Monday, June 27, 2016

Deirdre on the Bayou--Short story

Deirdre on the Bayou

Deirdre cast a cynical glance at her friend Kayley.  “Why should I do something so silly?”
            “It’s not silly. You need some cheering up. I can tell how down you are.”  Kayley looked at her over a sugar-coated beignet and smiled encouragingly. 
            “It’s nothing I can’t handle.” Deirdre wondered if she believed her own words. Would she be able to handle this? Losing Lance? Losing the baby?
            “Well, come with me tonight to the bayou.” Kayley smiled broadly and took a sip of coffee. 
           “What’s happening at the bayou?” Deirdre clutched her own coffee, somehow hoping that she could hold onto her sanity through the cup. Her knuckles were growing white. 
            The two young women sat at a coffee house in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans.  They had met while studying at Loyola in New Orleans, and despite their different backgrounds, had become fast friends.  Kayley came from a local Creole family who had readily embraced Deirdre with all the welcome the city could offer.  It was from Kayley’s family that Deirdre learned about red beans and rice, Creole gumbo, and boiled crawfish. She was invited to most family functions, and Mama Anita had taken Deirdre under her wing upon learning that Deirdre’s mother had died when she was a young child.  To Deirdre, a product of the very quaint area of Boston known as Beacon Hill, the family held all the fascination of exotic birds. Her father was a self-made man, the product of Irish immigrants, but after her mother’s death, he’d buried his grief in what Deirdre had long believed was an import/export business.  Now, even her father was out of reach, in jail for his business activities.  He wasn’t simply importing but smuggling, and smuggling guns for the local Irish mob.  How could she have been so blind? Still, the money had paid for her college education.  She’d met Kayley’s family and then Lance, handsome Lance. .   .
            “It’s about you and Lance, isn’t it? You can tell me.” Kayley gazed at her with wide, dark eyes.  “Did the jerk break up with you?” Her voice rose.  “Does he hit you?”
            Shush, Kay!”  Deirdre looked around at the other patrons.  Some customers had glanced their way and quickly turned when noticed.  “No, of course not, but he’s just—just distant since I lost the baby.”
            “What kind of a man is he? That’s not your fault, and who is he to neglect you? He could sure as hell lose a few pounds, and his complexion could use some work.  There you are with that red hair and those green eyes.” Kayley shook her head, obviously mystified at the ways of men. 
            This time Deirdre almost laughed and choked on her coffee. Kayley with her café au lait colored skin and Barbie figure epitomized perfection. Yes, Lance was a big guy but muscular, not fat, and a dark beard hid any skin problems.  How inferior most people must seem to Kayley! “You still haven’t said what’s happening at the Bayou.” 
            “Summer solstice, girl. St. John’s Day, cher!”  Kayley almost squealed.  “The voodoo priestess is going to baptize.”
            Deirdre felt a shiver snake up her spine.  “I’m Catholic, Kayley.  This seems too weird.”
           “Hell, I’m Catholic, too.  It’s not anti-Catholic, my Northern friend.  Marie Laveau was a very good Catholic.” She took the last bite of beignet.  “And a hairdresser by night. You can even bring doughboy Lance with you.” Kayley gave an evil smile.
            “He’s in Houston visiting his family.” Deirdre suddenly felt lonely.  When she’d met Lance her junior year, the attraction had been instant.  By senior year, he had proposed, and with graduation, they saw no reason to avoid pregnancy—even if it happened before the wedding.  After all, they both had jobs—she working in a marketing firm and he positioned at a law firm.  They would be wed before the child came, and what a blissful way to begin their lives together.  After her mother’s death, Deirdre had loved acting as surrogate mother to her younger brother; she’d wished God had granted her more siblings. 
            “Perfect that he’s gone.  You come tonight with me.  You don’t even live far from Bayou St. John.  I’ll get you at seven. Bring some offering for the altar.”
            Deirdre took a bite of the last beignet.  Until now, she’s resisted.  Staring at Kayley, she asked, “Like what?”
            “Something to represent Our Lady of Prompt Succor.  She’s important since Katrina.  A picture of Marie. If you want to hex Lance, a bear image.”  Kayley shrugged. “Wine, too, of course, any food.  It’s a celebration.”
            “You mean a bear as in the animal?” Deirdre couldn’t help but laugh.
            “That’s the one.”

