Though much is taken, much abides

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I was running when my watch buzzed with a message from my brother, “Y’all seeing the fire at Notre Dame?”. At first I thought of the Fighting Irish. But the link, which I did not stop my pace to read, was from the BBC in Europe. So the other Notre Dame. I’ve been heart-sore lately.Good exercise on a day when the world was contemplating renouncing the despair of winter for the hopeful enthusiasm of spring was meant to be a brief panacea. I tried to put the fire out of mind (hoping it was minor) and focus on the daffodils.

Running through the well-kept houses and lawns of wealthy Winchester, I reminded myself how amazing our civilization is. It is so much easier to destroy than build. But there is so much more built than not. What a great weight of effort lay behind every vista. And to the pounding rhythm of my slow pace, the words came back to me: Though much is taken, much abides

I find myself greatly consoled by remembered poetry. You’d think that this would mean I spend more time reading and memorizing poetry, but humans are not so sensible. We do not always invest in the things that offer us the greatest returns. We do not avoid the things that bring us harm. But this poem is not one I’ve read. It is, instead, a poem that a friend has memorized. I remember one bright night, when we were all younger than we are now, when we went together to see a play – a musical. We all agreed that it was quite possibly the worst performance any of us had ever seen. But walking back together through the streets of Boston, through swirling mist and halogen light, he recited all of Ulysses to the city sky. I’ve likely heard him say this poem 20 times in our years of friendship. So it is unsurprising for me to hear it in his voice. My friend’s voice assures me, much abides.

When I returned from my run and saw the pictures of the flames, I thought nothing could survive. What was built over centuries and endured for longer centuries would be wiped out in the slow course of my 5k jog. I was comforted only by the memory of that poetry. “Much abides” I reminded myself. And indeed, from the implausible wall of flames much more was recovered – largely because of human planning, care and expertise – than I dared hope for. The windows remain. The bees remain. The gothic walls and buttresses were designed independent of the roof, so the one could fall while the others held. I read an amazing response (which I cannot now find) by a medievalist who long studied the cathedral at Reims. The scholar talked with great hope about how the Medieval architects had learned so much (from hard experience) about how cathedrals burned that they had built new ones to withstand conflagration. The churches were designed to burn, but yet abide. And looking at what remains in the rubble in Paris, that seems true. How clever we are, we humans, when we put our minds to resilience and preservation. How foresightful we can be, and have been. Much abides.

Today, as I write, it is Holy Saturday. Last night, I went to Good Friday services – my favorite of the year. There’s no sugar coating harsh truths on Friday night. We put ourselves in the place of the false accusers, the cowardly arresters, the sleepy and scared friends who fail at the first test. We speak of beatings and mockery and spears and nails in the flesh. We listen to a dying man make fun of another dying man. There’s no place on Good Friday for looking away or softening. I think it’s no coincidence that rarely are children present that night. (Although I was very, very glad that my youngest son joined me, for the first time. I’m not sure my children will be able to understand my faith if they never worship with me on Good Friday.) On this Friday night – and on the long Saturday that follows – we live in a reality where God himself has died and we cannot see how anything can ever be okay again. Hope is lost, and all that remains is cleaning up and moving on.

Of course, there’s always the rest of that story. I usually practice my Easter hymns on Good Friday (which feels like cheating, but practice you must!) Beyond hope, hope arrives. There is redemption for the failed and weak. There is forgiveness. Although there is also real loss – Judas is never forgiven. I sometimes wonder if he would have been, if he’d chosen repentance over despair.

As we look to rebuild Notre Dame, and the black southern churches destroyed by a hateful arsonist, I am reminded of another phrase caught in my mind lately, from Isaiah:

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isaiah 58:12

As I looked for the right words to close my thoughts, my pastor posted a poem by her favorite poet, whose title caught my eye. I leave you friends, with a new poem. May it be a consolation. For much abides.

What Abides, What Returns

Readying for Spring

March is a cruel month in New England. It is the time of dirty snow, when winter is old and grey and has entirely worn out it’s welcome, but clings to our shaded areas with a stubborn tenacity. Even today, the second nearly-70 degree spring day this weekend, I gaze over at my nearly-budding plum tree and see a malicious pile of snow in the corner.

But still – the fighter jets just flew past in tight formation, rumbling against blue-and-white sky, readying for the opening day in Fenway Park. The daffodils and hyacinths have pushed past winter’s hoar and into a friendlier light. The forsythias are golden in longer, stronger light and the spring peepers have begun a cacophony as loud as any fighter jet. Not even March can hold on forever.

I pruned the plum tree yesterday. That’s such hard work. You know you have to cut it down, for it’s own good. But you don’t want to. You’ve been cheering for every branch. I severely hacked back one of the branches that overhung the stairs (although I fear it’s going to inspire riotous new growth). There were also two fungally infected spots – one of which was a minor branch and one which was a medium one. I made more cuts based on health and my convenience than based on a proper pruning. But there are a good many incipient blossoms, and this year I have the fertilizer stakes in. I will ensure it gets well watered (I think my biggest mistake from last year). This year, you just watch, will be the year of plum jam.

