I opened my front door and moaned, “Just look at this mess.  There’s no way I’ll ever get it set to rights.  It’s impossible!”  That’s a lie we tell ourselves all too often when presented with a formidable task.  Of course a large and complex assignment is daunting.  Big jobs are like that.  They challenge; they intimidate; they terrorize, but they all have a secret weakness that is waiting to be exploited.  They can be subdivided into accessible units.  I learned this gem of wisdom from my genius inventor father when, during one joint endeavor, I quailed at the prospect of turning a complex electronic schematic into a printed circuit board etch pattern.

“I’m not that smart,” I groaned.  “It’s too complicated.”

“You’re smart enough,” Daddy insisted.  Anyway, you don’t have to be smart__just tricky.  He slid a pen from his always-at-the-ready pocket protector and began laying lines on the drawing.  When he was finished, the fraught circuit was “broken” into several simpler, much less intimidating ones.  He labeled them for me so I could visualize how they interacted: Power Supply, Splitter, Invertor, Oscillator, Amplifier.  Suddenly I perceived the job as something doable.  Divide and conquer is more than an Art of War.  It can focus energy to accomplish otherwise impossible tasks.

Back to the mess, detritus of a human family doing what it does.  As I dealt with the inherent mayhem of parenting three small children, I often reached back to access practical guidance remembered growing up in a tech-savvy household.  Daddy analyzed everything; Only then he proceeded with what must be done but always gave it his own unique twist.

A typical example was fly-catching in the Martin household.  When the annoying drone of the buzzing invaders reached exasperation level, Kelsey Martin, fly-tracker beyond compare, donned his safari hat, plugged in the Hoover Porta-Vac, with its’ extra-long extension tube and set out on the hunt.  He delighted in this creative ploy, experiencing the thrill of the chase, the suspense of creeping up on an oblivious prey, and the final denouement of the kill, one more dastardly house-fly sucked into oblivion.  He would crow with triumph at every protesting winged trophy swishing down the tube, through the hose, into the dust bag of history, consigned to non-existence as an entity that had lived for the sole purpose of annoying Kelsey Martin.

This escapade always attracted a following.  As Daddy prosecuted his war on flies, we kids trailed behind, a rowdy retinue, cheering, jeering, getting in the way, tripping over power cord and vacuum hose, wanting only to be part of this Pied Piper’s parade.  It didn’t matter that there was only one vacuum cleaner, and that it was only Daddy who wore the safari hat; Our merry band followed, laughing all the way.

Any task that Daddy despised, he redefined.  He turned boring into fun.  Perhaps most memorable and long reaching was putting on his pants.  I would have learned the best way to put legs into trousers long before I was fifteen had I not been living with my aunt and uncle in Texas.  Soon after arriving at my new Long Island home, Daddy enlightened me with respect to the art of putting on pants two legs at a time.  “It’s an improved method,” he explained, “More efficient, easier on the low back, and fun to boot.”  He demonstrated: Sitting on the side of the bed, positioning trousers waist agape, folding knees to chest, he leaned far, far back and thrust both limbs into their allocated trouser legs as they sailed aloft.  When he rolled back forward into starting position, his pants were as good as on.  All that was needed was to stand, pull, button, zip, and buckle.  “There,” he exclaimed.  That’s how it’s done.  It works the same for under drawers or panties.  Leaning forward while articulating first one leg, then the other, can strain the back.  Not healthy!”

I got it. During the ensuing sixty-five years, I have, every morning, put on my panties, bloomers, leggings, jeans, shorts, or slacks two legs at a time.  It’s impossible to daily reenact this bit of whimsy without a smile, as I remember my dad earnestly explaining to a wide-eyed adolescent, how taking a mindful approach to life and living can be the birthright of even a lost- and-found daughter.

All these many years later, I still despise housecleaning.  It’s boring.  It has to be done over again day after day…a quotidian quagmire.  No-one asks you to take a bow for how well you scrubbed the floor or folded the diapers.  It’s a thankless task and not in the least bit fun.  But then I invented “The Housecleaning Game.”  It changed everything.  Since it was a game, I convinced my children to play it with me, Tom Sawyer style.  That contrived to assure their cooperation, and the cleanup was easier and faster with help.  I did learn from my Dad that work ought to be fun.  Any way a job can be restructured to achieve that goal is worth any amount of up-front creative sweat equity.

So__I drew a floor plan layout of the entire house, complete with furniture, and then superimposed a grid over the entire drawing.  Next, I labelled each grid square that coincided underlayment geometry.  Those labels, I also copied onto paper squares, and loaded them into a tall, opaque vase, along with additional squares offering such options as: Eat three M&M’s; Take a 20 minute nap; Mop the kitchen floor; Sing a song; Run around the house twice; Enjoy a cup of tea; Close your eyes and breathe eight times; or best of all, count one handful of blessings.

