It’s not a word for the year. Or even a new year resolution.

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white_t_shirt_by_alymunibari-d3fw9adDoing that word for a year thing seems so stale for me now. So old me.

But  to see the new year in without a promise or hope  hurts. It’s like putting a big, fat red cross on 2017 before the poor thing even properly starts.

What to do? It’s a dilemma….

Then, today, I put on my new white t-shirt. Ethically made. Simple. Clean. Clear cut lines. No adornment.

And I remember that I love white shirts. Especially white t-shirts.

Yeah, they show every dirt or stain. But -zap!- a soak in napisan and out they come, pristine. Almost.

They give a sense of a fresh start. Of Youth and of Summer. New promises, as yet unbroken. Even the many times washed white t-shirt. That looks good but not perfect. Like life, really. Promise of more with hints of that which has gone before.

I’m going to buy another new white t-shirt today. It’s like a promise to myself. Of newness and goodness and hope. To try, and to try again.

White t-shirts are a gift to the world.

In the end I find that it’s not that I need a word for the year. Or even a resolution.

What I need is a new white t-shirt (or two or three..). A symbol of hope and promise.

It’s my new New Year thing.

Not the Brady Bunch

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The end of the year.

The Feast of the Holy Family.

I should see their love. I know it is there. Image result for the holy family

But instead I see how often others hold up the Holy Family as an idealised model. As a tool with which to bludgeon others, to make others fit into a mould, a mould into which probably even the Holy Family did not fit.

Those of us who have grow up in different families can be made to feel inferior. I know I did. So I searched for normal. Only to find that normal did not, in fact, mean a Brady Bunch perfect family.

Those of us who have lived in horrible, gut-wrenching, nit-picking, cutting-wrists relationships also know different. We know that the false image of perfection in family life is a razor sharp picture that stabs us as we try, vainly, to snip at ourselves here and there on a path of reconstruction. A reconstruction that can never be achieved. Never.

Because the feast of the Holy Family is an icon. An icon that has been used by some to make family life what they want it to be. Like re-runs of I Love Lucy or Eight is Not Enough. Romanticised reminiscing of family life.

The Holy Family, itself, however, is not an icon. The Family were people.Are people. Jesus, Mary His Mother, Joseph her Spouse. Even in holiness they had their idiosyncrasies, I am sure. Even in holiness they lived rather than acted out scenes for others to copy.

Perhaps it is the living that counts on this feast day. So that, while I am tempted to cringe at the blows and hits of others who manipulate the feast, I can remember that life is lived. In a family and with others.

Living and praying. Trying and failing. Grace and grins. Anger and sorrow. As Thomas Merton reflected, life is lived  – who we are, truly, right deep inside, before God.

‘For me to be a saint means to be myself.’ Thomas Merton, The Seven-Storey Mountain

‘The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them’ Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.

 

A booky Christmas

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For those of us who love books, reading and writing, a Christmas without books would be unthinkable.

While others make lists of food and cards and Things To Do I make mental lists of books to read over the break. The Christmas break. The no work break ( who am I kidding??).

I keep wanting to add more and more and more books but I am trying to learn realistic time management – you know, where you actually plan for what is possible and not for superhuman, Wonder Woman Leonie who can cram 48 hours into 24. Or so she thinks.

These are currently on my booky Christmas want-to-read list:

