawford, gripping the cat and shaking her, "MOMMY HAS TO WIN, BABY!! MOMMY HAS TO WIN!"

She is, by the way, doing *very* well. The cat, that is. And so far she shows no signs of wear and tear from all the kissing and hugging she's getting.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Modesty Sheet

When we first arrived in Antigua, we stayed at Palacio de Dona Beatriz at the outskirts of town. Lovely place with a great concierge named Rudy.

I saw that they offered an hour massage for $35 -- who could resist? -- so I ordered one up.

Jorge showed up right on time and set up his massage table in the chapel next to our room:

Guatemala Trip 2007 029

He had no sheet to cover me with. Imagine the flurry of flustered Spanish on my behalf as I hastened to my room to retrieve a pareo I had thought to pack (Gracias a Dios!), and imagine how quickly I got over my self-consciousness as this friendly man pounded me to within an inch of my life (in a good way) as I looked out the window at the volcanoes surrounding the city.

Holy bodywork, Batman!

Sick In Guatemala: A Photo Travelogue

Most people, when they go on an exciting trip, will focus on the great stories and minimize any mishaps. Me, I like to maximize the mishaps because, let's face it, they're often more interesting and dramatic than the usual "wow-it-was-beautiful" stuff. So indulge me, if you will, my stream-of-consciousness narrative of my last few days in Guatemala. And then, I promise you, I'll tell more happy stories.

Humor me, amigos. Yesterday, January 27, went like this:

9:00 AM Arise in Antigua, Guatemala. Eat breakfast. Ignore low-grade fever, as Ibuprofen upsets the already-fragile stomach.
10:30 Depart for Guatemala City Airport. An hour on winding roads, thick fumes. I ride with a white cotton washcloth over my face. I am full of Dramamine.
2:55 PM Flight to Miami.
5:00 Arrive in Miami.
8:00 Board flight in Miami for Boston.
9:15 Be herded off airplane which is leaking hydraulic fluid.
11:30 PM Re-board another flight to Boston.
2:00 AM, January 28, Arrive Boston, elated at not having had digestive incidents or pain.

Immodium, immodium, immodium. Dramamine, dramamine, dramamine. Saludos, my wonder-working pills.

Wisdom earned:

I will never again travel winding roads without a good, sturdy plastic vomit bag within reach. But listen to me, estimados: if you must relinquish the contents of your stomach in a moving vehicle, relax your neck muscles, bow your head and let 'er rip. Don't, as I did, try to retain an elegant posture while you cack. You will find later that you have badly strained dozens of tiny muscles in your neck, tongue, jaw and face that you never even knew you had. They will protest. They will throb. You will hate every last one of them. You will think, How can my tongue hurt?

The body is home. We take it with us wherever we go, our touchstone, our spaceship. Wherever you go, there you are.

My cuerpo, my bodily home, was broken into on Wednesday by some kind of poisonous bug that invaded me after lunch first as an uncomfortably full feeling, then morphed into what I thought was an anxiety attack. Picture me sitting outside our little stone cabin, listening to birds screaming in the trees, gazing at volcanoes -- no, not gazing...staring glassy-eyed -- while my extremities begin tingling and some kind of gaseous brew begins stewing in my abdomen and rose up through my chest, leaving me breathless. Am I being possessed by some charocotel?*

Uh-oh. The body feels it before the brain registers it. Alarm. Stay calm, everyone. One doesn't want to be alone at a moment like this. I walk down the cobblestone hill to the pool by the lake to inform my comadres that I am in distress:
Guatemala Trip 2007 051
They don't think I was having a heart attack, do they? My forehead is felt, my pulse gently taken, my anxiety respected. No. Must have been something I ate at lunch.

When I say "lunch," you must imagine a tuna melt on a plate and hear the "Jaws" theme playing in the background.

Nighttime: my two comadres sleep in the cabin and I listen to sounds from my estomago (stomach). Is there a local god of these particular volcanoes? Can I pray to Him to stop the molten lava burning me? I have never heard noises like this inside my body. I would not be surprised if my abdomen burst open and one of those creatures from "Alien" popped out.

The next day, Thursday: We ride a tuk-tuk into town (picture a cross between a moped and a golf cart) and do a bit of shopping. The haggling is not fun, it is aggressive and hostile. We take a tuk-tuk back to the posada. We get out at the lodge.


