Monday, April 7, 2008

Something Pretty

For Madds in Mallorca - Enjoy!

Introduction: My little sister turns twenty today, but I am not able to celebrate with her, because for the last several months she has been studying abroad in Mallorca, a sunny isle off the southern coast of Spain, where I am informed she has a view of the Mediterranean from her "flat," as she calls her apartment. Our sole link is Facebook, and last week she requested that I "write her something pretty" for her birthday. It's the least I can do, since by all appearances her birthday packages have been swallowed in the dubious black hole of international parcel service. Well, Madds, and all you far-flung readers, here is something I hope you think is pretty.

Something Pretty:

Slice and flesh. Those are the two words that Madeline cannot bear to hear said aloud. They make her skin crawl, and she gives a violent shudder before making you feel how imperative it is never to repeat those words in her presence. So of course, when we were all little, every now and then I had to find an opportunity to say, "Gee, I sure sliced my flesh on that tin can." It was wonderful. The only thing that was possibly more wonderful, when Madeline still rode in a car seat, was to imitate a spider with my hand and make it crawl all over her face and body. She was amused for about 2 nanoseconds, and then she would start to scream in terror. It helped to pass the time on drives to grandma's house.

Looking back, I must conclude that, between the ages of 4 and 5, I was a horrible human being, to get such amusement out of torturing my sister. One of the things I am most thankful for in my life is that either she has forgotten it, burying it in the scarred portion of her subconscious, or, even better, she has forgiven me. Because if she hadn't, I really don't know what I'd do.

My sister, you see, is what I think of as a remarkable human being. (Both of my sisters, actually, are lovely beyond measure, but this is Madeline's birthday.) She has a loveliness that grows and grows, and living as far away as I do, it strikes me afresh on the too-rare occasions when I see her. She loves people deeply and well. She has a dauntless affinity for the truth. She is planted firmly on the Rock. Her whole demeanor is an invitation to relax and be glad.

Somewhere along the road, I went from seeking opportunities to torment her (or in my better moments, to protect or amuse her) to seeking ways to be more like her.

May the year to come be more than you hope for and everything you deserve.

All my love,

your sis

Saturday, April 5, 2008


The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps one of the only people ever to live up to the grandiosity of their own name, was shot on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, forty years ago yesterday, where he had gone to show solidarity with a sanitation workers' strike.

Gary is a great admirer of Dr. King. Yesterday, during the staff prayer time, he played a video of the "Mountaintop Speech." It was King's last important public address, given the night before his assassination. His voice was as powerful as it has always been, in the many recordings I have heard, the unquenchable vibrato of an African-American preacher, roaring in deep like ocean tide. "I've been to the mountaintop, and I have seen the promised land," he said. "I may not get there with you, but we, as a people, will get to the promised land." The crowd was roaring and amen-ing as he looked from right to left, scanning their faces, hands clenching the podium as though to keep his compact, muscular body upright. But I was arrested by his eyes. In his eyes there was the frantic blinking of a man trying to hold back the force of his tears, of a man who, if he stopped what he was doing for a moment, would break down weeping with the weight of the love that all at once bore him down, propped him up, and pushed him onward.

We could do with more Kings.

When I look at my life, at the small things with great capacity to bog me down, I wonder how it happens. We look at the great lives, the lives of the Kings and the Wilberforces and the Mother Theresas of Calcutta, real people whose struggles and words are known to us, who knew the same empowering God I know, who are working with the same basic human stuff as I, whose legacies are heaped with eulogies fair and bright enough to light a new galaxy, whom I readily assent should be imitated, and wind up still with the pale and tawdry substitutes for the abundant life.

The surety of heaven is a grand thing, a thing to lift wearied and despairing hearts, to comfort the grieving, to give steadiness to the short-sighted. But this resurrection would be but a partial salvation if it did not also animate our lives on earth, if it did not invite us into a sort of torrential life, where the miracles of mercy and justice, peace and forgiveness, regeneration and victory are everyday realities. My great joy is that if Christ is to be believed, it does. My great hope is that I shall let it.