Thursday, August 30, 2012

A little holy cleaning at Auriesville

We spent this beautiful August day doing a little cleaning at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville. Various youth groups are going to the shrine to do some minor maintenance work to help get ready for the canonization celebrations that will take place this fall when Blessed Kateri finally becomes a saint.

Auriesville is one of my favorite spots in upstate NY. Every time I go there, I feel peaceful and joyful. There's such a powerful sense of the sacred on this holy ground. Go there if you can find the time.

Coliseum Church

Chiara dusting the Jesuit saints

Olivia polishing pews

Chiara refilling holy water fonts for maintenance crew

This took some patience and a total lack of skipping

Outside the Coliseum

Looking over the Mohawk Valley

Down on the ravine trail

Two toads, who were dubbed Isaac and Rene

Total peace

Ravine bridge

Ice cream at a farm stand nearby

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Embracing the daring adventure called life

My latest Life Lines column from the current issue of Catholic New York:

My oldest godchild is about to embark on a life-changing journey, moving away from the town he has known his whole life to a new place with none of the safety nets home often provides. I remember when I did the same almost 25 years ago, leaving my reporting job at Catholic New York to drive my Chevy Chevette to Austin, Texas. In August. Without air conditioning.

That last fact alone should have been reason enough to call my sanity into question, and yet that move, along with the many life events that came after—both good and not so good— helped shape me into who I am today. Without those Texas years, I’d be different. Maybe not better or worse, but definitely different, a little less whole, a little less who I was meant to be.

Despite my control-freak personality, I’ve always been a person willing to take “reasonable” risks, willing to follow my heart even when my heart was telling me I had to make some pretty difficult choices. Sometimes I wish I’d just be happy with the status quo, but where’s the joy in that?

When I finally got my first job in Texas—after two agonizing months of unemployment, lots of rejection and a dwindling savings account—I tacked a Helen Keller quote over my desk at the daily newspaper: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

I still remember how one of my Austin officemates scoffed at that quote, questioning how I could possibly consider this particular job a “daring adventure.” Although I was too surprised or hurt to say anything in response at the time, inside I knew that yes, leaving my home, driving across the country, landing a job and creating a totally new life for myself was, in fact, a daring adventure.

And so I recently counseled my godchild to go with his gut when he went out to Chicago for a visit, to go on job interviews and listen to his intuition, but most importantly not to let the fear keep him from going, because listening to the fear only leads to regrets.

I still have that Helen Keller quote about life’s daring adventure hanging next to my desk in my basement office, and on the homepage of my website. It remains my motto, even if I often have trouble letting go and savoring the adventure that is life. Right next to that quote, I have another, this one from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Have you ever looked back at a moment in your life and realized that if you knew then what you know now you might not have had the courage to go ahead and do that very same thing today? I can think of lots of moments like that, times when I had a choice: turn toward the fear and let my life close in a little, or turn away from the fear and open myself up to whatever God might have in store for me.

We can’t always be guaranteed that taking a chance will work out just the way we imagined or planned. There are certainly many decisions and events surrounding my Texas move that were less than stellar, but would I trade them, delete them, or wish them away if I could? Never, because a radically different life scenario would have set in motion a domino effect, leading to too many wonderful moments that never would have come to pass.

I hope my godchild Gregory finds everything he imagines and more in his new home, but, even if he doesn’t, the experience will add some new dimensions to his personality, some missing pieces to the life puzzle that confronts each one of us. Today he’s found the courage to do one thing that probably scares him, to open himself up to the daring adventure. And that is the epitome of faith.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Remembering the power of one small life

My annual post in remembrance of the baby I never got to meet:

For the past few days I've been looking at the numbers on the calendar, growing more and more introspective as we inched closer to August 6. It was 14 years ago today that I learned the baby I was carrying, my second baby, had died 11 weeks into my pregnancy.

With a mother's intuition, I had known something was wrong during that pregnancy from a couple of weeks before. The day Dennis and I -- with Noah in tow -- went to the midwife for my regular check up, I didn't even take the little tape recorder with me to capture the sound of baby's heartbeat, so convinced was I that I would hear only silence. I went back for the recorder only after Dennis insisted. But somehow I knew. Because when you are a mother sometimes you just know things about your children, even when there is no logical reason you should, even when they are still growing inside you.