Oh God, may I please have a very cold Coke, straight up? Something is very wrong.

I sit on a chair back by the computers and the bar, panting, in a cold sweat. An old hippie woman with long white hair and childish bangs sits on a couch opposite me writing on her laptop. I pant and sweat. She ignores me. I want to lie down where she is sitting so badly. I begin to dislike her very much. She feels this strong wave of feeling, no doubt, and regards me with a cold eye.
"Why don't you go to your room and lie down?" she accuses.

I assure her that as soon as I am able to walk up the hill to our cabin, I will certainly do so. For now, these stairs seem far too daunting:
Guatemala Trip 2007 041
She does not move from the couch. I want to be on that couch so badly. I continue to feel the greatest animosity toward her. She goes back to typing her all-important missive. It is probably a newsletter home to her friends telling them about her great humanitarian efforts on behalf of los indigenos of the Guatemalan highlands. As far as I know, her sacrifice amounted to staying at a gorgeous lakeside resort and spending an hour or two a day playing the guitar for orphans. She may have even contributed to the local economy by shopping in the village. Let's give her the Compassionate Gringa Award of 2007, shall we?

I stop hating the woman -- I simply don't have the energy for it -- and bang like Frankenstein's monster to the bathroom across the lodge. I slide my back down the wall and land on the cold stone floor. Sweating, sweating, panting. I become dimly aware of my amiga in there with me, coaching me as I finally begin to retch and retch and retch into a wastepaper basket which is mercifully empty. A gaggle of Guatemalan women -- hotel workers -- stand outside the door in a gaggle, giggling. Would not one of them have a better idea, something motherly and comforting? Are they afraid to harm the American? Would one of them consider wrapping me up in one of those warm blankets they carry their babies in and holding me to her? I would be so grateful. Like this:
Guatemala Trip 2007 033
So go my delirious thoughts.

Later, I start a dose of Cipro, which rips through my stomach. More volcanic lava. Acid. Pain.
That night: Imagine the most ridiculous possible pose one might take on a bed (hint: including bedclothes and four pillows). Use your imagination.
Whatever you have imagined, that is the only position in which I am able to find any comfort and in which I finally fall asleep. Don't ask me to describe it. Leave me a shred of my dignity.

We were supposed to go to the market in Chichicastenango on Thursday. None of us regretted missing it. A German woman was stabbed there last week, and none of us felt up to the crowds. I slept and read. I looked out the window at these lovely orchids:
Guatemala Trip 2007 079

Friday, we climb into a van for the return ride to Antigua. We decide to take the coastal route, as it will be less winding than the mountain route we took on the way in. (These guys did it standing up, Guatemala Trip 2007 032 but I did it in fits of nervous giggles and clutches at safety handle above the car window, affectionately referred to as the "holy s--- handle").

It is on this ride back to Antigua that I learn the Great Lesson of relaxing the neck and vomiting down into the bag. It has come to this: I am actually proud of my aim. For all the turmoil in my guts, I am neat and clean. The van is neat and clean. Small favors.

I begin to think about people who live with chronic nausea, for whom the world is a place of dangerously pungent smells, noxious fumes, and potentially stomach-churning foodstuffs. How much they must, as I have done, retreat protectively into themselves, shaky and vigilant, for the waves to pass, or to get less dramatic. I am excessively, ebulliently grateful for my general good health.

This guy, very debonair, hangs out with me:
Guatemala Trip 2007 070

* For some really great and wack stories about characoteles, read this:

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hola from Guatemala

Hola, PeaceBangers!

I attended church today in Santiago de Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands. Very, very emotional. From what I understood, the priest preached on the body of Christ. There were tons of people of all ages and the music was sung and chanted mostly by children's choir and guitar. Heavenly music.

I'm in the restaurant of our very lovely accomodations and don't have time to blog, just wanted to know that it's very beautiful here and the people are among the loveliest, most elegant and gracious I have ever encountered.

Much love and well-being to you all,

Monday, January 15, 2007

UU Blog Awards: For Your Consideration

It looks like while I'm away on vacation, ya'll will have an opportunity to vote on your favorite UU blogs.

I think I was voted second in a few categories last year. This year, baby, let's go for the gold!

