Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 30: A Tremendous Thing, Best Friend, Prayer for a Coworker

“You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing...after all, what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die...By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.”

Charlotte's definition of friendship is pretty powerful.  It's all about sacrifice.  By helping Wilbur, she makes herself a better spider.  I think that's why E. B., White's book has endured for so long.  Charlotte is noble, selfless, and true.  We all want to have a Charlotte in our lives.

Last night, one of my best friends came to my house for a visit.  Let's call him Frodo.  Frodo was the best man at my wedding.  I've known him longer than I've known my wife.  In fact, he introduced me to my wife.  After he graduated from high school, he lived in Hawaii.  Then New Zealand.  Recently, he settled in California.  That's why he's home for the holidays this year.  He's only half a country away instead of half a hemisphere.

So, last night, we played the original version of Trivial Pursuit.  Genus Edition.  That means there were questions about the Soviet Union.  The West German Flag.  Things that don't exist any more but were relevant when the game was invented.  It was fantastic.  It was like stepping into a time machine.  We were back in the 1990s.  Young.  Passionate.  Full of hope.

And then we tried to get up off the living room floor without grunting and muttering things like, "Why didn't we sit at the dining room table?" and "I'm going to regret this tomorrow morning."  We had a wonderful time.  That's why I didn't post last night.  I was reliving my youth for a few hours.  By the time my friend left, it was close to midnight, and I was exhausted.

It's always nice to be reminded of the strength of friendship.  I haven't seen Frodo for almost three years.  Yet, we didn't miss a beat.  It was like the Soviet Union still existed, and the Berlin Wall wasn't in a million little pieces on people's mantles across the globe.  Frodo is the same.  I'm the same.  Our friendship is the same.  And I felt incredibly lucky last night.

Today, at work, one of my coworkers tried to harm herself.  It was an incredibly sad day.  "Mandy" is one of the kindest people in the office.  Always helpful and funny.  Always going the extra mile for patients.  She's spoken to me about her previous struggles with depression, but I never would have known she was struggling again.  Mandy's safe in the hospital now, thank goodness.  But she has a long recovery ahead of her.

I'm lucky.  I know I have family and friends, like Frodo, who love me.  I knew that last night.  I'm just hoping Mandy knows how much she is loved.

That's my prayer this evening.  I'm praying for Mandy, and I'm asking you to do the same.  Pray for her health and happiness.  Pray for her little boy and girl.  Let them all feel God's loving embrace.  Let them know the love and strength of friends and family.  There is Light in the darkness.

That is Saint Marty's solemn prayer this evening.

 This is for Mandy...

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December 30: Next Book, Oscar Hijuelos, Mr. Ives

Well, in one day, I will be at the end of my year with Charlotte's Web.  Some five hundred plus posts about Charlotte and the gang.  I've enjoyed the journey quite a bit.  Learned a lot about friendship and sacrifice.

But, now, I have to choose 2015's book.  After much contemplation and deliberation, I have selected a fantastic novel by the late Oscar Hijuelos.  Mr. Hijuelos died in 2013 at the very young age of 62, and he wrote one of my favorite novels of all time:  Mr. Ives' Christmas.  It's a narrative about faith and depression, death and salvation.  In short, it's right up my alley.

Saint Marty is ready for a change.  (That's one of the few times he will admit to that.)

Get your copy now

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

December 28: Post-Christmas Exhaustion, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Well, it finally caught up with me.  For the past two weeks, I've been running on about four to five hours of sleep a night.  Stressing over Christmas presents and cards and poems and CDs.  Christmas church services.  And, of course, the ever-present money worries.  This afternoon, I sat down in a chair and fell asleep.  I slept for a good two hours.  A long winter's nap.

I still have Christmas things to finish up.  I've got Christmas poems to deliver to friends.  This Thursday, my book club is coming over for a discussion of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  I've got to get my house in some kind of order before that night.  Tomorrow, I have a funeral to attend.  Plus, I have a New Year's Eve party to put together.  I love the holidays, but, when they're done, I usually need a vacation to recover.

As 2014 draws to a close, I have many things for which to be grateful.  My kids are great.  My wife has a job.  I'm teaching poetry next semester.  I've been nominated for the post of U. P. Poet Laureate again.  Yes, this year has had more than its share of challenges.  There has been so much upheaval and change, I barely recognize my current life.  To be frank, I will not look back on these past 365 days fondly.  However, God has given me the strength to endure and succeed in the face of a great deal of hardship.

Saint Marty's still standing, still laughing, still blogging. 

Today's classic episode comes from the first season of Saint Marty:

December 28, 2010:  The Holy Innocents

I hope you had a great Christmas, full of peace, joy, and enough baked goods to clog an artery.  After all, that's what Christmas is supposed to be about--families gathered around fireplaces, toasting marshmallows, and singing "Away in the Manger" or "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," depending upon your spiritual inclinations.  Really, Christmas is a time to celebrate and reflect upon all the blessings in your life.  I believe most people don't do this enough.

