Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Story of Peace Amidst Chaos: And A Child Shall Lead

     On the 7th of December, 1941, as the oldest living Americans will tell you, the bombs raining down on Pearl Harbor sounded an unmistakable alarm among citizens of the lower 48. Most recognized the meaning of the massacre: imminent entry into "Europe's War". 
          Ask people of a certain age where they were on November 22, 1963, and they don't have to ponder or pause to recall their whereabouts when a sitting president fell.
          Likewise, for my generation, we well remember the crisp winter day in '86, when the crew of space shuttle Challenger "slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God".
For my family, 42 days into our parenting journey, it was our children's turn, as we sat at the McDonald's Playplace in Hermitage, breaking news of the horrors visited upon NYC, the Pentagon, & Shanksville, PA---albeit watered down for little ears.
          Now, all of us must add another date to our nation's litany of loss. Jason & I had been driving around on that cold, wet morn about 10 days ago, in our daughter's bustling college berg of Kansas City, MO. We'd been looking at Christmas decor, noting beautiful architecture, and awaiting our hotel's appointed check-in time.
          As we arrived at our lodgings, bleary-eyed & exhausted from a 10-hour overnight drive, we learned of the senseless murders of school children & workers in idyllic Newtown, Connecticut. While we'd been crooning along with jolly holiday tunes, getting momentarily (and, truthfully, at the time, hilariously) lost in the K.C. 'hood "killing time", a young man—our daughter's age, ironically--was killing innocents.
          While details of the carnage played across cable TV news, our physical need for sleep, so recently pressing, was displaced by our emotional need to weep & mourn alongside the families of Sandy Hook. Inside, my soul cried out in anguish, as my spiritual well ran momentarily dry, despite my best effort to dig deep. I'll try to explain.
Religious faith does not innoculate one against despair. Likewise, it doesn't always illuminate the darker matters of life, nor does it grant easy answers to the myriad incomprehensible complexities & tragedies of life, either. Now, to my mind, this is not a failure on my Deity's part, though many may view it that way. I see it as a flaw in us, in humankind---from the diabolical acts of the deranged shooter, to my inability to perceive how any good could emerge, or even exist for that matter, in the wake of such violent slaughter. (Most writers would pause, now, to make a point about “seeing through a glass darkly”; in fact, my husband, a professional writer, did just that when he spoke about it on facebook, to nice effect. Well, then, I'm no copycat. I'm also, for better or worse, not “most writers”.)
Many of the people in history I admire most---my heroes & heroines, if you will---were able, across time, to find PEACE, even when they were facing unimaginable chaos, suffering, & strife. Jesus, Helen Keller, C.S. Lewis, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rev. Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Jim Elliott, Steven Biko---all "fought" the sorrow, trials, or violence visited upon them with sacrifice, and with appeals for PEACE, in the face of pain or punishment.
Because of these influences (and certainly not because of anything innately good or noble in me), as the moments passed, & we settled somewhat into our suite, the children's choral hymn "Let There Be Peace On Earth" came to my mind, as the perfect counterpoint to the stark madness before our eyes onscreen. My first thought, moments before, when initially surveying the footage from Sandy Hook on the TV in our hotel lobby, had been pessimistic & grim: "How will these families ever celebrate Christmas again?" 
Within a short time, though, stories of people both lost & saved began to emerge from the school. Brave adults had pulled children out of the line of fire, thus risking their own lives. A deacon at Newtown’s St. Rose of Lima Church shared that a newly 6-year-old girl, one of the victims, had selflessly donated her birthday money to the church, to assist those dealing with the aftermath of another national heartache---Hurricane Sandy. A teacher in her twenties--a virtual "child”, if you will, to me---valued the even-younger lives of her charges above her own, & died trying to safeguard them. 
Slowly, these stories began to overshadow details---some erroneous, some not---about the perpetrator of these dark deeds. At least, they overshadowed the details for me. Inexplicably, a gentle chorus stirred in my breast, even as my anger & disgust began to dissipate. They were replaced by warmth, & a PEACE that passes all understanding, for me, at least. I could picture these little lost lambs, being welcomed by a heavenly musical throng, & by a once-upon-a-time Child, who came to bring a new kind of PEACE to the world. That former child, like so many of his fellow peacemakers, like those utterly innocent children, was Himself met with violence & murder, in a display of humankind's worst.
          Still, despite the ugliness that represents the worst of humanity, an offer of PEACE was held out to us. While I lack Divinity coupled with my humanity, I can choose the path of PEACE each day---in thought, word, & deed. I recognize that not everyone I know will credit the same Source or Example as I, but we can all bring more kindness, calmness, & simple joy into the lives of others. In doing so, we'll succeed in helping to “save” & “assist” those around us, though perhaps not in the same way as the young ones of Sandy Hook, of whom I spoke. 
          Every year, it seems things are getting more grim & terrible—or so most voices on tv say. I don't doubt that, from a certain perspective, they're right. However, I can't help but believe that a day of PEACE is possible, even though we'll each have our own idea of what that might be. 
          For me, the Torah tells us this, in what we Gentiles call Isaiah 11:6---"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little Child will lead them." To my fellow christian believers, a picture of the characteristics of this PEACE appears in John 14:27---"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
          A secular poem, by Raymond Foss, adds these thoughts:
Practice kindness to all
Exhibit the best of your nature
At one with the universe
Called from ages past,
Echoes of the creation
          And lastly, somewhere between the two perspectives, Sarah Flower Adams captures much of what I cling to, in moments where PEACE seems far away---

Part in peace: is day before us? 
Praise His Name for life and light; 
Are the shadows lengthening o’er us? 
Bless His care Who guards the night. 