Here are a few reasons you might consider giving PeaceBang your vote. This is by way of reminding you that I don't write about my cat ALL the time...!!

Religious Writing or Theological Commentary:
I blather on about the meaning of worship.
I try to communicate how haunted I am by torture.
I get down with S-I-N!

Here, I start a firestorm of angry criticism by explaining why I like the word "LORD."
I advise pastors to have a few of the Bible's greatest hits in their memory bank.
I like the writing here, but more than anything I love the graphic. See it and weep.

Cultural Commentary
I snark on sexism and Playboy bunnies in captivity.
I try, totally in vain, to start a revolution in cell phone ettiquette, a word I can't even spell.

Cute Things About Family
I share memories of being a big sister.

Go vote -- or nominate - at

I'll be in Guatemala until January 27th. Peace. Bang.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Ides of January

In the continuing scintillating and thrilling week of PeaceBang, I wrote a sermon, wrote about 100 e-mails, thought two or three deep thoughts and about six thousand useless ones, planned some church programming, had a half dozen nice meetings, cared about a lot of people, outright worried about a few more, cracked the Bible and prayed exactly once in the past week, and pinched a nerve in my neck.

The cat is still breathing "harshly," per the vet today, and she is still on prednisone. She will be staying on prednisone for the forseeable future. She eats better. She is now mad at me for being the Mean Lady Who Makes Her Eat Pills. She runs from me. I don't need this. I tell her that if we lived on a farm, she'd be put in a gunnesack with a few heavy stones and tossed in the lake. So don't push it, I tell her. This has been a loooong ten days and if you're not cute, you're just an expensive problem right now. She gets quivery tail at me. We make up and kiss. She does Le Grande Flop against my side and tucks herself even more tightly against me, hooking her pristine white paws around my arm. There is a tiny, almost imperceptible rattle underneath her purring. I hold my own breath and listen, listen. Stop it, I think. Please stop it. Whatever you are.

It rains, it suns, it's cold, then it's balmy. I have sudden attacks of histamines and want to scratch out my eyes. I take Claritin.

I read about Bush and despair, I read about the theatre, I read celebrity gossip. I read a bit of this and a bit of that. I get an "A" on my big class. I show Mom my report card, because I never outgrow that. Mom is jubilant, as a mother should be. She got here yesterday.

We talk at the kitchen table. We talk about aging, we talk about our bodies. We talk about family, about our new babies. We talk about being women with big appetites, and trade recipes. We hash over politics and community issues. We talk about dating and relationships. We take naps. We clean up the dinner dishes. We shop for a new electric kettle for me, as I tripped and broke mine.

The Christmas tree is down. I wrestled it into its box for another year the other day, grateful not to have pulled anything in my lower back. The storage room looks like the inside of some mad genius's mind. It is the cat's favorite hiding place, a jumble of Christmas Easter Harvest Memory Lane Air Conditioning Units Old Curtain Rods.

I turn 41 years old tomorrow.

I am now officially "in my forties." It sounds ridiculous, just as giggle-worthy as the moment last night when Melissa and her husband had to leave dinner to get the babysitter home at a reasonable hour. Mel and I have been good friends since the third grade. We used to babysit together. One time at the Andersons on Weed Street when we were in 8th grade, we went outside for a cigarette and locked ourselves out of the house. I got a window open and we climbed in by boosting and pulling each other up. Only after we got inside did we realize that only one of us needed to be boosted up, and the other one could have just gone and opened the door.

Time moves on, little girls grow up, and God moves in the land like a cloud moving across the sky.
An ancestor spirit stops by my home to see two women who look and sound like mirror images of each other deep in conversation. The spirit pulls up a chair. It feels nostalgic for this.

The Ides of January.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cat Update

SOMEONE brought me a (toy) mouse this morning! She's hunting!!

And has been jumping brightly on the bed at dawn with a cheerful, "Mrow?"
And has been talking about many cat things while I am in the kitchen, and she even whines! (which is how she earned her name in the first place: Ermengarde is the crying, whining character in "Hello, Dolly!")

And has been eating beef briscuit and roast beef out of my hand, and also eating small heaps of icky wet stinky food. And as many of those disgusting Play-Doh-like snacks as she can get.