But there's another side to Christmas, and today's feast is a reflection of it.  Today, the church celebrates the feast of the Holy Innocents.  It's a day that's meant to honor all of the babies who were killed in Bethlehem by Herod's soldiers after the birth of Christ.  In the whole Christmas narrative, this portion of the story doesn't get dwelled on too much.  It's ugly, brutal, bloody, and sorrowful.  It doesn't fit into the modern image of Christmas.  Now, some historians and archaeologists will say that, outside of the gospels, there is not physical, verifiable proof that Herod's slaughter of the innocents ever took place.  My response to that:  it doesn't matter.  This part of the story is as important a matter of faith as the donkeys, angels, shepherds, and kings.

This year, I was reminded over and over that Christmas wasn't meant for the "perfect" families and people of the world.  It was meant for people who, like the mothers and fathers of Bethlehem, are dealing with inconceivable loss and pain.  One family I know is dealing with the sudden death of its father/grandfather/husband.  His loss came on the day we were supposed to celebrate the church's Sunday School Christmas program.  When I showed up for worship December 24, I found out that the father of one of our choir members had died just an hour-and-a-half earlier.  It was a heavy night.

Myself, I've been struggling to maintain my yuletide spirit, as well.  As a worship leader, I kept losing musicians and singers through Advent.  Some moved.  Some had other commitments.  On December 22, I lost my main guitarist.  Band members kept dropping out like Republicans at a universal health care convention.  It wasn't pretty.  On Christmas day, I was trying to extricate one of my daughter's new toys from its box.  In the process of sawing through a plastic clip with a serrated knife, I stabbed myself in the wrist.  The knife sank in, came out, and the blood started pumping.  A LOT of blood.  So I ended up at the local ER, getting stitches and feeling like a stupid ass.  My mashed potatoes got burned for dinner that night, filling the kitchen with smoke.  On the following evening, a shelf collapsed in my mother's kitchen cupboards, sending all of the Corelle plates and bowls crashing down on top of me.  I found myself standing in my stocking feet in a pile of glass shards.  Later, as I was leaving to go home, I put on my brand new, L&L Bean winter coat and tried to zip it up.  The zipper broke.

By December 27, I was ready to heave my tree out the window and shred the Christmas cards I'd received.  I know Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, but all I'm celebrating right now is the half bottle of Baileys Irish Cream in my cupboard at home.  I'm ready to join George Bailey on that bridge.

That's what Christmas was for me this year.  Death.  Disappointment.  Self-mutilation.  Destruction.  I felt more kinship to the wailing mothers and fathers of Bethlehem than the shepherds or magi.  In some ways, I think that's really appropriate. 

Christ didn't come into the world to save the "perfect" people.  He came into the world to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable, as a friend likes to remind me.  He came into the world for dumbasses with serrated knives.

Christmas is about the music of angel choirs in the heavens.

But Christmas is also about the weeping of the heartbroken in cold, dark streets.

Confessions of Saint Marty

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

December 27: Special Place, Father/Daughter Disagreement, Joseph Brodsky, "Flight Into Egypt," New Cartoon

All winter Wilbur watched over Charlotte's egg sac as though he were guarding his own children.  He had scooped out a special place in the manure for the sac, next to the board fence.  On very cold nights he lay so that his breath would warm it.  For Wilbur, nothing in life was so important as this small round object--nothing else mattered...

Wilbur appoints himself guardian of Charlotte's egg sac.  It's his final gift to his friend.  In some way, Wilbur becomes a surrogate father.  Constantly worried.  Overly protective.  Thinking he knows what's best for their welfare.

This afternoon, I had a little father/daughter disagreement.  Well, it really wasn't a disagreement.  We were at church in the choir loft.  My 14-year-old daughter was texting her older cousin, and she was complaining about having to go to church so much.  Her cousin texted back, "That's a lot of religion.  When you turn 18 you don't have to do anything they say."  The conversation continued in this vein.

Now, I know what you're thinking--"Why were you reading her texts?"  Well, she was using my sister's phone, and my sister showed them to me.  Of course, I got quite angry, and I told my daughter that she needed to tell her cousin to keep her opinions about religion to herself.  I told her that giving a couple hours a weekend to God wasn't a whole lot.  "How much time do you spend at dance in a week?" I said.  "And how much time do you spend gaming in a week?"

By the time church was over, my daughter was in tears.  When we got to the car, she said, "I'm not going to stop going to church when I turn 18, Daddy."

I sat there for a second, thinking.  She looked like her world was coming to an end, and I felt like a failure as a father.  I sighed.  "Sweety, I trust you.  I know you know what's right and wrong.  I want you to remember one thing:  your mommy and I wouldn't still be married if it weren't for our faith and trust in God."

She nodded.  "I know, Daddy," she said.

"Good," I said. 

It wasn't one of my prouder parenting moments.  I know that my daughter is testing the waters of adulthood.  When I was her age, I remember skipping church some Sunday mornings and going to Burger King instead.  It's part of being young and stupid and invincible.  Like any father, I want to protect my daughter from making mistakes.  Big mistakes.

