Star Island

As the ocean so mysterious rolls toward me closer and closer,
I too but signify at the utmost a little wash’d-up drift,
A few sands and dead leaves to gather,
Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and drift.


—from “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life” by Walt Whitman

For my birthday this year my husband bought us tickets to travel to Star Island, one of the islands that make up the Isles of Shoals just off the coast of New Hampshire. It’s funny because just before my birthday I heard a story on the radio about some college students doing work in a lab at the Isles of Shoals and it really intrigued me. I told Damian about it when I got home, having no idea that he had already bought tickets for us to go out there! He’s always been the best gift-giver—I suppose it comes from knowing me so well, which is perhaps one of the reasons we are so happily married.

I was most interested in going to the Isles of Shoals because of a family connection I have to the place. My grandmother’s mother, Nora Lang, was very devoted to recording her family history. In fact, it is her binders full of notes and documents that first sparked my own interest in learning about my ancestors. Nora Lang’s immigrant ancestor to America was a man named Robert Lang, and he was a fisherman at the Isles of Shoals in the late 1660s. Back then the islands were mostly inhabited by young Englishmen who had come to find work in the robust fishing industry that sprang up there. I don’t know which island Robert Lang called home, or exactly when he arrived, but I’ve always wanted to go out to the Isles of Shoals to get a glimpse of what he might have seen there.

Our trip was scheduled for May 25th. After such a long, drawn-out winter we had barely eased into spring by the end of May, so I was worried it might be cold on the island. Thankfully, it was a beautiful sunny day—warm but not hot. The boat was mostly full, but not at all crowded, and the ride over (which took about an hour) was very pleasant. The captain pointed out interesting landmarks and buildings along the way, but wasn’t yammering constantly. After about an hour we arrived on the island and disembarked, stopping briefly to enjoy a little snack, and then made our way around the island.

Star Island is small and rocky, covered with scrub-brush and seagulls, and dotted with small buildings used by churches for retreats and camps. Despite enjoying the views, I felt claustrophobic almost immediately, which I wasn’t expecting. I guess I’m not cut out to do the work my ancestor did! But, Robert Lang was on my mind while I trod the paths of Star Island. I even brought along my Lang family history book, I suppose to symbolically link the past and the present. I’ll never know Robert Lang, but I am a part of him and he is a part of me. For a little while on Star Island, I walked out beyond my own beginning and merged into the sands and drifts that formed me.

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And, here’s a little video I made using footage from our trip to Star Island:

First & Last Day 2018-2019

Lillia first and last day of 9th grade

Lillia, first and last day of 9th grade, 2018-2019

Lillia: This has been a very interesting and challenging year for you. It all started way back in August when you began your freshman year and our local high school. Eighth grade had been rough, and I think we were all hoping for a fresh start. Sadly, a cascade of negative experiences—from bullying in the hallways to homework troubles—dashed our dreams almost immediately. A job change for your dad made it so that you were completely on your own from the time you left for the bus at 6:30 in the morning until Zane and I got home sometime between 4:00 and 5:00. Most afternoons you were asleep when we arrived, so you were essentially completely unsupported. Not good.

Thankfully, this story has a very happy ending! At the end of October we went for a tour of the MC2 school in Keene (actually in the same building I work in!). You were doubtful and reluctant, but I just had a feeling it would be a good match for you. When I picked you up at the end of your tour day, you asked if you could start the next day! They graciously let you start in the middle of a term, and it has been a 100 percent positive experience from the moment you started. You made tons of new friends who like a lot of the same things that you do. You often hang out after school with friends, visiting the comic book store, eating out, playing card games at school . . . it fills me with joy to see YOU happy.

Because MC2 goes year-round (10 weeks on, 3 weeks off), there isn’t really a “last” day of school until you graduate. But, this is the end of the quarter, and Zane’s last day of school for the year, so let’s celebrate a great year that brought so many good changes your way. I am so proud of everything you accomplished this year, and it’s especially awesome to see how resilient you are—you took the setbacks life gave you and transformed them into something wonderful. I can’t wait to see you what interesting projects you’ll take on next quarter! Love you, kiddo!

Zane first and last day of 2nd grade

Zane, first and last day of 2nd grade, 2018-2019
(the last day of school was field day, hence the face paint and flower lei)

Zane: You experienced big changes this year, too! After spending your kindergarten and first grade years at our local elementary school, you expressed a desire to try something different. I wasn’t quite sure what that could be, but we’ve tried a lot of different schools (even homeschooling) so I was not afraid to take a chance on a new educational path. We decided to check out St. Joe’s, the Catholic school that both your dad and your grandmother attended when they were young.

We took a tour of the school near the end of last school year. I remember being so impressed with the energy of the place—everyone seemed so happy to be there, and totally engaged with their work. You were particularly excited about studying French, and after you started at St. Joe’s this past fall, French turned out to be one of your favorite classes! You also really liked your religion class, and going to Mass on Fridays, too—during one Mass you really impressed Fr. Alan with your knowledge of metamorphosis, and I don’t think he’ll forget you anytime soon.

