Sunday, June 26, 2022

Vital signs


I went to my first in-person conference since the pandemic began last week. It was small, we shared many meals together. It also appears that we might have shared COVID with each other. Two days after the conference concluded I got an email saying I’d been a close contact of someone who had tested positive for COVID. I had mild symptoms, so tested. Negative, whew. Just my usual talked too much in loud spaces croakiness.

A day later, feeling like an old late night commercial for Ginzu knives — “now, with more symptoms!” — I tested again.  Two bright pink lines appeared on my home test. Positively positive.

I felt pretty lousy for the rest of the week, with all the misery a high fever brings. I was grateful for the vaccines, which likely kept me from being much sicker. And for space to isolate at home. 

The NHS has a helpful diary for tracking the course of a COVID infection. Space is allotted to record your temperature and pulse oximeter reading three times a day. It was helpful to see when I’d been “fever-free” for more than 24 hours. Crash is always about creating the right paperwork for a project. As useful as the log was, it needed some tweaks.  I needed a column for tissues used (so many tissues, the first few days reminded me of when the kids had RSV) and for my Wordle score.

Fever is gone, pulse ox is (and always was) fine, tissue use down to zero, Wordle scores improved. I declare I am on the mend. And keeping to the theme of the NHS, I’m taking the sea air to convalesce. (This was a planned trip, and since I’m past the 5 days and symptom free, other than tired, we have gone. Regardless, I drove a separate care down, and I’m wearing a mask around Math Man and not contacting others.)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Praying with a cardinal

 …and a squirrel, a chipmunk, and various bugs. The weather has been just perfect these last few days to sit outside to pray and work. I’ve written a talk for an upcoming conference on Complexity, Simplicity and Emergence (the Fourth Annual Thomistic Philosophy and Natural Science Symposium in DC). I’ve read papers and a book and enjoyed some peaceful time in prayer. It’s been amazingly restorative.

Sunday I was interrupted mid-psalm by a quiet chittering. From the cover of the flower bed under the cherry tree that canopies the back patio emerged a squirrel. It scampered up the trunk and then froze, it had seen me. We were eye to eye. And it was terrified. I could see its heart pounding in its chest. I froze, too. We were in a stand off. Finally it decided that retreat was called for and bounded up the tree, across the branches to the pear tree, then danced down the electric wire to vanish into my neighbor’s yard. 

I wonder how often I am startled by God as I dash about, or am I like the squirrel, too intent on my own projects to notice whose garden I’m in? And would I be as terrified as the squirrel if I recognized who I was eye to eye with in prayer?

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Soul Cycles

My first bike was blue. I was six. It was a bit like Eve and the apple. It was the gift of knowledge and of freedom. Eventually the freedom to ride to the library, which in those pre-internet days was a door to a vast storehouse of knowledge, or to see a friend who lived on a nearby farm. It was also the freedom to sin. Do not ride to your friend’s house for a sleepover, it’s going to rain. The bike will rust. But I was determined to fly up the street with my sleeping bag and PJs and toothbrush in the basket. And…it did rain. And there were ever-after little flecks of rust on my shiny fenders. Like the black spots on the milk bottles we were told represented our souls. Except confession didn’t remove them. My parents grounded me for a week, no bike. 

I thought about that rainy day on Thursday. I had a meeting at the parish at 3:30. The forecast called for rain, maybe. Should I ride? No, says my youngest, before he drove off. But I’ve been trying to bike whenever and wherever I can, in part as my response to climate change. I am lucky to live nearby work and the grocery store and the parish. And I have a shiny new bike (my 5th ever) that won’t rust in the rain. I checked the radar — clear — and the forecast said rain after 6 pm. So off I rode. The pastor joined us about 5, agreed with our plan and then said, “Boy, is it pouring!”  Deluging. Now the forecast said 15 minutes more rain, then a 17 minute break. No lightning. It was warm. Six minutes, mostly downhill. Could I do it?

I went for it. I rode home in the rain. Which indeed stopped and started on schedule. My bike bags kept computer and papers and phone dry. The rest of me? Soaked. But as Chesterton was wont to say “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered." This was indeed an adventure.

And baptismal, as in total immersion. Perhaps my sin is finally forgiven.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Op-ed: Praying to change


I was kneeling after communion on Ascension Thursday (yes, still Thursday in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) when my watch tapped me to let me know I had a text. I ignored it. I was praying and while I believe God from time to time answers my prayers, I was (fairly) certain God wasn’t texting me.