I know I raised my daughter right.  Gave her a strong moral and spiritual foundation.  She's a good person.  I hear that from teachers and friends and priests and pastors.

Saint Marty needs to have faith in his little girl.

Another Christmas poem for you--

Flight into Egypt

by:  Joseph Brodsky, trans. by Seamus Heaney

In the cave—it sheltered them, at least,
safer than four square-set right angles—
in the cave the threesome felt secure
in the reek of straw and old clobber.

Straw for bedding. Outside the door,
blizzard, sandstorm, howling air,
Mule rubbed ox; they stirred and groaned
like sand and snowflake scourged in wind.

Mary prays; the fire soughs;
Joseph frowns into the blaze.
Too small to be fit to do a thing
but sleep, the infant is just sleeping.

Another day behind them now,
its worries past. And the “ho, ho, ho!”
 of Herod who had sent the troops.
And the centuries a day closer too.

That night, as three, they were at peace.
Smoke like a retiring guest
slipped out the door. There was one far-off
heavy sigh from the mule. Or the ox.

The star looked in across the threshold.
The only one of them who could
know the meaning of that look
was the infant. But He did not speak.

Confessions of Saint Marty

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December 26: Dry Thread, Day After, Fairy Tale Without a Point

A spider can produce several kinds of thread.  She uses a dry, tough thread for foundation lines, and she uses a sticky thread for snare lines--the ones that catch and hold insects.  Charlotte decided to use her dry thread for writing the new message.

Charlotte is a writer, and, with a few words, she's able to change Wilbur's life.  If  Charlotte had written "CRUNCHY" or "TASTY" in her web,  the book would have ended with Christmas dinner, and dinner would have been a little smoked Wilbur.  Instead, Charlotte convinces Mr. Zuckerman of Wilbur's nobler character traits.  Wilbur's "HUMBLE" and "SOME PIG."  And Charlotte's little "miracle" works.  Thus proving that people will believe almost anything in print.

You may be asking yourself, "What does all this have to do with today's post?"  And my answer to that query:  "Absolutely nothing."  My mind is still a little spent from Christmas, and the approximately six hours of sleep I've gotten in the last two days.  Since I have nothing of real import to discuss, I thought I'd try to weave a little web of my own with this post.  How about "SOME POET" or "SOME SAINT"?  Again, let me remind:  if you are looking for any measure of thoughtful reflection tonight, look somewhere else.  I am too tired.

Once upon a time, a blogger who called himself Saint Marty was so tired that he couldn't string three words into a coherent thought.  So, Saint Marty wrote a pointless post about a blogger who called himself "Saint Marty."  Saint Marty was so tired that he couldn't string three words into a coherent thought.  So, Saint Marty wrote a pointless post about a blogger who called himself "Saint Marty."  Saint Marty was so tired...

That's it.  That's all I have.

Saint Marty's going to bed.  His eyes are burning, and his head is throbbing.  Tomorrow, he'll try to be a little more "RADIANT."  Maybe even "TERRIFIC."

No guarantees
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Thursday, December 25, 2014

December 25: Christmas Night, "Miracle on 34th Street," Christmas Poem

I am at home.  My son is in bed.  I'm watching Miracle on 34th Street.  The chaos of Christmas is over.  Yes, my living room looks like a a Walmart war zone.  It's going to take a day or so to get things into some kind of order.  But I'm breathing easier.  Not stressed.

I wanted to share the Christmas poem I wrote this year.  As you may recall, I struggled quite a bit with my holiday poem over the last few weeks.  Many false starts, wrong turns, and dead ends.  However, it came together a couple days ago.  I think it's pretty darn good, but you'll have to be the judge of that.

Well, Kris Kringle is going to trial in the movie, and Saint Marty has some prayers to say.

Merry Christmas.

Truce, 1914

for everyone we love, 2014
Between “Stille Nacht” and “Adeste Fideles,”
they came together in that no man’s
place.  Climbed from the trenches,
eyed each other like distant cousins
at a family reunion.  The German boy
maybe gave the British boy fruitcake
soaked in whiskey because they both
missed their mothers.  Maybe
they showed each other snapshots.
Younger brothers.  Dead grandpas.  Pretty sisters.
They pointed at them.  Said names.
Benjamin.  Opa Franz.  Beatrice.
Candles stuttered in fir trees.
The dead littered the earth,
staring into the dark heavens,
frozen in the violent moment
of payment.  The cost of conflict.
These enemies, these brothers,
helped each other bury
their friends, prayed together.
And peace fell on them that Christmas
Eve like snow.  It was soft.
Quiet.  It felt like
a coming home, where everybody
is happy to see each other
after a long season of separation.
That is what I hold onto
one hundred years later.
That they looked into
each other’s eyes, saw
something familiar, foreign, wondrous:
hope.  Newborn.  Naked.  Fragile
as a mother’s lullaby on a winter’s night.

Merry Christmas

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