So far so good.  Here’s how it works.  Each player must choose, eyes closed,  a slip of paper from the vase.  There’s the possibility you may be instructed to munch candy or do push-ups.  More likely you will get a GPS equivalent of a grid square.   This is the point at which you feel the weight of the impossible task lift from your shoulders.  You must address what is in your grid square and only that.  You must not do any work extrinsic to your current square.  Like an observant Jew savoring the Sabbath, you are relieved of the guilt that naturally accrues to not doing the whole job first.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Must you do more?  I remember the fun of carefully making up the lower right quadrant of my bed, carefully eschewing the remaining three quadrants, which must in the benevolent order of things wait their turn.

Most things aren’t impossible, only lacking imagination, an ingredient which is always in bountiful supply.


Body is a fine instrument,
tuned to frequencies
of time and light.
It plays; I rise,
ungainly cobra that I am,
uncoil from warmth of bed
to clarity of smallest hours,
in wait of gathering streaks of dawn.

Together-music fills
what’s left of time and night.
I sing along with morning stars.
No bouncing ball directs our song,
but lit on lacey screed of mind,
northern lights sweep aura,
morph to pink, then purple,
mauve, to teal, to green.

I want to dance,
a two-step urged by frequencies
of light and sight,
slip-sliding round the edge of night,
the bend, the lip,
the definitive event horizon,
of that deep-deep-darkest
of black holes.

Cringing from what must come,
I cry, “What’s next?”
Am I rugged-individually alone?
Should I ally myself with “All,”
or invest in beingness of things,
Toll-House-cookies, roasted-beast,
gluten-free-non-GMO pancakes,
or grand-ma’s apple-pies?
How ‘is’ is is?
Can I trust it to be real?

Who would incarnate
should stand solid,
safely fixed aground,
hidden from that lovely light,
inured to spirit’s mad delight.
Granite shoes are safe,
a resolute embrace.

Silly poet that I am, I float,
a winged dragon,
flitting to-and-fro,
in aerial do-si-do,
way too charged with life.
Hijacked by beauty,
like Hubble snaps
of Magellenic clouds,
my eyes are full of stars,
and stars are full of me.
Lucky stars! Lucky me!

When morning comes at start of day.
Realities of breaking-fast intrude.
Oatmeal needs a bowl and spoon.
Teeth hanker for a brush.
Throat wants minty gargle.
The throne I sit would flush.
Such quotidian ilk
demand their daily due,
as toll I pay to even play
their stupid silly game.
Well worth their price,
such gentle gauche accoutrements
call me back from titillating
tantalizing edge-of-mind.
“Put feet to floor,” they bray,
“and join life’s lovely lively fray.”

Mode of thought fans into a spectrum much like graphing the frequencies of light displays the electromagnetic spectrum. Electromagnetic waves vary by length, the distance from a defined point on a wave to the equivalent point on the next wave. The longest science has discovered and put to use are radio waves. Next comes microwaves, a requirement for any replete kitchen. Its’ neighbor groups infrared with its panoply of military applications. The visible spectrum, being the minuscule group humans can see, is illustrated by any box of Crayolas. After violet comes ultraviolet, shorter still and followed by X-rays, that spy on our bones, and finally gamma rays that irradiate food, peer through concrete to verify the integrity of constructs such as buildings and bridges, as well as making atomic bombs.
Thought may be concrete or abstract or anywhere on its’ own continuum that stretches in between. Verification of a physical object is as concrete as it gets. Courses in language start there. Le livre est sur la table: The book is on the table. Objectification comes to mind. A book is a book is a book. In being a book, it represents the concept of bookness, in the abstract. Bookness is a distillation of the essence of all that it means to embody the meaning of “book”. A book has many aspects. A book means any book will do, whereas the book points to a specific book. Only that precise book is of interest. My book asserts ownership. It is mine, all mine. Hands off!

Comparison, whether negative or positive, to a concrete object is one step toward abstraction. I can read you like a book asserts that I understand your thought process to the extent that I would if you were a book and I were reading it. Such comparisons initiate similes.

Moving another step toward abstraction, we say an object is equivalent to a concept. Now we have entered the realm of metaphor. Metaphor compacts truth carrying a big bang for its buck. “You are my sunshine.” asserts two things that are verifiably false as well as verifiably true. You aren’t sunshine. You are a person, a human. You aren’t solar radiation, but you inspire in me the same feeling that warm sun on my back in the cool of the morning inspires. And as if that weren’t enough, you aren’t just any sunshine; you are my sunshine. You belong to me in the very significant aspect of cognition that speaks to truth and love. Wow! That’s a bundle. Poetry says a lot for a little, but we are still adrift in the land of hyperbole, since no one really can claim an ownership interest in solar radiation.