            “I don’t believe in such stuff.  Why am I going?” Deirdre muttered under her breath as she and Kayley made their way from the double shotgun she shared with Lance to the bayou.  She wore a flowing white dress.  Kayley had insisted upon white for the occasion—and a white head scarf in case Deirdre chose baptism.  It was after seven when they first saw the celebrating voodoo practitioners.  The sun had begun to set, and the drumming grew louder as they approached.  A picnic bench had been erected on the grass surrounding the bayou. Candles held by the gathered congregants flickered in the dying light. Nearly all were in white—the women in white dresses, the men in white jeans. Some of the women wore scarves around their hair.  The young man drumming was shirtless—his brown skin and wavy black hair glistening with perspiration as he pounded conga drums strapped around his shoulders.   A second bench rested under the shade of a live oak.  Participants had spread treats onto it: pastry cakes, fried chicken, bread, onion rings, and rice covered in red beans. Apparently, there would be a communal feast after the ceremony.  Deirdre and Kayley placed their offerings of wine and block cheese on the table. 
            “Wow! This is wild.” Deirdre squeezed Kayley’s arm and giggled.  She had to admit that the atmosphere was exciting and the people not what she had anticipated.  She chided herself:  Did you think they would all look as if they came from Haiti? This crowd was a mélange of college students, professionals, bohemians, and older people.  Some merely seemed curious; they laughed among themselves as the candles shook in their hands.  Others seemed very serious—intently looking at the far end of the bayou.  They were a multi-ethnic assortment of old, middle-aged, and young. Deirdre looked in the direction indicated by the serious practitioners.  Suddenly, she gasped, “What the hell?”
            Kayley gave her a wry smile, lit her own candle, and then used it to light Deirdre’s.  “That raft is for the priestess.  She’s coming for the ceremony.”  She cast a sideways glance at Deirdre and let out a laugh more like a cough.  “What did you think? That everyone here would be wearing bone earrings?”
            Deirdre put her tongue out at her friend.  “Honestly, I didn’t know what this would be like.” She scanned the crowd. “Do these same people come all the time?”
            “Some, I guess.  Hell, I don’t come all the time, but you get your just curious people.” She indicated a tall woman with ebony skin who swayed to the drumming.  “She’s always here.  Some say she’s praying for the soul of the baby she lost.  Others say she’s praying for the destruction of the baby’s daddy, the man who raped her.”  She pointed to a young man in a white shirt and slacks. “He’s an anthropology professor. He’s just curious. Pisses me off, looks at us like a bunch of animals to study.”
            This priestess was the biggest surprise of all.  Deirdre stared, wondering if her eyes had literally protruded from her skull when she gazed at the woman.  A raft floated up the river.  One muscular, formidable Asian man who couldn’t have been more than twenty guided it to the banks of the bayou. From there descended the priestess.  Unlike her congregation, she was in purple with elaborate gold jewelry and gold silk head scarf; however, this was no practitioner from Haiti. Rather, this woman had skin as white as parchment and eyes that contained gold specks in the midst of deep blue.  In contrast, the few strands of hair visible under her scarf were jet black, too black to be natural, Deirdre thought. She was ethereal, seemingly not of this earth.  The oarsman helped her from the raft.  The crowd clapped.  The experienced practitioners began chanting in French, Kayley among them.
            “What are you saying to her?” Deirdre spoke to Kayley but observed the crowd. 
            “They’re telling her to turn up the heat and feel the power.” Kayley’s gaze was fastened on the priestess.  Deirdre could tell she was a true believer.  Her eyes never left the pale woman who descended from the raft with the help of her oarsman.
            It was then that Deirdre saw him, a young man bare to the waist wearing a skull mask. He and some other men pushed a large cauldron beside the bench that would serve as an altar for the night.  He helped the other men secure the cauldron and then turned his attention to the woman. Deirdre noted how his muscles vibrated when he folded his arms and how his jeans appeared painted on his thighs.  The vestiges of a light beard or goatee graced what little she could see of his face. The eyes staring at her from behind the mask were blue with flecks of brown, just like the woman. A relative? Her brother? Her son? The woman seemed ageless.  The man could be either relative. Deirdre momentarily felt his gaze on her, but when she glanced in his direction, his stare was on the woman in purple. 
            “What’s her name?” Deirdre thought her whisper in Kayley’s ear sounded unnaturally low. 
            “Dominique, but who knows?” Kayley shrugged.  “She may want her privacy.”
