Slim was more than excited to learn that Trunk or Treat at our church was back on this year, after being Covid-canceled in 2020.
He jumped for joy when he heard that our daughter would be returning from Maryland for Halloween weekend. He hadn’t seen her since he popped in on her unexpectedly in Charlottesville in 2018 for Trick or Treating on the Lawn. (See here and here.) On a beautiful Saturday, with perfect fall weather, D joined Slim, me and the pack in the church parking lot, to greet and provide candy fuel to a large and enthusiastic crowd of happy, creatively-costumed kids and their families. After so much isolation during the darkest days of the pandemic, the gathering was especially cheery. The rousing music provided by our church pianist from a keyboard in the back of his pick-up truck served to further heighten the mood. Slim sang along with every tune, as his musical reportoire is vast.
On the ride home, he was simply giddy. I repeatedly had to remind my rowdy passenger to remain seated. He waved eagerly at passing cars and emitted celebratory whoops, hoots and hollers. He belted out a steady stream of snippets from his favorite party songs: Cel-e-brate good times, come on! . . . Let’s paint the town! And shut it down! . . .We’re gonna party like it’s 1999! . . I got me a car, it seats about twenty, so come on and bring your jukebox money! . . .Well, I’m just out of school, like a real, real cool. Gotta dance like a fool, Got the message that I’ve gotta be a wild one, Oh yeah, I’m a wild one. . .
Yes, that Slim, he’s a wild one. But his is a sweet, innocent wildness, like that of a child. And his humor is infectious; he can bring a smile to even the dourest of faces. I’m glad he’s here. Everyone needs a friend like Slim.
Once home, he whistled for the pack to join him in the annual Halloween joyride. The gang piled into my VW in a flash. Even Kiko moved briskly, which is unusual for our elder statesman these days. Time to cruise the neighborhood to promote more Halloween fun! The big day approached!
Our old family friend, Slim, emerged from his state of semi-hibernation in early October, as is his custom. After eleven months in the dim silence of my mother’s basement, he was a bit taken aback by the bright warmth of the autumn sunshine and the profusion of life that was bursting forth outdoors.
Quite the nature lover, Slim was amazed at the continued proliferation and abundance of our summer flowers. “Is it July?,” he exclaimed. Usually long gone by October, this year the impatiens have kept flourishing, and growing, their stems over three feet in height. They almost completely hide the fountain, providing a sheltering hedge for a pair of frogs who claimed it as a homestead. The frogs grew steadily and serenaded one another loudly for months. Now they watch over a bevy of tadpoles. Their well-being in the face of approaching cold weather has been worrisome for Slim. Because the fountain must be drained before temps dip to freezing, he has vowed to help us relocate our amphibian friends to the nearby creek.
On sunny afternoons, Slim could often be found soaking up the rays alongside the opulent petunias on Mama’s back deck. Loyal canine twins Rocky and Ruth were usually by his side.
Slim delights in the charms of seasonal decor. He put the finishing touches on the Halloween display around my most recently constructed dollhouse, placing a couple of tiny Sculpey-clay jack-o’-lanterns just so. He has a heart for little things as well as little critters, and no detail is too insignificant to escape his observant eye.
After Slim amped up the festive decorations on my mother’s kitchen table, it became one his favorite inside spots, for sitting, chatting, and watching the many birds at the feeder. He noticed before I did that the slate-colored juncos had returned. He offered helpful tips as I worked at a recent endeavor: trying to make iced sugar cookies that are decorative as well as tasty. With his assistance, my efforts improved. It shouldn’t have surprised me in the least to learn that he has a deft hand with a pastry bag.
Every night, Slim assumes a post at a front window, looking out on the neighborhood until drifting off to sleep and to sweet Halloween dreams. Seeing him there as I pass my mother’s house on Kiko’s last walk of the evening, I’m reminded of Riff Raff peering out of that upper window in Rocky Horror Picture Show, and his words echo in my head:
There’s a light. . .over at the Frankenstein place.
There’s a light. . . light. . .in the darkness of everybody’s life.