  1. No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read. An oldie but a nevertheless an easy to read, feel-good Christmas story by that quintessential British author, Miss Read. Miss Quinn enjoys her singleness but has become a trifle smug. One Christmas jolts her from such smugness.
  2.  The Twenty Four Days of Christmas by Madeleine L’engle. What can I say? This children’s book inspired me many years ago. As a young teen reader, I knew what sort of mother I wanted to be, one day. I learned, through literature, of  Christmas traditions. This shaped my mothering and my Christmases. I have to re-read it.
  3. The Conscience Pudding by E. Nesbit. Another classic and another children’s book. The Christmas after the death of their mother, the Constable children (Five Children and It) want to give away their Christmas. As is usual for the children, their endeavours end in situation comedy scenes.
  4. The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton. The sequel to the book much loved by me and many others – The Twelve Storey Mountain (or Elected Silence) – and a book I have wanted to read for  long time. I found an original 1953 edition in a library. Treasuring his own story of conversion while looking at contemplation in my own life.
  5. Selected Writings of Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day may just be one of my modern day heroes. Her story of abortion, affairs, picking men who would not love her back and then, her love for her daughter, her life as a single parent, her love of Christ and her love-hate relationship with the Church, her writing of peace and compassion, especially for the poor and forgotten, the influence of Kropotkin and St Therese – these are the stuff of narrative lived in an authentic life.
  6. Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Parenting, relationship, movies, told from a father and son point of view.
  7. Bridget Jones’ Baby by Helen Fielding. This is my fluff reading. What can I say? Bridget makes me laugh! I love, too, how the baby becomes the donor in Bridget’s life – very Joseph Campbell.
  8. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. A modern re-telling of The Tempest, set not on an island but in a Canadian prison. What Shakespeare buff could resist?
  9. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I am a big Nick Hornby fan. I love his style of writing, the semi-autobiographical tone. I love his movies. The movie of this book, with a very young Colin Firth, is a story of family and community,  of love and despair, and  with the usual Hornby character who doesn’t quite fit in (cue story of my life). I love the movie and look forward to the book – a cheap, market find book for me.
  10.  All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. My book club book. It is not yet in my library but I Have to read it for book club. I am scared – will it make me cry?
  11. The 48 Hour Startup by Fraser Doherty. Yes. I am always wanting to start a book business. But I am reading this more like fiction than as a how-to book. The best way to read is through the lens of narrative.

So that is my booky Christmas. I have a smattering of unfinished books lying around, which are my pick up now and then books. Perhaps I will list them in another post.  But for now these are my Christmas books. Will I read them all? Probably not – but then, there is January and reading on the train to work!

 

 

I am strong. I am safe. I am brave. But….

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Cheryl Strayed, in her book Wild,  describes her journey, hiking across one side of the U.S. while facing her ‘demons’. She wrote that she told herself that she would change the script that many women are told. She told herself that she was strong, safe, brave.

I liked that. It fit my script, that dialogue of ‘I’ve got this. I can do this’.

But.

But what? There comes a time when you think, no, you know, you have recovered from abuse. That #Maybehedoesnthityou except when he does abuse. You feel safe . You feel strong. You know life is good, mostly.

But then someone who knows your partner or husband that was, who has known no abuse, who perhaps mistrusts other women (we are taught as young girls to see each other as competition, to be mean girls), who is charmed by the manipulative narcissist, makes a comment. One that throws the abuser into the casual conversation, as though the abuse never happened.

He is validated yet again. His opinions are considered as valid as yours. But they can’t  be, you want to cry. He doesn’t  get to abuse me, and inflict emotional, verbal and mental abuse on  our children, and get off,  scot free.

Yet he does. Statistics show that, time and time again. You wonder if you will ever feel safe. Or free.

Then you remember. You have changed that narrative. The abuser can’t hurt you any more. You are not a victim. And it’s okay to feel these surges of panic every now and then. They make you remember.

Remembering is good. It ensures you will never be go back there. And it ensures that you will help others, that you have not forgotten what it feels like to be unsafe, so that you can empathise and not judge, and help others to safety.

Even with your (occasional) writing.

Like Cheryl Strayedinstagramcapture_c33d1863-1f14-4cb9-9f68-abd11155e98a.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We don’t talk about it. But we should.

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The #Maybehedoesnthityou campaign has taken hold on social media. And rightly so. It describes emotional  and mental abuse that may or may not be coupled with sexual and physical abuse. It opens up the door, that door behind which we silently cry, too afraid or ashamed to share.

I know. I suffered this abuse. For more than thirty years.

