Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Hard Freeze Ahead

I cut down all the zinnias yesterday.   Before that, I gathered their seeds and they are stored away in the garden shed where, hopefully, they will not become a winter feast for hungry mice. I’ve never had mice eat my stored zinnia seeds, but then again, maybe I’ve never had desperate mice in my garden shed. Given a winter long enough and cold enough, I suspect mice would eat any kind of seed that they could find rather than choose starvation.

The zinnias were ready to be cut down, although a few were still putting forth their last ditch effort at blooming. For the late-migrating monarch and buckeye butterflies, these random flowers with their lingering bits of nectar are a merciful bonus provided to them by an almost completely diminished summer. This weekend, the temperatures will drop to near-freezing, and our first heavy frost will singe the petals of these last remaining flowers.  The butterflies will be put on warning and will, most likely, respond by moving further south. Those that refuse to heed this warning will be allowed to survive for a few weeks longer, until the first hard freeze kills all the remaining belligerent blossoms. There will be no mercy for the butterflies then. 

With that first frost this weekend will also come the opening day of our first deer (gun) season, and the zinnias had to go because they were growing in my line of sight.  Before Monday arrives, the deer trail that comes out of the woods and that winds its way along my zinnias will, with any luck, serve up meat for our family. The timing of the colder weather, should we harvest a deer, could not be better.  The time lost to the butterflies will be appreciated by many hunters this weekend. 

As I sit quietly this weekend, watching the deer trail and waiting, the time will pass slowly, and my mind will wander.  As they have all week, I suspect my thoughts will turn again and again towards two dear friends, both of whom are fighting illnesses complicated by pneumonia, and both of whom have situations that look grave.  I visited one of them yesterday, a dear ninety-six year-old woman, and when I walked into her hospital room, I found her awake and alert and clutching her rosary.  I stroked her head and she kept saying that she wanted to go home.  She was unable to eat; each bit of food and even liquids threatened her life by causing her to aspirate.  She begged for a glass of water but we could not give it to her.  Her doctor explained to her that she needed a feeding tube, and she started to weep.  She turned to her friend who was standing across from me and asked, “What should I do?” and her friend’s response was, “I don’t know.  I don’t think so.” 

The other friend, who lies in a hospital ICU located hundreds of miles from my home, was diagnosed with cancer twelve years ago and has been living, as he will tell you, on borrowed time ever since.  In those twelve years, he has had good days and bad days and days when it looked like his time may be up. But each time it looked like his time was up, he rebounded, and his summertime continued.  However, a week ago, he took a turn for the worse, and his situation continues to be precarious.  He is a fallen-away Catholic with a saint of a wife. Friends and family have rallied around her at this time, but only some of them understand what is truly at stake.  But she knows. She knows that the first frost is behind him, and the hard freeze is next, and that even for zinnias and butterflies, hungry mice and unsuspecting deer, all mercy, at some point, comes to an end. 


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sand In My Shoes

Years ago, when I was still in school, I saw a poster hanging on a classroom wall.  On it was a picturesque image of a snow-capped mountain against a clear blue sky, with a footpath in the foreground, leading towards the mountain. Under this beautiful image was this caption:

"It's not the mountain ahead that makes you tired, 
but the grain of sand in your shoe."  

For some reason, that image and caption have stuck with me all these years.  And lately, I feel like I have a shoe full of sand.

This past week was going to be one of lots of celebrating in our home.  As I try to continue incorporating  liturgical living into our family life, I became excited at the prospect of this past week's calendar.  We had four very special church feast days coming up, and I intended to make each one of them a little extra special for my family. Not only would we be celebrating angels, but we'd also be remembering two of my very favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Jerome. In addition, we would remember our little one in heaven this week, Francis Gabriel, as we marked the feast of St. Gabriel and the upcoming feast of St. Francis of Assisi. 

I had it all planned out.  On Tuesday, I'd thaw out some of the blackberries we picked in July and we'd have blackberry sauce served over angel food cake for the Feast of the Archangels. I'd also make a trip to the florist to buy a lovely bouquet of flowers to put on our little  Francis Gabriel's grave.  On Wednesday, one of my favorite saints, St. Jerome, would be celebrated.  I'd print off coloring pages of this saint for our boys, and we'd color them together and learn more about this wonderful saint.  On Thursday, my husband and I could finish up the novena to St. Therese of Lisieux together, and the boys and I would pick some wildflowers to put next to her statue on the mantle.  Friday would be special because it would be the Feast of the Guardian Angels.  We'd make an exception to our "no dessert on Fridays" rule and eat the rest of our angel food cake, served with extra whipped cream, while we all snuggled on the sofa watching a movie, and of course, as we do every night, say the Angel of God prayer as a family before bedtime, only this time, with extra emphasis.   

Yes, I had it all planned out.  It was going to be a week filled with flowers, food, and faith.  Our little domestic church was going to thrive this week, and the saints and angels in heaven would smile at us.  I felt holier just thinking about it.

But by Monday afternoon, my son had started to run a fever.  By midnight, he was very ill, and by the wee hours of Tuesday morning, it was obvious that he had more than a 24-hour stomach bug.  The blackberry sauce and angel food cake were replaced with ice chips and popsicles, none of which he could keep down.  Instead of running to the florist for flowers on Wednesday, I was running with him to the bathroom.  St. Jerome got little more than a casual mention during bedtime prayers, and the grave of Francis Gabriel went unadorned.  I lost count of which day of my novena to St. Therese I was on, and had to rush outside in-between rain showers to find a few colorful leaves to place next to her statue, instead of the petite bouquet I'd imagined picking.

By Thursday, my son still would barely eat, wanted only to lie on the sofa and still had a low fever.  I was becoming irritable after the nights of intermittent sleep due to a sick child, combined with being confined to the house for four days, not to mention day after day of cold rain and gray skies that dominated our week.  I grumbled when I had to cancel a long-awaited appointment; I complained about the rainy weather, and I snapped at my husband for every little transgression.  The angel food cake that I had prepared remained in the refrigerator untouched.  For various reasons, everyone had lost their appetite.

By Friday night, my son was feeling better and back to his feisty self, antagonizing his brother and asking me for apple juice and potato chips, but the week had taken its toll on me and I felt like a failure.  How could I expect St. Therese to intercede for me when I couldn't even remember to finish her novena? How were my husband and I going to grow closer in prayer when we kept crawling into bed too tired to even mention it?  How would my children know about their siblings and the other saints in heaven if I didn't take the time to remember them in a special way myself? All of my best intentions that I'd had at the beginning of the week had crashed and burned.

And then, for some reason, I remembered that poster, and I began to realize that the path to holiness that I'd mapped out so precisely for myself and my family this past week was being sabotaged by a grain of sand that had fallen into my shoe.

The week that was is over now.  The novena has ended and the feasts of the angels and those great saints will not come again for another year.  For the most part, my family and I missed all of it.   Instead of celebrating feast days with food and fun and flowers, we were simply bearing with each other.  For one week, my home became my cloister, my son's illness became my penance, and my husband's patience became my model.  It was my own Little Way and a good reminder that celebrating the saints does not make me one.   The only way to become a saint is to climb the mountain with a grain of sand in my shoe.

Angel food cake parfaits. A bit late. Still good.