Wednesday, December 13, 2017


How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O Lord, my God; lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.

I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.


This was written just for me.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Goodbye to 2017

  1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?  Hm.... I tried spinning yarn for about 15 minutes and did not enjoy it. I will probably try it again, though, because it's hard to like something you stink at.
  2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?  My goal for 2017 was to move forward in my life. I didn't really do that to the extent that I wanted to, but I was able to tear my eyes off the past at least some of the time, and did more than simply tread water. Just a little more, but it was progress.
  3. Did anyone close to you give birth?  No, though there seems to be a population explosion with my cousins kids having babies!
  4. Did anyone close to you die?  No
  5. What countries did you visit?  I remained in hell, the depths of despair. Someday, I hope to have a one way ticket out of here.
  6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?  How vulnerable I would be if I answered this question completely and truthfully! I'm not ready for that, so I will say the #2 thing that I would like in 2017 is enough money to retire comfortably.
  7. What date from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory?  The best day of the year was November 18th when my daughter told me that she and her wonderful boyfriend, Joel, were engaged, and she sent me a picture of her ring - her face was the happiest I've ever seen it. I truly believe and have faith that Joel is the right man for her; he is a good, steady, loving, kind man who gets her and loves all her quirks, and she is completely besotted with him.  He is the love of her life. They are good together. So, ya, that was a really good day. 
  8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?  Living through it without melting into the ground.
  9. What was your biggest failure?  so many failures, every day. I'm trying to not dwell on them and instead to look forward.
  10. Did you suffer illness or injury?  Yes; chronic pain and depression, and 2018 will probably hold at least two surgeries for me.
  11. What was the best thing you bought?  Yarn!  GOOD yarn!  Natural fiber yarn! MERINO and CASHMERE YARN! It is such a pleasure to work with good quality yarn!  Other than yarn, the best thing I bought was a Starz subscription so I could watch Outlander which is my new obsession.
  12. Where did most of your money go?  Mostly to first and second mortgages, utilities, gas, etc. Very little left over for anything that is not a necessity.
  13. What did you get really, really, really excited about?  OMG OUTLANDER!!!  I am obsessed! It is the best time waster in the universe!
  14. What song/album will always remind you of 2017?  The Isle of Skye, which is the theme for Outlander
  15. What do you wish you’d done more of?  Oh my... so many ways to waste time and avoid doing what is most important in life.  I guess I would have to say, prayer, contemplation and iconography, in that order. 
  16. What do you wish you’d done less of?  Working
  17. How will you be spending/did you spend Christmas?  I wasn't sure until last night, but I will be spending it with my little brother Ken and his family. 
  18. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?  Mostly with my daughter. We text and message a lot. When we talk on the phone, we talk for hours and hours and never get bored. She is hilarious. She cracks me up all the time. 
  19. Did you fall in love in 2017?  Ok, this is a surprisingly difficult question. I am in love with someone, and I do love someone, though in years past, I put that in a little locked place. This year, for some inexplicable reason, I can no longer keep it in it's little box.  On the other hand, another way to answer would be that I have fallen in crazy love with a fictional character, James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser. 
  20. How many one night stands in this last year?  No one night stands. I am worth so much more than one night.
  21. What was your favorite TV program?  Outlander, Doc Martin, Grey's Anatomy
  22. What was the best book(s) you read?  Outlander
  23. What were your favorite films of this year?  Our Souls at Night was a quiet, wonderfully introspective film that I loved.
  24. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?  My birthday is on September 14th and I turned 62. I spent it driving from Cindy's apartment in Atlanta after the hurricane warnings lifted.
  25. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?  Enough money to retire comfortably, and not in poverty.
  26. What kept you sane?  Knitting. Solitude. Chocolate. Limoncello.
  27. What political issue stirred you the most?  Radical and soulless Republicans have hijacked the government.
  28. Who did you miss?  Other than my parents, and missing them is a constant ache that never, ever goes away. The person I miss most is named Bill. 
  29. Who was the best new person you met?  Jeanie K. I didn't meet her in 2017, but I got to know her much better in 2017, and she is a wonderful addition to my life.
  30. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.  No matter how hard I try, I am not capable of creating the life that I want and that I need.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Christmas 2017 Meme

Okay, here's what you're supposed to do, and try not to be aSCROOGE!!! Just copy (not forward) this entire email and paste into anew e-mail that you can send. Change all the answers so that theyapply to you. Then send this to a whole bunch of people you know,INCLUDING the person that sent it to you......Tis the Season to be NICE!

