On the morning of September 11, 2001, Francesca decided, “Today will be the day that I start taking care of myself.”
She slept in a little that morning. She had put in a 12 hour day the day before at her job on the 99th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower and was just leaving the house around 8:45 when her sister called.
Now she plays her cello every 9-11 at the time of impact. She remembers and she weeps.
My partner for the ropes course was a cautious woman. She never fell.
I, on the other hand, plunged — literally falling three times — quickly through each element.
She cautiously walked across the wobbly steps. I just — boom-boom-boom — hastily crossed the bridge.
She edged her way across the first tightrope. I grabbed each successive support rope and was across in no time.
On the second tightrope, her cautious approach proved better than mine. I fell (caught by my harness, of course) and bore a bruise on my thigh for weeks afterward as a reminder that it’s important to be a little patient.
And so we made our way through the ropes course, each cheering the other on. I recognized her fear. She recognized my foolish haste.
“I wish I had done the Tarzan rope,” she told me later. It was the one element she had skipped.
“I wish I had taken my time on more of it,” I confessed, thinking specifically of a net that I should have crawled across instead of trying to just run across it. It was another of my falls.
The element I keep thinking about, though, was one she helped me cross. It was a rope bridge. At this point, she had already seen me fall multiple times.
“Take your time,” she said, as I climbed down onto it.
“One step at a time,” she said, as she saw me looking too far ahead.
“Step on the knots,” she said, and that advice made all the difference.
I went knot-to-knot across the whole thing, one step at a time, focused not on the far goal, but on where I needed to place my foot next.
Sometimes life can feel so overwhelming.
I don’t know about you, but my life is chock full o’ knots. Some days I want to run past them all and pretend they don’t exist. Some days I just want to sit and do nothing.
But today I will tackle one knot.
And tomorrow another.
Step on the knots. I can do that.
The other day five men came into the sports center together, one of them spinning a shiny new Spalding basketball between his hands.
“Is anyone playing basketball right now?” he asked.
“The gym is available,” I said. “I don’t know if anyone is playing basketball right now though.”
“I think there’s one guy shooting hoops,” my co-worker said.
The guys looked at each other. They looked at what they could see of the facility from the front desk.
“You’ve got a rock wall? Can we climb?” one asked.
“Yep,” I said. “It opens in half an hour.”
“How much does it cost?” another asked.
I explained our day pass system and the two different passes they could purchase — $10 for the facility or $15 to include our fitness center.
“Huddle!” one of them said, and they huddled. Right there in the lobby.
“Okay, we’re going to do it,” they said when they broke their huddle.
“Ten dollars or fifteen?” I asked.
“Fifteen. We’re going to do it all,” said the spokesman.
As they stood at the counter filling out the obligatory paperwork — emergency contact information, waiver forms, etc — I learned a little about them. They were all mid-30s. The five of them had lived together in college. This was a bachelor party.
“Let me tell you about what’s available here,” I said as I collected their papers and their money.
I launched into my spiel. “Our fitness center has two levels. The main floor is traditional equipment, free weights, ellipticals, steppers, treadmills. The upper level has things like kettlebells, ropes, those weight bags that people run up and down stairs with, and other machines. We have the rock wall you can see and a bouldering wall in the gym. There are three pools but you probably don’t have your swim suits with you. There’s racquetball, squash –“
One interrupted — “Do you have racquets we can use?”
“Yes, right outside the courts,” I said, and continued, “There are bowling alleys downstairs –“
“Bowling!” I saw a few high fives. “And that’s open?”
“Yes,” I said, laughing. I loved their excitement.
They headed for the gym first and played a little basketball. Over the next few hours, though, we heard shouts, hurrahs, and bursts of uproarious laughter coming from various parts of the building. We watched them try the rock wall before heading into the fitness center.
When they left before closing, I asked how their day had been.
“Great! Best $15 I’ve ever spent one!” one said.
“We did it all,” said another. “Basketball, bowling, ping-pong –“
“Oh! I forgot to tell you about ping-pong!” I said.
“It’s okay. We found it,” he said.
“And had a great time,” another added.
