Going away is nice … it really is. I love travel and seeing new places. All the same, I’m always happy when the plane touches down in San Francisco. I don’t live in the city itself, but it’s still one of my favorite places: the place where I met my husband, where we dated and fell in love, where we got married.
In the novel Brideshead Revisited, there’s a scene where the two primary characters are on an idyllic outing in the English countryside. Sebastian says, “Just the place to bury a crock of gold. I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.” That’s sort of how I feel about San Francisco. I’ve got pots of gold buried all over this beautiful place.
Tony Bennett would obviously agree. (The song itself needs no introduction; the video is something I’ve seen several times on our local PBS station. Hula dancers are not a usual feature of life in San Francisco, but they sure are graceful.)
It goes without saying that I would not trade my kids for anything. But sometimes, a mom just has One of Those Days, a day full of whines, messes, sibling squabbles, and toy cars ricocheting off the walls. And when Those Days strike, this quotation just says it all.
Having children is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain. – Martin Mull
The quotation below was recently read on the morning announcements at the school where I teach, and though I’d heard it before, this time it made me sit up and take notice.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s easy to hear this quotation, nod and think, “Oh yes, that’s so true,” and then go about our lives doing precisely the opposite. Fact is, it is intensely difficult to answer hate with love. And though I don’t (to my knowledge, anyway!) have a lot of people out there who hate me, I can still relate to this quotation. It is not easy to answer scorn with gentleness. It is not easy to answer snarkiness with kindness. It’s not easy to answer rudeness with politeness. And yet if we want to break the negative cycle, we have to try.
The people who loved Dr. King lost him, forty-three years ago today, on a hotel balcony in Memphis. And in that tragedy, they had to decide how to respond: with more hate, or with love. It must have been extraordinarily difficult to find that love; I know it would have been nearly impossible for me. But Dr. King called us to be better versions of ourselves, knowing that this was the only way to make a better world. And his words are an echo of the greatest teacher of all, that man named Jesus, who was love and light himself.
So my challenge for the week is this: How, in my thoughts and words, can I use light to drive out darkness? In honor of Dr. King, I’m really going to try.
I was at Mass yesterday sans kids, which means that I was able to listen to the Gospel for once. And it was a great reading: the one where Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-42 ).
It’s a pretty long reading, but I love it, because it’s about Jesus hanging out with someone who is on the fringe. This is a woman who is operating totally outside the sexual norms of her society (she’s had five husbands, and the guy she is currently with is not her husband). She’s clearly used to gossip and cold shoulders from the women of the town, and probably used to lascivious looks from their husbands. She is surely not accustomed to men who recognize that she has a brain and a heart — but that is exactly what Jesus does in his conversation with her.
As the priest said during the homily, Jesus saw two things in her: a capacity for faith, and a capacity for inquiry. She is open to belief, but first, she asks the tough questions. She is not afraid to ask and press for details. Jesus seems to have liked that in her, and it’s a good reminder for all the rest of us, too. Faith is a process, and Jesus can take the tough questions and skepticism that we may throw at him in the process of making belief our own.
And really, this reading shows how astonishing Jesus was for his time. He’s treating a woman of dubious sexual morality as an intellectual equal, and she’s a Samaritan woman, to boot (there was no love lost between the Samaritans and the Jews). There is absolutely nothing conventional about what Jesus is doing here. And though nowadays we tend to see Jesus as safe and mainstream, the Gospels just keep showing, over and over, that he was actually very subversive. He didn’t shunt people into society’s strict categories so he could dismiss them easily. He met them where they were, even if it meant operating outside of the expected rules of his time, even if it meant talking to a woman whom everyone else appears to have maligned. This kind of behavior got Jesus into trouble, time and again. And somehow, for reasons that just keep becoming more clear to me, it’s the part of his ministry that I love the most.
It feels like ages since I’ve been out in the garden. After that lovely false spring early in February, we’ve had wet, wet weather. The weeds are growing like, well, weeds, and my pots of last year’s annuals are leggy and definitely ready for composting. The roses are coming along — I’ve got buds galore — but it’ll be several weeks before they open. (Yes, this beautiful photo is a few years old.)
The sad thing is that even when it’s warm, gardening is one of those things that gets sacrificed on the altar of a busy life. But I think it’ll only get better. Matthew is now old enough to enjoy helping with little tasks like weeding and watering, and Luke is slowly getting to the stage where I can let him play in the garden without worrying that he’ll try to snack on ants. Hopefully this summer, I’ll be able to create my own little suburban Eden, a place where impatiens elbow each other happily in the beds and roses run riot against the fence. Few things make me happier than a summer’s day outside, enjoying the petals and colors that I planted. And the act of planting them — well, it’s therapy of the best kind. It’s praying with your hands, in the dirt, in the sunlight.
Lately I’ve been dipping back into the delicious writings of Beverly Nichols, an English garden writer of the last century. In his book Green Grows the City, published in 1939, he writes about creating a little bit of paradise in an old barren yard in a London suburb. And in the background of his narrative is the slow march towards war, a feeling of tension mounting throughout England. The last line of his book offers a poignant insight: “We both know, you and I, that if all men were gardeners, the world at last would be at peace.”