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags??? Gift bags, always. Sometimes I use brown paper lunch bags and stamp them or write nice quotes on them, then staple the suckers shut. 

2. Real tree or Artificial??? Artificial, alas. Real ones make me congested.

3. When do you put up the tree? I always used to put it up on Thanksgiving weekend, but now that I live alone, I do less and less decorating of any kind. The tree usually goes up before Christmas, though there have been a couple of years without a tree at all. However, I did come out of that deep funk eventually. Last year I didn't even decorate it - the beautiful white lights were enough for me. We will see what 2017 brings. 

4. When do you take the tree down? after January 7th.  Sometimes MONTHS after January 7th!

5. Do you like egg nog?? Yes, I love it, even though I got a wicked hangover from Melvin's "special homemade" eggnog a couple of years ago. I think he "made" it in the bathtub.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? My annual box of 64 Crayola crayons

7. Do you have a nativity scene? Multiple ones!

8. Hardest person to buy for? I have few people to buy for. Usually I give a small token gift to choir members and readers, and my daughter and now, her fiance Joel. Money is tight this year, so I think I'll  skip the choir and just give to my kids.  So, this year, Joel is the hardest person to buy for, since I don't know him like I know my daughter. I've got some good ideas, though. 

9. Easiest person to buy for? DD - I always come up with something that she loves. It helps that our interests and taste intersect a lot.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?? I don't do cards of any type - never have - though I like getting them. How is that for hypocrisy, eh? I will send email cards on occasion. friends and family who don't have an email address, or who are not on Facebook, are out of luck.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? I don't remember any, truthfully

12. Favorite Christmas movie? Hm.... I think its probably A Christmas Story or Love, Actually. I almost wet my pants the first time I saw A Christmas Story.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?? When I can't avoid it anymore

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present??? Yes

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas??? Panettone, stuffed artichokes, and pizzelle

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree??? Clear lights that don't blink. The more the better. When I turn my tree on, there should be a brown out in my neighborhood, or I haven't don't it right.

17. Favorite Christmas song?? Most favorite is Lo, How A Rose Ere Blooming, and second favorite is O Holy Night in French - I can still hear Uncle Len and Auntie Nita singing it.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Home, but sometimes I think it would be fun to go somewhere unexpected, like a cabin in the snowy mountains, or somewhere on a warm beach

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeers? No, but I can name all the Von Trapp children. There are seven of them. I can also name all the B Street children - there are 15 of them, not counting me, Ro, Terry or Ethel. Does that count?

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? I always have both. The star is on the tippy top with an angel immediately below it

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?? When I was a kid, we always opened them at night after midnight mass, but once I was a mother, I saw the wisdom of Christmas morning gift opening. Now, I open my gifts with my daughter via skype after I get home from morning liturgy. 

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year??? Office gift exchanges. Not having a gift ready to reciprocate when someone gives you a gift. Actually, I kinda think the whole gift giving thing is out of hand in our culture. I'm happy with just our Christmas stockings full of little things and candy.

23. Favorite ornament theme or color???  I used to have enough ornaments for half a dozen trees with different themes and color schemes; I think I had 14 or 15 huge tubs of decorations. I severely decluttered my decorations a few years ago. I kept only the special ornaments that I've collected over the years. Each ornament is a memory of places I've been, events, people, pets. Unfortunately, most of these special ornaments are breakable, so I haven't put them up for a while because my damn cats are so destructive.  I do have some non breakable ornaments that I love. I always layer my tree: first layer deep in the tree are the white lights. Next layer deep in the tree are the foundational red balls. Usually I hang two balls together - one shiny deep red ball with a satin bright red ball.  Then I put the garland on - a white pearl garland is my favorite. Then the white ornaments which includes frosted glass balls and teardrops. Next, nearer the edges, I arrange my favorite heirloom ornaments.  Last, are the many crystal icicles and elves.  There is a star on the top of the tree, and below it is an angel. I have a special bee ornament and a flying pig ornament and a grandmother ornament for my mother. I've got a special fisherman ornament and a frog ornament and a grandfather ornament with a tool box for my father. I have camel ornaments for Jerry. I have ornaments for my daughter that commemorate her age and various events in her life.  I have ornaments from places I've lived and places I've visited.The special ornaments tell the story of our life.  I like to have a lot of white and lot of red in my ornaments - I love how that looks with the multicolored heirloom ornaments - and white lights.   Geez, now that I've typed all this, I'm too exhausted to decorate my tree this year!