I have never talked about it. How could I? I took the blame and shame on myself. I protected my sons.

And I am a survivor not a victim. I have moved on, with the grace of God.

So I do not dwell.

And yet.

And yet.

Every time I read a tweet from another person, especially another woman, in the #Maybehedoesnthityou campaign, I gasp. I know it describes me. The me that was. It seems all abusers are alike. I know that, somewhere deep inside the woman who is a mother, a friend, a teacher, a student, a writer, a capable and competent, happy, flourishing person, there lies that woman who was victimised. And to forget that woman, even as I move on, is to refuse to give her a voice.

She needs a voice. The other women in similar situations need a voice.

This is something not to dwell upon, I’ve been told. Sure. I get that. But it is something that must be talked about. Aired. Awareness raised. So our sons and daughters can learn and grow. So those still being abused can know, too, that others have experienced the same, have made changes, have moved to happier places. It is possible.

So this is why I take the first, few, tenative tiptoes to share. Beginning now. For me, in one sense, but mostly for you. You know who you are. You know who needs to hear this.

Hear what? Let me  explain a tweet, that I retweeted.

but he’s ruined your ability for trust in future relationships..

He does. He makes fun of your weaknesses, he critiicses you, you are too friendly or not friendly enough, too fat, too involved with the kids or not involved enough. Should work outisde of the home. Should not. Too Catholic. Not Catholic enough.

He takes your vulnerabilities and twists them, uses them against you, all the while showing his public face as a moral, caring, hard working husband and father. So that others believe, too, that you are the one with issues. They believe his ‘press’ and you, you are too tired and hurt and confused and scared to counteract. He lies and cheats. He manipulates. He turns others against you. And now, your trust has been betrayed. Your trust in him and in those ‘friends’ who gave him sympathy and tell you, you are a strong woman, work on your marriage, be better.  They don’t know your silent screams and tears, as you curl into a ball each night.

You learn to mistrust. Yourself and others.

Sound familiar? You are not alone.

#Maybehedoesnthityou gives you a voice. As does the virtue of hope.

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It’s the small things

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Our Lady of Lourdes

This is how I arranged the dining table centrepiece before bed last night..a visual reminder, for all who rise in the early or not so early hours of the morning…and who wander past the dining area to the kitchen for breakfast. A reminder of today’s feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.. Saints book, candles; Fr Lovasik book on Our Lady of Lourdes; dh’s statue of Our Lady, from his childhood home….and our art focus book.
A week or so ago, someone asked me Why I Bother. Their point was I am doing a lot of work outside the home at the moment, a lot of stuff in the home for Kumon and for volunteer stuff, and at midnight, before bed and an early start the next morning for Mass, I do things like arrange a centrepiece for the table.
Don’t bother, I was told. Let others do the chores and don’t worry about the extras.
But I do want to “worry” about the extras.
It is the extras that make the house a home, a refuge, something set apart. That make a life, really.
I said awhile back, to a priest, that women don’t always have time for the great inventions, for the great works, not because we are less inclined to these things but because our days and minds are often filled with little things…little things that never seem to amount to much, that no one may even notice if done or left undone, but which make a mark on the lives of family and friends.
Creating a space, a nook, for quiet reading and sitting. For movies. Putting out flowers and candles. Planning a dessert for a saints day. Plumping up cushions and scattering an interesting book. Texting friends. Having a person who is lonely over for a cuppa..and including the kids in the converation. Sending a smile.
I am not advising mothers and wives and women to be martyrs. I certainly take time for reading, for work, for my study, for workouts. But my mind and days are also full of All Those Small Things ( Blink 182).
And I bother.
‘A man,’ as one of them observed to me once, ‘is so in the way in the house!’ Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.
And not at all true. But the point is made..a woman often does make a subtle difference. Shouldn’t that difference be calculated, for the good, for beauty, for people?
 Thus the “perfect woman” (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These “perfect women” are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.
In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – and because “the greatest of these is love” (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).MULIERIS DIGNITATEM
Pope John Paul II
Why do I bother? Out of love..not just for family, but for friends, for others, for people I meet, for love of God.
A recent homily on St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 ( If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal… ) challenged all of us, husbands, wives, women, men, single, married, religious..all of us to serve with love. If we love, we are not jealous; we do not act out of selfishness and concern for ourselves; we act with love and care for others.
I must act with that feminine genius of which the Pope spoke, with that sensitivity for human beings in every, yes, every, circumstance…
A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace. Mother Theresa
In my very busy life, I remember some of the stories of my childhood and early teen years, those stories that shaped me. The Little House on the Prairie series. The Anne of Green Gables books. The Meet the Austins series. The Dimity boarding school books. All those Pollyanna novels. Jane Austen. Swallows and Amazons. Noel Streatfield. Verily Anderson. Dodie Smith. Bridge to Terabithia. Amongst others.
What was it that attracted me to these books?
 Their vision of family life. Of normality. Of fun. Of dinners and chats and walks and time together.
 I take this vision and try to live it out, in my whirlwind of activity and technology.
 I bother with the little things.
 The extras that are not really extras. For, as we women, seek careers and study, seek good, seek to be truly ourselves it is sad if we also lose sight of what it is that makes a home…us.
Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world. Mother Theresa