On the 5th of July, had my dog not needed walking, I might have missed the spectacular beauty of the morning. There are days now when Kiko sleeps in, curled contentedly in his fluffy bed, oblivious to the sunlight flooding in around him. But on Monday, he was up early and ready to step out. Maybe he was feeling cocky after having finally realized that the terrible Fireworks Monster is not a big deal. This year, he wasn’t traumatized as in the past by the crackles and booms of our neighborhood celebration. Gradual hearing loss may have its good points. The noises seemed to make him marginally uneasy, but not nervous enough to pace the house in a restless search for consolation that is perpetually out of reach. Instead, he remained settled in his bed even after the fireworks began to pop. He seemed sufficiently relaxed so that I decided to join my family and friends for the show for the first time in years, instead of cocooning myself with my quaking dog in a curtained room with heavy blankets and a loud TV. On our return, Kiko greeted us with what I interpreted as an air of studied nonchalance. “I’m cool,” he seemed to say. “But no thanks to you. I know you left me alone.”
For whatever reason, Kiko was up early the following day, with a particular pep in his step, and so I was up and out, also, in time to witness the sparkling glory of the post-Independence Day morning. A golden haze suffused the air, and the sun’s rays were clearly visible, as in a child’s drawing. Kiko found it annoying that I kept stopping to take photos, which can’t quite capture the radiance of the morning. As we walked down our neighbor’s front walk after bringing the Washington Post to her door, the glowing light streaming through the trees resembled an image of the entrance to heaven. In the unusually peaceful quiet of the holiday morning (no rushing traffic, no typical suburban summer sounds of lawn mowing, tree cutting, leaf blowing and power washing) it could be appreciated without distraction.
Kiko’s interest, as always, lay in scents instead of sights. The fascinating smorgasbord of smells kept him briskly on the move as he led the way, with purpose, toward his favorite little park. By that time, the shimmering mist was dissipating, but there among the woods, it lingered still.
Kiko maintained a quick pace on our return. My elderly, slowly meandering dog was temporarily replaced by his former puppy self. When we reached the home stretch, he began to run. My knees resisted, but I did my best to keep up.
Once home, Kiko was soon cozily snuggled in his bed. The dog who emerges revived and invigorated after a long night of fireworks certainly deserves his rest.
On this 4th of July, 2021, and every day, Abraham Lincoln’s words spoken at the dedication of the Gettysburg Battlefield in November of 1863 are well worth recalling. May we honor these words, just as we honor those who gave their lives to defend the principles upon which our nation was founded. May we continue to defend these principles, by accepting and learning from the truth, even when it is painful.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate–we can not consecrate–we can not hallow–this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. ”
Let us remember that as Americans, true patriotic duty is expressed not by proclaiming our country to be flawless, but instead to work together, despite our differences, toward a more perfect Union.
Hats off to all the men who make the little people in their lives feel welcome, loved and safe, the way I felt in my dear daddy’s arms. Cheers to the good guys who have the strength and courage to be kind, nurturing, supportive, and occasionally vulnerable. May the blessings you provide be returned to you with interest. Happy Father’s Day, fathers and fatherly men!
We did something highly unusual recently. Something we hadn’t done for close to two years. We packed the car and drove across several state lines to visit relatives for the long Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to the Covid vaccines, we could do so without fearing dire consequences. We had taken another major step the week before, when we attended our daughter’s graduation from the University of Virginia. We were there, in person, on-site! And when D returned home a few days later, we didn’t require her to go into a period of quarantine in our home office. We’re gradually easing back into something akin to pre-Covid “normal.”
My husband’s intentions to visit his parents more regularly had been foiled by the pandemic. He and my daughter had also been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get some ice time with our young hockey-playing nephews. So H’s hometown of Rochester, New York was our first out-of-state family destination. At Bill Gray’s Iceplex in Brighton, H and D matched skills with the boys for an hour of non-stop action. My sister-in-law and I, in our figure skates, passed the occasional errant puck around and served as videographers.
The Eerie canal village of Spencerport, where H’s sister and her family live, was as charming as I remembered it from our last visit over the Memorial weekend in 2019. The lift bridge, which raises to allow the passage of larger boats, had been freshly painted. Bright flowering baskets hung from shop windows. Our nephews have become enthusiastic fishermen during the pandemic. They breathlessly described to us the many fish that inhabit the canal. On a cold Saturday morning, undeterred by the icy wind blowing over the water, they proceeded to catch a wide range of examples. “A pumpkinseed? Really? That’s a fish?,” I asked the boys, thinking I’d heard wrong. Yes, indeed. A small and colorful speckled sunfish. Kids are such fountains of knowledge.
