FLIGHT

Brilliant red and gold leaves blanket the forest floor.   Bare branches appear in silhouette against the twilight sky.  Fat raindrops splattering on the lake turn to pelting rain as the storm advances.   Gathering winds sigh and whisper warnings to the pines along the shore.   Ducks bob  in the choppy waters, cackling and fluttering.

 

A sentinel drake breaks away from the flock and with a raucous cry, beats his wings against the water and rise  to sound the ritual call.  Bird by bird they follow,  soulful cries echoing over the lake as they ride the southern winds into the darkening clouds. 

 

 

 

The price of longevity

…is getting old.

A Fountain of Youth, 1917 – Cuno Amiet

We Americans are youth worshippers.  We are repulsed by old age and all of its trappings.

Recently, I realized with a start, that, incredulous as it seems,  I am approaching my 80th birthday!   I had expected to grow old  mindfully, gracefully,  not to be “struck old.”   In her nineties, my  mother used to say she  “felt 18 inside.”  It seemed ridiculous, even
embarrassing then,  but  to my chagrin, now it’s my turn to feel   younger than my years.    Friends say I have “aged well” (putting me in mind of a Camembert round) but the benchmarks are there.  People  rush ahead to open doors for me,  offer to walk me across the street, pick up things I drop and,  (worst of all)  call me “cute.”  There’s no escaping  it.   I look…. I am….well..old.

Which is not all bad.   I am grateful to my ancestors for the sturdy genes that allowed me to reach  this stage in life, still  healthy and somewhat sound of mind.   I am blessed in so many ways.  I have wonderful friends and neighbors. My husband and I enjoy a very  comfortable life in a  beautiful community.  My family  actually likes me.

But getting old is not  easy.   Aging is a  process of letting go, of loss.  We outlive friends and family, we lose mobility, it takes concentration to perform tasks that were automatic a few short years ago.   Our health, once taken for granted,  becomes unpredictable.   We spend more time in clinics and more money on medications.   We have less energy;  we need more rest.  It takes regular exercise just  to maintain the status quo.  We avoid ladders and stairs,  give up night driving.  We struggle to maintain our independence.

But even with all its obstacles, aging has really never been easier.  Our livestyles would have been  inconceivable to our grandparents, even our parents. There is a rapidly growing industry devoted to  social activities and services  for seniors.  There are  cruises, exercise programs, trips to exotic locations,  clubs, sports, educational courses and programs, retirement communities. Treatment for conditions that incapacitated our grandparents are now  almost routine; cataracts, joint replacements, heart surgery.    Cancer is no longer a death sentence.   There is a steady stream of new information on aging in  books, and TV.

We should take full advantage of all of these resources.  We  need to keep active, to take care of our mental and physical health, engage with our communities.  But we must also feed our souls.   We need to be mindful of who we are  and the person we are  becoming.

I think the Irish poet  Dylan Thomas says it best:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rave at close of day

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Although at  first glance this may sound like a call to arms for  a frenzied assault on mortality,  I think that is an oversimplification.  I believe the poet was challenging us to face our mortality and to live out our best lives courageously and with grace. The journey to  the end of life doesn’t have to be; shouldn’t be,  a  morbid and dreary slog of  loneliness loss and pain.

But it’s not easy.  The people I know who have aged well have confronted their  mortality head on and early on.  They planned for it just as one plans for any stage of life, education, career, marriage and children.  They expected  medical expenses to increase at a time they would be living on fixed incomes. *  They were not surprised when  sudden life-changing events required  a transition to new, more restricted lifestyles.    They were aware of the  need strong inner resources and for  each other. They  learned  the art of interdependence.  Preparing for old age is hard work.