Their delight became my delight. I still smile when I think about that group of men playing, laughing, having fun, enjoying the time spent together.
I’ve reflected back on this many times. Why did I find it so gratifying? I think it’s because the world has become a meaner place over the last few years. Our laughter is usually at someone else’s expense. Camaraderie tends to devolve into bickering. We don’t listen. We don’t enjoy time together. Everything feels like jockeying for position.
So when two Olympic high jumpers agreed to tie for Gold, it’s an anomaly.
And when five guys, from different places and different walks of life, enjoy each other’s company for a full afternoon, it fills my cup.
Fifteen months ago, I started seeing a therapist.
I remember at Hutchmoot, in one of those first years, a musician/artist talked about his therapist and then said, “Everyone needs a therapist.” There was a smattering of laughter, so he said, “I really mean it. It’s one of the best things I ever did.”
Once, when someone told me they had started therapy, I asked, “What’s it like?”
“It’s like having a paid friend. One that you can say anything to,” was the response.
That’s a pretty apt description.
My therapist’s name is Rachel.
I apologize a lot to her. “I’m sorry that I blather so much,” I say.
“It’s okay,” she replies.
“I forgot where I was going with this,” I say. “I ramble too much, don’t I?”
“Tell me more,” she replies.
One day, she said, “What would you say to young Sally?”
I stopped blathering and rambling and tried to think. Later that evening, I wrote a poem — and promptly forgot about it. That’s how I am these days — scattered and forgetful.
But each morning, I get up and try again. I begin the day with reading. It’s funny how the themes circle around. The same thoughts emerge from vastly different places.
I began the year pondering a quote by Howard Thurman:
I see you where you are, striving and struggling,
and in the light of the highest possibility of personality,
I deal with you there.
This morning, I read this in J. Phillip Newell’s Christ of the Celts:
“Alexander Scott, the nineteenth century Celtic teacher, uses the analogy of a plant suffering from blight. If such a plant were shown to botanists, even if the botanists had never seen that type of plant before, they would define it in terms of its essential life features. They would identify the plant with reference to its healthy properties of height and color and scent. They would not define it in terms of its blight. Rather they would say that the blight is foreign to the plant, that it is attacking the plant.”
I am so blighted. So very blighted.
Who am I in the light of the highest possibility of my personality? Who am I in my healthiest sense of my existence?
I went back and re-read that poem I wrote.
What would I say to young Sally? I would tell her that she is seen — and that even the blights can shape us.
Here’s my poem. Sorry for my blathering. I forgot where I was going with this.
I see you.
I see the dreams you’ve set aside
Over and over
For better dreams
No — for better realities
Because who could have imagined
You would be happy spending
So many years of
And singing silly songs
Not just With Larry
But with Philipowensamhelenjacobkarlmary
(I don’t think Laurel liked to sing
Or read, for that matter)
For children’s dreams
So they might become the realities
That I missed
Once upon a time
I wanted to be a veterinarian
Because dogs and horses
Were so much safer
Then I wanted to make music
Because everyone knows
You can’t make a living making music
And linguistics –
To study languages
And understand their structures
“Anatomy of Language”
Sounds fascinating to me
But is that even a class?
Human anatomy is a much easier
Class to find
And I would have taken it
In my last dream of being
A physical therapist
But I married
And became a mom
I see that young woman
Who couldn’t stand on her own
And didn’t have someone to say,
Instead I had someone who said, “Come.”
And I went
I see you, and the dreams you’ve set aside
I see the rich reality you’ve lived
I see it all and, yes, I feel some pride —
For what is Christ but to give and give
Up dreams for something better, something good
Or: 13 Minutes of Absolute Nonsense
Or: Do they ever actually talk about Songs of Scotland?!
Rory: Welcome to the Scottish podcast by Scottish people about Scottish things. We’re three lifelong friends and displaced Scotsmen who like to get together to talk about our homeland, the weird stuff that happens there, and to remind us why we are the way we are. Welcome to “Thistle Do Nicely.”
Hello, everybody, and welcome to today’s Story with Rory, or is it going to be a song with Rory? I am joined by my backing vocalists, Jonathan and Christopher.