Thank you all for continuing to care. She has lost some weight but takes her medication pretty cheerfully and sleeps and plays and does all normal things with almost all her usual energy.

She isn't drinking much water but the vet is not concerned. They will see her for a heart worm test in the morning, and we will do another set of Xrays when I'm back from vacation at the very end of January. Keep praying that that big white cloud over her lungs will be a distant memory.

Sorry this blog has been such a crashing bore of late.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I feel a kind of dread.

The image I get is of Bush throwing bodies into the maw of an enormous beast... just throwing bodies into a fiery pit with an enormous monstrous mouth.

Can Congress do anything? Can they start impeachment proceedings?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush's Jacobean Tragedy

The old English major in me really appreciated this article by Gary Kimya for Salon:

I wasn't overly impressed by his"Old Testament God = vengeance/New Testament God= forgiveness" false dichotomy (cripes, dude, ever read the Gospel of Matthew?), but he's obviously a literary type, not a religious scholar.

It's good stuff.

I am not even turning on the television tonight lest I see the Leering Chimp on some random newscast.

Thanks to my cousin Matthew for the article.

Anti-Surge Protests

Faithful has a list of protests all over the country. Here are the Boston-area ones, and I'm proud to see that Unitarian Universalist congregations feature prominently in the offerings:

I will be driving down to Providence becuase I have an appointment I can't cancel at 4pm and won't get into Boston in time. But Fausto, there's one on the Common from 4-6.

Sushi Plate: Cat Update

So I told you over at Beauty Tips that Erm hasn't been eating, so I'll nonchalantly follow her around with stinky cat food in my hand, like, "Oh, I just happened to have this Tuna Delight on the end of my finger, could I interest you in this?" And she'll stop and smell it and lick it in tiny bites off the end of my finger as I praise her for each bite.

It's been slow work. I'm keeping a close eye out for dehydration.

So this morning I got her to eat some more miniscule amounts off my finger and then thought that maybe she'd like to eat off something more elegant. Maybe we've progressed that far. Worth a try.
So I got out a tiny, white square sushi dish and made a nice little sashimi presentation for her. You know, a little Food Network psych-out job.

She was hanging out on the desk when I came in with her little appetizer plate. Little cat tapas.
I put it down near her nose and got busy doing something else. Can I tell you how delightful it was to hear those little smacks and gobbles? She ate it all, and even part of a second helping.

Again, I wonder what people do when their babies are sick.

On another note entirely (the reward for those of you who are actually reading this!!) -- are you protesting Bush's IRAQ SURGE on Thursday afternoon somewhere?
Is anyone going to Boston Common?
I am so angry about this plan that I don't think I'll be able to stay away. I'm much more of a protest-by-the-pen kind of gal, but dammit, this is the most vile, egotistical, I-Can't-Admit-I've-Lost kind of murderous insanity.

Let me know in the comments if I'll be seeing you, or where you'll be.

Thanks for the cat love. We know you're there, we love you back.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Happy Church

Lizard Eater is a wonderful blogger who manages to write about terribly painful realities with the kind of grace and humor that invites you into her experience rather than holds it over you like a crown of thorns.

She writes here that her church may be dying, and about a pastor's idea (not her pastor) to give out purple bracelets that say SPIRIT on them to his own congregants, as a visual cue to quit griping.

I've been thinking about happy churches a lot lately, as the past month has tossed one irritating stress or breakage after another my way: hot water heater, boiler, computer, health, burgeoning romance gone kaput, kitty crisis. None of them, thank God, were monumental losses (I thought the computer would be, but it wasn't. I thought the cat would die, but she hasn't), but even while they were happening I did not tailspin as badly as I would have in the past. Not even close.

Maybe I'm just getting older and more experienced. Eh, you can't take a hot shower for a few days, big deal. Eh, the house is very cold tonight and it feels unfriendly and scary as a result. Get over it. It will be fixed soon enough. Eh. you lost your electronic documents. It's not Hurricane Katrina. Eh, you're too overwhelming on every level for yet another man. What else is new? Eh, you caught two colds in a row, so did everyone else in town. Eh, your heart broke when you found your cat gasping like a grounded catfish, you do your best for her and face the day.