I feel more than a touch repetitive when I tell you that life has been busy. On the spider-plot of the areas in which my life is usually busy, right now it’s dominated by work – of which there is much, and what I’m doing requires tremendous energy and leaves me tired at the cessation of my labors. I’ve been having headaches often lately. I think I may have cracked that one, though. I had a cold and sinus involvement which led to me taking a lot of cold medicine that included Tylenol. (Transcontinental flights with colds = All The Meds.) Then I kept getting headaches (and taking Tylenol) sometimes even from the moment I got up. I read through the internets (I was pretty sure it wasn’t one of the more serious causes) and discovered the concept of a rebound headache. I lowered my coffee, stopped taking all pain meds despite pounding headaches, and tried to get a bit more exercise. And it seems to have worked! No headaches for a week now!


Spring’s most perfect day

In other news, Grey has signed up for travel soccer. He had a great season doing indoor soccer this winter, during which time he enjoyed playing with his teammates, brought his skills up to a new level, got in good shape, and lost pretty much every single game. Builds character. For those of you who are not soccer moms, the hierarchy of soccer excellence goes like this:

Town soccer: 1 practice, 1 game a week. Entirely for fun. Don’t have to travel anywhere. Low pressure.
Travel soccer: 2 practices, 1 game a week. Have to do tryouts to get in. Increasingly competitive based on which team you make.
Club soccer: Soccer is now your life.

We’ve always been in the Town Soccer zone, and our sons have shown no interest in travel – until now. I often miss Grey’s games, but I got to go see him this Saturday on Spring’s most glorious day. I loved watching him run – the way his long legs effortlessly ate up the field as he moved. I loved watching him attack the ball, and how he’d position himself on the field, constantly adjusting to where the ball and other players were. He looked very right and in his element out there, which is not what I had expected based on his early years playing.

Does anyone with a background in physics know what happened next?

But we just added together 1 & 2 (it’s an and, not an or). So for the remainder of the year he’ll be playing games both days of the weekend, and will have three practices a week.


Yesterday, Facebook showed me an “On this day” update from a year ago. This was when we started the demolition for our attic project. Every night when I get to go up to that beautiful, bright, clean, airy space I can’t believe my good fortune. I think it will take a long time for it to get old.

Dare I say my favorite spot?

We went up to Conway in January, and spent some time looking at art galleries with an eye to the perfect pieces for our pristinely white walls. We found one superb piece that I enjoy every time I see it. It’s this beautiful, very New England scene (very wintery, really). It’s this lovely circle picture, done with photosensitive paper. It seems like a real place, lovingly remembered.

I especially love the stars

So what’s new with you lately? Have you seen any art? Spent any glorious spring days outside? Read any good books? Tell me!

My ballot: Stoneham Election April 2, 2019

I regret that I have not had the time this year to write up an in-depth review of the candidates. But I’ve had a number of people asking who I’m voting for, and I’m generally excited and enthusiastic about the candidates for whom I’ll cast my vote on Tuesday (April 2nd at Town Hall in Stoneham!). So with no further ado…

Here’s the sample ballot, for your reference. I’m only highlighting my choices in contested races.

Select Board (pick two)
Heidi Bilbo (loved her “Hate has no home here” campaign)
George Seibold

School Committee
Rachel Meredith-Warren (I think she’s amazing)

Housing Authority
Michelle Meagher

Board of Assessors
Eric Josephson (I’ve seen his resume and he’s deeply qualified – we’ll be lucky to have him)

Question 1
Yes, I think if we want a thriving Main Street, we need to offer flexibility to proprietors

I invent holidays

I’ve always admired people with great intent for their lives, who know exactly who they want to be and what they want to do and pursue those clear visions with purpose and determination. I’m hardly unfocused or unaccomplished, but I’ve come to realize in my middle years that what I really am is opportunistic. I have a general vision for the kind of person I’d like to be and the kind of things I like to do. But what I’m really good at is seeing a hole – an opening – and then leaping into it to make my mark.

This year’s Mocksgiving

Most especially, with holidays. You all know my calendar of unique holidays. We have Mocksgiving two weeks before Thanksgiving (November 16 this year – mark your calendars). That was followed by Piemas, coming up next weekend. Then Flynn’s Fiery Feast, which is still forming but seems to have the theme of “we can’t make up our mind whether it’s inside or out”. These are not fake holidays, for all their provenance is known and created. I have heard many times that Mocksgiving is a true celebration of gratitude, friendship like unto family and tradition. (The mock, for the record, is not mock as in mocking. It’s mock as in trial run. It turns out you can’t rename holidays after 20 years of having them under one name.) These holidays have traditions and rules that guide and govern them just as any other holiday does. They even have holiday attire. (I have a great pie-themed dress! I still need a better Mocksgiving outfit.) There are things we always do, the community of shared experience, the stories of what happened last time we gathered. They are entirely real.

Me, in my Piedress, eating Pie

This gift of inventing holidays has a lot, I generally think, to do with the open-mindedness and joyfulness of my friends to indulge my flights of fancy. I’m hardly the only person on the block to have a traditional celebration. Around here, we also celebrate Oktoberfest and Vinterfest and other shared joys.