24. Favorite for Christmas dinner??? My favorite Christmas dinner exists in my memory: chicken in wine, stuffed artichokes, ravioli, bracciola and pork roast cooked in gravy, salad, chocolate chestnut pizza. Nowadays, I prefer to keep things much more simple. Sometimes I spend Christmas with the Kochers. So far, I've never spent it alone, but this may be the year. One year, DD and I went to the Chinese buffet and we loved that! It was delicious, inexpensive, and no effort at all. I may do that again this year. 

25. What do you want for Christmas this year? I want the deepest desire of my heart. God knows what that is.  Other than that, less work, more money, peace on earth, and Trump/Pence/Ryan/McConnell; Hatch;the entiire Cabinet, Republican leadership and every single Trump relative except for Barron, Tiffany and Melania behind bars. Permanently behind bars. 

26. Person most likely to respond to this email? everyone responds to MOI

27. Who is least likely to respond to this? see number 26

Ok, tag! You're it!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Can you believe what the choir director said?

Yup, it's that time of year when my parish has the yearly meeting, and I am required to give a Choir Director Report. For the first number of years, I took this as an opportunity to educate the parish about the role of music in the church, about liturgics, about church history. In the last few years, however, I've veered away from music and/or liturgical things, and have given what can only be called a sermon, a sermon that I wish my priest would give, but he will not.  So, once again, I've written a sermon.  Here it is:

Choir Director Report

Once again, it is time for me to give the yearly Choir Director Report. I'm not going to rehash things I've said in years past about the role of music in the Orthodox Church, and importance of giving our first fruits to God, and not just the crumbs left over from all the other things that seem to be more important.

First, everyone should let everyone know that Christopher George Flippo is my assistant. He volunteered, probably not truly understanding what being the choir director truly involves, and I am grateful that he did. He is learning all aspects and helping me, so be supportive of his efforts. It takes a while to become a competent director, and longer to become an excellent director. I have no doubt that he will be an excellent director, none at all. If I am absent, he is in charge. If he is also absent, then Subdeacon John and Reader Isaac are in charge of the choir and the readers. Thank you to all three for stepping up to the plate when I am unable to! Thank you also to Xenia, who I miss so very much, who has been my right hand and dearest friend all these many years.

The choir is in a transitional state. We've got some changes in our roster of singers, and you will note over time that there are some changes to the music that we sing. I say this every year, and every year, we have learned some new music. This year will be a little different, because much of what we have sung over the years requires four parts and doesn't work well with only two parts. You may have noticed that many Sundays, there are not four parts in the choir, so I would be remiss if I did not prepare for that. So, things are changing. Change is hard for many people, so please be patient as we adjust to the new choir reality.


As I wrote the first few paragraphs of this yearly report, I was sitting safe and sound in Xenia's living room in Atlanta. I evacuated my home and was waiting for Hurricane Irma to hit. I had done everything I could to prepare for what looked to be a catastrophic landfall in Savannah, and I had no idea whether I would have a home to return to or not. I had to make some very hard decisions about what to take with me and what to leave to the elements and the mercy of God. I'm no different from everyone in this room today. We all had to make the same decisions without knowing the outcome.

Isn't this a metaphor for life? Don't we all make preparations as best we can for what comes next? Sometimes we choose to not make preparations, and that is preparation of a sort. No matter what we do, though, the final outcome depends on the mercy of God.

Can we think about this for a minute? I am the choir director. As such, I must plan ahead. I plan about three months out – so, in September, I am thinking about December. I need to plan the music that is best suited to the voices we have, what we will rehearse and when, what we will sing; I need to keep on top of filing music, repairing and recreating music books. I need to plan what will happen if I am out sick, and finally, I need to prepare for my replacement. I'm not going anywhere soon, but I would be foolish to not train an assistant who will eventually replace me when I move on to my next stage, whether that be through retirement or death!