Rory: I was really hoping you were going to sing in harmony there.
Jonny (laughing, then singing): Helloooooooo
Chris (singing harmony): Hellooooooo
Rory (singing bass): Hellooooo …. Ah, yes
Jonny: We’ll fix it and post. Don’t worry
Chris (singing the tune of “The Wellerman”): Rory is Heather’s man’s son. He wanted a pod so we played along.
Rory: Ah, yeah, well. We’re a bit punchy because it has been a busy week, but also we’re going to be talking about songs of Scotland today. So, we’ve been listening to some incredibly patriotic traditional Scottish songs for the past 24 hours and we’re excited to talk to you about them. I think before we do that —
Jonny: We’re, like, the past 24 minutes, I think, in some instances.
Chris: If that
Rory: I am trying to create a theater of the mind, Jonathan
Jonny: Sorry, I’d like the listeners to know how close it was to this episode not happening.
Rory: I —
Jonny: We made it.
Rory: I would like the listeners to believe that we spend weeks and weeks researching each episode ahead of time, but —
Chris: It was remarked by my other half that Rory successfully guilted me into doing the episode after a particularly frantic coming-home period.
Rory: Yeah, but — you’re going to come out of it feeling better. I know that. This is going to be — I think that’s what men in their thirties do now instead of going to therapy. We just get a podcast. So…
Chris: I think you might be on to something.
Rory: I think this is going to make you feel better. Yeah. Before we start talking about songs of Scotland, let’s take a wee rumble in the sporran. Wee rummage.
Chris: Yeah, if you like. Absolutely.
Rory: Absolutely. So I discovered the other day that we get reviews on other websites outside of Apple podcasts, and, you know, if you have a moment right now, go and review us. It’s very helpful.
But… uh, yeah… I discovered that we get reviews on things like Amazon and Audible and stuff like that and I found this amazing one from Mary Elizabeth — I’ll leave your last name out just in case child services get involved.
So her title: Here’s a F—ing Five Star Review!
Chris: Not our words, mums.
Rory: No, no — I’m quoting here — “Loving this podcast boys and enjoy the banter and swearing. Even my 12 year old enjoys it.” So, uh, Mary, you’re obviously raising a well-rounded child there. Congratulations. And shout out to Mary’s child.
Chris: I’ve got an aggressive one as well. Real aggressive tones in these. This is from Danny Boy and Lovely Laura, which starts, “Alright, ballbags —
Rory: Nice. Love it.
Chris: (reading) “How are youse doing? It’s Danny Boy and the birds here. That’s Laura.” Of course. As if we would know who that is. “And the birds.“ Obviously Laura.
Rory: Do you think she’s writing it over his shoulder?
Chris: (imitating Laura’s voice) “Tell them who I am! Tell them my name! I’m not a bird! I’m Laura!” Hang on. I’ll get there. That’s the wrong accent for her. “We’ve been listening from near enough the start and loving it. We’re from EK—“ for our readers, that’s East Kilbride which is famous for its roundabouts and cinema —
Chris: And that’s it. Nothing else. “Laura is from Tyrone in Ireland and we’ve been living in Aus for 3.5 years.” I’m assuming Australia, not Austria.
Rory: Quite the cosmopolitan couple.
Chris: Could be Austria. That’s the spy capital of the world. A Scottish and an Irish spy in Vienna.
Rory: It could be that early 90s prison with just incredible violence.
Chris: No, it’s spelled A-U-S so —
Rory: So it’s not the HBO mini-series
Chris: Or the fantastic emerald wonder
Rory: Oh yes that
Chris: With munchkins as well. Um… “It’s class to listening to boys from home talking shite.” I think that’s offensive.
Rory: It’s a different podcast.
Chris: “No nonsense, of course.” He acknowledges that we are no-nonsense podcast. “Seeing as we are so similar — the Scottish and the Irish — we’d love to hear a podcast of Scottish v. Irish. Obviously, Scotland would be the better side.” So that’s one option, chaps. I mean, we’re going to have to do Scotland v Ireland at some point.