Upon alighting from the raft, the conjure woman concentrated on the bench, spreading a white cloth over it handed to her by the handsome Asian man.  Members of the assembly handed the voodoo woman objects to be placed on the altar: tapered candles, a statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a crucifix, and then an image of St. John.  It was then that the woman said, “Here was a man who always did right.” 
The drumming had subsided to a light tapping but rose as members of the congregation brought offerings to the altar.  Kayley removed another bottle of wine from the satchel she carried and brought it forth.  Others brought vases filled with roses or carnations.  Still others brought bread.
The voodooeine commanded as she clapped her hands.  “Build a fire.”
The men assigned to the task immediately lit sticks around the cauldron and then stepped away.  Again Deirdre felt the man stare at her from behind his mask.  He, with other congregants, filled the cauldron with water.  Then, with cries sounding like a combination of keening and primal possession, others produced their more base offerings.  Someone tossed a snake into the fire.  The creature writhed as it somersaulted through the air and into the pot.  Still another offered what looked like a dead possum. It, too, went into the pot. The drumming intensified as participants added salt, peppers, and other ingredients Deirdre knew from her grandmother’s kitchen. 
            The voodooeine began dancing, an undulating motion as her skirts circled around her.  Deirdre felt the drum beat move through her senses.  She, too, began to dance with Kayley.  Suddenly, the man in the skull mask was at her side, offering her wine.  She took it—something she would never do in any other social situation.  Kayley drew her into the circle of people surrounding the cauldron.  The stars now present in the sky lit her friend’s face, making her even more beautiful.  The masked man was beside her suddenly, holding his own wine as he circled Deirdre and Kayley.  With one quick motion, he drew Deirdre to him, his muscular arms encircling her as his hardening member caressed her womanhood through the folds of her flowing dress.
The voodoo woman returned to the raft.  She cried out, “It’s time for the water.”
Women removed their scarves.  Men let out war whoops before diving in. The conjure woman slipped an arm around the first baptismal candidate and removed the scarf covering the woman’s hair.  She pushed the girl to her knees and pressed her hair into the water. The girl then joined the voodoo woman in a dance, the priestess moving as if in a rapture. 
Deirdre was in a rapture of her own.  Death Mask swirled around her; had she wanted to rid herself of his attention, she could not.  The transfixing eyes that stared at her from behind the mask held her as if by magic.  There was something familiar about him, something she couldn’t quite verbalize, but he was mesmerizing. No way could she fight his advances or the surreal feeling overwhelming her as he lifted her off her feet and made his way to the water.  He moved slowly into the water and then released her until she was at his side.  The man with the conga drums moved closer, circling around them as he beat a rhythm that invaded Deirdre’s soul and every quivering fiber of her body.  His member burned near her skin as her skirts fanned over the water’s surface.  Removing the mask, he quickly buried his face in the crescendo of her rising and falling breast before letting his lips move to her neck, her arms, and then her lips.  She barely saw his face, but somehow, her dress was floating away, apart from her, and she could see his rising member near her womanhood in the dark water. His tongue in her mouth was sweet.  His body invading hers quickened her pulse.  She took deep breaths as waves of pleasure cascaded through her body.  Suddenly, the scene swam—the practitioners, the rising moon, and the swaying bodies of the dancers.  Then, only blackness.
“If you loved me so much, you wouldn’t have been such a dick about leaving me.” Deirdre met Lance in the same coffee shop where she and Kayley had discussed going to the voodoo ceremony. She took a sip of coffee, trying to resist the urge to hurl it at him. 
“I only wanted to clear my head, see my parents.” Lance stared at her over his cup. 
“So you told your little Texas mama about the baby.”  Deirdre knew her mockery irritated him and experienced a sadistic jolt of pleasure.  “Did she think I was a disgrace and should be flogged for my sins? I’m sure, though, she’d spare you.  Men are always spared.”
“Well, she didn’t lock me out of the house or put my clothes outside!” Lance had raised his voice, and several other customers as well as the barista turned to stare.  He lowered his voice.  “What the fuck was that about? We didn’t talk, Deirdre.  You just threw me over.”
“What was I supposed to think or do when you just left town, whimpering about needing to think things over?” Deirdre put her cup down and crossed her arms.  “You’re a piece of work, Lance.”
Lance reached over, clutching her hand.  “Look, I was upset after the baby.  I worried we were rushing it, but a few days away helped me see that all I wanted was you.” He turned an ingratiating smile on her.  “Let’s do it soon, get married, I mean.”