Fortunately there are  models for aging well.   One in particular stands out for me.   She seems to  navigate this challenging passage effortlessly.    In her 90s, she is alone, but not lonely,  busy but not burdened,  engaged but not entangled.  She takes her appearance as seriously as she did in her 40s. OK, she’s a little vain, but she is still beautiful.  You are unlikely to find her on the sofa watching TV; more likely she will be  entertaining  her great grandchildren, gardening,  or volunteering in the local sewing guild.  She drives herself to church, does her own shopping and is not much interested in discussing her ailments.    Unfailingly cheerful and slow to criticize, she is the first to reach out,  expecting, and more often  than not, receiving,  nothing in return.   Although she has outlived two husbands and most of her friends, she is surrounded by people who love her.   Her faith is strong and  she doesn’t believe in entitlements.

It’s a high bar, but I’m going to give it a shot.  After all, old age  is simply a season of life for those  who live long enough. I am fortunate to be among them.

*According to  a 2016 GOBanking Rates survey, 35 percent of all adults in the U.S. had only a few  hundred dollars in their savings accounts and 34 percent had zero savings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Betrayal

 

 

The unkindest cut.  The one we never expect because only those we trust can betray us.   It happens to all of us.

I hadn’t thought about her for years until I ran across an annoucement about an award she had recently received.  I was surprised at how quickly the old painful memories replayed themselves in my mind.  The initial shock and disbelief,  stabs of disappointment,  rushes of anger, and eventually, more in my interest than hers, forgiveness and acceptance.

She was my student, my star student at the time.  The one for whom I had such high hopes.   The one I rescued from the slums and nurtured. Supported, financially and emotionally.  Provided a network.  Advocated for.    Defended.

It was wonderful to watch her grow and flourish.  She was like a kid in a candy store.   Everything was magic for her; the university, her classes and research, the malls, the internet,  even the night-time sky.  She glowed with happiness.  We were a team.

Until she found a brighter star and  moved on to follow it, leaving behind a trail of lies and broken promises.

Shades Down Tight, Ashley Adcox

Painful as it was, and uncomfortable as the memories still are, I am grateful for the experience.  It taught me  that my expectations for her were a heavy and unjust burden.  No one has the right to require  loyalty from another person.  In spite of and maybe because of,  my good intentions, I caused her harm.   And probably more importantly,  it brought me face to face with my own past betrayals and the lies I told myself to justify my cowardly behavior.

She must have carried a heavy burden of guilt.  It’s the only logical explanation I can think of to explain the  smear campaign she launched  among the faculty and students.  I never knew the specifics or the extent of it, but the averted glances and hushed whispers told me all I needed to know.

Make no mistake; the release that comes with  betrayal exacts a heavy price.   A plausible justification for  cowardly behavior must be fabricated and a web of lies concocted.  The  guilt of my betrayals will always follow me,  nipping at my heels,  threatening to expose my lies,  until I finally face them and the people I harmed.

Each of us has the right and the responsibility to be true to our own convictions, even though acting on them may take all the courage we can muster.   And if this means severing ties with another human being,  we harm ourselves most of all if we hack them apart in the  dark corridors of betrayal.

It’s been said that in order to know love, we must first know pain.  It follows that in order to trust, we must travel through  betrayal, be crushed by it,  burn in its crucible, and be released.

There will be another friend, lover, child, to love in the light of day, free from the dark spectre of betrayal.

 

DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN SMOKING WAS COOL?

 

I would definitely not light up after dinner  in my  favorite restaurant these days, but there was a time when..

Smoking was a rite of passage, a symbol of sophistication.  Movie stars smoked: James Dean, Elvis, Kathryn Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe,  Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, to name a few.  Smoke rose along the edge of the TV screen from  Edward R. Murrow’s ashtray as he delivered the evening news.   Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson smoked.  Doctors, including  the Surgeon General, smoked.   Even Fred Flintstone smoked!  Cigarettes dominated the advertising market and heavily supported prime time TV, sponsoring  such popular family  programs as    “I Love Lucy,”  “I’ve Got a Secret,” and “The Adams Family.   All, among many others, brought to us by the cigarette industry.  In this vintage Philip Morris commercial, Lucy tells us “how to keep your man happy” by choosing the right cigarette.