But what made me realize that this was, perhaps, my calling in life was when I managed to invent a holiday at work. Now, I didn’t do this on purpose (and I can’t go into too many details). But a while back I invited some colleagues to join me in an activity on International Women’s Day. And I gave it one of those great trademark Brenda names. (Eg. a cross between lame, descriptive and memorable.) I had no thought of making it an annual holiday, just like Piemas. But a goodly number of people asked me very politely (and persistently) if we could please do it again. So we just celebrated this last week, from the least to the greatest of us, and I realized. This is now a *thing*, with a tradition, and set of rules and memory of past celebrations. People refer to it by name, and look forward to it, and are joyful when it comes. All I had to do this year was set the date, invite people, and they came gladly and with alacrity with their offerings, like a joyful potluck. You know, like Piemas. Or Mocksgiving.

There are so many people in this world that our niches of uniqueness become ever more granular. I’m willing to share space with the rest of the world and the things that make other special. But I like being the person who creates the joyful holiday. I think I’ll lean into that one.

What about you? What have you discovered you somehow end up doing over and over? Are you a person who knows what they want to do and who they want to be, and does it? Do you have any holidays of your own creation?

#28daysoftshirts – Wrap up

The remnants

I really enjoyed the project of sharing the stories behind my tshirt wardrobe. I’ve been writing for a long time (this blog is over ten years old), and I liked the chance to share and engage daily, but with a low threshold for how much I needed to write. I did learn a few things about myself across the venture, which I am shockingly turning into more blog fodder.

1) I have a lot of tshirts
This is perhaps the least surprising discovery of the adventure, but I was actually rather surprised at JUST how many I have, especially since I just cleaned out my tshirt drawer when I moved up to the attic. I’m guessing a total of 40 tshirts is crammed in that drawer, and find it unlikely I’ll have fewer any time soon. That likely means – given that I wear tshirts on weekends and Fridays – that I wear each shirt about twice a year. I love novelty and variety, so that feels true!

2) My shirts are an interesting reflection of my interests and values
The top themes are: mountains, coffee, Tolkien, roleplaying, work. Those are not a bad summary of the things I am interested in, and that I am willing to share with others. I was particularly intrigued to see how much my love and longing for mountains was reflected in this wardrobe. I suspect that’s particularly acute right now, when I feel like my beloved mountains are a four month journey away on either side. March is as far as you can get from hiking and camping time, and it’s an acute lack.

But there are also some tremendous gaps not reflected in my collection. There’s nothing of the Medieval in my collection. Music is under-represented, especially the early music I love best. I was shocked to realize I don’t have a single faithful/religious shirt of the non-blasphemous nature. My faith is something important to me, and which I would want to share aright. But so much Christian paraphernalia signals exclusion instead of love. And pretty much none of it is funny. What I really want is a funny Christian pride-ally shirt. Is that too much to ask?

3) I’m terrible at taking selfies and didn’t improve
My usually excellent phone camera keeps doing this jiggly refocus thing. I wonder if I need to fix it or something. Also, I’m really not good at taking a flattering selfie that also shows shirt text. I guess the upside is that I’m comfortable enough with who I am and how I look to post 28 days of unflattering photographs?

4) My things all have stories
I somewhat knew this before, but it was particularly interesting to notice. I had invested meaning in each of these shirts. I had a story about origin, or what it meant to me. Some of the shirts that didn’t seem like they could possibly be important, like the Go Climb A Rock tshirt are actually layered with deep meaning and values. This isn’t just a tshirt thing: I could do the same with coffee mugs, objects on my desk at work… honestly, most of the objects I live with. I think that this isn’t a standard and normal way to engage with the physical world (although it’s obviously also not a crazy outlier). I suspect that could lead to some hoarding tendencies, so I need to work to preserve the story and only keep the worthwhile objects. I also tend NOT to keep things that don’t have stories, even if I like them in abstract.

What did you learn about me? If you did this challenge too, what did you learn about yourself? What things do you have that you could tell thirty stories about?

#28daysoftshirts – Bonus Day!

Friday is tshirt day

In a normal course of events, I wear my tshirt collection on Fridays. (My Monday – Thursday wardrobe is usually a slightly more professional blouse-type-garment.) So it seemed like a pity to have unworn tshirts and a Friday and not just toss in a 29th day of tshirts into the equation.

I got this tshirt on Bike To Work day last year – not because it was official swag (we got socks) – but because the Cambridge cyclists are SO EXCITED about people joining their ranks. They’re currently on internal mailing groups trying to convince people that a 10 mile each way 4 season bike commute with child carriers is totally do-able (because they do it). Anyway, this crazy crew was incredibly warm and supportive of my attempt, and one of them gave me this cycling-related tshirt as a bit of a celebration. It has a bike wheel in the middle, spokes up the size and a sprocket on the outside.

It’s also bright, soft and long and so I often wear it when I’m just looking for the #1 most comfy thing in my wardrobe.

Color: Bright blue
Fabric: Super soft
Front text: ALL POWERFUL