You made lots of new friends this year. Everyone at St. Joe’s is so nice. I started reading to your class on Tuesday mornings, which gave me a chance to see you during the day—having you and your sister so close to where I work has been the most wonderful change. Your class is really special: It has THREE sets of boy-girl twins! That’s amazing! Because your class was so large, they split you into two groups for much of the day. At the beginning of the year you were called the Marshmallows and the Tiger Sharks, then you switched to Dolphins and Patriots (you were a Marshmallow/Dolphin).

You are one of the youngest kids in your class, so it took you at least part of the year to catch up to them, in terms of study habits. Your teacher frequently remarked that you were very bright, but had trouble finishing your work. By the end of the year you were consistently making good use of your class time (perhaps having to bring school work home on the weekends several times was a motivating factor). I’m so proud of all of your hard work this year, and I can’t wait to see what exciting things you will learn this fall in third grade! Love you, buddy!

In the Woods // Tapestry

We here are on the wrong side of the tapestry . . .
The things that happen here do not seem to mean anything;
they mean something somewhere else.

—from The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

He draws great lines across the sky;
he sees the forests like a carpet beneath him, he sees the hills
and valleys as folds and wrinkles in a many-colored tapestry;
he sees the river as a silver belt connecting remote horizons.
We climb mountain-peaks to get a glimpse of the spectacle
that is hourly spread out beneath him.

—from Far and Near by John Burroughs (1904)

This week Zane and I took our first walk together around the Mill Pond since the fall. A big rainstorm was coming, though not for several hours, so it was overcast and humid. I realized almost immediately that, whereas warm weather had been late in coming, it was definitely here and so were the mosquitoes. I hadn’t thought to dress Zane appropriately or to douse him with bug spray, so we hiked up his socks and I let him wear my sweater to cover his arms. We had to walk quickly and not tarry to keep ahead of the bugs.

Ugh, bugs! My husband read the Chesterton quote (above) to me last night and I knew right away that it needed to be part of this post. It so aptly applies to my constant struggle to love ALL of the natural world. Mosquitoes, ticks (we had at least four or five on us while we were walking)—what is their purpose!? Obviously, I’m on the wrong side of the tapestry because I cannot see anything good in them at all, short of their being food for some other, more virtuous, creature.

Yes, I wish I could see these lowest of the low as God sees them, as some integral thread in His tapestry. Instead, I’m mumbling under my breath and feeling perpetually itchy (is something crawling on my leg???). Still, it was so good to be out in the woods. I refuse to be kept out of the spaces I love because of my discomfort with what might be lurking there. We went out, we had a nice walk, we unceremoniously removed the offenders from our clothing and squished them, then threw our clothes in the dryer and took a good shower afterwards.

I have to reconcile with the reality of ticks as part and parcel of my adventures, or live in exile from the things I love in order to avoid them. There is a little bit of grief here, over a childhood spent in the woods with nary a tick in sight, nothing to fear or hold me back but the limits of my own imagination. Like so many truths that come to light as we grow older, this is one I will have to accept. And, just now, as I look out my window at the forest and the pond, it is so beautiful. The tapestry looks whole and perfect for a moment in the morning light.

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Je vous salue, Marie

Notre Dame North Rose Window” by Bradley Weber (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Je vous salue, Marie, pleine de grâces, le Seigneur est avec vous;
vous ętes bénie entre toutes les femmes, et Jésus le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni.
Sainte Marie, Mčre de Dieu, priez pour nous pécheurs, maintenant, et ŕ l’heure de notre mort. Amen.

It is April. It is Holy Week. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is burning—her spire has fallen, and there are reports that some of her beautiful stained glass windows have shattered from the intense heat of the fire. Moving footage of kneeling mourners singing the Hail Mary prayer in French brings tears to my eyes. Someone on social media scornfully asks of those singing, “Is the church repaired by praying?” to which another wisely responds: “They are the Church.” Wherever two or three are gathered . . .

I watch the flames pulling the spire of Notre Dame to the ground, and a deep sorrow settles in my heart. Notre Dame can never be replaced. Rebuilt, perhaps, but never replicated. One can’t help but feel that this fire is a symbolic manifestation of the slow burn that has been happening behind the scenes for some time. Yes, the Church is on fire in so many ways, and in so many places.

And, yet, every cathedral in the world could burn or crumble to the ground, and still the Church would remain. Scandal, corruption, and neglect could shake her to the core and leave nothing but smoldering rubble, but the Church would go on just as she always has. Because she lives.

It is Holy Week, and tomorrow evening I will travel to the cathedral of my own diocese to procure the sacramental oils that will indelibly mark me as a member of the Church at the Easter Vigil. And, so, I find myself weeping for the church that was, even as I prepare to be united with the Church that is.