Deirdre looked away, studying the bustling Uptown street.  A group of college students waited for a streetcar.  An elderly man walked his dog.  A young woman jogged on the neutral ground, an IPod to her ear. The gorgeous oaks shaded the coffee shop where they sat.  Still, a chill ran through her body.  Swallowing, she said, “Are you sure your mother wants to be tied to such a scarlet woman?”
“My mother likes you.  Besides, she’d love grandchildren.”  He drew her clenched hand to his lips and kissed her palm.  He looked suddenly sad.  “I hope one day we can give our parents that.”
What should she say? Deirdre had missed her monthly course, and such a phenomena had never happened before.  She looked down and then met his gaze. She saw love there. “Your mother might have a chance at grandchildren. You know I’m never late.”
Lance let out a whoop that again made people stare, but this time, he sprang from his chair, clasped her to him, and smothered her with a burning kiss.  “We always wanted this. We were talking to Fr. McGraw about marrying us.  He’ll do it fast now.” 
Deirdre wanted to tell him the whole truth, about the bayou, about the mysterious woman, and about her indiscretion with the unknown man.  But why? She remembered little of that night—only waking in Kayley’s house the next day.  Had she really drunk so much? She didn’t think so, only a glass of wine, but she did remember the intoxicating effect of the man’s kisses on her lips. No one had ever made love to her as he had.  That she remembered and then shedding her clothes.  She’d appreciated his advances. Lance’s rejection had stung; she needed soothing that night. 
“Besides, this will prove them wrong.” Lance’s voice echoed from what sounded like a tunnel. 
Deirdre looked at him.  “What do you mean?”
Lance indicated the other customers, who all seemed interested in their conversation.  Two little gray-haired ladies watched with undisguised interest.   One adjusted her hearing aide. Slipping an arm around her waist, he guided her into the street.  “When I was back home, I was tested. The doctors said the baby possibly didn’t survive because my sperm count is weak, but here we are, having another baby.” The shade of an oak cast a shadow over his face. “See, my sperm can’t be too weak.” 
Deirdre said nothing but kissed him.  She couldn’t tell him, no, not ever.  All her hurt vanished, and her love was ignited anew. She returned his smoldering kisses.
One week later, Deirdre followed the nurse into the doctor’s office.  She now was experiencing definite signs of pregnancy.  Her previous doctor had retired, and Kayley had recommended a new doctor.  Deirdre stripped of her clothing and covered herself with a white sheet. As she sat on the examining table of the pristine office not far from Oschner Baptist, Deirdre noted a small painting on the wall.  It showed a scene very much like the one on the bayou—a woman on a raft, floating up the bayou. Stepping down from the table and drawing closer, she studied the face of the woman. Surely she looked just like the conjure woman who had so fascinated Deirdre, but this scene evoked images of a long-ago New Orleans, one similar to the time of Marie Laveau.  The door swung open; a tall woman with jet-black hair and porcelain skin advanced toward her, holding out a hand.  “I’m Dr. Baptiste. You must be Deirdre.”
Deirdre could do nothing but stare.  “Do I know you?”
The doctor looked at her chart, at Deirdre, and then smiled slightly.  “I don’t think so.  You are a new patient, right?”
“Ye--yes, that’s right.” Deirdre stammered slightly and looked around, confused.  The woman’s eyes were the same cornflower blue with wisps of grain that defined the as the conjure woman, but if she recognized Deirdre, she didn’t let on.  Deirdre found her voice, forcing herself to keep her emotions in check.  Well, she didn’t know what her feelings were, anyway.  Should she be afraid? Feel used? Violated? She indicated the painting.  “That’s a really lovely painting.”  Was it lovely, she wondered?
“Some say that’s Marie.” The doctor shrugged.  “I just liked the way it looked in the neighborhood flea market.”
Deirdre looked at her quickly.  “Do you think it’s Marie?”
“Some say she lives on in descendents.” Then, the doctor became very business-like, ordering her onto the table and beginning the examination. 
Deirdre emerged less than a half hour later with a prescription for neo-natal vitamins.  As she opened the door, she almost ran into a man in a white doctor’s coat, obviously one of the doctor’s partners.  She hurriedly excused herself and brushed past him, but something told her to look back.  She briefly caught his stare.  The eyes were the same blue/golden of her lover at the bayou. No, it’s my imagination, she thought as she headed to her car.
Eight months later, Deirdre’s daughter was born.  Dr. Baptiste, smiling benevolently, waited for Lance to cut the cord before placing the baby, bloody and wailing, on Deirdre’s chest.  The child was tiny but perfect, and when the child opened her eyes, they were blue with golden flecks.