Mathematics is petulant and precocious. It is impatient with the excess baggage of prosody, even with compact meaning-dense poetry, throwing overboard the frippery of pronouns, adjectives and adverbs like so much flotsam and jetsam, the detritus of abstraction. Only the essential concept is retained. In mathematical parlance, nouns and verbs are de rigeur. Everything else is conditional. Arithmetic is only preparation for actual mathematics and makes the leap of substituting “3” as a symbol for apple, apple, and apple or orange, orange, and orange, if the requirement is to represent three apples or three oranges. Algebra, in another bold concession to the abstract, substitutes a non-numerical symbol for 3 and allows us to think about and manipulate numerical concepts of any number of anythings, later substituting specific numbers of anythings whenever it suits our purpose to decide what we are actually talking about.

I love Tom or Dick or Harry. Take your pick. Harry? OK. Harry it is. I love his entire persona, his body, his puns, his quirky way of thinking, his gentle manner, his ability to understand me even when I don’t make sense. I appreciate his easy way with people and his talent for making money even when times are tough. I love the way I feel when he glances my way with that certain frisson of prurient interest. I love the way he starts right into solving a problem without trying to decide whose fault it is. I love how he holds me when I’m afraid feeling safe in his arms. I love that when I’m with him it feels good to be a woman. Harry is real, concrete, solid reality, though my love for him may flit and float, butterfly-like, a temptation to weave a net of verse and dance in circles, Harry is a real man. Human fragility aside, he belongs on the solid end of the spectrum, right along with marble and titanium.

Men is quite a different concept, a caricature of the human male animal, the one that wives complain about, always comparing their aging inamorata with twenty-two year old Hooter’s serving maids, or the one who won’t come to the dinner-table while the food is hot and still able to attest to the skill of the cook. You know him. He’s the one who tracks mud right onto that clean linoleum and never even notices. Women tend to despair of men, but they love Harry or Bob, or Tim. That’s because men is an abstraction, easy to grouse about. Bob is real. A man being real has nothing to do with preference for or against quiche; it’s purely a measure of degree of abstraction.

I am willing to concede that this useless essay doesn’t make a bit of sense, but it was fun to write. Forgive me my friends. I can’t help it if such wordplay plies its stream of consciousness through my brain. Who knows? Just maybe you might find it fun to read.


Chronos, full of himself,
cut a swath in the fabric of time
with one great sweep
of his mighty scythe.
Then he was eaten up with remorse
at the thought of so many lovely minutes
sacrificed to his impetuosity.
He swore a solemn oath
for all to hear and remember:
“Between those who love
minutes shall become eternal,
shall live forever as timeless moments.”

There is an enchanted space
between “the you” and “the me”
where all can be,
Where time is not measured
in fascist minutes and hours,
but instead calibrates itself
In slices of forever.
Seconds goose-step past,
an ordered flow
of diminutive helmeted Gestapo,
moving on, marking time.
But we aren’t recognized
nor counted in the enchanted
hollow of our space.

Be patient. Yes.
Step carefully, slowly.
This is unmapped territory.
Phallic imperatives do not apply,
do not compute.
The urge and urgency
of goal set and achieved,
of point wagered and won,
object objectified.
Between “the us”
all these are null.
Time has been neutered.
Flow has assumed
an aspect of the feminine.

Action leads to action
as rationality condones.
Gone is striving to completion,
to resolution.
Time has appropriated
for itself new meaning.
Each moment contains
and is contained by
all the moments that ever were
or ever will become.
In the quiet spiral of our ocean conch,
I hear only silence,
save surge of breath and beat of heart.
As we intertwine,
eyes open wide and clear,
time looks graciously away,
and leaves us to our sacred space.

My eyes feast upon
the tender curve of your lips.
My fingers touch and trace
their gentle arch and swell,
meeting left and right.

Time has gifted us this moment
that minutes cannot define,
describe, delimit.
More than happy, I am happiness.
With no goal to strive toward,
No plan unrolls before me
demanding that I “do” in order to “be”.
“I am that I am”, as “you are surely you.”
Dare I plagiarize the poesy of the divine?
It was Moses’ God first coined that line,
His as flame; mine constrained to word.
The winds of your love
flow gentle through my hair
while those silken silver strands
cocoon the enchantment of our magic.

In a land far away
but as close as your next breath,
where all moments, that ever were,
converge, and time becomes eternal.
All minutes become moments
in one temporal orgasmic scream.
This is the land where time stands still
and hearts skip beats,
and worlds come wobbling
and lurching to a stop.
There is food here for philosophers,
but I am sated and fulfilled,
forever being and becoming love.