We know already that within the next year or two, our priest will retire, and we hope and pray that we will not be without a priest for long. We don't know how that will all work out – who will be sent to us, how we will integrate him and his family, if he has one, into our loving church family, and what challenges we will face in doing so – but, we know that by the grace of God, St. Mary Magdalene Church has always, and will continue, to persevere.

However, just like preparing for Hurricane Irma, we all need to make some hard choices. Look around the room today, we are a family. I recently had this brought home to me when I needed some help with some repairs to my house, and my brother and sisters in Christ – my family – helped me. Thank you Brian, Kathy, Chloe and even little William. I was reminded by their selfless efforts, and the offers of assistance from others, like the Holleys and Tom Maty, that we are, indeed, a family here. Like any family, we get along and sometimes maybe we don't, but we love each other and help each other the best we can. We work together. But there are not a lot of us. The people in this room are who we can depend on to keep the doors of this church open. There is no one else.

So, when I say that I had to choose what I should save and what I could save from Hurricane Irma, and what I had to leave behind, I am struck by the fact that in our life together, in our desire to have a church to worship in, and a church family to worship with, sometimes we have to make hard choices about our lives, too, about the activities we participate in and those that may conflict with our desire to have a church here in Rincon.

More importantly, we have to make hard choices about our priorities, about how we spend our time, our talents, our money, our energy. I know that if I do not wash my dishes, there is no one else to do that for me, and eventually, unwashed dishes become a major problem on a lot of levels. Dishes do not magically wash themselves. However, here, at church, it is so easy to let someone else do the dishes. When we arrive at church, the grounds look so beautiful – we can proud of how beautiful our property always looks. When we arrive at church, late, the clergy and choir are already here to do liturgy, a word which means, literally, the common work of the people. There is oil in the lamps and candles available to light. Everyone has prepared and knows how to perform their role in the common worship. There is a clean bathroom and toilet paper. When we come to the residence, there is food to eat, and the place is clean. Dishes are done. Bills are paid. This is not magic. People make these things happen. The same people, week after week, get here early, stay late, come during the week, and ensure that you have a church to come to.

You may think that I'm gearing up to ask people to volunteer to do some of these things, and although that would be great, that is not my point. My point is this:

Orthodoxy is not what we do on Sunday mornings. Orthodoxy is the true faith, nothing more and certainly nothing less, and when we treat this gift of faith as someplace we go on occasional Sunday mornings, we are making a choice. Orthodoxy is so much more than that, it is a life, - not a lifestyle, but life itself. We choose how we organize our life and our priorities. Now, you may say, Denise, it's easier for you – you don't have small children to worry about, or a husband to take care of, so you have lots of time. You can devote your life to the church. It's true, I don't have those things – now – and therefore I, and I alone, choose my priorities, but I work many hours, just like you. I have had a husband, a young and very sick child, a home based business, a full-time and demanding job, homeschooling, and elderly and sickly parents – all at the same time, so I certainly understand that modern life is busy, over scheduled, exhausting, and setting an alarm to get up early on Sunday morning is the last thing you want to do.

However, Sunday morning liturgy is not the only way to participate in and support this church, this church family, and ultimately, to make preparations, the best we can, for that moment when we meet our Creator and take our place with the sheep on the right, or, with the goats on the left. We need to keep that goal in mind when we organize our lives and make room for participation in the church services – all the services – and to serve the church by offering our talents. As the choir director, I know that we have good singers who do not offer their gift by singing in the choir. I know that there is not a single person who is unable to be on a food team, or who is incapable of washing the coffee pot, or pushing a broom. There is not one person here who is incapable of making it to church early enough to hear these words, “Blessed is the Kingdom.” If you don't know exactly where these words occur, then that should tell you something.

So, as I finish this, I'm still sitting in Xenia's house in Atlanta, but Hurricane Irma has come and gone, and when I get home tomorrow, I will know if the preparations I made were enough to keep my home safe. My true home, though, is not at 318 Montclair Blvd in Savannah. My true home is with my Lord and my Savior, Jesus Christ, where I hope to sing with the heavenly choir forever. I've been thinking about the preparations I am making for that, and to my chagrin, I realize that my priorities, the way I've organized my life, the way I spend the minutes and hours of my days, are not pointing me toward that goal. My preparations thus far are insufficient, are inadequate. This hurricane has caused me to pray and to reflect on how I have spent my life thus far, and how I can more fully enter into an Orthodox life, right here, in this church, in this church family, with you, my brothers and sisters. This hurricane is a wake up call. May we all wake up.