Part in peace: with deep thanksgiving, 
Rendering, as we homeward tread, 
Gracious service to the living, 
Tranquil memory to the dead. 

Part in peace: such are the praises 
God our Maker loveth best; 
Such the worship that upraises 
Human hearts to heavenly rest. 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Post The 1st: The Title (Not-So-Short) Story

     I think the 1st person to ever mostly, or consistently call me "Cath", was my boarding school bestie (later, college roomie, cousin-in-law, & Matron of Honor) "Mar"---the glass artist formerly known as Mary Ruth Parker. I was, by then, no stranger to nicknames. I was...

..."C.J." to my dad, who'd have probably preferred a boy, to assuage the pain of the sons he'd left behind, in Hawaii.

..."Cat" to my best guy friend, growing up, though he transitioned to "Cath" years later. Honorary brothers are allowed to call you whatever they please, just like biological ones.

..."Sissy", so dubbed by my baby sister. (Wish 13-year-old me hadn't cajoled her out of calling me that. Such a jerk thing to do.)

..."Mikey", I'm afraid to say, after a particularly tacky joke in the movie "Porky's". My mother still doesn't know I've watched that movie, I'd bet.

..."Mom", to younger, often fractured female dorm-mates, far from both home & healing, of innumerable hurts.

     Lots of folks followed suit, after Mar, & "Cath" I was, & am, to many. Other monikers & appellations attached, mostly singularly...

..."Caffy" to 1 boyfriend, & 1 husband.

..."Veronica" to the same (only) hubs.

..."Miss Cathy"/"Mrs. Cathy" to preschool & school-age students/campers, through the years.

..."Mama" to Belmont studio musicians who needed coffee & Domino's, or same cleaned up. Later, 3 brown-skinned babes would alternate between this badge of honor, & its twin, "Mom".

..."Mrs. Sparks" to anyone courting one of  our "kids", until the moment an engagement renders me "Cathy" to them, too.

     But, I must confess, I chose my own "true name"---what I call my "soul name"---"Mama Cath". That said, in a way, it chose me. "Mama", to me, is the essence of my best self. Nurturing,  encouraging, offering wisdom, laughter, household hints, love advice, or just a listening ear, it is what I aspire to be, on a good day, anyway. Couple it with the 1st "adult" (okay, post-18, which doesn't seem so grown-up, now) nickname bestowed upon me, & it recalls a similar name that I heard repeatedly on my cassette player, as a boarding school Senior, in East TN.
    For the uninitiated, or the ridiculously young, I refer to one Miss Cass Elliot, of the 60's supergroup The Mamas & The Papas. "Mama Cass", as she was called, unlike the lithe, blonde, wispy California girl "Mama Michelle", who made up the other female 1/4 of the band, was a Baltimore-born East Coast girl of substantial proportions. With dark hair, a big bod, & dusky pipes to match, she boasted an anti-Twiggy figure, a beguiling innocence, plus painful insecurity that ran long & deep.
     After the breakup of the group, she embarked on a solo career, nurtured a daughter, & fought her weight down to 200 lbs., from a high of a 100 lbs. more. She died at 32 of a heart attack, likely brought on by fasting 4 days a week, in yet another heart-rending "battle of the bulge", trying to match what managers & bandmates had tried to shame her into being for years. In a twist that speaks volumes about how accurate her perceptions of these external expectations were, her vocal artistry has been long over-shadowed by an urban legend that's supposed to serve as one final punchline at her expense. To this day, most people believe that Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich. She left a body of work that was a pre-cursor to the full-bodied talents of Adele. This solo mama also left an orphaned 7-year-old girl, to be raised by her aunt.
    I've rarely been slender, save my preschool years, & a few more, as an adult. I did Nutri-System as an 8th grader, so it's not hard to guess my feelings of kinship with a zaftig East Coast Jewess I never met. However, it was just as importantly that soulful voice, coming through those tinny-sounding cassette player headphones, during what my dorm dean's mangled diction was rendered, "Sturdy Hall in the Liberry". My favorite song? The Cass-dominated power ballad, "Dream A Little Dream", which began with the announcer stating, "And now to sing a lovely ballad...Mama Cass.".
     Romantic, light, evocative of liltingly crooned tunes from a by-gone era, when recorded, in the late-60's, I'm sure 90% of my fellow students in that musty old "liberry" had no idea who she, or the band were, in 1988. By then, though, I was growing comfortable in my quirks, & couldn't have cared less. I like to think if Cassie had lived a bit longer, she'd have grown to feel the same.
    So, to honor Mama Cass & both those who dubbed me "Mama" & "Cath", in the early years of my 20's, I combined the two into a descriptor that I'll proudly bear until I breathe my last. That, if you're still reading, is The Title (Not-So-Short) Story. 12~12~12

Dream A Little Dream---Mama Cass Elliot