M-m-m-mild to the b-b-b-bone

I was an inner city average white girl, but there was one night I wanted to be notorious.  Yes, maybe “Notorious AWG” — though there was no cool coolness about the ‘hood back in the day — plus, I was sickly and Toni-permed up until I was 15…

I’d wanted to steal a car shortly after that ridiculous milestone.

Just to be bad. It would’ve been a convertible — just to be outrageously bad.

I was that tired of being good. Tired of being poor, stiffed, dismissed, unfeared but worse, disrespected; tired of being limited, tired of being stopped at every edge of every dream, and tired of being me.

Then, the pilfered Schlitz wore off past the teenaged crying jag — but the pain of being trapped was real. I talked it over with someone who wasn’t about to stop me. As usual, I stopped me.  Total loser. (Plus, there were no convertibles anywhere near my neighborhood, and I would need some car thief to hotwire it for me.  A lose-lose night entirely.)

We do have what it takes to break out. One doesn’t have to be bad to be badass. Should anyone think of stealing a car (or a Schlitz, or worse… well, there’s nothing worse than Schlitz), or thinking of stealing one’s own life or one’s own future, one must keep thinking.  Answers come. They just need time and hope. Find someone with hope — be it Jesus or Grandma or the butcher (all of whom understand feeling trapped) — and stay close and open to suggestions until you are your own hope-ster.

There is no point in stealing anything, nor in harming or ruining life.  You can have life properly, even abundantly, if you think first. It takes a little time… and zero Schlitz.

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I has them.

It would’ve gone alright with the rest as a middle name for real: Relax Qualm McGillicuddy, though it works better as a statement — a comma after Relax would’ve been perfect.

I had qualms about everything. If I didn’t, I imported them. I was my mother’s daughter, which is to say not half Irish just yet, which is to say French Canadian. My neighborhoods in a historic seaport were incredibly diverse, so I was surrounded by Italian qualms, many French Canadian ones, and the rarer Irish qualm (who had qualms about having qualms but had them anyway, only slightly moreso than did the Greeks).

The problem was, we were mostly of the Catholic working class persuasion, and that was rife with qualms. The only Jewish girl I knew didn’t seem to suffer them. She was joyful, animated, sure of herself. I desperately wanted to be Jewish for a while, back when I didn’t realize one could be Jewish and yet not religiously so.

I continue qualmward. Not because it’s mandatory for the conscience — that’s only how it got a foothold. I need qualms, the awkward 50-lb butterflies of doubt, to warn me off of what I think I want to go for — or at least make me think longer, consider more.

Or, angelqualms.


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When hoped for should become a plan

I’ve long wanted to collaborate on a book with my daughter. Actually, I’d love to collaborate on a book with any of my children or grandchildren or all, but this one in particular has always been quite the natural artist. Her illustrations based on her interpretation of the point in my prose would go far to say better, the little I have.

As one of many such gifts over the years, she drew a beautiful pastel portrait of Mary with a crown of stars above, horns under, and the soft, regal, voluminous folds of her garments — above and around her welcoming hands — appearing more wing-like than we might think. I know that Mary must look serious, but the one glaring imperfection was indeed her mouth. She looked almost dour. So dour, in fact, that I secretly tried to improve upon it.

There was also the gift of a portrait she’d done of the Man of Sorrows, crowned. She finished off the thorns, each and every one of them, with black and thus shiny ink seemingly visible from Pluto — the one glaring imperfection.  There was no way to improve upon it, there all in black and white and framed in black wood.

Eventually, it dawned on me that here is a real artist. What she applied — what she let stand, what she framed and with what she framed it — is the imperfection we bring to the holy.  What we see, that we don’t like, is our effect on the holy.

After all, what mother can smile or look beatific when any one of her children is in dire danger?  How could a loving Saviour bear as crown the purposely unnatural-to-God — the hardened, deliberately misformed, dead unfurled leaf affixed to Him by the thankless thoughtless — without it coloring His whole likeness?

For too long, her main canvas has been her skin — for tattoos. I’d really like to improve them, and I never will, but she needs to see where her greatest talent is, and I need it to speak for me.


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Consummatum est

There’s no accurate way for a human being to take another’s full measure. Like our own brains, we’re complex in parts and stages, in growth and regression, in expansion and retraction. There’s a secret us in every other fold, and a potential saint in every other fold.

It began last night, and I found the rest of the trial this morning.

Indeed, I’ve been tried — and I flunked.

Of the five RCIA journeys I’ve accompanied someone on — four as sponsor and the last as prayer partner — one seems not to have “taken.” In the same way that 11 was good but 12 was better since it was the Master’s original Plan, 4 is good, but all 5 would’ve been better, as surely all 5 had been Planned.

Naturally, it had to be the distant family member (whom I sponsored). I recall initially telling her that since she had been happy for 32 years in another church with her mom and their family, maybe she ought to stay with that. No, she was determined. Something had been missing. So, she signed up and we began.

Nine months later, on that Easter day after the Vigil the night before in which she had fully received all the rites and the sacraments of Confession, Confirmation and Communion at last, she was beside herself with joy. We went to the beach with the girls and her that day, and she was wearing a rosary as a necklace, so that she could touch the Crucifix of the One Who loves her. She all but glowed from happiness.