Sunday, August 16, 2015

What Would Grainne do today?


What Would Graínne (Grace O’Malley) do Today?:

My novel Buccaneer Beauty is the story of Graínne O’Malley, a real female pirate living in 1500’s Ireland.  Graínne lived life on her own terms, manipulating fortune so that she and her clan prospered in the midst of a time of turmoil, bloodshed, and change.  The daughter of a chieftain, Graínne would not have had to take to the sea. She was a chieftain’s daughter, and her future as an aristocratic woman and a chieftain’s wife was guaranteed.  Unlike other female pirates, such as Mary Read, Graínne had no financial need to engage in so dangerous a profession, but she chose to follow in her father’s footsteps, supporting two of her husbands in their marauding quest for greatness. 

Graínne knew how to work the game.  She knew when to play by the rules and when to manipulate them.  Her reputed spying for the British Crown was to win favors for her family, and her role as spy didn’t exempt her from danger.  She was at times imprisoned and came very close to the noose on more than one occasion, but she knew when to fight (as she often did with the queen’s governors who didn’t know of her role and with neighboring clans who threatened her family) and when to play the aristocratic and refined lady.  When she met with Queen Elizabeth, Graínne knew how to play the subdued and educated woman, conversing with the queen in the Latin they both knew.  Unlike some people today, she knew when to show respect (even if she didn’t feel it).  Never would Graínne text during business meetings or giggle like a child as some people with short attention spans do now. 

Graínne took what life dealt her and rose above any adversity. She was a woman in a time when women were sold into marriage for an alliance.  Her first marriage to Donal O’Flaherty united two clans, but when her husband proved rash and stupid, Graínne saved their family and her children’s future.  After his death, Graínne formed her own marriage to Richard Bourke, an advantageous match for them both.  Richard was the one man very much her equal, but even when she had a less than perfect marriage to Donal, she carried on and didn’t berate him or cry about her unhappy lot.  Too many people today live their existences for prime time television, letting their colleagues know that they were thrown onto the street as teens or even that they may or may not have had disturbed parents.  They talk endlessly, hoping for sympathy as the rest of us are subject to their complaints.  We hear of everything from their premature graying, to their erectile dysfunction, to their problematic flatulence.  Graínne knew how to keep her peace.  Her spying for Her Majesty sometimes bought her and her family freedom from British oppression, and very few—not even some of the Queen’s advisors—knew of her service to the Crown.  She certainly didn’t confide in every churl working in her kitchen. 