As much as my husband enjoys speeding across the ice in pursuit of a hockey puck, I like a brisk stroll through picturesque neighborhoods. I had been looking forward to walking again along Spencerport’s tree-shaded streets lined with beautifully tended old homes and historic churches. I kept falling behind my daughter and sister-in-law as I paused to take photos. So many captivating architectural details, so little time.
The lamp posts on the main streets of the village were again decorated with flags and Hometown Heroes banners. Photos of our military men and women currently serving in various branches of the armed forces gazed down on us. Although the images were different, the group was just as youthful-looking as those of a previous year. Some were smiling. Others had adopted more serious expressions. All, I expect, must have been feeling a sharp mixture of anxiety and optimism during those photo sessions.
Their faces look down on the quiet, peaceful streets of home. Yet the real young men and women are far away, in places where turmoil reigns and peace is elusive. Every time I think of pretty little Spencerport, with its inviting sense of homeyness, I think of these hometown heroes. I pray that they return whole and healthy to their families.
I pray also that we civilians do our part to earn that name. May we not forsake our civic duty. May we pursue truth and learn from it, especially when it is painful. Especially when it reveals shortcomings that need to be addressed. May we actively work toward justice and peace for all people. May our country, our democracy, remain worthy of our pride and of the service and sacrifice of our military men and women.
O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness,
and every gain divine.
God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self control,
thy liberty in law!
–America the Beautiful
words by Katharine Lee Bates, 1904
music by Samuel A. Ward, 1888
Wishing you and your family a peaceful, beautiful Memorial Day. May you have the freedom to gather with those you love. And may we honor and remember all those who gave their service and their lives for our ability to do so.
“It is finished!” And he bowed his head and released his spirit.
The Gospel of John (19: 30) records these final dying words of Jesus, spoken from the cross. A quick reading might prompt one to hear this utterance as the sad lament of defeated man. Not so fast, though. The Gospel writers Matthew (27:50) and Mark (15:37) don’t report Jesus’s last words. They tell us only that he “shouted out again” or “cried out again in a loud voice” before breathing his last. If we use all three accounts as evidence, what the Son of God likely said was a single word evoking not loss, but satisfactory completion. He spoke in Aramaic, but the original Greek of John’s gospel translates it as “tetelestai.”
This word would have been familiar in several contexts to the people of first-century Palestine. Having completed the last task of the day, a worker might tell his boss, “Tetelestai.” An artist, putting the final touch on a painting, might use the same word. A debt paid in full would be stamped “Tetelestai.” For Jews, the word would have been the Greek equivalent of a familiar Hebrew phrase announced by the High Priest each year on the Day of Atonement. After offering the proper sacrificial animals at the altar of the Holy of Holies at the Temple in Jerusalem, the priest emerged to tell the assembled crowd that God had accepted the sacrifice of the people.*
Jesus’s final cry before dying was therefore no whimper of pained surrender. Instead it was an exclamation of triumph.** The various frames of reference for “tetelestai” mentioned above are all helpful in understanding Jesus’s use of the word and what his death means for us. His earthly work is done, the masterpiece completed, the debt paid, the perfect sacrifice offered and accepted. In other words, “Mission Accomplished!”
Three of the Gospels include an often overlooked, but immensely significant detail that stands as proof of the change ushered in by Christ’s death. According to Mark 15: 38: “And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” This was the curtain in the Temple of Jerusalem which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. This sacred space housed the Ark of the Covenant, considered by the Jewish people to be the very throne of God. Only priests could enter the Holy place. The High Priest alone entered into that sanctified inner realm, the Holy of Holies, and then, only once a year, on that holiest of all days, The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.
Although sometimes referred to as a veil, the Temple curtain was no delicate, gauzy thing that might have ripped easily in a gusty wind. It was a heavy, brocaded cloth, woven with images of protective angels. Only an intentional act of great force could have caused the Temple curtain to be torn fully asunder. Both Matthew and Mark tell us that it was divided from top to bottom, as though from on high. Human hands had no part in this. This was God’s work.
Having destroyed the barrier to the Holy of Holies, God invites his people to approach him directly. Middlemen are no longer needed. The ultimate gift of atonement invites us to be “at one” with God. Having willingly offered his own life for our sins, Jesus and his father tell us that animal sacrifices are a thing of the past. The perfect Lamb of God has paid our debt in full. We are redeemed. Tetelestai!
This is what Jesus referred to earlier at the Last Supper, when he took the cup and told his disciples, “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. “(Matthew 26:28) We, and all generations before and after us, are among the many. It was on this same night that Jesus reduced the entirety of his message to this one essential commandment: “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13: 34) See yesterday’s Maundy Thursday post.