Monday, July 31, 2017

My Epitaph

Years ago, when my Dad was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease, I’d visit him in the nursing home. There was a courtyard in the middle, so we could walk around and around until he was tired. One day, he got tired, so we sat in the little living room type area and he fell asleep with his head on my shoulder. There was an elderly black lady in a wheelchair about 15 or so feet away. She was all dressed up, complete with a hat with a big brim and flowers, white gloves, a shiny white patent leather pocketbook, and two red spots of rouge on her cheeks. She kept smiling and winking at me, and I smiled back. 

Eventually, she began to call out, “Come ovah heeyah!” “Yes, come ovah heeya!” 

I really didn’t want to disturb Dad, and I wasn’t sure she was talking to me since oftentimes Alzheimer’s patients are talking to a memory, so I ignored her for five or ten minutes. 

Soon, she got annoyed that I was ignoring her, and commanded me, saying, “Get Yo Fat Seff Ovah Heeya!”  

I thought that a little rude, and my fatness has always been a sore point for me, so I responded with a distinct lack of charity, “ExCUSE Me?”  

She was stopped cold and looked at me with her mouth making a perfect O in surprise.  Then she began cackling and laughing and slapping her hand on her knee. She wiped her eye with a gloved finger, and said the words that my daughter threatens to put on my tombstome:

“Ooooooh, and sassy, too!”


And, so, I am.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Some memories I posted on FaceBook today

There are three people who changed my life: 1) I was born into a large, loving, liberal, accepting, generous family, which also had very high expectations in terms of developing character, integrity, and doing my best in all things. Thank you to my parents, who were always readers, who expected me to work to my capacity in school, who encouraged and pushed me, and insisted that I go to college. To my aunties who did exactly the same thing, and to my cousins, who celebrated every achievement with an unexpected party, complete with cakes that said things like, Happy Award, Denise. Having a family that celebrates your achievements and pushes you to do more, is the greatest blessing. 2) Librarians, you have the capacity to shape a child's outlook on the world - did you know that? Thank you to the librarians at Shute Memorial library, who were girlfriends of my mother, and told her that they had given me all the kid's books to read and now I needed to start reading from the adult section, or I would lose the love and habit of reading. They promised her that they would guide my reading choices, and what choices they were! They fed me a diet of classic literature, biographies, how to books, memoirs, and well written mass market books. Thank you to the twin librarians at the Shute. 3) A music teacher changed my life. He was John Sullivan, and he taught me the baritone during the winter of 1967, immediately put me in the high school band at 12, then bought me a beautiful double F french horn and guided me through learning that most beautiful of instruments. I had so much fun playing in the school band, woodwind quintet, and jazz band! But then he took me to play with the adults where I was exposed to classical music like I had never been exposed before, directed by the famous Ed Denon (yes, THAT Ed Denon of Boston Crusaders fame). It is one to thing love, appreciate and listen to great music, but it is another thing entirely to play it, in the center of an orchestra, with music swelling all around you and through you. Sully, you made me into a musician, and thank you.
So, my beautiful family, two librarians and a brass teacher changed my life. If you are a librarian or a music teacher (or a teacher of any discipline) you have the power to change the course of a child's life. You never know which child will look at you and say, Thank you!