Rory: Yeah. We’ve talked about this a couple of times… erm….
Chris: We just have to get around to it.
Rory: But it was more we’ve talked about doing Scotland v Ireland — which was better or explaining to people the difference between Scotland and Ireland
Chris: I don’t think we need to do a debate episode of which is better, just one explaining why Scotland is better.
Rory: Right. Yes.
Jonny: But we’re sort of, in a way, kindred spirits with the Irish, are we not? You know it’s a bit different relationship than between us and the British
Rory: Oh, god, yes, of course.
Chris: They’re the other side of the same coin, but that other side is really scratched up, like a cat has got to it.
Rory: And just slightly more drunk than us.
Chris: Other thing he wants to mention is — and this might be up your street, Jonny — Baker Street, if you will — “one of the things we don’t debate on is Gerry Rafferty being a weapon of an underrated Scottish musician. I would love to hear a podcast on the legend. If you haven’t listened to him much, we highly recommend the album ‘City to City’ and ‘Night Owl’
Chris: Must love that. “Love, hugs, and kisses, Danny Boy and Lovely Laura, you bunch of posh pricks.”
Rory: Accurate. Great. Also, excellent use of the word weapon there. Haven’t heard that in a wee while. That was brilliant.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. And we’ll do a — Rory alluded to Gerry Rafferty in our Billy Connolly episode.
Chris: It remains one of our best downloaded episodes every week. It’s always in the top three for some reason.
Chris: I noticed that
Rory: Well, he’s just a legend and I think people are downloading it mistakenly because they think Billy Connolly is actually on it so
Chris: We probably shouldn’t have headlined it “Exclusive Interview”
Rory: I’m kind of tempted just to label every one of them
Jonny: You could put his name in brackets at the end of every title.
Jonny: “Scottish Music [Billy Connolly]”
Chris: I mean, yeah, if we cornered the SEO market on Billy Connolly, that might be it.
Rory: Well, Billy, thanks for writing in. Laura, more effort next time. Be less Irish, I guess.
Chris: It wasn’t Billy. It was Danny.
Rory: Oh, god. Uh … I’m dyslexic. They’re basically the same thing. Sorry, Danny.
Chris: Sorry, Danny, you ballbag.
Rory: Uh, Jonny. You got anything in the sporran?
Jonny: Uh, do I? No, I don’t think so. Do I? Am I supposed to? I thought it was just that!
Rory: This is YOUR sporran!
Chris: I’ll read another one, if you want. I’ve got the sporran in front of me.
Rory: Go for it.
Chris: This one is from Susannah. She said, Hi —
Rory: Oh, I read this one! This one is chaos.
Chris: It is chaos. Yes. “From what I’ve heard, you long for new listeners to give a shout-out ” – this is true – “and tell the world about this new inspiring pod you’ve been listening to” – this is also true – “so here I am although nobody but the three of you can hear me” – well, not any more — “I haven’t been through all your material yet, but getting there” — lazy — “Some brilliant stuff. Always at least four laughs every episode.” Just four.
Rory: Only four. Yeah.
Jonny: I think that’s okay going, to be honest. Four really long extended laughs.
Rory: It sounds, it sounds bad. Like an hour long episode.
Chris: Yeah, considering it’s an hour long episode, that’s a laugh every fifteen minutes, but she does say “at least” so I’d like to know which episode she just was like, “no.” Although I do have an inkling of what that episode is from a Facebook message I’m about to read out. So she says, “I’m not so much into tennis but still almost all of Andy Murray has passed my ears. Perhaps your humorous tone helps get it done. Like a ‘spoonful of sugar’.” Then she sent a cartoon as well but I’m not going to click on that because it’s probably going to make my phone crash to be honest.
Jonny: Uh… thanks, Susannah.
Rory: I liked that email. It was kind of a chaotic, all-over-the-place email. I really enjoyed it.
Chris: Uh, yeah. So that was from Danny Boy.
Rory: Or was that Billy?
Chris: Yeah, Billy as well. And then where would be without a rummage in the sporran without a message from Sally
Jonny: Sally! She’s back!
