Sunday, October 26, 2008

Beauty

Walking and bouncing, shhh'ing and rocking.
Crying and praying, mourning ... hoping.
Pacing and cuddling, pacing and cuddling.
Crying.

That was me this afternoon as I tried to quiet Genevieve, keep track of Arden, and deal with the news that Jeanine has leukemia. Pacing helps. Going in circles and circles around the coffee table, always seeing from the corner of my eye the beautiful roses Lizzie sent for Genevieve's birth. Holding the goochy baby and pacing.

They're stunning, these roses. (Pro Flowers has them sent straight from Ecuador, still closed, so that they actually bloom in the vase.) I never used to like roses. It was all the hype that surrounds them. So much commercialism. Being told by an outside source that something is beautiful, and knowing that outside source has selfish and ulterior motives, sours things for me. Like diamonds. But at one point I realized that I hadn't given roses a fair chance.

They're a fist full of soft beauty, with the potential of being actually perfect. When they open as they should, it's layer upon layer of gentle enticement. And yet, usually, the secret middle is still protected. Their petals are as soft as butterfly wings. You can feel them best with your lips, which are more sensitive even than fingertips.

I once said that I would know a man understood me if he brought me tulips in winter. (Remember, I'm from snowy, freezing Chicago.) In college, Lizzie and her transfer friends gave me a pot of tulips. It made me laugh and berate her, "A man, Elizabeth! You are not a man!" She agreed happily that she was not. I still enjoyed them greatly. But I've come to discover there is an unending sort of beauty about a healthy rose that tulips lose pretty quickly. All that is good and gentle and strong and sad lingers with them. They make me want to be a flower. This, in fact, is the eternal "almost", the constant frustration, the thing that pulls you back for third and fourth inhales when you should have already walked away from the bouquet. To watch and observe a deep beauty is actually not enough for our souls, for we were created to embody beauty. I think this is why the scripture gives voice to our longing...

1Jo 3:2 "Beloved, we are God's children now,
and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he appears we shall be like him,
because we shall see him as he is."

We must be like Him, we just must. Such beauty must become part of us, it cannot remain a thing we simply observe.

Jeanine is a beautiful soul. She is the woman I wanted to be when I grew up. She was married out of my parents' home; Elizabeth and I carried her train down the aisle. She taught me kindness - she is kind. She taught me inclusion - she was devoted to all my siblings, to all her classrooms of children. She taught me adventure - she read a chapter of Swiss Family Robinson to us each night on her bed, little Sammy-boy included. She taught me patience - she waited 10 years to say "yes" to the man who had asked for her hand at the age of 18. She taught me purity - her "little sin" was the occasional pack of licorice gum. She was love embodied (or so it seemed to me as a child). I still remember her gentle rebuke as I sat doing my homework at the laminate kitchen table... "Oh, Amy, you can do better than that." I knew she was right. I never tried hard with penmanship, and it shows to this day.

She hasn't seen me married or a mother. I know how proud she was when I published Perpetua. It thrills me to know I gave her that pleasure, that she was able to say to the woman behind the counter at the bookstore, "The author was my student!" Oh, I pray I get to feel her joy when I do marry, when I do mother my children with some of the love she taught me. I've seen that joy in her eyes over my sisters and my friends, other young students of hers.

And so I pray and mourn at the same time. That she should go through such pain! That she should be in such danger! The Lord will keep her, and keep her heart safe.

Elizabeth bought roses for Suzy after little Samuel Eisenhower was born. Three dozen, from the toothless lady on the corner of Blue Ridge and Holmes. Her hand painted sign is permanently nailed to a rusty telephone pole, proclaiming in loud stick letters:

"Bokay. 5$"

Her husband is there sometimes, helping her. Her mind is slowly going. That's all I know about her. Her roses don't last long either. Well, you can imagine, by the time they get through all the channels to her-on the corner of Blue Ridge and Holmes, across from the pet store and just beyond the underpass-they haven't much life left in them. But I am glad for her, that as her mind goes, her work is to handle these reminders of God. As her husband helps her, watches her, keeps her active...she only knows she is selling bouquets that embody someone's joy, someone's baby, someone's anniversary. Or, as she would put it, "bokays".