Time and distance (a move down south) and busyness intervened, and she didn’t go to Mass but once in a blue moon and I doubt she ever made her Easter duty. She fell away. (Even cradle Catholics do.)  We didn’t have a problem until she publicly sold me out on Facebook, told family names/location info I had hidden for years. She didn’t know, so I explained it to her.

She laughed at every sentence, and at my “Please take that down,” and then insulted my friends, there! I had a problem with her refusal (as did husband and adult kids with kids!), and finally had to say I’d contact Facebook admin about her account if she didn’t take her post down within the next 10 minutes.  She had a problem with my problem, and demanded an apology, telling me that both our mothers must be rolling in their graves over the horrible way I treated her, having told her that her problems are not always someone else’s fault.

It ultimately caused a cold war between us. I reeled it all in and warmed when her brother took gravely ill and she had come up here for a visit to him in the hospital, and again a year later, when he died. She stayed with us both times. She also demanded to go to Mass with me; it was her “right as a Catholic.”

She didn’t get it, that Catholics have obligations, not rights. It was too late on every scale to say so, and certainly not a good time for the reminder that we don’t just go to Mass when we want something, or to feel something. We go as duty to the rest of the Church, and duty to God (of course), and because there is no other way to receive His Body and Blood in all known ways.  She had heard all this from way better than me.

After not hearing from her for a couple of years — actually after having been actively ignored — I was both surprised and pleased to see that a card from her was waiting for me last night after work. Maybe we were okay after all. Maybe she’d grown up.

The card had its own printed Easter wishes, so I was dismayed to see Scripture I’ve been hearing all my life penned out as if she thought it would be my first time, and to read her admonition to “Get saved!” — to “Be born again!”  I raised a suspicious brow this morning, and double-checked the card.  Yep, there was a “God bless,” where “Love,” used to be.  Perhaps she had meant well, too, but she had most definitely meant ill.

I called her a b*&%!. Out loud.

On Good Friday.

And now, I can’t get to Confession until after Easter.

So, I return to my first paragraph, here, and submit her to the One Who not only loves her, but knows her. He knows every fold, stage and potential. He sees the begun project all the way to the finished and eternal.

I’ll be in Good Friday Apology School from noon to three, restudying the part where Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Perfect Victim and Perfect Offering of atonement, manages to choke out between the constriction of asphyxiation and the horrendously bled out and thus, full-body thirst, “Father, forgive them…” Like Eve and then Adam before them, they knew darned well what they were doing that day, but then again, they really didn’t. Only He knew the extent of their, and her, and my dis- and mis- and un-knowledge — and loved us unto His undeserved death in our place, anyway, and into His own resurrection.


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Love means having to say..

There was nothing that Jesus or Mary needed to conquer in Themselves before He was transfigured, and she was assumed. Mary was conceived without stain of our first parents’ original sin (Immaculate Conception) because she had been chosen to carry the Messiah Who had pre-redeemed her from before the fullness of time, and of course, Jesus was miraculously conceived of the sinless Virgin without original sin as well — the only begotten Son of God. Mysteries galore!

Thanks to Eve, the world needed a new mother, and thanks to Adam, death had entered human life to claim us all — all but Jesus, and, because of His coming victory over death, Mary. The new Eve and the New Adam said only, “Thy will be done.” It’s not like either of Them weren’t tempted, though. We don’t read of Mary’s temptations, but she was fully human — she’d have been (I think) tempted by anger, at least. She would never cave in, though, not to anything that was not of God. Her will was entirely given to His will, and always had been so.

However, we have things to conquer in ourselves. This is Lent’s business: to remind us about our need. The distances from Him build slowly and, if we’re not aware, can take root in real death (the one Jesus warned us about,”Don’t be afraid of what can only kill the body…”) — the death of the soul.  Good news, though — we have a redeemer. He took our place at the site of death and said, “Enough of this, now.” And then, He rose.

My mom taught and conditioned me to pray an Act of Contrition before midnight, lest my sins carry on to the next day and maybe doubly wound the good God. (And if she hadn’t, my uncle or grandmother would’ve! “Did you say your prayers?” always came before the “Goodnight!” hugs and kisses.) The prayers referred to consisted of an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and an Act of Contrition. In years to come, I would wonder if I shouldn’t even be praying that, because I examined the words: “I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because I have offended Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love..”

Well, I didn’t always detest all my sins, and I didn’t know anything of heaven, nor of the pains of hell, and whom hadn’t I offended though they were good and deserving of all my love? Was there anyone? I didn’t even know God, really. Oh, I felt like a criminal, yes, and not the good one! But this was one of those times where we echo what has already been said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” and “Yes, I believe You can do this, if You will to.” It was an appropriating of that ancient yes-and-not-yet. For a long time, I could finish it honestly only with its crucial caveat: “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace,…”

I can successfully do absolutely nothing decent — not even love aright — without that grace. That’s all He needs for granting it, though, that admission in some form — that “I’m not God.” “I beg forgiveness.” “I need You.” “I would love.” Many doors of heaven (as well as on earth) bang open upon the inner utterance of those 3 words.


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I must.

If while being warmed
you’d like to feel swarmed,
toss one slice of bread near the blanket;
they will come if you toss it–
soon swarmed, I will posit:
from each other, 12 ‘gulls will yank it.

Do you thrill to large wings
so near eyes — all head things —
while oiled neighbors move off by 10 paces?
Close your eyes, with arms high,
let another piece fly–
the beach will gain back many spaces.


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