Chris: I mean, you’re going to have to do a song for Sally at this rate.
Jonny: Could we do a mega-mix of all the Sally-songs in one episode?
Chris: Do you remember last week we briefly alluded to the fact that the Scottish football episode, we said that that was probably our most self-indulgent episode so far? Well, we were wrong apparently. Sally tells us that the most self-indulgent episode was neither football nor rugby. Hands down winner for that would be the Drew McIntyre episode.
Rory. Yep. Accurate.
Chris: It was very early on in our running. I think episode 4 about the WWE wrestler. Sally, I’m actually wearing my Drew McIntyre t-shirt as we’re talking about this right now, so
Chris: Also — she’s very honest, Sally
Rory: Yeah, she called you out and she is correct.
Chris: I mean, I’m not going to take it too personally considering one email called out Andy Murray for being boring and this one called out Drew McIntyre for being self-indulgent, and they were both episodes that I led. But, you know that’s —
Rory and Chris: Neither here nor there.
Chris: I’m not a leader of this podcast. I’m here for reactions, okay? So anyway, she says, “I listened to it a few weeks ago because I was going back to listen to episodes I hadn’t heard yet. Let’s just say that, if that had been the first episode I had listened to, you would have one less fan.”
Rory: I love it. That’s amazing honesty. I love that so much.
Chris: Then, I think she realizes that she’s maybe gone too far here — you know, I sent her lots of pictures of me crying — then she says, “It wasn’t that bad. Just not my cup of tea.” Then she says, “I think I’ve sent links to episodes to all of my children now and made one daughter listen to hours of Thistle Do Nicely while we were on a college-hunting trip. So there’s that.” Whoever your daughter is, Sally, I’m so sorry that you had to listen to hours of this nonsense.
Chris: Um — it’s not fair on you and if it’s put you off any colleges going forward in life, you know there’s other things to do. You don’t have to go to college. You know, you can make a lot of money as a plumber.
Rory: Sally’s daughter – if you are in danger, email us. We will try and help because it sounds like you’re being trapped and forced to listen to absolute nonsense.
Jonny: driving around the country listening to only this
Rory: Yeah, clawing at the door, trying to get out.
Chris: Later on, she says, “One last question – am I allowed to say butterscotch or do I have to call it toffee?” I explained to her that they are two different things.
Rory: No! Oh — you know what she’s calling out? The fact that we were complaining about the word ‘scotch’ and scotch whisky — was that last week or a couple of weeks ago? That’s what she’s saying. Oh — that’s very sweet of you, but no, it’s okay.
Chris: I explained to her that they’re not the same thing so it doesn’t matter.
Rory: Yeah, but she doesn’t want to say the word ‘scotch’ because we find it offensive.
Chris: Well, what would you call butterscotch otherwise?
Rory: Nothing. That’s why we’re saying it’s alright to say it.
Chris: Butter-pieces. Butter-whisky.
Rory: Butter-Scottish person, or Butter-scottish candy.
Chris: Then she wrote, “I just saw your sporran request and none of this is sporran worthy.” Then I told her that we were going to read out everything. (Pause) Then she said, “I was just kidding about the—“
Rory: Oh my god! It’s still going!
Jonny: She’s just driven off the road.
Chris: Yeah, her daughter has actually taken her phone right now. Anyway, Sally, I know you’re probably embarrassed by all this but we love you, love all your messages, love the fact that you keep coming back for more. And, uh, yeah, there’s no other Scottish wrestlers as far as I’m aware so we’re not going to do any other episodes on that.
Rory: Sally — the fourth member of this podcast. Love it. Absolutely love it.
Chris: Ringo. Ringo of the podcast
Jonny: She’s like our George Martin — to us, the Beatles
Rory: I mean, thank you everybody for getting in contact…
When I was a little girl, I sometimes had to wait in my father’s office for a ride home at the end of the day. His office was in a trailer attached to the hospital. It was “temporary” — which meant he was there for at least ten years before he got a “real” office. My father was never a complainer.