Click here to view.

Most  men, including my father and uncles,  in the small Louisiana community where I grew up smoked.  Sundays after church would find them clustered on the steps or under a nearby tree, hastily lighting up or stoking pipes, although it was considered immoral by some,  and especially on church property.  However, it was more or less accepted as a good man’s reward for bringing the family to church.  There was no debate, however, on the subject of smoking for women.   It

A pack of cigarettes in 1957 cost about $1.75.

was “trashy” and everyone knew it. I never smoked until years after leaving home and then never, ever, in the presence of a family member.   The only woman I knew who was able to escape the ire of the community for  flaunting the “smoking ban” for women was my wonderfully eccentric Aunt Ivalee.  But then, she was from New Orleans…

 I began smoking in earnest in grad school.  And I loved it.   I loved it all.  The ambience,  the romance  of it,  that special camaraderie among smokers.  I loved blowing smoke rings.   I loved a cigarette with a cup of coffee after dinner.  I loved the  way it made me feel.  And it didn’t hurt that it helped me keep the weight off.  And after all, I  could always quit…whenever I was ready.

A pack of cigarettes today costs about $5.50

On July 12, 1957, the Surgeon General issued the first official, and greatly understated, warning about the harmful effects of smoking.   Seven years later, the American Cancer Society released a slightly stronger warning.  However neither acknowledged the compelling evidence of the link between lung cancer being suppressed by the tabacco industry.   A virtual war ensued over the next three decades between health care advocates and the powerful Tobacco Institute.   Eventually  health advocates won an uneasy peace, taxes were levied, warning labels required, and smoking rates declined, as more and smokers attempted to kick the habit.   But  what no one knew then,  was that the power of the nicotine addition is comparable to  that of heroin, and for most people,  more powerful than alcohol.

I eventually quit smoking in the 80s,  my resolve being fortified by the  growing public disfavor of smoking.  Secondary smoke had been implicated in lung cancer and  growing number of restaurants restricted smoking to designated areas.   Some airlines banned smoking on flights less than two hours and by 1990 all smoking on airlines was banned.

But breaking the nicotine habit turned out to be far more difficult than I had imagined.   A few days (or hours) after gathering my resolve, throwing all my cigarettes in the trash, out the window, giving them away, etc.,  would find me scrounging for cigarettes under sofa cushions,  jacket pockets, even trash cans.  Those humiliating experiences gave me a new understanding of  the power of addiction and compassion for those under its spell.

Today, with all the knowledge at hand about the harmful effects of cigarettes, smoking would seem to be a game-stopper.  However, about 15% of adults and sadly,  20% of teenagers, are smokers today.  I  would like to think that if my rebellious teenage self had known what I know now about smoking,  she  would have exercised the good  judgment not to light up.   But, sadly, good judgment  seems to be something we learn by making mistakes, assuming  we live through them.

Click here to view a history of the effects of smoking on health.

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Pageant

 

christmas-554720__180I tried to tell Miss Julianne it wouldn’t work. Jimmy don’t have the sense God gave a billygoat. But he begged and whined and went on until she let him try it out at the  rehearsal.

Jimmy are y’all SURE this will work?” she asked, her hands on her hips, looking up into the loft where Jimmy squatted, dangling a rope swing. Miss Julianne is the prettiest lady I ever saw. And just as sweet as she is pretty. She’s got naturally blonde hair which curls all by itself, images-9 she doesn’t even have to use a perm.   She was wearing blue jeans and her husband Ronnie’s old work shirt.  Anyone else would have looked like a hobo, but she looked beautiful.

Jimmy put on that stupid grin of his that makes all the girls swoon, I don’t see why.

“Yes Ma’m” he said, sugar sweet. Don’t you worry a bit. Suellen  is just a little bit of a thing – we’ll just lower her down on this swing, me and  Buddy, when Brother Paul reads the part about the angels coming down and then haul her back up after we sing  Hark the Herod Angels.”