When Mass ended I checked my watch to see I had a photo of Ted Cruz sent from my youngest kid. Huh? Then I realized that it must be my op-ed, written for the Philadelphia paper. On what we might be praying for when we say “thoughts and prayers” in these horrific moments.

So what was I praying for as I knelt there, moments after holding the Body of Christ in my hands? For the parents and children whose lives and bodies had been torn apart shot from a gun that no one outside the military should have. That their parents might have the strength to watch their children’s bodies taken away from them for the last time. For the teachers who stood in front of their students, for the teachers who wonder if they will ever be in that position. For the courage to keep saying what we would prefer to cloak in euphemisms. For the persistence to keep calling my representatives, both state and federal and tell them what my thoughts and prayers are.

Various people have written to say that the piece has encouraged them to persist in the face of what seems like an intractable problem. Others have written to tell me who to blame. It’s the fault of the parents who failed to take their marriage vows seriously (seriously? Seriously!). Or of universities. Or mental illness. Or, or, or…

Please I pray, let us persist. Call your representatives — that matters. Write them and if you want a copy of my op-ed to send, you can find it here:

Or I send me an email and I’ll send you a PDF.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Passion, death and resurrection

I went to morning prayer at the parish today, followed by an all hands scramble to unload the flowers and get them out onto the altar for the decorating team coming later. As I headed out afterwards, my heart lifted at the sight of the trees in bloom, the fallen petals from the cherry tree stirring like confetti from a long past parade on the walk, the sounds of the birds. It was a beautiful morning in Bryn Mawr. The air held that spring warmth, just a hint of March’s cold damp still caught in the corners of the stone walls of the church. And just like that I was transported 35 years into the past.

I walked out of the hospital, perhaps around 8. It was a beautiful morning in Bryn Mawr. The air held that spring warmth, with just enough of March’s cold damp to remind you to be grateful that winter’s rigors were past. The birds sang, the trees were aflower, the daffodils across the way were brilliant. Who knew? I’d spent the night in an empty and dimly lit family lounge on the surgical floor and was blinded by all this light and beauty.

It was Holy Thursday, 35 years ago today. On Sunday I had thought I was prepared to wade into the Paschal mystery. Passion, death, and — without a doubt — resurrection. On Wednesday of Holy Week I would discover how woefully unprepared I was to face the Paschal mystery when it was pulled off the pages of scripture and poured out before me. Take this cup, and drink from it.

Tom was thirty. I had just turned 29. Not much older than my sons are now. We’d been married five years, finished our PhDs, moved, got jobs, bought a house, settled into a parish and a neighborhood. It was a very ordinary life, with grass to mow and walls to paint and futures to dream on. But we didn’t know about the bomb inside Tom’s chest. The ballooning artery that would eventually drive a channel into his heart, torn open as he swam laps in the college pool while I sat through the penultimate faculty meeting of the year. 

The Triduum for me would begin with a ride in a ambulance, everything left behind. I would stand by and watch as they resuscitated Tom in the ER. I would make phone calls. I would see that he was anointed with the holy oils. I would talk to him as they prepared him for surgery, though I do not think he could hear me. And I watched and prayed through the night. At 5 am, the surgeon would concede that the damage was beyond repair. At 7 am I would see him wrapped in white sheets, and make the sign of the cross on his forehead with my tears. And walk out of the hospital a few minutes later into that bruisingly beautiful spring day.

So on that Good Friday morning I picked out a casket, flanked by my shell-shocked in-laws and my distraught parents. On Holy Saturday morning I sat with the associate pastor to pick out readings and insist that Easter notwithstanding, there would be no music. No sung alleluia. No alleluia. It was too fast. Three days was not enough time for me to wrap my head around wrenching grief and recognize within it blazing resurrection. I grasp in some small way why the apostles couldn’t believe the women — it was too much of a shift in too little time. I am yet more floored by Mary Magdalene;s ability to see beyond the passion into the resurrection.

There would be a wake on Easter Sunday, a funeral on Easter Monday. Both achingly perfect spring days. Despite all the time that has passed, or perhaps because of it, I can never fail to see the passion and death swirling through the resurrection. It clouds our vision, tests our faith and stretches out our arms between heaven and earth. Like those perfect spring days, where there is still just enough winter lurking in the air to remind you of things unseen.