Marilyn Monroe and Pope John Paul II

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Watching Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot” in an outdoor film fest, I was struck by more than the star’s beauty. In the cool summer night, amid the laughs of my fellow audience at the film’s superb comedic timing and dialogue, I saw Monroe as icon of human yearning and feminist ideals.

I am not alone in this. Feminists from Gloria Steinem to third wave feminist Erin Johansen have claimed Marilyn as their own, citing her life and roles as an example of why women need feminism. As feminist author Nancy Friday has said, Marilyn Monroe’s life sends a message to women – when the world forms young women into sex objects, the women lose themselves and, ultimately, their life.

St John Paul II echoed this warning in his work “Love and Responsibility”. He wrote that ‘A person must not be merely the means to an end for another person’, adding ‘Anyone who treats a person as the means to an end does violence to the very essence of the other’. Feminist writers have argued that the Hollywood film industry and 1950s American culture destroyed the essence of Marilyn Monroe, in  highlighting her sexuality as every man’s desire yet neglecting to see the essence of Marilyn as person.

It was this essence that enthralled in the movie “Some Like It Hot.” Having been introduced to Monroe as a comedic actress of high calibre, with august timing and exaggerated facial expressions in “How To Marry A Millionaire”, I was intrigued to catch a glimpse of a deeper quality in her work. While Monroe remains an object for the desires of others in this film, she skilfully hints at yearnings of her own, and thus at yearnings of humanity. We yearn for acknowledgement and acceptance. We yearn for a better life. We want hope in the suffering that we often experience in our every day, perhaps mundane or arduous, tasks and roles. Marilyn, as long-suffering ever hopeful Sugar, expresses these yearnings with a gaze, a pout, a glance of eyes brimming with sorrow. Indeed, the irony of the scene wherein Marilyn sings ‘I’m Through With Love’, while the club’s audience dances in oblivion to her suffering, is sublime. How often is humanity’s suffering experienced in a sea of oblivion and apathy?

It is apathy to suffering that can cost lives. Indeed, the suffering portrayed by Monroe on the screen reflected the suffering of her life. It seems that apathy to her off-screen image, in contrast to obsession with her on-screen objectification, cost Marilyn her life.

Heavy thoughts for a summer film festival. Yet, as Coppelia Kahn reminds us, comedies will mirror aspects of the human condition. And feminist authors are right in holding Marilyn as a feminist icon, suggesting that Marilyn’s life and movies encourage discussion on humanity and equality. It is such discussion that reminds us of respect for human dignity and essence while recognizing the truth of the final lines of “Some Like It Hot” – “Nobody’s perfect”.