Blood, muscle, sinew, nerve and bone, quickened with apprehension of self, cries out, “Be! Become!” The story of self is universal, a babe born with infinite inheritance, due everything, owing nothing. A god-being, nascent free-wheeling self. A baby at the breast, I break suction drooling warm milk, to smile at my mother. My only memories are of comfort, a beating pulse, movement, limbs thrusting, asserting the priority of release. My beginning is pure. I am all. Then…”The Other”. She is Mother. She is warmth, palliation of senses. Her very act of being initiates my fall from totality, in that she herself is a self, a not-me. My universe is slashed, rent into Me and Thee. Paradise is lost.

It is only now with the clarity of age that I can see my mother, Mary Opal Martin in focus. She once traveled this same path. She once too was incarnate, and now in death is but the legend of her own quest. My own positioning in the flow of the eternal is a gift from her and informed by her separate reality. That I could so dissociate the animal of my incarnation from its spirit flows from witnessing my mother’s struggle to heal the various splinters of her own psyche. I knew from almost the inception that she was adrift, and rooted my burgeoning psychology in the certainty of my own observation and intuition, a firm “not -true” ascribed to her patently incredible “not real.” Whether this resulted in a precocious separation or merely an incomplete one, I cannot say. I know only that from the beginning I embraced the empirical logic of my own thought as rational, and celebrated that knowledge as my own, individual, inviolate integrity.

Maternal imperative and psychological separation kept me isolated from the relentless influence of peers. Mother often pointed out that she was better company than those “stupid girls” who stood in our yard singing “Do-ro-thee-ee”, a tuneful demand that I come out to play. During twelve years pre-high school diploma, I attended twenty-one different public and private schools, knowing only what it meant to be the new girl. Always I beat them at their own silly game, rejecting them before they could reject me. It was safer that way, safer but lonelier, especially in the skin of an adolescent. Having set myself apart from all things maternal, I had no skill in identifying myself as one of a set of female identities. I never once opened the pages of a movie magazine. Being different was a comfort, a shield, a challenge. Human children are cruel, a fact that precludes my gushing “I just adore children” when asked if I like kids. As a youngling, I myself was no less vituperative, only more passive-aggressive. Even now, I constantly remind myself to be, at the very least, true to what is real and good. The result is a slow veering toward a proximate humanity. One thing has always been unquestioned: I do, so very much, love my children. I am scribing these confessions of human frailty and redemption for them, so they will understand how precious, how worth the struggle, is the possibility of becoming human. It was a challenge met by my mother, Mary, and by my father, Kelsey, as they made their own difficult heroic journeys. Having eviscerated my own dragons, I can now appreciate the nobility of their struggles and forgive what in them I had so callously despised. I was their child, and they loved me, even as I love my own three beautiful and heroic sons and the lives they have brought forth to grace our future.

The Gospel According to Dorothea

1.This is a true and accurate rendering of this sinner’s faith in God the Universal Intelligence, in my understanding of Christ the Incarnate, and in the faithful Spirit of the Holy, the third triune arm of Merciful Reality that never abandoned me, ever, through a lifetime adrift, awash, afloat. Blessed tides of Assurance kept company with me, like swaths of sentient seaweed sharing my journey through Living Water.

2. Of parents we all have two. My mother, Mary Opal, was the daughter of an itinerate hellfire preacher, Baptist by affiliation; my father Kelsey, a clear eyed youth who found himself at that magic intersection of technology and humanities, where renaissance personalities are generated. He was a poet, instrumentalist, singer, inventor, mathematician and scholar. He discovered religion and found a wife the way most sociable young people did those days at the frontier’s rough edge; he went to church.

3. Ash Creek Church, a few miles west of Ft. Worth, Texas started out Baptist and spun off daughter churches that competed and cooperated inter-denomenationally like mushrooms dotting the fertile prairie. They swapped members back and forth as the wild frontier civilized itself into cities, towns, and suburbs. Methodists made a reputation for themselves as “Baptists with a high school diploma.” It was the Methodist sect that attracted my dad, and he determined to become a preacher/orator. It was in Weatherford at the Methodist church while attending college that he met my mother, Mary Opal Tyson, another poet, singer and church pianist. They married and produced a daughter, Dorothy Jeanette. That paired excess of artistic sensibility combined to make a lively and complex child of the female persuasion. She was and is me.

4. I can thank my mother, Mary Opal, for teaching me to love music. She demonstrated for me the possibility of spirit as vehicle of expression. I saw her as a living goddess of music, of beauty, of art, of everything filled with light and lust for life. When I was still a toddler, she constituted and began directing a community chorus called the Glad Girls Glee Club.

5. It was a gaggle of neighborhood urchins who agreed to come to our house, learn to sing as a harmonious group, and perform at public venues throughout the Ft. Worth area. The girls experienced the excitement of performance art, doing the hard work of learning, practicing, and disciplining their little-girl selves into a veritable choir.