I used my laundry list of recent woes as the set-up for a big laugh line at the begining of my sermon on the Third and Fourth Commandments this morning, and someone said to me at the end of the service, "Geez, you've been through a lot this month but we would never have known it. You sure get a lot of bounce for the ounce!" (See, this is why I love New England. Only an elder Yankee gentleman could use an expression like "bounce for the ounce.")

I said, "Well, when I'm at church I'm always happy!"

And it's true. But for how many parish ministers is it true, and for such long periods of time? Precious few, I would guess. Precious few.

I struggle with the idea of being a happy church. We're sinners, we're in need of moral improvement, spiritual growth, ethical commitment, challenges to our comfortable assumptions. That's all true. And yet... is it so wrong that we should have fun together, laugh together, celebrate that it feels good to be a church together? When does celebration cross the line to self-satisfaction? I think it's important to guard against that. There is no virtue in being a community that is egotistically in love with itself. And yet... there is much goodness in being a community that embraces joy, that knows how to have a raucous laugh together, that smiles and hugs and believes that there's nothing to be gained by griping. Good, constructive criticism and honest discernment, yes. Petty bickering and picking, no.

I am happy when I'm with my church. I am happy when I'm in the building. As the pastor, I am uniquely acquainted with the suffering, the dark side, the failings and the sins of myself and my people. And yet. While I came into the ministry believing that I would always need to be set apart from my community, vigilant and challenging at every turn, I have learned that I cannot do that. I cannot hold myself apart from the delightful spirit of this people -- who bring out the delightful spirit in me -- and keep before me only a list of our shortcomings and unmet goals.

I'm beginning to realize that not only is that not fun, it's not faithful.

Five years into it, there is this truth: Because of my spiritual practices and my involvement with this particular church, I am less prone to heartsickness and despair. If I experience this, perhaps others do, too. And that has to be a good thing. We cannot do the work to which we are called from a place of relentless misery and conflict.

Late At Night, In A New England Parsonage

12:00 AM
Cat asleep in the crook of woman's arm.

1:00 AM

Woman: What are you doing? Are you grooming yourself? How's your breathing? Are you breathing okay?
Cat: (lick, lick)

2:00 AM

Woman: What are you doing? Are you still grooming? Come here. Let me listen to you breathe.
Cat: (purr)
Woman: Sweetie, don't lick me on my mouth. Yuck.

4:00 AM

Woman: I just had a nightmare. How's your breathing? Are you breathing okay?
Cat: (purr)
Woman: Stop purring so I can listen to you breathe for a second. Why are you grooming all night? Is it the steroids? Do you have 'roid rage? I'm sure you're very clean by now.
Cat: (purr)
Woman: Stop purring for a second.

5:25 AM
Woman: Sweetie, are you still grooming? Are you alright? Come here and let me listen to you breathe for a second. ... Don't lick me on my mouth. Yuck.
Cat: (purr)

6:30 AM

Woman: You look very beautiful and clean. I think you should go to church and preach this morning.
Cat: (purr)
Woman: Don't lick me on the mouth, honey. Yuck.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Was It Your Prayers That Did This?

One of the things I'm learning in ministry is that you can occasionally reveal your own distress to your congregants. Not too much -- not in a way that "dumps" -- and certainly from the pulpit there should be a careful management of the revelation of personal pain so that it's ultimately for them and not about you -- but they need to know that you're human and you don't always have superhero strength for your own life, even if you're 100% there for them.

So I had a massage yesterday - rescheduled from the day Erm was found so ill -- and was leaving the building when I ran into a congregant and her 1st grade daughter. We chatted about the newborn twins at home and after a nice brief conversation, I allowed as how I was on the way to the hospital to pick up the cat who had had a life-threatening upper respiratory crisis. We bid each other fond farewells.

I went and picked up Erm and $1600 later was on the way home with Miss-Meowing-In-The- Carrier (who seems to be doing marvelously well on prednisone and antibiotics. I dreamed that the hospital called to tell me that she died, but when I awoke she was on her blue mat on my bed, stretching and purring, lovely little being).

Later last evening the phone rang. It was the parishioner I had run into and she said she wanted to check in about the cat. I thought that was amazingly sensitive and sweet until I remembered with a flash that SHE AND HER WIFE ARE VETS!!!!