Spending time flat on my back has put me in a reflective mood, so I guess I'll be vomiting out more posts about my life today.  When I was 16, the librarian sent me to the Boston Public Library, and I got a card there. I read a lot of stuff, especially in the religion section, and a book called The Orthodox Church by Sergius Bulgakov caught me like nothing ever had before, I knew that was where I needed to be. Fast forward a few years: I met and married an Orthodox man, weeventually moved to Sunnyvale, CA in 1980, and I met a priest at Church of the Redeemer, who challenged me, Fr. John Ocana. Fr. John had many gifts; he had the gift of sharing his love and excitement about the faith, and explaining things in a way that you could understand and would remember. After a year or two, I became the parish secretary during troubled times in that parish, and I saw close up that he walked the walk. He lived what he preached. After him, came another priest to that parish, Fr. Kirrill Gvosdev, who, though a little gruff, was/is actually a marshmallow inside. He didn't give great sermons like Fr. John, but what he did was, he lived with his people. He laughed with you, he feasted with you, he cried with you, he held your hand in the hospital, he brought you the gifts and a casserole. He showed up whenever he was needed. You never needed to ask him to come, he'd show up just as you were picking up the phone. He kept in close contact with his people - all his people - either by phone or knocking on the door for a cup of coffee. He knew your joys and your struggles and he did whatever he could to help, even if all he could do was to bring you a cup of coffee in the hospital. He was there. He was present. I cannot tell you how profound an impression these two priests made on me - they were like two sides of the same coin. They are everything that a parish priest should be. Fr. John is very elderly and frail, and Fr. Kirrill is still going strong. Many years! Well done, thou good and faithful servants!
So, I'm an only child, you know. My parents had one pregnancy and that was me. I'm not the stereotypical only child because I lived nearly half the year at the mothership on B. Street, which was overflowing with aunts, cousins, and whoever my grandmother brought home. Anyway, talking about how important having family support is, I want to tell a little story to illustrate what I mean. There was a big kindergarten graduation ceremony for us kindergarten kids, and the parents came. We filed out on the stage to sing our little song, and a little girl named Lisa on my right said, "Look, there's my Mommy and Daddy and my little sister over there!" She knew I was an only child and asked, not so innocently, "Did your family come?" I said, enthusiastically, "Oh yes! My family is those four rows over there!" She could not believe it! My parents, my grandmother, Aunts Nettie, Christine, Jenny, and Anna; cousin Harold Catalano, Marion, Fina, Ethel, Roseanne and Joe, Terry, Uncle Nicky and Auntie Emily with LIttle Em (who was an itty bitty baby) and Maryann, and also Marie Cadigan, my grandmother's best girlfriend. I don't remember who else was there to see me graduate from kindergarten, but there was basically, four generations in the audience for the little only child. Only child? I think not. Loved? I think so!
Then there was the time that I won a debate and got a medal for it. I came home from school with the medal in a little box, and my mother said we were going to my grandmother's for dinner, which was not particularly unusual. The usual cast of characters were there: Gram, two aunties, three cousins with their husbands and their kids, and us. For dessert, they brought out an italian rum cake with the words, Happy Award, Denise, and sang to me. Proud of me? Ya think? Was I supported? Yup. Did I carry that degree of love and pride and support in my heart forever? You bet your ass, I did and I do.
Then there was the time that one of my mother's cousin's kids got married. My aunties were talking about what a wonderful shower it was, and how wonderful the bride was because she went to every table and talked to every one, and how proud her mother must be of her. I listened to them, and when it was time for my own wedding shower, I went to every table and talked with every person and thanked them for coming, and after opening the gifts, I went around the room a second time and thanked them for their gift. The day after, I couldn't wait to get down to the mothership and talk with me aunties because I knew they would be so proud of me. We talked about how nice the shower had been and I waited. Not one word about what good manners I had. Not one word. Finally, I asked them what they thought about me going around TWICE, when whatever her name had gone around only ONCE. They were totally nonplussed. Finally, Auntie Nettie said, "Honey, we brought you up. We expect nothing less from you. You have been taught how to behave and have always shown good manners, so it's nothing special when you do what you have always done." I was crushed for a minute, but then I understood - the bar was high and I met it. The bar may be lower for others, but for me it was high, and I met it. Expectations matter. Kids will strive to meet your expectations. Make sure that your expectations are for good.
People, small things change lives, for the good or for the bad. Be kind, be thoughtful, be encouraging, be loving.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Palm Sunday Then and Now

When I was around 16, I read a book called, The Orthodox Church by Sergius Bulgakov, and I clearly remember thinking as I read it, "This is it! I have found it! If this is not the true expression of Christianity, then nothing is, and we are all doomed." I looked at the listings for the Orthodox Church in the Metropolitan Boston Yellow pages, and started calling churches because I wanted to learn more and to attend. The first three or four people who answered the phone did not speak English, and I gave up. There is a lesson in there, but that is another post.