6. They learned the fun of authentic formal dress-up; wearing “little ladies” white gloves and pearls to set off their long gowns. The whole endeavor was a celebration of spirit, and Mary’s personality breathed it into fire. It was an authentic example of 1940’s post-depression glee. At that time, I had passed birthday number two and was full of myself as I headed for number three. Mother installed me as official mascot for the group. I was handed from lap to lap, soaking up more than my fair share of the happiness. Every group photo shows me in matching dress and hair-ribbons, situated in one of the many singers’ arms. That was the start of my career as amateur musician. It continued in the Baptist Church, Southern Baptist Convention style. My early memories are of pulpit-shaking sermons, emotional responses, altar-calls where hands were laid-on, and where prayers were long and formulaic. Tent-revivals were a big draw, well-attended as Barnum’s traveling circus and almost as exciting. I cried along with everybody else, but sensed from the beginning a frisson of incredulity.

7. In most things intellectual and spiritual I leaned toward my father. He had abandoned his call to ministry in favor of electrical engineering, and was eventually lured into the defense industry as Raytheon’s part of the Manhattan Project. He invented the actuation mechanism (radar altimeter) for the Hiroshima bomb that assured it would explode at the precise elevation for maximum kill, but he refused to discuss it no matter who was doing the asking. His marriage to my mother, Mary, was part of a religious and romantic world view that faded after his involvement in the war effort. Mary, sensing his emotional withdrawal, and forced to accept his very physical desertion, shattered into pieces of herself. Kelsey, ever non-confrontational, quietly departed, abandoning me, his own little daughter, to her care. When our paths again converged many years later, he called himself a non-believer, while my mother held fast to her early fundamentalism. Left to integrate the two radically opposed views, I was bereft of direction, a boat afloat without a compass. Visualization of this concept sees me a single drop of purest water beaded on an impossibly green leaf, its edges curled prettily and floating, safely floating on the Living Water.

8. My mother had lost her way when left with a child to rear and no skills beyond poetry and piano playing. Her sister, my Aunt Judy, rescued me as Guardian ad litem. Suddenly I was again living in safety and luxury. Daddy’s Packard had been swapped for Judy’s Cadillac. Judy’s colored maid, Lilly-Mae, became my nanny, and I felt doubly cherished, carrying my love for her into a lifetime of general affection for black people. Judy had returned from a singing career in early Hollywood and was settling down to make some serious money. She had managed to twice choose abusive husbands, the first causing her to miscarry and become barren, the second pillow-smothering her to death at fifty-five during an event of emphysema. She had never demonstrated any interest in religion but she loved me, perhaps as the child she had lost and now found; I was on my own to attend church, or not, as I chose. The music kept me spiritually engaged, and I attended whatever protestant church offered convenience. Judy trained my voice and paid for piano lessons. Singing kept me in church choirs during that desert of religious affiliation. Her husband didn’t want a child in their household, (His favorite salvo blasted “You think you’re so special, Little Miss Priss; nobody thinks you’re worth anything but your crazy mother!) so several times I was sent to live somehow with my mother in her Watertown, Massachusetts rooming house. Each attempt failed and I was loaded onto an American Airlines turbo-prop with a note pinned to my chest and returned to Judy and her aggressively unfriendly husband.

9. Judy’s failing health and the onset of my puberty prompted her to send me away to Catholic boarding school in Sherman, Texas. There I learned to appreciate the beauty and power of Catholic ritual. The nuns amazed me with their quiet, rational concern and encouragement of their newest marginally-civilized pupil. After a year I determined to convert to Catholicism. Aunt Judy’s response to that announcement was to jerk me out of school and send me to live with my father’s parents in the farm country west of Ft. Worth. In no time at all it seemed, my father was located, and I went north to live with him and his new family on Long Island. The Martin family of East-Northport was sterilely non-religious; it was up to me to ride the lively tides of music that kept me on track with affiliations religious. Wherever we lived there was a church with a choir; I joined it.

10. This love of music hearkens back to my early relationship with my happy, healthy, mother before she was abandoned to the vagaries of Texas’ early mental health system. She must have been used as a guinea pig for whatever treatment was in vogue at any given time. By the time I was old enough to sign her out of the Texas State Asylum at Terrell, she had undergone psychoanalysis, insulin shock treatments, electroshock therapy, and had been virtually poisoned with Big Pharma’s first wonder-drug Thorazine for year after miserable year. By that time I had found a happy home at SMU’s Highland Park Methodist Church where I sought assistance from the pastor in rehabilitating my mother. We found a doctor who helped her through Thorazine withdrawal, arranged for nurses-aid training, and found a job for her in a home for the elderly. We prayed for, searched for, and found her very own apartment. My mom was again a viable human being.