Anyway, his secretary had a spot out there, too. Sometimes, she would be busy transcribing his dictated notes, and she would let me listen to his voice by putting her headphones on my head and pushing the pedal at her feet. (All you HIPAA people probably have the hair standing up on the back of your neck while reading this.)
I found myself thinking about her the other day when I was trying to transcribe something. Okay — I was thinking more about that foot pedal and how handy it was. I actually looked to see if they still sell something like that. Of course they do.
The days of cassette tapes are long gone. Now it’s a software bundle, headphones, and a foot pedal — and lots of practice — and poof! — you’re a transcriptionist.
Actually, I’m sure there’s a lot more to it. I’ve tried my hand at transcribing in the past — just short little things, a minute or two in length. It has always surprised me how long and arduous the task is, but, you know, the things we do for love and all that.
I have a friend who can’t listen to podcasts. Before I even posted about Thistle Do Nicely, I thought of her and started transcribing an episode. I didn’t get very far. Transcribing a conversation is a lot harder than transcribing a dictated note or a lecture.
After I posting about the show last week, I dug out my start of a transcript and worked on it a little more.
Like several hours more.
I only got 13 minutes 35 seconds in and had over 2300 words. I left the other 57 minutes for another time.
To quote the Thistle Do guys, a lot of it is “absolute nonsense.”
It’s my kind of nonsense though.
Hats off to all transcriptionists! I appreciate all your work!
Do you remember March 2020? The world turned upside down.
My father had passed away near the end of 2019 — an event that had deeply affected me. The pandemic was a different upheaval, one that involved isolation, masks, shortages at the grocery store, and a lot of fear of the unknown.
As COVID settled in, I decided to make the best of it. I took a few online art classes. I zoomed with friends and family. I started learning Scottish Gaelic via DuoLingo.
Learning Gaelic led to trying to learn Scottish history and more about Scottish culture. I binge-watched Shetland. I searched for Scottish podcasts. I read a few books about Scotland. I traced my own family tree to Edinburgh.
The pandemic dragged on.
Cooperstown that summer was delightfully boring. No baseball swarms. Just restaurants trying to entice the locals to get takeout.
The pandemic dragged on some more.
I began driving to Syracuse to help with my grandchildren and found myself needing to fill the two hours of drive-time. I think it was late-August when I first listened to Thistle Do Nicely.
Can I just say here — publicly, out loud — that I cannot imagine getting through the pandemic without Rory, Chris, and Jonny?
These guys make me laugh out loud every single time I listen.
Then I would feel guilty about the whole thing.
I mean, their humor — especially early on — is roughly 5th grade boy. Episode #3 Fartin’ In Tartan, for example. Yes, I listened to it. It wasn’t all about flatulence. It was about The Highland Games.
F-bombs are sort of a fixture in the podcast. They’ve gotten more restrained, but in the early days, I remember thinking, If my kids knew how much I was loved this, they would be shocked. I’ve been known to turn off movies because I hate listening to bad language. I’d say, “Nobody talks like,” but it turns out that people do — and they come from Glasgow.
And f–ing doesn’t necessarily mean f–ing.
Listening to the show is like sitting in a pub and eavesdropping on three guys in the next booth. They laugh at themselves and laugh at the world — but never in a mean-spirited or condescending way. They have running jokes, like calling their listeners “readers.” They love puns and wordplay. They love a good story.
Some of the best stories were told by Rory. In their Macbeth episode, he found a fascinating bit of New York history about the Astor Place riots. As much as I love Scottish history, I love New York history even more. In their current episode, Rory tells a story about a failed hanging. When I was researching Cooperstown history, I found the story of a hanging-that-wasn’t, and this reminded me of that.
Rory is the main storyteller. I think he roped his friends into doing this podcast. He feels, to me, like the the steadying force behind the whole thing. He is earnest and sincere, occasionally befuddled, but always a good sport about his friends’ antics.
Jonny is both a musician and artist. He wrote a song to the tune of The Wellerman and sang it for the podcast. You can listen to it in the episode about Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I’m pretty sure Jonny also designed their logo.