Though tough, Graínne did not hold grudges against her family or her workers.  They were treated fairly, and even when she had to deal with her son Murrough’s madness, she easily forgave him after very dramatic discipline. She did not humiliate him unnecessarily or destroy him, unlike some people today who berate others in an unprofessional manner, send group emails to humiliate, or harass others simply because they are angry at the world and feel unloved by their parents.  Of course, I realize that holding a grudge is not limited to any time period; however, today, many people have found new ways to bully, degrade or harass others through technology.  Frankly, Graínne wouldn’t have played such a game.  She wouldn’t have put that much into writing.  No, Graínne would have ambushed them but not avoided danger.  She would have shown mercy in some cases, but she wouldn’t have gloried in the bloodshed.  Too many people today revel in metaphoric bloodshed.  They love committing small murders when they are at their computers or in positions of power.

Read about Graínne O’Malley in Buccaneer Beauty available now!

http://www.amazon.com/Buccaneer-Beauty-Viola-Russell-ebook/dp/B010MOFENQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439779557&sr=8-1&keywords=buccaneer+beauty+viola+russeller fir


Sunday, March 22, 2015

St. Patrick and St. Joseph


The Feasts of St. Patrick and St. Joseph:

March 17th and March 19th are the respective feast days of two very powerful saints:  St. Patrick and St. Joseph.  What has always impressed me about the feast days of those saints is what they show about the tenacity of the people who celebrate those dates with abandon. 
The tale of St. Patrick is widely known to Irish Christians.  Patrick, a Roman Brit, became a slave at the hands of Irish pirates. After a daring escape, he became a priest and missionary to the very people who had enslaved him.  He baptized the King of Munster, and the conversion of the Irish people began. In modern times, Patrick’s feast—reputedly the day of his death—is a religious and cultural event. The riotous feasting says much about the people Patrick came to save as it does about the saint himself.  Like the Irish, Patrick was obviously a hardy soul.  He survived slavery and then returned to the people who had enslaved him, offering them mercy and salvation.  Like Patrick, the Irish have overcome much.  They survived a devastating famine, still persevere in the midst of occupation, and fight for their rights even in the midst of oppression.  The descendents of those older Celts stayed to fight the good fight or else set sail for other shores.  They survived and prospered.  Now, the modern Celts hold parades in honor of the man who symbolizes the importance of their heritage and faith.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the now prosperous descendents of the Celts catch cabbage, carrots, and onions at parades while wearing green beads and drinking Guinness beer.  We women receive kisses and flowers from men wearing green bowler hats. Now, my father and mother lived during the Depression.  If we did attend a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, we cooked the cabbage.  Waste was sinful, according to my mother.  Even more so to my father—and they were right.  Cabbage and carrots rotting in the street is sinful and an insult to those poor Irish souls who died with lips died the color of grass--so starved because they only had grass to eat.  Of course, many do cook the cabbage and carrots.  Many also still attend Mass in honor of St. Patrick as well.  Why? Well, he stands for the best of us—proud, tenacious, and faith-filled.  Still, we like fun.  Frivolity kept us from waddling in self-pity and misery.  We showed our oppressors.  We refused defeat even as we ate humble fare like cabbage and carrots.  That food fills the soul as well as the stomach. 
The patron saint of my church is St. Joseph.  My mother loved no saint more.  Like the Irish, the Italian people turned to St. Joseph in their desperation when famine struck their land.  After interceding to St. Joseph, they received relief.  Today, in memory and thanksgiving, churches and individuals host altars in the saint’s name.  The food on the altar is then distributed to the poor.  The faithful still write petitions seeking the saint’s favor, and young women take lemons from the altar, praying for marriage or pregnancy.  St. Joseph, after all,  is the patron of the family. Nevertheless, frivolity exists here as well.  Italians and other celebrants also hold parades in the saint’s memory, throwing food and beads.  Like the Irish, the Italians suffered through heartache, and phoenix-like, rose from the ashes. 
Maybe such is the human spirit.  We are a bizarre mixture of frivolity and mystical faith.  Those qualities sustain us through the worst of times, renewing our spirits. 





Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why I Want to Kill Cancer:


Why I Want to Kill Cancer:

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale,” three arrogant young men set out to kill Death.  They have lost too many friends to Death and want to seek revenge.  The young men, however, become sidetracked by greed and deceit. They turn on each other, abandoning their search for Death.  I wish I could kill cancer.  I would not be distracted by greed or deceit.  The fiend would writhe as I strangled it. I would show no mercy to an evil killer who has taken people I love, murdering them in a slow and prolonged torture. 

My sweet mother was never officially diagnosed with cancer. By the time the growths developed, she was elderly and suffered from multiple health problems.  Even the doctors agreed that any radical treatment would be futile for her; however, they saw the growing tumors.  Cancer had no mercy.  The demon invaded her body, searing and scarring her very being. My beautiful mother withered away to almost nothing.  She had been elderly but hale.  Once the demon overtook her, she became too fragile, destroyed from within by an enemy she couldn’t fight.    As the end neared, I lay on the sofa by her bed, listening to her call for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to take her, to have mercy. On the anniversary of my father’s death, my beloved mother told me that I had to let her go. She died only a few days later, and I wondered for months if I could have saved her.  Alas, I couldn’t.  Nothing could. She was fighting an enemy more powerful than either of us and ten times more vicious.  Maybe some people survive this vicious illness but not many.

Now, I hate cancer anew because of what it did to my sweet cousin Trudy.  Trudy died this Christmas. She was so like my mother, a really sweet angel. As a nurse, she played an important role in helping me with my mother. She always looked out for others, caring about their feelings and well-being. No one was more beautiful or more vibrant. Less than two years ago, she was diagnosed with Multiple Mylenoma.  After undergoing chemotherapy, she was healthy for several months, but her aggressive cancer soon returned. This time, chemotherapy took her hair, her healthy weight, and exhausted her.  The treatments were almost as deadly as the illness, but they couldn’t stem the cancer.  The demon had invaded her body, filling her with deadly fluid and wrapping around her organs like a coiling snake.  Like my mother, she cried out in pain. Like my mother, she sought solace in faith.  No one was sweeter, kinder, or more loved. When she died, people came from around the world to tell her goodbye. Many traversed states and continents. Few people were so loved, and once again, I find myself hating cancer.  The thief has robbed my loved ones and me of one so dear. 

I hate cancer.  I wish it dead. It has taken too many. Let us raise an army against it.  


In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale,” three arrogant young men set out to kill Death.  They have lost too many friends to Death and want to seek revenge.  The young men, however, become sidetracked by greed and deceit. They turn on each other, abandoning their search for Death.  I wish I could kill cancer.  I would not be distracted by greed or deceit.  The fiend would writhe as I strangled it. I would show no mercy to an evil killer who has taken people I love, murdering them in a slow and prolonged torture. 

My sweet mother was never officially diagnosed with cancer. By the time the growths developed, she was elderly and suffered from multiple health problems.  Even the doctors agreed that any radical treatment would be futile for her; however, they saw the growing tumors.  Cancer had no mercy.  The demon invaded her body, searing and scarring her very being. My beautiful mother withered away to almost nothing.  She had been elderly but hale.  Once the demon overtook her, she became too fragile, destroyed from within by an enemy she couldn’t fight.    As the end neared, I lay on the sofa by her bed, listening to her call for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to take her, to have mercy. On the anniversary of my father’s death, my beloved mother told me that I had to let her go. She died only a few days later, and I wondered for months if I could have saved her.  Alas, I couldn’t.  Nothing could. She was fighting an enemy more powerful than either of us and ten times more vicious.  Maybe some people survive this vicious illness but not many.