11. She had lost her fundamentalist zeal and was content to stay home on Sunday mornings watching television preachers. I couldn’t bear to witness those charlatans work their wiles begging for prayer offerings to keep themselves in luxury conveyances. Early television did much to create the cynicism that has grown up around all of religion. Sadly, most people now declare themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Being spiritual is part of being a human animal; it is a Darwinian gift to our species. Religion embraces that spirituality and gives it a structure, grounding it to rationality, morality, and ethical behavior. This is a “baby and bathwater” quandary.

12. As a young adult, helping my mother marked a turning for me as a practicing Methodist, giving muscle to my meaning. I was then myself a single mother, working to survive, but learning that paucity of means need not dictate scarcity of spirit. Since I was single but definitely not “swinging,” I joined the Singles Sunday School class at Highland Park Methodist. This huge congregation supported equally sizeable “small” groups; my class alone numbered over 200. Soon I was acting out my new-launched confidence in leadership. Elected as Social Chairman, I planned wildly creative monthly events that swelled our number to unwieldy proportions. We soon were pulling in the unchurched with zeal and were accused of too much success, i.e. fomenting a “meat-market.” Soon we earned a new sponsor whose quiet agenda was to quell the spirit in the interest of propriety.

13. I had been completing my education that had suffered a hiatus while I was a freshman at Carnegie Institute of Technology and my father’s divorce and bankruptcy had again thrown me onto the generosity of relatives. I did what women did in those days: I married and started my own family, hoping to do better than my parents. We joined the Methodist church in Pennsboro, West Virginia and fit right in, being the young family so prized by religious organizations of any and all stripes. The new pastor, a blind but brilliant scholar, was determined to make grand changes. He passed out written exams to the entire congregation to decide how best to utilize individual strengths. I was only 24, but earned the congregation’s highest score. Pastor assigned me to teach the adult women’s class. It was awkward, but we all ended up enjoying it. I was at that time finishing up my degree program in science at a local teacher’s college where I chose several electives in religious subjects. That scholarly approach to religion spilled over into our class and made for some excitement all around.

14. On the marriage front, I proved to be no better than my parents. Under pressure I had chosen hastily, and as it turns out, unwisely. Separation became imperative. Suddenly a single mother, a student, living on alimony and child support, I earned my BS degree, but not without cost. My husband and I had joined Trinity Methodist Church with one son and one daughter. While a member, I delivered another son and soon thereafter lost my only daughter to a tragic auto incident. It was from the Methodist church that I buried my daughter, Melanie. It was then that I returned to Texas, home, where Highland Park Methodist became so much a solid rock.
I went to work for Texas Instruments in Dallas, the logistics making the Highland Park affiliation possible. Time passed, and climbing the industrial-aerospace career ladder led to multiple physical relocations. I remarried, a good man and talented engineer I had met while working for Varo Engineering. Our two careers hop-scotched each other to Sherman, Texas, where we looked diligently for a church home. Larry was a life-long Missouri-Synod Lutheran, while I was a mongrel mix of Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and wannabe Catholic. We finally lit at a Congregational Church on the North Texas State campus and bought an old house next door to the Dean of Students. We joined the choir and performed soprano/tenor duets. Life was good.

15. But then, a new pastor arrived. The sermons became boring and simplistic. We stayed home for a while, and I stewed on religion as “problem.” My inner cosmology could visualize God, but Jesus seemed a stretch as “true” God. I had long been irritated with the Baptists’ penchant for claiming, index fingers aloft, that they were the “One Way.” Maybe the Jews, His own people, were the answer. 1970 Sherman was too small for individual temples. All they had was a single Jewish Community Center. I visited there and instantly resonated with the people. These were the People of the Book. It’s as if they worshiped the God of the Torah, who had led them, not only through the desert, but in developing their intellectual selves. I, who had all my life adored books, was a perfect match. I was beginning to understand the interplay of myth, metaphor and meaning in religion. I brought my Missouri Synod Lutheran husband and our three-year-old son, Kurt, to Friday night services, and we embarked on the road to Judaic conversion. After many months of supervised study and attendance, the good Jews of Sherman, (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed) cooperatively imported a Rabbi from Dallas to perform the service, and we became a Jewish family. Kurt was very cute in his little yarmulke, while I was called to read from scripture, not the Torah, but probably the Talmud. It was no Bat-Mitsva, but I felt loved and very much accepted.

16.We were Texas Jews for a year until career moves led us to California, where we sought out a Reformed Temple. We appeared, nicely dressed, the attractive, young, affluent family, and applied for membership. Mostly we were ignored, but finally one of the women explained that conversion to Judaism for philosophical reasons just wasn’t done. “If I had married a Jew,” she sniffed, “then it would have been appropriate for me to convert as a requirement of the marriage.” In one haughty sentence she had discarded all those hours of dedication and study. Mortified, Larry and I crept away and gave up on being Jewish. I still have my certificate of conversion. I guess I am a Jew, but it means nothing without acceptance from the People of the Book. I swallowed the rebuff with some bitterness, but to this very day I enjoy Jewish people, their savvy edge, lively intelligence, and commitment to learning. Larry, on the contrary, began having panic attacks. They stopped after he gave up trying to be an observant Jew. Months later, after we had split, he claimed an appearance of Jesus in his bedroom one night, which led him to join a very noisy fundamentalist mega-sect called Melodyland.