So, what then is required of us in these days of the New Covenant? It’s simple. Accept the gift that was given to us in love by our brother and savior Jesus. Admit our shortcomings and try to do better. Focus less on ourselves and more on others. Get back to basics: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Think about that. We have a God who truly desires to walk with us. He wants to walk the road with us, to share in our sufferings as well as in our joys. And if we’re willing to walk with God day by day, in good times and in bad, loving him, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, we usher in his kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven.
The Temple curtain has been torn. No barrier remains between us and our loving, faithful God. Tetelestai!
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38-39)
Today is Maundy Thursday, the day in the Christian calendar that commemorates Jesus’s Last Supper. The unusual word “maundy” (not Maunday) comes from mandatum, the Latin for command, because we remember the new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples on his final night with them. I wrote this post two years ago, but it’s as relevant today as it was then. Perhaps, more so, during Year II of the covid pandemic. Why not do our part in changing our troubled world for the better by listening to, and following, Jesus’s valuable life instructions?
On the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus gathered with his disciples for one last time to share the Passover meal together. He knew that his life on earth was drawing to a close. He had tried to explain to his dearest friends that he would soon be facing death, and doing so willingly. But the disciples didn’t understand. Probably some of them were expecting to witness a magnificent earthly triumph. Judas, the betrayer, may have been counting on such a victory. None of the disciples, it seems, were expecting their friend, teacher and Messiah to die an ordinary criminal’s death on the cross.
But the group must have been fearful and confused. They were back in crowded, dangerous Jerusalem, where Jesus’s life had been threatened multiple times during clashes with the Jewish religious leaders. And so, on that fateful final night, Jesus had the full and rapt attention of his disciples. He chose his words, and his actions, with care.
According to the Gospel of John (13:1 – 17), after the meal, he did something completely unexpected: he got up from the table and began to wash the feet of his friends. In those days, traveling, for people of ordinary means, meant walking, in sandals, or even barefoot, along dusty, dirty roads, through fields and stretches of sandy wilderness. A servant typically washed the feet of guests as they entered a home. If there were no servants, guests usually washed their own feet from a basin near the door. John the Baptist refers to this practice when asked by Jewish leaders if he is the Messiah. According to John 1:27, he replies, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.” The disciples were clearly uncomfortable with their leader and teacher washing their dirty feet. Had foot washing been done upon entering the upper room that night? It’s uncertain. Maybe there had been no basin set up for the purpose until Jesus poured water into one, as mentioned in John 13:5. The Pharisees had criticized Jesus when they noticed that some of his disciples failed to wash their hands before eating (Mark 7: 1-5). Certainly, Jesus’s focus was not on Jewish rituals of purity. External, physical cleanliness was evidently not one of his primary concerns. He may not have been a stickler for foot-washing prior to that last gathering.
The disciple Peter’s reaction supports this (John 13: 6-11). Peter was fiery, passionate and impulsive. Like many of us, he was often a bit dense. He couldn’t stand the idea of Jesus abasing himself to wash his feet. Foot washing was the job of an underling, a slave. Peter jumped up and exclaimed, “You’ll never wash my feet!” When Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me,” Peter was all in. “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
Jesus went on to explain his puzzling behavior. “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. . .Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” (13:12-15, 17).
Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that he had in mind much more than literal foot washing. Following his example is to mean humbling oneself in order to serve and help others. To further drive home his point, he continued: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (13:34-35).
Jesus had spent three years traveling with this rag-tag group. They’d heard him teach and preach, seen him heal the sick and cast out demons. On three separate occasions, he’d even restored the dead to life. The disciples had been with him as he confronted the Jewish authorities and challenged their interpretation of the Law. Sometimes his words and actions had been difficult to comprehend. But on the night before his death, Jesus summed up the essence of his ministry in the simplest of terms: Serve others. Love others. Just as I have served and loved you, so you should love others.
Let’s take this Maundy Thursday message to heart. Let’s heed the wise counsel of our dear brother Jesus. Do our best to follow his example. Try to model his caring, compassionate behavior. We won’t always succeed. Sometimes we’ll backslide and act in ways that are selfish and petty. But let’s persevere. And change the world, little by little, through service and love.
A blog about motherhood, marriage and life: the joys and frustrations, beauty and absurdity, blessings and pain. It's about looking back, looking ahead, and walking the dog.