Perhaps it is best to end here with the words of my fellow convert, G.K. Chesterton, who wrote in his essay “The Five Deaths of the Faith“:

. . . The Church in the West was not in a world where things were too old to die; but in one in which they were always young enough to get killed. The consequence was that superficially and externally it often did get killed; nay, it sometimes wore out even without getting killed. And there follows a fact I find it somewhat difficult to describe, yet which I believe to be very real and rather important. As a ghost is the shadow of a man, and in that sense the shadow of life, so at intervals there passed across this endless life a sort of shadow of death.

There are people who say they wish Christianity to remain as a spirit. They mean, very literally, that they wish it to remain as a ghost. But it is not going to remain as a ghost. What follows this process of apparent death is not the lingering of the shade; it is the resurrection of the body. These people are quite prepared to shed pious and reverential tears over the Sepulchre of the Son of Man; what they are not prepared for is the Son of God walking once more upon the hills of morning.

It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future. To-day it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it grows.

A New Being, A New Beginning

Gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis.
(Rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow.)

***

So for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation:
The old order is gone and a new being is there to see.

—2 Corinthians 5:17

It is the last day of March. It is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent—laetare is Latin for rejoice and this Sunday is set aside as a celebration of the approach of Easter. Although I’m not sure of the exact origins of this special day, I think it must have something to do with having made it past the half-way mark of the Lenten season. The Resurrection is almost visible on the horizon.

Today I have even more cause to rejoice, because I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, otherwise known as Confession, for the first time. For weeks, perhaps even months, I have been preparing for this sacrament. I’ve been poring over various Examination of Conscience worksheets and thinking about what sins need to be confessed. The depravity of my life began to come into sharp focus and I started to really dread what I was going to have to admit out loud to my priest. I was filled with anxiety.

And, then something changed. Yesterday as I was preparing my final “list” of sins to confess, the feelings that had been swirling around in my heart started to shift. What had been strictly nervousness and embarrassment began to crystallize into something more closely resembling sorrow. My sins weren’t just shameful but painful. I think for the first time in my life I was really able to see with clarity how much hurt I had caused God and others—and myself—by the bad choices I had made.

I woke up early this morning and tried to busy myself so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed and somehow talk myself out of going to Confession. The 3pm service time finally rolled around, and I could tell from the moment I walked into the church that it was going to be an emotionally challenging afternoon. After a brief penance service, everyone lined up and the confessions began.

When it was my turn, I nervously entered the sacristy where my priest was hearing confessions. As soon as I saw my priest I burst into tears. I hadn’t even gotten to my sins and already I was losing it! A lifetime of guilt, shame, pain, and sorrow came pouring out of me and it was so much more intense than I ever could have imagined. At times I could barely get my words out. But, my priest was patient with me, and when I finally made it to the end of my confession, he exclaimed how great it was that God was forgiving all of these sins! They were being washed away! Gone forever!

In the moment I could barely process what he was saying, or fully understand the penance he gave me: “Say a prayer for yourself.” I received my absolution, thanked my priest, and bolted from the room. I tried to stifle my sobs with my hand as I passed by the line waiting to go in to the confessional. Everyone else had come out completely calm and collected, and here I was, a total mess with tears streaming down my face.

I slid into a pew to say my penance, but I couldn’t clear my head. I just knelt there with my eyes closed and my hands folded, and tried to regain my composure. After a few minutes, I got up and left the church. I didn’t feel like I could go home because I really just wanted to be alone. I had experienced something so amazing, so terrifying, so life-changing that I didn’t feel like I could just go back to my life and pick up wherever I left off. So, I drove around in the car for quite a while, alternately thinking and crying.

As the minutes passed, I realized that I still hadn’t performed my penance. What prayer could I possibly say for myself—for me, the person who had done all of those terrible things? I prayed the only prayer I could: That God would help me to forgive myself. It sounds simple, but the effect was truly miraculous. Within a couple of minutes the sorrow started to lift, and I began to feel a deep, deep sense of peace grow in my heart. I had a strong desire to forgive everyone who had ever wronged me. I felt nothing but compassion and love for every person on Earth and truly longed for them to know the mercy of God, as I had just experienced it.

Even now, hours after the fact, those feelings linger. I still feel raw, exposed, and vulnerable, but I also feel love pouring out from deep inside of me, spilling out through my fingertips onto this page. I feel immense gratitude and love for Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for my sins, and who instituted this beautiful, healing sacrament. I hope I will never forget what I experienced today, and I also hope that, at least in some small way, I will continue to experience my faith journey as one of perpetual conversion for the rest of my life. I pray that I will never become cynical or apathetic about the Church’s sacraments. And, I pray that others will experience God’s abiding love and mercy through me, and draw closer to Him.