17. I remarried, this time a biochemistry professor/researcher and Dean at UC Irvine, Kenneth H. Ibsen, PhD. We constituted a family, Kurt then a bumptious eight-year-old, and we wanted a church family to raise him in. I was ecstatically happy, having finally found the perfect husband. Ken, 100% Dane, had fond memories of Danish Reformed Lutheranism, a very practical, sane branch of the Lutheran tradition. Serendipity provided just such a church mere blocks from our lovely townhome on Irvine’s Woodbridge Lake. We joined, and Kurt was put to the task of learning to become a Lutheran in the spirit of his biological father. It didn’t take. Kurt, it seemed, had inherited my right brain way of seeing the world as integrations of visions, not progressions of abstractions. He flunked Lutheran prep classes, and we allowed him to withdraw from a left-brain stressor that clearly had no meaning for him. I, personally, was relieved to leave a group of otherwise good people who were obsessed with correctness of belief as deterrence from eternal damnation. What kind of church fails a child in Communion-Prep? Harrumph.

18. There was a long period of no religion, a pity since it might have helped carry a good marriage through a tortuous time. I studied the varieties of Eastern religions, and teased from each of them useful understandings but could not see myself as a Tibetan meditating on a Himalayan hilltop. I admired Buddhism, but it wasn’t for me. I can’t wait for enlightenment; I’ve got to track it down and capture it. My only contiguity of spirit was my music, singing in community choruses and civic-light-opera, but circumventing church choirs. I didn’t get involved again with the world of religion until a major career move to Ohio where a friend agreed to mentor me through my childhood wish to join the Mother Church. At OU’s Newman Center, I attended RCIA and fulfilled that long-ago dream to ally myself with Peter’s rock. I had for many years admired gravitas as the most attractive of personal attributes. The relationship took me to Roanoke where, as a legitimate practicing Catholic, I sang in St. Andrew’s Chancel Choir. I joined the Roanoke Choral Society as well as the Roanoke Symphony Chorus, where I sang like one of Heaven’s angels for nine wonderful years. Then in 2005 a cervical fusion, accessed from the front, stopped the music.

19. Coincidentally retired from that last post-retirement career, I undertook a journey of exploration, the goal to determine where best to settle down and get old, and on some future day to hang it up. My eldest son is still in West Virginia, married, happy, and now a grandpa and a competitive bass-fisher; Cincinnati is home to son number two, post marriage and with two sons post college; Richmond is home base to my youngest, delighting in marriage and fatherhood, with a girl seven and a boy nine.

20. I considered West Virginia, but had learned many years ago that I wanted more, both culturally and intellectually. It’s great for a visit, since that society excels in friendliness. There is never a need for an invitation; it’s always assumed, and the door is perpetually open. I spent two years in Cincy, where I might have renewed my Catholicism, but the years spent allied with the Papacy had been an education in organizational misogyny, priestly child abuse, and encouragement of abject murder in support of Pro-Life activism. I wallowed in my disappointment. It was a good time to check out the Unitarians; they’ll let anybody in.

21. Unitarian Universalists were a delightful mix of over-educated progressives, politically active, and happy to welcome newcomers and put them to work. There were several churches to choose from, and I let music make the choice. The music director at St. John’s Unitarian was a choral personality of world renown who had energy left over for singing groups in local prisons and running Muse, a local woman’s choir dedicated to tolerance. One woman was blind, one had MS; all ages and sexual proclivities were represented. I would have auditioned, but my problematical vocal apparatus would have disqualified me. I did join Muse’s auxiliary, a coup that earned me free tickets for helping out. Singing in the church choir helped to somewhat rehabilitate my crippled voice.

22. I could have been a good Unitarian, except that I really do believe in God. I cringed at scrambling beautiful lyrics to avoid singing the word “God.” Enough said. They are good people, and I do love them. But the sun is hanging low in my sky; it’s getting late, the long journey of exploration complete. Cincy is a good place, where a lifetime of longing and learning has led me. I am impatient with retirement and need a new career. Maybe someone will put me to work. Some people say that on the way to my dotage I have become a writer.

23. One thing I have done continuously, no matter what, has been to read…widely and deeply. My favorite subjects have forever been spirituality and science. Small wonder that I should have followed those two rabbit holes to where they join in the lovely burrow of quantum physics. Of course there is a God; how could there not be? The Kingdom of Heaven is most assuredly at hand, and in each of us, and popping into and out of existence along with Schrodinger’s Cat. Why should it be a stretch for Lazarus to be dead and not-dead? Jesus’ sleight of body could be similarly construed.