Chris is the wit. He comes out with the pithy zingers. He teases. He creates the running joke and carries it through. James McElvoy. Belgium. Charles Darwin. Patents. Readers. You may have to listen to know what I’m talking about.
I’m embarrassed to say that I am a running joke on the show. I unsuspectingly wrote to them after about a month of listening just to tell them that I like the show. They read the email out loud. On the show.
When they ask for questions (and even when they don’t), I send them questions. I can’t help it. I have a thousand questions.
They’re taking a break starting August — and I’m already dreading it.
At the same time, I am so very thankful. In the dark world of a global pandemic and in the wake of the grief of my father’s passing, they brought me joy and laughter.
Well done, lads.
Several weeks ago Laurel walked in the kitchen and I was writing a message to a podcast that I listen to. “What are you doing?” she asked.
I told her.
She looked at my phone and said, “They write back?! You write back and forth?! That’s kind of creepy, Mom.”
I didn’t send the message that night. I wanted to tell them that they mispronounced Evelyn Waugh’s name. And that she’s a he. A bunch of other listeners did it for me, though.
But Laurel was right. I do have a running conversation with these guys. Sort of.
I asked Mary if that was creepy. She knows how much I enjoy this particular podcast.
“Do you like it or do you find it creepy when people contact you about your blog?” she asked.
Hmmm…. Mostly, it’s very encouraging.
Of course there was that one person who was downright nasty.
Early on I also had a heated exchange with another blogger when I referred to my mother’s Alzheimer’s as a gift. I still stand by that one — because in the humble obscurity of taking care of the most basic bodily needs of a person, love can wash away old conflicts. That is a gift.
I’ve also had a lot of encouraging words — some on the blog itself, some in cards sent to my home, some sent directly to my email. If someone really wanted to track me down, it’s not hard, I’ve learned. People have sent me gifts: poems, CDs, books, bookmarks. I’ve met some people face to face. I’ve corresponded with others via email and snail mail. I count many as friends. I hope that’s not creepy.
The thing with this particular podcast is that I have become one of their running “jokes.” Every time they read off comments, there I am. “And where would we be without a comment from Sally,” they’ll say — and I cringe just a little while at the same time feeling happy. It’s weird.
In Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), Mr. Bennet said, ” For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
There’s also a scene in Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry) where he arrives at a get-together of some sort in Port WIlliam and the other men tease him about something. Jayber realized that the ribbing was a sign of acceptance.
At this point, some of you may be wondering what podcast I’m referring to.
And I’ll tell you.
In my next post.
On Mother’s Day, one of my children asked, “What’s something you like, Mom?”
“Ummm… I don’t know. I like you, ” I said. “I like my family.”
I kept thinking and started rattling things off. “I like pens. And I like paper. I like books. I like words.”
I definitely like words. So when I struggle to find words, I know that I am, in general, struggling.
When I first started blogging, words helped me to make sense of my mother’s slide into dementia. She was losing words. I was finding them and using them. A few years later, when my father followed my mother down the same road, the words didn’t come as easily. After he passed away, words slowed to a trickle. Occasionally I have enough to fill a post, but, obviously, not often, or at least not often enough to complete a blogging challenge.
But this is a post about words — specifically, liturgical words.
I wish I could say that Hutchmoot started me on my journey into liturgy as a spiritual practice, but I think it’s more like I met a bunch of companions who were traveling down the same road, and we’ve now traveled that way together for many years.
When I’m refer to liturgy, I’m talking about ritual, about scripted words, about reciting ancient prayers in unison — practices that we seem to have abandoned in many modern churches.
In 2013, my friend Alyssa — the one I met at Hutchmoot — gave me a “hijacked journal” for Christmas. It was a lovely journal with a rabbit on the front, and she had hijacked it by writing quotes from some of my favorite authors on many of the pages. I spent 2014 and 2015 filling those pages with prayers – a new one each week.
Most of the prayers in 2015 were ones I wrote myself. I wrote them and then I prayed them over and over. The pages are full of revisions as the praying helped me edit. Or, was it God?