Pray for Arden, as she cries through the transition to being one of two children.
Pray for Dora, as she waits for Sam to return and meet his daughter.
Pray for Jeanine, as she spends the month in the hospital.
Pray for the toothless lady, that she would know the Creator of her bokays.
And pray for me, that the constant tension I feel in desiring all that is beautiful but not yet having and being it, would not tear me apart nor open me to too great a grief.

As Genevieve's middle name so soundly proclaims, JOY is our inheritance because it is His inheritance. (She's been lying on my chest the whole time I've been blogging here. It's hard to feel too much grief when there's a tiny little snuggle-bug cuddling herself into your curves and breathing high and quick like a feather weight.)

Joy, please, dear Jesus. Joy.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Undercover Heaving

Dark clouds scudded over the moon, creating a misty halo that reflected off the wet asphalt and outlined our two darting forms -- I with a long ponytail and bangs repeatedly falling across my eyes, and Dora with the unmistakable curves belonging only to overdue pregnant women.

She ran ahead of me from can to can, checking to see how full the neighbors' garbage receptacles were. I followed behind in the shiny darkness, dragging overweight black bags behind me and tossing them in when she'd found an empty space. No, we weren't disposing of evidence, though it felt like it. And no, we didn't even know what exactly was in the black bags. All we know is that one of our neighbors piled about 12 huge black garbage bags on our front curb about two weeks ago and left them there - just left them - to fend for themselves. But around here, the garbage trucks don't pick up bags, just cans. And so the pile has sat under our palm tree, killing the grass and making us look sort of, well, trashy.

They could have been body parts. Or they could have been donations of clothing left out for the Goodwill truck. Or just plain kitchen garbage. Or... well, they could have contained any number of things. But Dora insisted they contained lawn refuse and laid out her plan to me last week.

"Hey, we're going to wait until dark the night before the garbage is picked up, then stuff as many of those bags in cans as we can find room for. We're going to do this until they're all gone."

I protested, of course. What if, what if... The other option was to put a witty sign on the bags instructing whomever had dumped them on a pregnant woman's lawn to come "get your traish!" This didn't sound like it would endear us to the perpetrators. I boldly declared that I would canvass the neighbors that very day to determine who the culprit was and to demand that they remove their trash. But then I looked out the window at how large of a man Brutus' owner is (that's the crazy dog that's continually trying to jump the fence next to us), and conveniently forgot. Or so I thought. Until...

Several days ago (the trucks come 2x a week) I woke to the news that Dora had heard the trucks in the neighborhood in the early morning, and had run outside in her flimsy white nighty (fully pregnant, mind you) and had stuffed as many of those bags as she could into ours and other cans nearby. There was still a huge pile, though it was significantly smaller than it had been. Shocked and horrified, I waited for the sky to fall. It didn't. So tonight, after the pouring rain had paused and all seemed dark and quiet, I slipped on my flip-flops with her, snuck out onto the puddle-ridden street, and grasped slimy bags filled with who-knows-what. The rain had soaked them so badly I could barely move some, and had to use (instead of the great arm strength we all know I possess) my body weight as a counter balance in order to drag them across driveways, over lawns, and up into garbage cans.

Dora did more than her fair share of this undercover heaving. Several cars passed, blinding us with their twin headlamps, and we attempted to stand up straight and look nonchalant, two women loitering amongst the cans on the side of the road. Yes. You often see women among the cans, don't you? Pretty common sight. No reason to stare, folks, no reason to stare. Just keeeeep drivin. And please don't ask us what we're dragging around the neighborhood, because we don't know.