Herald, you idiot, ” I thought.

“You know I  wouldn’t never do nothing to hurt her.  It’ll be great, it’ll imagesbe the best part of the pageant.  You’ll see!”

“Well, Miss Julianne said.  “I still think it worked just fine last year, with us just dimming the lights and the angel climbing a ladder behind the manger. What do  y’all think?” She turned to the rest of us sitting in the pews waiting to practice our parts.

I could tell she was weakening. That’s the only thing about Miss Julianne. Sometimes she can be too nice.

No one said anything.  “Ya’ll, what do you think? “Still nothing.   No one wanted to get into it with Jimmy.

” Well, ” she finally said,  ” We got to make up our mind pretty soon so we can help the Ladies Aid with the decorating. We got a lot to do, we got to decorate the big tree outside, tie bows on all the pews, and clean up before we go. Remember, ice cream at the house for everyone when we get done. “

Wally  was scribbling in his little black notebook which he carries with him  everywhere  and writes down what happens and what he thinks and I don’t know what all. He has a whole shelf in his bedroom full of his crazy notebooks. His mama gets them for him  every Christmas over in Shreveport at Marshalls.  She gets them wholesale  since she owns Portia’s  Blossom Shop.

This year Wally’s a wise man instead of a shepherd like last year. I should of got  Mary, because why?  Because I wouldn’t forget my lines is why.  Last year Miss Julianne had to whisper almost every line to Georgia. At least I thought I should of  got  wise man like Wally. Instead, I had to be a shepherd again and wear a costume made out of a scratchy croaker sack with holes cut out  for the arms.

Miss Julianne doesn’t get to say who gets the parts. The Sunday School teachers all meet and decide the Sunday after Thanksgiving, in secret, so no one can get mad because they don’t like their part. But except for Miss Lavinia, who’s real old and pretty much deaf, they’re all men, so they always pick the prettiest girl, even if she’s dumber than a stump. Which Georgia was. I know that’s not nice to say, but it’s true.  She’s just pure D dumb.

So when  Georgia  graduated Junior High last year, which is the oldest you can be and still be in the pageant, I thought sure I had a chance, but this year Betsy got the part. At least Betsy isn’t dumb, but she’s not all that pretty either. I guess the best I can hope for is to make it to wise man next year. I don’t think the Sunday School teachers like me much. They say I ask too many questions, like the time I asked what a virgin is.  Mr Grady got real mad and said I shouldn’t talk like that in Church, and I had to get Wally to tell me.

“Jimmy’s up to something,” I whispered to Wally. ” I can tell by the
way Buddy is squirming around. He never could stand up to Jimmy. Lets him boss him around like he was his daddy or something instead of just his cousin.”

“Afraid of getting beat up, more like, if he won’t do what Jimmy tells him to.”

“But what if  they drop her and she gets hurt?  And who knows what else they’ll drop down out of the loft?  You know rats get up there. ”

He just shrugged. “Everyone knows Jimmy’s got a crush on Suellen. He’s just trying to impress her. But anyhow, it’s none of my never-mind,” he said making that pruney  little face of his.

“O Wally, you make me want to scream.” I hate how uppity he gets sometimes.  I decided if no one else was going to say anything, I ‘d have to. I walked over to where Miss Julianne was standing.

Miss Julianne? I said sweetly.

“Yes, Sugar, what is it?” she said, smiling and putting her arm around my shoulders.

“Miss Julianne, I just think .. “

Jimmy glared down at me from the loft where he squatted dangling the rope.

“I just think you’re right about last year, it was real pretty.  Why do we need to do anything different?”

Jimmy hopped down from the loft and began winding up the rope swing. “What do you know about it, four eyes?” I was the only girl with glasses and all the boys teased me about it. They were pink plastic and  ugly, and I hated wearing them,  but I couldn’t see past my nose without them.