At Hutchmoot 2015, on Sunday afternoon as part of our closing session, we joined together for “The Liturgy of Lost Rhyme,” written by Douglas McKelvey. When we walked into the sanctuary, we were handed a script and a slip of paper that told us the part we were to read.
We joined together reading old/new words, interspersed with songs, that told the story of our brokenness and our redemption.
In retrospect, I see how this was a prelude for one of the most important books to come out of the Rabbit Room — Every Moment Holy. (Rabbit Room is the “host” of Hutchmoot.)
Every Moment Holy, published in 2017, is a collection of liturgies written by Douglas McKelvey. It contains everything from table blessings that can be read by a group at a special dinner to a couple of prayers for before or after changing a diaper. He gives words of thanksgiving to God for the wonder of the first snow or arriving at the ocean, and prayers to offer when we hear sirens or find ourselves randomly thinking of another. Every moment truly is holy — and these are liturgies to remind us of that. They gives us words for moments when we don’t have words.
If I were to tell you to go to the Rabbit Room store and buy one book, it would be this book.
Every Moment Holy, Volume II: Death, Grief & Hope came out a month ago. It contains liturgies for when a person receives bad news, for caregivers in need of rest, for those who enduring lasting pain, for final hours. Having sat at both my parents’ bedsides when they passed away, I can tell you that words don’t come easily in those moments.
Back to struggling for words… This post has been in my draft folder for a full month. Hey, Doug — how about a liturgy for finishing an unfinished blog post?
I’ve been touring colleges during April with my two youngest daughters — one at a time, of course. One daughter at a time, one college at a time.
Looking at colleges in the time of COVID is particularly challenging. Many colleges weren’t offering on-campus in-person tours until recently. Some colleges still aren’t. Some — like the college Laurel and I toured on Wednesday night — offer group events, but then break down the attendees into tiny groups of no more than four people per tour guide.
So we toured a college on Wednesday and were paired with the only people of color who attended the event. Their presence in our little pod made me painfully aware of the lack of people of color on that campus. I found myself looking with new eyes — and hurting a little for them.
I looked back over the few photographs I have from Hutchmoot’s past and my group of people there is decidedly homogenous.
However, an unforgettable Hutchmoot moment came in 2016 when a gospel choir filled the sanctuary of the Church of the Redeemer with the most beautiful music.
In addition, one of the singers called us her jelly biscuits, and then had to educate us on the meaning of that compliment.
I grew up in a decidedly white town. I am slowly growing in my understanding of how other people’s experiences have been different from my own — and I am SO grateful for that.
In 2017, Hutchmoot changed location and more than doubled in size. It also grew in diversity.
Last year, Hutchmoot, like the rest of the world, went virtual and called itself Hutchmoot Homebound. That allowed an unlimited number of attendees so it grew exponentially. I forget the exact number, but it was in the thousands.
Again, it was more diverse. I was exposed to the rapper-spokenwordartist-poet Propaganda. Every time I watched it – and I watched it multiple times – “winsome” was the word that came to my mind to describe him. If someone had told me in 2011 that one of my all-time favorite sessions from Hutchmoot would be given by a black rapper, I wouldn’t have believed them.
It takes all kinds to make a Hutchmoot. I’ve met musicians, visual artists, sculptors, doctors, nurses, computer programmers, someone who works for the FBI, a US marshall, chefs, teachers, stay-at-home moms, writers, poets, photographers, a seamstress, quilters, office workers, pastors, people in transition from one career to another, people who have been at the same position for 40 years, married, unmarried, divorced.
Hutchmoot has no green room. At Hutchmoot, the speakers and performers sit on the same metal folding chairs and eat at the same tables in the same dining area as the rest of us – at the same time as us – sometimes across the table from us.
The playing field is as level as they can make it. This is a great kindness to those of us who feel clumsy, small, and insignificant.
They are working all the time to make that playing field even more level.
Because Hutchmoot is put on by the kindest kind of people. They are seeking to live in ways that honor Christ.
If you were looking for a continuation of my Jonathan story, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. It’s still there, lurking in some murky area of my brain. I’m thinking “T” if I can get there. I’m 10 days late on “K” though, so who knows.