You'll be happy to know the pile is gone and we're back inside, drinking tea -- Dora, Red Raspberry Leaf to help her go into labor; me, Chamomile to sooth my terribly sore throat. Red Raspberry Leaf indeed! If anything helps her go into labor tonight, it will be the surreptitious heaving of soggy garbage into unsuspecting neighbors' cans. But the pick up is tomorrow, and they'll never even know it happened. If they do happen to notice, the best scripture for them to apply is: "To him who has, even more shall be given."

And the perpetrator's scripture for the day is, from Dora: "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." (But personally, I hope that no one dumps trash on their lawn, whoever they may be. It will just junk up the 'hood again.)

And for Dora and I, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. For you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you." And, if he has dumped his trash on your lawn, clean it up yourself. Burning coals, people! Burning coals!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Enfranchised!

Victory! Well, for me, not necessarily my candidates, but every little step helps. I actually received my absentee ballot in the mail. Strange as it may seem, I wasn't counting on getting it. See, I'm from a city that has been under the strangle-hold of the democratic party for a very, very, very long time. And voting kafuffles go hand-in-hand with that history. Every time I've voted there I've felt the thrill of having wrested something I deserved out of a hand resentful and reluctant to yield it to me.

This reminds me of a story... Once upon a time I went down to the local park department to vote. (Actually, this is a true story. Don't let the fairy-tale beginning throw you off.) It's only 3 blocks from my house, and the voting process is very easy. All you have to do is tell them your name. Thinking back, I realize I've never once shown my ID to prove that I actually am the "Amy Peterson" on the list who resides at --.

Anyway, at the double doors of the building's entrance were several very "beefy" men (read: large, muscular, and unmistakably descended from mafia), there to help people vote, I assume. As I approached the heavy doors they fell over themselves to hoist both wide open, creating a princess-like entrance into the dingy, echoing, CPD halls. All smiles and nods, they were the very picture of eagerness as they pointed me down the left hallway toward the voting room. (There is never a line. Chicago is very efficient when it comes to getting in the vote.)

I happily went through the process of punching my tabs and shoving my ballot down the slot. Somehow or other, when the old ladies at the table had given me the ballot, they also gave me a little receipt that I could carry out with me, showing that I had done my civic duty and voted. Oddly (as I think about it now), this receipt was colored -- one color if you were a registered Dem, and another if you were a Republican. They kept the tear-off part, which I guess was an added safety measure to ensure no one could pretend to be me and vote again.

Clutching my receipt in my hand I sauntered back toward the main doors, happy in the knowledge that there were several large men available to open them. These doors, you see, are huge, metal, fireproof sorts of things. Rather awkward.

I turn the corner to the short foyer hall. I'm on one end; the doors and three men are on the other. I see them. They see me. Their eyes drift down to the receipt in my hand. Their faces harden. Their arms cross. Their backs lean against the walls.

Undisguised hostility oozed toward me and my red receipt. Not a nod. Not a smile. (And I'd been looking rather fetching, as I was in a skirt and on my way to work. It didn't help a bit.)

There was only one way out, so I held my chin high, my eyes down, and walked the gauntlet. (I'd have rather run.) Three slouching guards (each at least twice my bulk, and I'm not a short woman) glared angrily at me on either side; six bulging arms remained stolidly crossed two feet away as I struggled with the heavy 1960's-weight metal doors.

When the door had finally opened and I'd slipped out to the other side, their following anger felt like brick weights pasted to my back. The feeling accompanied me all the way to the car. I shivered some, glad that it was morning and the sky was light, glad my receipt and I hadn't met these public servants in some dark alley.

Chicago's slogan is, "The City that Works", and it really does. I truly admire Mayor Daley's tulips, symbolic of the well-oiled bureaucracy that keeps things moving along and even keeps them looking good as they do. I've actually recommended just such a mafia-inspired governmental structure for poor D.C., which seemed in bad need of help when last I saw it. Chicago may be corrupt, but dog-gone-it, it works. The only thing is, it takes God on your side to get it to work for you.

Which I don't mind, as I have God.

Gosh, I love that city!