“Now, Jimmy, stop talking like that and let her have her say, too!” Miss Julianne said, the way she can always make us mind without yelling.

Everyone stared at me. I felt like I had forgot to put on my clothes or something. “Well, I mumbled, “I just think it’s dangerous is all.”

Jimmy curled up his lip at me. “You’re just mad cause you have to be a shepherd. You ought to be glad you don’t have to be a sheep no more.”

I wouldn’t admit it, but he was right about the shepherd thing.

“Please, please, please, Miss Julianne,” Jimmy crooned, getting down on his knees and making his hands like he was praying.

“Now, Jimmy,” Miss Julianne said, laughing. Am I gonna have to paddle you again?

He gave her a big hug.

I was sunk.

country churchThe night of the pageant it was cold and sleeting. I had prayed for snow, but just like when I prayed my dog Pepper would get well, it didn’t happen. Mama says the Bible tells us “Ask and ye shall receive,” but so far that’s not working for me. I must be doing something wrong. One day I’ll ask Miss Julianne about it.

The church was full up. People like the Banks who never go to church except on Christmas were there with their whole raggedy family taking up the front pew where my Grampaw always sits. This happens to him every year. He just walked over real slow to where they were sitting and stood there, thumping his cane on the floor.

Pretty soon, Miz Banks looked up and said, “Why hello, Mr. Henry? Would you like to sit here? Betty Sue and Darrell, y’all go sit in the back. Just you set down right here, Mr. Henry. So nice to have you with us.”

Grampaw acted like he never heard a thing she said.  Just walked over to  the window where he always sat and waited for them to make room for him.   He sat down,  wedged his cane between him and Mr. Banks, looked at the Banks bunch like they had cooties (which they probably did) and  stared out the window. I think he sits here so he can see Gramma’s grave, but he’d never say that.

Mama and Daddy couldn’t get to their usual place, so they sat in back by the heater, which was actually better since it was cold in the church.  I ran downstairs to the Sunday School room where everyone was putting on their costumes, carrying a dishtowel and one of Grampaw’s old canes. Mama said she’d make me a costume, so I didn’t have to wear the croaker sack and she can sew anything, but  I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

Suellen was prancing around the room in her angel costume, everyone going on about suellenhow pretty she looked. She had on a  white dress with lace ruffles on the bottom lace on the sleeves with white satin slippers to match and was carrying a stupid wand, like she was a fairy godmother instead of an angel, going around tapping everyone on the head and cooing, “Bless you, bless you.” I thought I would throw up. I pushed my way  over to the corner where Miss Julianne and Mr. Ronnie was images-5helping the little kids into their sheep costumes. The sheep part is the worst because you have to crawl around in a boiling hot costume.  They always give that to the little kids.    They think it’s fun, they don’t know everyone’s laughing at them.

“Hi,” Wally, said, adjusting his turban and brushing his robe.” Want

some help with your costume?”

“I don’t need help, thank you very much,” I grumbled, tying a dishcloth around my head.

“That’s looks real nice” he giggled.

“Shut up,” I said, sticking my arms through the croaker sack. “Shit, his damn thing  scatches!  I said under my breath.

“Cricket!” Wally said, putting his hand over his mouth and giggling. “In the Lord’s House! You’ll go to hell.”

‘Well, if I do, I guess I’ll see you there, Mr. Smarty Pants.”

Mr Ronnie whistled and yelled, “Y’all be quiet, Miss Julienne needs to say something. ”

“I’m so proud of y’all! Miss Julianne said, smiling.  “And I know you’re going to do great.“ Now lets go over the program  just one more time so we’ll be sure.  Everyone get your song sheets. ” Mr. Ronnie was passing out blue mimeograph copies that smelled like vinegar and the purple ink images-4rubbed off on your hands.

“The first one is Silent Night. Now remember everyone sings this one. Then everyone goes behind the curtain except Mary and Joseph.  Betsy, did you bring your doll?”

