what takes your breath away?

Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

A few weeks ago, as I was making a routine journey back and forth along the busy street I traverse several times a day, I couldn’t help but hear the leaves.  I heard them.  Yes.  That’s what I wrote.  I  h e a r d  them.

They were the deepest, most crimson red they’d ever be this year.  Saturated with beauty and singing their highest notes.  An opera for my ears, a crescendo of color.  Have you ever noticed that?  How autumn leaves are this most vivid, crisp color just before they begin to fade and fall to the ground?

There are so many things like this that take my breath away.

Yesterday marked the winter solstice, the darkest night of the year, and at a time in which we find our world community tempted toward anxiety and despair, when I know so many of us are caught up in the tumult of life, it’s these moments of awe and wonder that fill me with gratitude and propel me forward in hope.  There are kind strangers holding open doors for you.  There are clerks smiling behind cash registers.  There are even drivers nodding and letting you in to jammed city streets, waving back at you, you’re welcome.

There are so many things . . . just listen.

By now the rains have come, and those beautiful leaves have fallen at our feet, a small sacrifice for the springtime flowers to come.  But it has me singing, welcoming the coming light into the world and wondering, what takes  y o u r  breath away?

 

 

Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells
And schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

wintercouple

 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, from two or three little birds.

 

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byron, the original SEXIEST MAN ALIVE

byronMad, bad, and dangerous to know.

That’s how Lady Caroline Lamb described George Gordon, Lord Byron — the English Romantic Poet whose dashing mop of dark hair, devilishly sensual pout and scandalous reputation secured his reign as the 18th century’s Sexiest Man Alive.  Byron was born January 22, 1788 and reached his artistic peak at a time when poets were rock stars.  He went on European tour, trailing an entourage including the young personal physician John Polidori, who was offered 500 pounds by a publisher if he’d keep a diary of his adventures.  As English majors, we watched our professors light up when the syllabus got to Byron.  In my particular seminar the professor had us rapt with attention as he described eager emulators affecting everything from his hairstyle to Byron’s limp in an attempt to be like him.  It’s hard to imagine that happening 250 years ago.  With no Instagram or Twitter?  If you’ve read his poems as I have and struggled to find in them this rakishness he’s so notorious for, here’s a little reminder.  Byron penned this swoon-worthy love letter and then slipped it into a book he had borrowed from the Italian Countess Teresa Guiccioli.  I would have loved to have been a butterfly on the wall of that garden when she discovered it . . . .

My dearest Teresa,
I have read this book in your garden, my love, you were absent, or else I could not have read it.  It is a favorite book of mine.  You will not understand these English words, and others will not understand them, which is the reason I have not scrawled them in Italian.  But you will recognize the handwriting of him who passionately loved you, and you will divine that, over a book that was yours, he could only think of love.
In that word, beautiful in all languages, but most so in yours – Amor mio – is comprised my existence here and thereafter.
I feel I exist here, and I feel that I shall exist hereafter, to what purpose you will decide; my destiny rests with you,
and you are a woman, eighteen years of age, and two out of a convent, I wish you had stayed there, with all my heart,
or at least, that I had never met you in your married state.
But all this is too late.  I love you, and you love me, at least, you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation in all events.  But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you.
Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us, but they never will, unless you wish it.

Byron

 

As our emails, catalogs, and store windows clutter up with love tokens for sale these next few weeks, why not put those aside and read something charming instead?

 

From a more serious but no less smitten Victor Hugo

My dearest,
When two souls, which have sought each other for,
however long in the throng, have finally found each other
…a union, fiery and pure as they themselves are…
begins on earth and continues forever in heaven.
This union is love, true love,…
a religion, which deifies the loved one,
whose life comes from devotion and passion,
and for which the greatest sacrifices are the sweetest delights.
This is the love which you inspire in me…
Your soul is made to love with the purity and passion of angels;
but perhaps it can only love another angel, in which case I must tremble with apprehension.