Now, I hate cancer anew because of what it did to my sweet cousin Trudy.  Trudy died this Christmas. She was so like my mother, a really sweet angel. As a nurse, she played an important role in helping me with my mother. She always looked out for others, caring about their feelings and well-being. No one was more beautiful or more vibrant. Less than two years ago, she was diagnosed with Multiple Mylenoma.  After undergoing chemotherapy, she was healthy for several months, but her aggressive cancer soon returned. This time, chemotherapy took her hair, her healthy weight, and exhausted her.  The treatments were almost as deadly as the illness, but they couldn’t stem the cancer.  The demon had invaded her body, filling her with deadly fluid and wrapping around her organs like a coiling snake.  Like my mother, she cried out in pain. Like my mother, she sought solace in faith.  No one was sweeter, kinder, or more loved. When she died, people came from around the world to tell her goodbye. Many traversed states and continents. Few people were so loved, and once again, I find myself hating cancer.  The thief has robbed my loved ones and me of one so dear. 

I hate cancer.  I wish it dead. It has taken too many. Let us raise an army against it.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Rites of Passage, Rituals, and the Communal spirit.

Wedding Plans:

I will be married soon, the first time around for me and for him.  Neither of us is the proverbial spring chicken, and I used to think that any kind of formal wedding was for the young and inexperienced—kids too naïve and/or stupid to be jaded by the real world.  In my moments of true radical analysis, I’ve even condemned myself for engaging in a bourgeois ceremony that is anathema to my personal philosophy: why are spending a small fortune on ourselves when people in this world are starving or tortured, victims of war, famine or crippling poverty? Why are we celebrating an institution that seemingly has lost its importance in this century? Half of all marriages end in divorce.  Children become the pawns in the divorce game; one or both partners are destitute even before the papers have ben served.  Two people who once loved each other sometimes leave a marriage bitter, angry, or disillusioned.  Besides, he and I are true bohemians and free thinkers, unencumbered by much of the conventional thinking of our society.  Those thoughts spun around in my mind as we began planning the ceremony and reception. Why cave into societal norms?  Oh, I wanted to marry the man whose existence had become entwined in mine like a vine, but I truly wanted to run off to some isolated place and share our love in private.  Until. . .

Until I experienced a revelation! The ceremony shows our unity and our willingness to display that unity among our family and friends—even though we are no child bride and groom. As one of my relatives stated, “It’s good to get together for a wedding and not a a tragedy or a brawl.” As we age, we attend far more funerals than weddings, and often, families argue over trivial things. Too often we only see our family and friends on special occasions, and too often, those occasions are sad.  Even the happy occasions are too infrequent.  In our society, we can argue that marriage too often ends in divorce, that the money spent on most receptions could be better spent on something more practical, and that—especially for an older couple—such extravagance is misplaced and even an ostentatious display; however, my relative’s comment resulted in an epiphany of sorts. 


At a funeral, the community joins to mourn with the deceased’s family and friends.  We cry and sometimes smile through tears as we remember the one who has been taken from us. A wedding is also a coming together of the community, but it is a celebration, a coming together of the populace in joy and hope.  The assembled members of the community will gather in the church and later in the hall to meet those they haven’t seen in a long time, to toast the couple (us, in this case), and to share in the communal spirit of hope the union of two lives inspires.  Such a union takes courage as well as hope.  Merging two lives that have been separate entities is scary no matter the age or experience of the parties involved, and that blending of souls is a risk that two people are willing to take—not only for one day—but also for the rest of their existence.  So, the community gathers to applaud the courage and hope we bring with our decision to stand before God at the communal altar and declare our willingness to support each other for as long as we live.  Just as we need the rituals of mourning, we need those rituals that inspire hope and joy. The ornate wedding dress, the wedding rings, and the cutting of the cake are not empty tokens; they are important symbols of unity and commitment often disregarded in a world too ready to dispose of others, too ready to look for easy answers with the click of a mouse.  Those symbols are pulsing, burning representations of love, devotion, and faith.