So they both spent time on the phone with me giving me their professional opinion and instructing me to bring Ermengarde's medical records over this morning -- in fact, one of the women's main practice is to give second opinions!! -- and they were just incredibly informative and said that if we wanted to do further diagnostics (including an $800 tracheal wash), they would just take her into the office and do it there.

I had to rather marvel at the good luck in this. How was it that I just happened to reschedule my massage to time my exit from the building to coincide with the entrance of a veterinarian from my church into the building? What was it that made me mention that I was on the way to the animal hospital?

This is one of those times people might say, "God works in mysterious ways."

You can go ahead and say it if you want. I could do a whole Jungian synchronicity thing or talk about energy fields or Pure Dumb Luck or some other theory of quantum physics (no I couldn't, because I don't understand it), but I think it's fine to just say, "God works in mysterious ways."

Time to give the cat her medication. We both slept a LOT last night.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Wisdom of Love: Toward A Shared Inner Life

I received a review copy of this latest little book by philosopher Jacob Needleman in the mail yesterday. I had to smile in a wry fashion having very recently experienced the end of a relationship that I thought might actually have some legs to it -- but just reading the back of the book filled me with appreciation and clarity, as in "YES! That's what I want to be able to do with someone!"

Here's the quote from the back of the book.

"We think we can play with love, but we are mistaken. Love plays with us. It is far more powerful than we are, and if at first we seem to be fitting love into our lives, this is only love's way of smiling at us as we are drawn under its thrall. Lightly, ecstatically, we cross the bridge that love lays down for us. And soon enough we are fighting for our lives." -- from Chapter One

The back cover goes on to say:
Philosopher Jacob Needleman begins his exploration of love where others leave off. Our culture abounds with commentary on the blazing course of passion. But what happens after you fall in love?

Needleman suggests that for lovers, real sustenance is to be found in the cool embers of daily life -- and in the mature, sustained love whose deeper purpose is to support the search for personal meaning.

I can't wait to read this. Given that my most ardent romantic fantasy lately has been that I am an unwanted spinster in the Old Country and that my father arranges a marriage for me with a kindly widower in the village who actually appreciates my intellectual curiosity and penchant for books, and that he is gentle with me and that we live together in respectful companionship and eventually grow to love each other truly and deeply, you can imagine how hungry I am for this book.

This should be required reading for everyone in America. I think we're all poisoned on some level by the consumeristic mentality that tells us that there's always a "product" out there potentially better than the one we've got, including mates and lovers. It takes conscious and sincere effort to fight against this immature, pervasive and ultimate destructive worldview. I think Needleman's book can do a lot of good in turning our hearts and minds in the right direction.

As someone who is coming closer to ditching my own rather long checklist of requirements for PeaceBang's Ideal Dude, this book could become my new love charter. Perhaps Needleman will persuade me that the only real dealbreaker in a love relationship is the unwillingness to abide together in a spirit of mutual respect and emotional solidarity. Who knows? Maybe we don't all need spiritual, religious, and political compatability, a laundry list of common interests, sexual fireworks, similar earning power and financial prospects, the same level of energy for life, friends and family who get along, and similar taste in food and home furnishings. Hard to believe it, but still, maybe. Or maybe there's a middle ground in there that I and millions of other single people who would like to have a mate need to find.

Having only skimmed it, I can say that this should be in every pastor's library, and in every partnered person's personal collection. Read it with your honey for Valentine's Day with my blessing and appreciation for what you are daring to do in attempting sustained love* in this throwaway culture.

* Needleman's term, intended as a counterpoint to "romantic love."

Cats and Love and Love and Cats And Just Love

I get to bring her home today. At 6:30 AM the doctor called me -- o, my heart she was a-poundin' when the phone rang! -- and said, "Ermengarde is doing much better. She's breathing well and eating and you can come pick her up any time after 1:00 today."

She'll be on steroids for another 10 days and on an antibiotic for two weeks. This should give me enough time to get a second opinion about the cloud over her lungs. Maybe it will go away. Maybe it won't. She may not have much time, but my dear neighbor who is also Erm's special gentleman friend promises that if she curls up and dies, he will come deal with it. Just knowing that makes me feel like I can have her home without being terrified every moment. I may even try to set up a special dying place in the storage room (where she was hiding last time) with a tiny nook that she can go to if it's her time. I don't want her squishing herself into some crummy, dusty corner.