“Yes’m.  I brought my nicest one, with the China head that I got  last year for Christmas.”

“Oh, Betsy!  You brought you very BEST doll,” Miss Julianne said. Isn’t that NICE, y’all?”

“Next the the wise men sing  We Three Kings of Orient Are and then the shepherds  sing  While Shepherds Watched Their Sheep By Night”  And  I need ALL the wise men and ALL the shepherds singing, not just Wally and Cricket.

“No, you don’t, I thought. Wayne sounds like a dying horse, and Marvin’s tone deaf.”

“Then the congregation will stand and we’ll  all sing the final song Hark the Herald Angels Sing,  while Jimmy and Buddy let Suellen down from the loft.  Just one verse now, of all the songs.  Miss Martha will signal to you when to start and when to stop.”

Miss Martha  smiled and waved her pudgy finger in the air.  Miss Julianne put her hand over her heart. “Now Buddy and Jimmy, ya’ll be real, REAL careful with Suellen. Let’s pray before we go.”

“Good idea, I thought.”

We made a circle, joined our sweaty hands and chanted the Youth Fellowship prayer, “Lord, teach us to so number our days that we might apply unto wisdom.”

“And bless us as we carry thy message though this Christmas Pageant,” Miss Julianne  added. Amen. “

“Amen,” we chorused.

We tromped up the stairs in a line and walked behind the curtain. The church was full and kids was sitting on pallets on the floor, mamas standing holding babies. The church was so pretty;  there was flowers, candles, and big red bows everywhere and it smelled like pine and candle wax.  Buddy and Suellen climbed up the stairs into the loft,  Jimmy behind them. I thought I heard him say to Suellen, “I’ll show you a thing or two, you little tease.”  She hissed something at him, but I couldn’t hear what she said.

“I knew it.!  Why doesn’t anyone believe a thing I say?” I hissed to Wally.

He gave me one of his looks over his glasses. “What’s the matter with you?  Are you still mad about the shepherd thing?”

Before I could answer,  the curtain opened and Miss Martha plopped down on the piano bench. She’s so fat, we always think she’s going to break it  and we all got out our song sheets.  She held up her finger and started playing Silent Night while we all sang. Everyone in the

Chris Phillips, Flickr, Oxford, UK
Chris Phillips, Flickr, Oxford, UK

audience oohed and ahhed over the little kids.  When the wise men came out, Wally was the only one singing, the other two just hanging their heads and sorta mumbling. Wally didn’t seem to notice. When he’s on a stage, Wally’s  in hog heaven.  Next it was our turn, and not only was I the only singing shepherd,  Marvin and Wayne didn’t even know the words.

“This is the LAST time, the VERY LAST time I do this, I thought to myself. It’s hot and I itch all over; besides it’s embarrassing. I’m too old for this.”

And then it was time for the big finish. I felt a lump in my stomach. I knew something was going to go wrong, real wrong, but there wasn’t nothing I could do to stop it. Mr. Ronnie shined the spotlight up onto the loft where Suellen stood in her angel get-up.  In spite of her stupid wand, she looked look real nice, standing there in her white dress, holding out her arms, her clothes-hanger halo sparkling.

Miss Martha started up Hark the Herald Angels Sing and everyone in the church stood up to sing with us. While we sang, Suellen started to come down from the ceiling on the rope swing – almost like she was floating. Everyone in the church looked up at her like they could hardly believe it. The whole church was quiet.  Miss Julianne was standing off by the curtain, her hand over her heart. I think she was praying. I thought for a minute I may have been wrong. It really was pretty.  But then some of  the boys started giggling. That’s when I knew.

I looked up just in time to see Suellen fall out of the loft into the manger, landing with a big crash right on top of the Baby Jesus doll. Everyone started yelling and going on and Miss Julianne and Mr. Ronnie went running over to see if Suellen was OK. She was, all except for being fighting mad, scratched up and the sleeve of her angel dress tore plumb off from where she caught it on the manger.   She was sitting up, picking hay from the manger out of her halo and yelling at Jimmy  that she’d get him back for this and he was laughing his head off.   And Betsy was fit to be tied.  “Git off my Doll, “she yelled.