Fast forward a few years. I was in college, and met a guy named Jerry Norman. He was a nice guy, and I liked him. We had some dates and I had met his parents for dinner once, but nothing really serious. We were chatting with friends in the cafeteria and something he said made me say to him, "Hey, I thought you were Jewish!" He replied no, he was Lebanese and a Christian. So, I asked, as you do, "Are you Melkite, Maronite or Orthodox?" He replied he was Orthodox and I asked him to take me to church. After more dates and more requests to take me to church, we finally went with his oldest brother, sister in law and two little nephews.

St. George Antiochian Church of Boston had sold their Boston property and had just begun building a new church in West Roxbury, so Holy Cross Greek Seminary was kind enough to let them worship in their gymnasium, which at the time, was also where the Celtics practiced, but that's another story entirely. I was nervous because I hadn't been to an Orthodox church, and I hadn't met the brother and his family. We all piled into the car - Jerry, me, Joey, Maddie, Ricky and Jimmy - drove to Brookline and walked into the gymnasium on Palm Sunday, 1976, 41 years ago today.

There were tons of people chatting, greeting each other with two kisses, lots of English and a little Arabic being spoken. There were two chairs on the stage with two big icons propped on them. It was not a pretty church at all, and my Roman sensibilities valued order, so I found the noise level and the milling about and greeting people somewhat jarring. There was a guy on the right side, just below the stage, who was singing something mysterious and moody and very Middle Eastern sounding in a mixture of English, Arabic and Greek. I looked out the doors, and saw a rowdy crowd of people making their way toward the gymnasium, maybe 40 or 50. They came in, chatting and greeting people, and milling around in the back. There were children EVERYWHERE, getting underfoot, running around. It was chaotic.

Then the priest came out. I learned later that his name was Fr. George George. He was as wide as he was tall, had a cap of silver ringlets and when he opened his mouth, the most beautiful, silky baritone came out. Then there was a single toot on a pitch pipe behind me, and that rowdy bunch of 50 people began singing in 4 and 6 part harmony. Such beautiful music, music like I had never heard before. Beautiful words set to beautiful music that perfectly fit what was going on at the altar. I didn't understand everything, but it was clearly a dialog back and forth between the priest, the deacon (Fr. Philip) and the choir. There were altar boys, fans, golden vestments... Eventually, it was time for communion, and mothers and fathers brought their little children to communion. I found it very moving.

It was all so beautiful, and strange, yet so familiar. It moved me so deeply. I really was transported that day, in a gymnasium, without all the trappings that Orthodox Churches usually have. The timelessness, the emphasis on awe and mystery fed me in a way that I had never experienced. I didn't know if I was in heaven or on earth, just like St. Vladimir's emissaries. At the end, there was a procession with the little children leading us. Everyone had candles with flowers (mostly forsythia) and palms. We were led by the cross, a gaggle of altar boys, and all the many, many children who were singing something and waving their palms. And then it was over, way too soon. I fell in love that day with the Orthodox faith and I have never fallen out of love with it.

That was 41 years ago today. Since then, there have been 41 Palm Sundays in my life, at St. George's, St. John of Damascus while it was still on Museum Road in Boston, Church of the Redeemer in Los Altos Hills, CA, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in San Jose, South Bay Mission in Santa Clara, St. Innocent when it was still in Fremont, St. Mary Magdalene in Georgia, and last year at St. Christina's in Fremont. 41 years, 41 processions, joyfully following Christ and proclaiming him to be The One, only to kiss him on the cheek and betray him four days later, 41 Holy Weeks. Am I any different than I was 41 years ago? Certainly, I'm older, and life has not been kind. I weathered every storm and tragedy, holding on for dear life to the Orthodox faith. Older, for sure, maybe a little wiser, but fundamentally, am I different? Am I more like Christ today than I was 41 years ago? Or, am I like a mill horse, endlessly walking around in a circle and never getting anywhere? I fear that is the case. Life keeps happening and requires a response which takes up my energy. A few years ago, Jerry dropped dead suddenly without warning and brought home to me the fact that time is short. I don't have 41 more years in me, maybe 25 or 30, to work on a good defense before the dread judgement seat of Christ.

41 years is a long time. Orthodoxy is in my bones now. It takes a long time for converts to develop an Orthodox phronema. I tell converts that the process of becoming Orthodox does not end with their baptism and chrismation - that is when the real work begins which will last a lifetime. At the least, I can say that I have persevered, and will continue to persevere till the end.