When we went for the ultrasound to confirm the miscarriage, we saw the perfect form of our baby up on the screen. I remember Dennis looking so happy, thinking everything was OK after all, and me pointing out that the heart was still. No blinking blip. No more life.

With that same mother's intuition, no matter how busy or stressed I am, no matter how many other things I seem to forget as I drive my other three children to and fro, I never forget this anniversary. It is imprinted on my heart. As the date nears, I feel a stillness settling in, a quiet place amid the chaos reserved just for this baby, the one I never to got hold, the one I call Grace.

Four years ago, when I posted about this day, I talked about how Grace had shaped our family by her absence rather than her presence.  I am very much aware of the fact that life would be very different had she lived. She managed to leave her mark on us, even without taking a breath. She lingers here, not only in my heart but around the edges of our lives -- especially the lives of our two girls who followed her. I know them because I did not know Grace. What a sorrowful and yet beautiful impact she had on us.

So thank you, baby, for all that you were and all that you have given us without ever setting foot on this earth. The power of one small life.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Curl Power: A Ringlet Manifesto

I don't know how you feel about your hair, but for most of my life I have had a love-hate relationship with my curls. When I was younger, I desperately wanted straight Marcia Brady hair. Alas, that was not to be. My nickname as a toddler was "springs" just to give you some indication of just what I was dealing with. No amount of blow drying, straightening, and sewer-pipe curlers could take out what God put in, especially after gym class on a warm rainy day.

Then, in the Big Hair 80s, I had it made. I had exactly what everyone else was paying someone to do to their hair. I actually rediscovered (since I hadn't sported springs since toddlerhood) my hair's true curliness by accident, caught in a rain storm after a Styx concern (yes, I said Styx) and unable to find the car. As my hair dried on the eventual drive home without the aid of any straightening accessories, ringlets began to form all over my head. And that was all she wrote. I was sold.  It was even better when I became the lead singer in a rock band because big hair was sort of a requirement back then.

Although I've mostly worn my hair curly as an adult, there have been times when I've tried to straighten it or loosen it. And there have been many, many days when I've just flat out hated it. Often times other people unknowingly reinforced my feelings by suggesting I straighten my curls or do something to get them under control, thereby implying that wearing them natural was unacceptable, at least in polite society.

Recently though I made a decision to embrace my curls again and for good. After trying out a semi-straight short hairstyle that required either Keratin treatment or flat ironing, I realized I missed my curls. That's a major realization for someone like me. In fact, when I decided I wanted to go back to my naturally curly hair I was devastated to find that the Keratin had left portions of it unable to curl. I was in a curl-less panic. I think that's when I had my Aha! Curly Moment. I never had to doubt my curls before, and, suddenly, as I stared at lifeless strands in the mirror, it was as though someone had taken away a piece of my identity. Fortunately, with regrowth, the curls came back with their usual bouncy, springy, insanely cork-screwy personality.

I think all of this has something to do with the Big 5-0 looming out there in less than two months. As I approach this half-century milestone, I find myself reassessing things, and my hair is one of them. To pull out my curls is like hiding a part of my true self, and I want to embrace all of my true self. Despite what others may think (and, surprisingly, sometimes say to my face) I actually like it when my hair is a little tipsy, verging on wild, and pushing the hair envelope. It's like my personality coming out through my hair follicles.

I am as unpredictable and funky and mysterious as the crazy curls I am blessed to have popping out in all directions. After 50 years of battling my springs, to finally see them as a blessing is truly a revelation to me. A glorious curly, sometimes frizzy revelation. Sure, I'll still get annoyed when it's August and 150 percent humidity and my hair takes on a life of its own, but, hey, straight-haired people have their own bad hair days, so who am I to skirt that issue.

So if you see me bouncing along, curls askew, rest assured that my hair is supposed to look that way, not because it's the latest fashion, not because I'm trying to please someone else, but because for once, finally, and I hope forever, I love my curls, and, in this particular matter, I'm the only one who counts. Curl power.

Feel free to show your hair some love in the comment section. Unleash your true self -- curly, straight, wavy, whatever. You are perfect just as you are.