Sure enough the doll’s face was cracked where Suellen fell on top of her and her wand was stuck into the doll’s stomach. The boys was all snickering, Betsy was crying and Miss Julianne was walking around making sure no one was hurt. The people in the church was real quiet.  But then there was another big thunk and  Miss Bernice had fainted dead away in the third pew.  She’s real  bad to take fainting spells if she gets over-excited except Mama thinks she’s just putting on for attention.  Miss Lavinia was fanning Miss Bernice with her handkerchief and Vonda Fay was waving smelling salts over her face,  She uses them in her beauty shop for ladies who fall out from the permanent wave fumes.

Mr. Ronnie came running up onto the stage. “Which one of you knuckleheads done this?” he yelled, looking straight at Jimmy.   Mr. Ronnie is a real nice man as long as you don’t do nothing to make Miss Julianne unhappy. I seen him grab Wilbur Spivey by the neck and throw him out the door of Vickers Newsstand just for cussing where Miss Julianne could hear. I  remember thinking I wouldn’t want to be Jimmy right now.

Brother Paul was trying to get everyone to be quiet. “Quiet, Brothers and Sisters,” he kept saying. “Be still.   This is the Lord’s house. There is no harm done. Let’s all be seated and have a word of prayer.”

Miss Lavinia and Vonda Faye got Miss Bernice back up on her feet and helped her out on the porch to get some air.  Miss Julianne closed the curtains on the stage. We all looked at her. She looked so sad. I thought sure she was going to fuss at us which I can’t stand. But she  looked back at us for what seemed a long time. Finally   she sorta smiled.  And then she began to laugh. At first we thought she was crying. But when we saw she was laughing, one by one we all started laughing.  She opened the curtains and walked out onto the stage.

“Y’all, she said, still laughing. “I don’t know when I’ve seen such aimages-12
Christmas pageant to beat this one.“ The whole church began to laugh, even Brother Paul. Even Grampaw, who hardly ever laughs. Everyone except for Mr. Ronnie  who was standing in the back of the church with his arms folded over his chest.   After all the laughing died down,  Brother Paul walked up behind the pulpit.

“Brothers and Sisters, “ he said, real serious-like.  “Some of us here tonight have not understood what Christmas is all about and  could have ruined it  for the rest of us with their foolish prank.  Luckily no real harm was done and I am quite sure that those responsible will be held accountable.  Jimmy’s face was redder than Santa’s cap.  But no one can ruin the Christmas story; it’s too powerful.  It’s about turning sadness into joy.  It’s about the love and forgiveness this community have for each other.  Nothing can take the joy of Christmas from us.  And we’ve had plenty of that tonight. Let us pray,” he said. “Let us give thanks to the Lord for a joyful Christmas.”

Silent Healing

 

In this Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016 photo, Louisiana Army National Guard dump truck, loaded with rescued flood victims, makes it way back to dry land in Walker, La., after heavy rains inundating the region,(AP Photo/Max Becherer)
In this Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016 photo, Louisiana Army National Guard dump truck, loaded with rescued flood victims, makes it way back to dry land in Walker, La., after heavy rains inundating the region,(AP Photo/Max Becherer)

In the haggard silence, there can be no words

A  merciless anguish falls on the sodden bodies

But comforting too, the  bodies close

Pressed, crushed together

They are a single throbbing wound

That can only heal as one.


Of all the heartbreaking photos of the flooding disaster in Louisiana, last weekend (and there were so many),  this one cries to me the loudest.  The faces register shock, disbelief, loss, pain.   And yet there are no tears.   Old and young stand together, defiant,   facing ahead  in  a solid show of will.   Their common  suffering has become the bond that will unite them to survive

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