So, this: as you've reminded me, there is no reason to apologize for wanting to pour out our love on people, things and animals. If they respond worthily, or even if they're willing to walk the path of *trying* to respond worthily, it's some of the best soul-building work a human being can do. Love is always good work.

Thanks again for *your* outpouring of support and understanding, and for cherishing your own fur people. Thank you even to those of you who said that your own cats died after a similar crisis, because even though it upsets me to hear it, it's a very likely outcome of this situation and it helps to know that we can all get through it.

Blessings to you all and thanks from Ermengarde and from me. It will be good to have her home and not have to commune with her on a hospital visiting room floor.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Deval Patrick, His Excellency

I was at the morning worship service for the Inauguration Day of Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts, at Old South Meetinghouse. My favorite religion reporter, Michael "Max" Paulson,* blogged it here,

It was exciting and wonderful, and Deval Patrick cried as we sang "Laying Down My Only Burden," an original composition by our director and founder, Matthew Meyer Boulton. Mrs. Patrick and I smiled at each other through one entire verse and gave each other "YEA, BABY" expressions. She looks like SO much fun.

I wanted to make some small gesture of my personal excitement to our new governor so I put my hands together in blessing and made a teensy little bow to him before we sat down. He mouthed to me, "THANK YOU."

It was lovely. I have the highest hopes in the world for him and his administration.

* Michael Paulson will probably not appreciate it if you call him "Max." It's just that I constantly accidentally call him "Mark" after a miserable man I worked with in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Max is an effort to stop doing that.

My Brave Patient

erm the brave patient
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
I'm so sorry to be carrying on like this about this insignificant little animal.

I do know that there are more important losses and traumas in the world. I'm such a cliche of the privileged, neurotic, middle-aged spinster with her cat!

But I do love this critter dearly.

I brought her home the first week I moved to this new church, and she has shared the happiest years of my life, or at least the most contented.

She has been the one I called to when coming through the door at the end of the day, and the one I kissed goodbye when leaving in the morning. I believe that we should say "I love you" many times a day; that it's good for the soul. So I made sure to say it to Erm when I had no one else to appropriately say it to.

Every sermon, article, paper and essay I've authored over the past five years has been the product of our work together: her sleeping on the desk, my typing furiously away. There's a lot of mingling of life force in that. Her lush striped body has been part of the visual background for most of PeaceBang's blog entries.

Her purring is my blood pressure medication.
Her pristine white paws (I call them her debutante's gloves) and deep Egyptian eyes never failed to fill me with jealous admiration, and we once discussed the option of my tattooing my entire body in stripes just to join the tribe. She scoffed at my lack of a tail but loved me anyway.

Her warm body pressed to my side during anxiety attacks has been a silent coaching to breathe, breathe, breathe. It hurts my heart to think that she who has nursed me to health during these attacks is herself having trouble breathing. Did she soak in too much of my breathlessness? Was it somehow contagious? Is there something toxic in this house by which I was poisoning her without knowing it?

She has been my Sabbath and my silence, and the one to whom I could always say, "Don't we have the best life? Aren't we lucky?" She always agreed, busy watching Cat Television (aka watching birds out the window).

When I stopped to eat a sandwich at the kitchen table, she went to her bowl of kibble. I can hardly eat without listening for her accompanying crunching.

This house has been hers for as long as it has been mine. It just feels so wrong without her here.

I visited her for two hours tonight at the hospital. She came into the visiting room wrapped in that afghan and looking wonky-eyed and disoriented. It took her about 20 minutes to fully realize who I was.

She seemed okay, but not great.
An hour into the visit, though, we were into heavy petting, and she purred for me. An hour and a half into it, we were curled up asleep on the floor both dreaming of home. When we woke up after a literal cat nap, she was happy and relaxed and soft-eyed, licking me and purring to beat the band. When she gave me Le Grand Belly Flop onto her side, I knew she was going to be okay no matter what happens.
I told her about all of you and your many prayers and your love, and we did a little review of her life and all the fun times we've had. I talked the special baby talk to her that she loves and she listened very carefully to every word, flexing her paws while I cuddled her. She even forgot for a moment about that stupid bandaged paw of hers with the IV port all taped to it.