24. All the physics and cognitive games are fun and exciting when applied metaphorically to Biblical texts, but the core issue is that we love one another as God has loved us, and to take that love to practical “help thy neighbor” proportions. Faith without works is indeed dead. My Highlander All Wheeler runs great; who needs a ride to church? I’m a trained and experienced hospice volunteer; you needn’t die alone. Occasionally a serendipitous string of events happens, so statistically improbable that it could only be God giving me a kick in the pants. There’s surely more to life than mind can understand. Maybe there’s a place for me to be me after all. Maybe it’s at Cincinnati’s Redeemer Episcopal Church. The sermons are the best. The choir is a delight, and they let me sing. They seem to like my writing. Hope springs eternal.


I watched a movie recently called “A Door in the Floor” about a woman who lost her two sons in an accident and how her life and marriage unwound inexorably after that. There was nothing possible that could stop it. Concurrently the book I was reading was about poetry as the other side of insanity. “The Quickening Maze” is set in a Victorian British asylum. The caregivers are more certifiable than the inmates. Most of the patients are creative types, most but not all of them, mad. I see attributes of myself in each and every character.

Such quixotic media invites an orgy of introspection. Can I make a case for being truly rational? Can my life really be the passage of a sane woman through an insane world? Hardly. Only a lunatic could have left such a path of destruction, while trying so earnestly to make everything come out real and true. My right path is keeping on trying. Somehow there will be a way to wind it all up and lay me down to sleep with a measure of peace and honor. I refuse to believe the lie that my only resolution is suicide. I must keep strong and demonstrate for my sons a noble path that leads to grace and goodness. That is surely the way to redemption.

Then an e-mail from an old friend arrived. I had sent some of my pieces to her. She wrote back complaining that they had “too many words”. It was reminiscent of the scene in Amadeus where the Emperor tells Mozart that his composition has “too many notes”. Jane is tone deaf about art of any kind. Not only can she not approximate a pitch, but she can’t choose clothing of complimentary colors, nor visualize objects on two dimensional drawings. Why should she appreciate my efforts at creative writing? Why am I writing about what I have endured, and how brave, though foolhardy, am I being in sharing it with others? I expect too much. At least she got me out of my head and into hers, a serendipitous interposition.

Another voice from the past, Nan, comments on my blog, telling me that what I am writing is beautiful. I don’t necessarily believe her, but she is kind. It is the very breath of life for me that some dear somebody cares enough to comment. All these serendipitous inputs are telling me that we aren’t expected to repair the past. Friends need only love us.

Remember playing cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers a lifetime ago? When we get shot, we’re supposed to fall down dead. I am defying the rules by behaving as if I could express life as an algebraic equation and solve it. I should simply fall apart after taking so many mortal blows. I am keeping on keeping on because Daddy taught me to stop when bad things happen, and think about what to do, and then do it quietly and thoughtfully. I should be drugging or drinking or plotting suicide, but I’m not. What’s inhuman is that I’m still slogging on, nursing the possibility of hope.

If I share this with anyone, I will be immersing them in my pain. That is wrong. I need to internalize my own anguish, not broadcast it. It is my pain, my punishment. I can take it. Everybody at my so perfect church acts like everything is just fine. That must be the secret to maintaining a classy persona. Stay cool. Keep moving. Pretend all is well. Why does it work for them and not for me? Maybe I’m not a good enough pretender.

Today I watched “The Rabbit Hole”, with Nicole Kidman, a story of losing a young child under the wheels of a car. She, as did I, sought out the driver of the car and offered forgiveness. For her it brought a measure of redemption; for me, it only separated me even more from accepting the hole of my heart. I should have screamed at him and beat his chest. That would have been more honest, more real.

For all these many years I have written all around my grief, but addressed it only through metaphorical stories about talking trees and rumbling roads and pontificating shingles. How crazy is that? The world waits for me to crumble. I refuse to give them that satisfaction. Better to be strong and crazy than weak and sane.

At my daughter’s funerary viewing, hundreds of people showed up to see her sweetly asleep, shrouded in lace, dead and beautiful in her white coffin. It had the sense of a surreal circus. As a mother, all I could feel was embarrassment. I met no one’s gaze, and they were happy to leave me alone with my loss. They were every one so glad it was me and not them who had made that most heinous of all mistakes. Precious children must not be allowed to die whether by accident or by intent. Death must not win out. I failed in that most basic requirement of being maternal. It’s not enough to make life. The obligation that goes on to the end of forever is to keep it alive.

I am thankful for the serendipity that continues to place in my path endless possibilities for understanding and healing. It must have something to do with a cosmic curl of caring reaching out to encircle me, protecting, forgiving, cherishing. There must be a God.