Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
They're so fat that I'm not sure I can call them "cute." They fluff this time of year, keeping every btu they can muster thick inside that blanket they wear. Even though they stay barefooted all through the winter, they never seem to complain.
To us, they aren't a plague or a curse; they aren't the enemy they are to bird watchers who try, often vainly, to keep them the heck away their precious feeders. And they're acrobats--that's for sure. They pull stunts no human being would think of.
Nonetheless, their bulk makes the squirrels outside our windows seem more like circus clowns than those buff high-wire acts. Fat as little pigs, they fear nothing and will climb aboard the thinnest branch if they have a notion to satisfy their ravenous appetites for the wilted crabs left on our trees.
Sometimes they'll be out there for an hour, pigging out. They high-wire and dive and hang upside down, risking life and limb, it seems, to gorge themselves. They're ferocious little furry fat guys whose sheer grace is downright shocking.
This morning I'm thankful for the winter carnival they put on just about every afternoon outside our window.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
They're miniature rainbows, sort of. That's what I tried to tell my granddaughter yesterday, when the two of us went Christmas shopping. She wasn't impressed when I stopped at the cemetery and took this shot from an open car window. She hadn't gone out in the horror to hear her grandpa talk about the beauty of sun dogs.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
You may ask yourselves the question, "Why did the Lord give us the child so short a time, only to leave us in grief"? We answer, "God wants children as well as adults before His large white throne, and if you look at it like that, you would not dare to demand your child back to this sinful earth, and not to giving your child to praise and adore God better there than he would ever be able to do in this world. God sent out his angel to reap the sheaf that was ready, though you did not know it and God plucked him away so suddenly and unexpectedly as a flower that bloomed in the field.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;. . .
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
In John Gardner's story "Redemption," a little boy dies in a farming accident. In the awful wake of that death's horror, the boy's father steps out of the house and runs wild for a long time. A Christian psychologist once told me that, following the death of a child, parents should be excused--which is to say, forgiven--of just about anything they do for five years. It takes that long for grief to find its own level in the heart. I don't know.
This 90-year-old sympathy note was written five years after Grandpa and Grandma Schaap had buried their own daughter. If the note had been written six months after Agnes's death, it might have a different tone; but then, if twenty years had passed, Grandpa might have responded differently too. Not in substance--I'm sure the theology by which he interpreted his sadness wouldn't change; what might change is how he accepted that theology.
But it takes the preacher a few sentences before he begins to do what he must. First, more empathy.
"Our thoughts were with you continually," he writes, after referring to their own loss. And then, this rather strange sentence: "What a gloomy Sunday you must have had!"
His own story could not have left him unfeeling, but, to me at least, that last line seems almost callous. To call the day of the boy's burial gloomy risks understating the family's horrifying sadness.
But there's a footnote here that helps me somehow. The woman who sent the note along to me explained that, because of the boy's fever and the risk of his fever spreading, the family had been under quarantine.
Somewhere in the fog of my earliest childhood memories, I see a sign that says "Quarantine," but that's all, just an image way back somewhere. If families and their homes are quarantined today, I don't know of it. Ninety years ago, both word and practice were routine, immigrant ships and their passengers regularly subject to inspection and quarantine. From 1780 to 1820, not all that far from where I live, the population of Arikara Indians, once 30,000 strong, fell to almost nothing at the hands of smallpox. Containment was a necessity, and quarantine meant containment.
Imagine it this way: there is a sign on the door of house, a legal notice that makes you shivver with cold, maybe like this one. No one enters, no one leaves--save the dead.
"What a gloomy Sunday" in all likelihood refers to the fact that this loving, quarantined family, despite their grief, could not attend their little boy's funeral. Ninety years after the fact that story is still carried along by descendent family members. The family couldn't attend the funeral.
I can not imagine being Mom or Dad, locked up in the very house of death on that day, the house with the sign, while somewhere down the road the body of my child is being lowered into a small grave. Neither could Grandpa and Grandma Schaap imagine that particular pain, I'm sure, its immense isolation. What an incredibly gloomy day that must have been.
But there's more.