Yours forever,
Victor Hugo

 

And this from a boyish (and besotted) Mark Twain

Livy dear,
I have already mailed to-day`s letter, but I am so proud of my privilege of writing the dearest girl in the world whenever I please, that I must add a few lines if only to say I love you, Livy.  For I do love you, Livy…as the dew loves the flowers; as the birds love the sunshine; as the wavelets love the breeze; as mothers love their first-born; as memory loves old faces; as the yearning tides love the moon; as the angels love the pure in heart…
Take my kiss and my benediction, and try to be reconciled to the fact that I am
Yours forever,
Sam
P.S.– I have read this letter over and it is flippant and foolish and puppyish. I wish I had gone to bed when I got back, without writing. You said I must never tear up a letter after writing it to you and so I send it. Burn it, Livy, I did not think I was writing so clownishly and shabbily. I was in much too good a humor for sensible letter writing.

 

 There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio.  What is sacred?  Of what is the spirit made?  What is worth living for and what is worth dying for?  The answer to each is the same. Only love.

~ Byron (1788-1824)


 

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service is a strength, love

Thank my littlest love for this story that came to me during my rainy commute.  I was sitting in the traffic thinking about our dinner conversation the night before, and I knew I had something to write about.  Understand the context behind this conversation was the fact that littlest, a skeptical naysayer who never signs up for anything and wants to chase dandelion clocks all day, spoke up and told us how she had volunteered to be the 5th grade class representative for student council because, she said, she wanted to be someone important.  I almost fell over because I’ve been trying to find something for her, some thing she could do to step up and take part in.  Leadership and service are family values we often talk about around the dinner table, and this was so out of character for her!  Imagine a kid who’s got that look perfected every time you make a suggestion, tucked chin knitted eyebrows crossed arms — a look that screams NO! WAY!  Well, she seemed to have slipped a finger under a new leaf and I thought, maybe I could take this opportunity to help her turn it over.  Here’s the conversation we had a few minutes later:

ME: You know, Blythe, Deacon Patrick says if you’re nervous about becoming an altar server we could do it together.  We could both be up there, and I could help you until you got more comfortable.

B: No thanks.

M: But, it looks sort of fun.  You get to wear an alb and use all those special things.  You’re really important.  You get to serve the priest on the altar and help wash his hands and . . .

B: I do not want to serve the priest.  He can get his own things and wash his own hands.  I’m too rebellious for that.

Oh, I just love her.  The quirky attitude and quick wit–how she makes me laugh and smile all the time.  And she’s got it all figured out, doesn’t she.  I mean, doesn’t she have a point?  So many working mothers spend much of our married lives resisting domestic stereotypes and encouraging our daughters to be independent, equal contributors to their community.  I vividly recall telling the man I keep the first week we were married that I would not be ironing his shirts like his mother dutifully does each week for his father. Let’s just get these expectations squared away from day one shall we: there’ll be no freshly pressed shirts hanging from the doorway in the laundry room; oh, and I don’t do dishes.

This is who I am.  This is how I was raised by my father, who encouraged me to keep up with my brothers and never once gave me the idea that because I was a girl, I was confined to any rigid roles.  And I’m still her.  I believe in feminist ideals and know that there’s little in this world I could not do by myself, maybe better, but I know I also have a choice.  Certainly it’s my hope my daughters will be able to change a tire, bait a hook or chase down any bully in a pencil skirt and heels, too.  But there’s another side to me that’s hard to reconcile with this hitch-up-your-skirts and hit-the-road girl sometimes and that I seem to be having an equally hard time cultivating in my sweet sassy thing.  I’m kind of loving, and I love being kind because it makes me happy.  And for me kindness means making sacrifices and being vulnerable and yes, littlest love, sometimes it even means doing the dishes.

 We are all here on earth to help others: what on earth the others are here for, I don’t know.

~ W.H. Auden

 


It’s complicated!  But I’m grateful for many who offer wonderful commentary on the status of women in the Catholic Church, like this article via Another Voice.

Pair this thought with a reading of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist.

Shop Indie Bookstores

“Toss Roxane Gay’s collection of witty, thoughtful essays, Bad Feminist into your tote bag. With musings on everything from Sweet Valley High to the color pink, Gay explores the idea of being a feminist, even when you’re full of contradictions.” (Self, “Smart beach-read alert”)

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