The doctors and technicians are treating her like she's on Death Row, so we just don't know yet. She is breathing outside the oxygen chamber, and they've got her on every medication against infection they could think of. If I can get her out of the hospital I'll take her for a second opinion.

Thank you so much to you all.

I don't know why I'm so distraught by this. Perhaps because she's so young. And perhaps because ...

Good Christ. Something just fell off the tree for no reason at all. Ermengarde's not here, so what could have caused THAT??

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Please Pray For My Sweet Girl

My darling striped baby, my comforter and honey, is desperately sick and spending the night in the hospital in an oxygen bed.

She has acute pneumonia.

I have no idea how this happened. All I know is that she was sneezing a lot a few weeks ago, and then a few days ago started picking at her food. Still, she was energetic and snuggly and purring and fine. She slept in the crook of my arm on New Year's Eve.

Today I noticed with concern that she hadn't seemed to have touched her food. I came home in the afternoon and called for her. She didn't answer. I called for her again. I looked everywhere for her. I made distressed Mommy Kitty Cat noises. She didn't come.

Finally, finally, she appeared at the railing of the stairs. I ran up and scooped her up in my arms and put her on the bed to inspect her, just knowing that she wouldn't have hidden out so carefully if she wasn't sick.
She was gasping for breath. I got her to the hospital where X-rays revealed a terrible white cloudy mess all around her lungs.

They didn't have an oxygen tent there so I brought her to the bigger animal hospital nearby, driving very carefully and begging her not to die the whole way.

I left her tonight in her little oxygen container, and I have to say that as I petted her goodbye through the little hole in the side with tears spilling down my face, she looked totally unconcerned. She was like, "I love you, but I'm a cat. I'm totally Buddha about all of this."

I know *she's* non-attached, but I'm VERY attached.

I love her so much. I know you know that.
Please say a prayer to St. Francis for Ermengarde.

[Update: Thursday morning at 6:10. She made it through the night!! She got worse, then she stabilized, then she started getting better! She ATE! She peed! They are keeping a close eye on her and the woman I spoke to said she was in love and actually pulled up a chair next to her pen to see if Ermie slept at all. She said Erm has started breathing with her mouth closed again so they're upgrading her status. The doctor is calling with a radiologist report mid-morning. Thank you all for your prayers, I love you for understanding. I had a terrible night of nightmares. I have never slept in this house without her. There was so much energy gone. She is the guardian angel of this parsonage, and I see now that it is HER domain!!-- VW]

[Update at 2:10 pm -- very bad news. It doesn't seem to be pneumonia, but some kind of embollism or cancer or something else chronic and deadly. I've been crying all day. The doctor is supposed to call soon. They are "keeping her comfortable." - PB]


I just received a note from a fellow blogger from Nashville extending a bit of southern hospitality for the Festival of Homiletics in May ('cause you're buying the margaritas, right, John?) -- leading me to wonder what other blogger/PeaceBangers are in the city and would like to meet for tapas one night.

Or for barbecue and line dancing at the Crazy Horse (where PeaceBang likes to sit and watch because she doesn't know how to do it, and she notices that the people there are DEAD SERIOUS and will run you down if you go in the wrong direction). I only said tapas because I remember with great affection our enormous tapas feast at St. Louis this past June and the $700+ bill, well-earned.

Let me know in the comments. I will be at the highly glamorous Holiday Inn Express near the Baptist church. Code word for arrival: "The Bang Has Landed."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Bleary-Eyed, She Says...

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
Lord have mercy, I just submitted by take-home exam to my professors. I e-mailed off my last ten-page paper last night. The last trauma of the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2006 is GONE!!

I am so relieved I can hardly even stand it, or realize it.

I'm going to keep soldiering on with the Order of Service for this week so I can get out and make some pastoral calls tomorrow.

My eyelid has been twitching for two solid weeks. Maybe it will stop now. Maybe I can get some fresh air. Maybe I can do a little happy dance.

Monday, January 01, 2007

"Taming the Resolution Bully"

Happy 2007, PeaceBangers!

Here's a kind of fun article on why new year's resolutions are no good for many of us, written last year for the UU World online magazine by a Close and Personal Friend of PeaceBang's:

Health and wisdom and love be yours in the new year.