Growing Things

Keeping it positive for Easter Week.

Last year, my wife came into a good supply of iris rhizomes. She planted them in several locations around the house. Some are right behind the brick ‘bench’ in the front yard.

The flowers have bloomed here and along the brick planter along the street in their dozens just the last day or two. We are having people over for pizza this Saturday, so at least the front yard should be glorious with flowers.

The other planted things – tomatoes, potatoes, basil, beans, okra, blueberries – are also growing/breaking through the soil. Fruit trees look very promising, especially the apricots and figs.

In a similar way, the family is growing. Married off Elder Daughter last May, marrying off Middle Son this May. Younger Daughter, who is a pro-level baker, decided to test out one of *three* different cake flavors her older brother requested for her to make for his wedding cake.

Note: it not only did not seem excessive to ask the little sister, who is maid of honor, to also bake the wedding cake, it seemed OK to specify 3 different exotic flavors, one for each of the 3 layers. Younger Daughter then decides she needs to test out the recipes – which she is making up as she goes – and so for Easter bakes up a lavender/Earl Grey/lemon? (something like that) cake:

Sprigs of lavender from our front yard, candied some lemon slices – no biggie! It was killer delicious.

She wants to do this. She’s flying out early to bake back east.

Kids these days. At least, she’s not making the wedding dresses – she could do that, too. Both daughters could, if they wanted.

Added a son-in-law last year; adding a daughter-in-law in two months. Grandchildren are the next logical step. Praise be to God! We are truly blessed.

Thanks, Updates

A. Several of you, my deeply appreciated readers, have sent me comments on A Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: How Not to be A Gullible Rabbit (I like that title better). If I haven’t gotten back to you yet, it’s because your input a) required actual thought; b) is long; or c) both. Maybe later today.

On the actual text, not counting notes, I’m up to about 6,500 7,200 more or less usable words. Thinking about starting each chapter with a Feynman quotation and a story from science history. For example:

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.

Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist and well-known Cal Tech professor

Then, maybe, tell a story – bloodletting, say, how it was the accepted treatment for a dazzling array of medical problems until the end of the 19th century – how it was the “consensus science,” how few dared to question its efficacy, how it probably killed (or at least, hastened the death of) George Washington, a true believer in bloodletting. It only took a CENTURY OR SO for the medical profession to accept the growing pile of counter evidence.

A beast. Much more attractive than the beasts we are among and are constantly at risk of becoming.

What’s occurred to me, in writing this, is illustrated by another Feynman quotation:

We have this terrible struggle to try to explain things to people who have no reason to want to know.

With this in mind, I’ve been working on an opening chapter that dedcribes why anyone should care – why is it not OK to just do as we’re told. File this as yet another item under: things that are obvious to me but clearly not so obvious to very many other people.

B. A major point, perhaps not emphasized enough: it’s OK, in fact, it’s preferred, to simply not have an opinion. If the science is really, truly, over your head, then why do you even have an opinion on it? Perhaps it is a consequence of the way voting is done here in America: we are made to vote for people we couldn’t possibly know, who talk about issues we hardly, if at all, understand. Yet, we seem to be embarrassed not to have an opinion on these people and policies.

Let’s say we humbly recognize that the base science is simply over our heads. What we might do, instead, is talk about the big picture. The obvious example: it would have been nice if, from the beginning, a cost/benefit analysis had been presented on the lockdowns. Clearly, before 2020, everybody, including the CDC, were very adverse to lockdowns, because the cost is so obviously high. Short of Black Death level event, it’s should be fairly obvious that lockdowns should be used very sparingly and only as a last resort.

So, say, instead of incessant panic-mongering based on supposed science way over out little heads, we instead demanded regular updates on the costs in lives, health, and money, of the lockdowns, to be compared to the presumed benefits. I’m imagining it would have been a different discussion. I imagine that’s why it never took place.

Anyway, on most science, it’s meet and just to simply not have an opinion. Evolution – who cares? Some geneticists and biologists, I suppose, but, for the rest of us, it’s simply immaterial. Yet, ‘belief’ in evolution is used as some sort of touchstone. We need to see that for what it is: an attempt to force people into line for the sake of having them in line. Same goes for absolutely everything in cosmology and astrophysics – who cares? Why should people even have an opinion on whether the earth orbits the sun, let alone the red shift and dark matter and so on? It just doesn’t matter.

I’m saying this as someone who loves this stuff. It’s just odd that, socially, you’ll be judged a lot harsher for for expressing any doubt that the earth (despite all appearances) is whipping through space and spinning like a top than you will for walking out on your spouse and kids. The balance here is wildly, insanely off.

C. So, on the chapters, here’s the problem: there are counterarguments (some made by readers – thanks again!) to some of the major points I’m making. For example, scientific consensus is a real thing, with a real purpose. It’s just not evidence. Putting it in somewhat more technical terms: under Kuhn’s distinction between normal and revolutionary science, a scientific consensus is an aid to those doing normal science, but that’s all it is. These normal scientists (who might more properly be called technicians) are working out theories or discoveries they no longer question. The revolutionary scientists – scientists in the fullest sense – are working on stuff that isn’t already understood, on the ragged edges and in the holes of accepted science. The first group, it is supposed, form consensuses around evidence. If this is true, then for us laymen the thing we want to see is that evidence.

Again, the real problems are caused when the idea of ‘scientific consensus’ is used as a blunt instrument to silence us little people and force us into conformity. Sure, some theories we might like as amateurs have been beaten to death by the pros, and so they consider even bringing them up bad form. So? Is that really a problem in real life? Rather, we are lied to to shut us up: it’s the scientific consensus that, unless you panic as we tell you, and do what we tell you, and hand over the power we demand, we’re all going to die!

And so on. Similar issues arise with some of the other points I’m trying to make.

D. We’re into year 3 since I was forced out my job. Good riddance, frankly, it was death by a thousand cuts. Fortunately, for few years there, I did pretty well, so, it’s not the disaster for us it would be for most people. At some point, fairly soon, I need to figure it out. I could semi-retire, teach some school (alternative/home-school co-op, that sort of thing) and write some books. Tempting, Hammy, very tempting. But if I’m doing that, then it would be good to move someplace much cheaper than the Bay Area, perhaps some place a little less azure, a little more crimson? There are probably cantons in China less azure than certain neighborhoods out here… Texas or Tennessee I could handle. Florida – God-forsaken paved-over swamp with weather that makes Texas’s look good. Montana and Wyoming look nice, but kind of flat and cold. Idaho, I hear, has already had it with its ongoing Californication.

Poland or Uruguay might be better, but I’m not that adventurous (although far short of a worse-case scenario might make me wish I were). If I were to dump our suburban Bay Area house, I could maybe get some serious acres and build a 4,000 sq ft house on them – and break even. Depending, of course, and going completely wild/rural. Mamma was from East Texas, and Daddy from Claremore, OK, so shouldn’t I get more the coming home treatment than the damn Californian reception? Please?

I’m imagining aging gracefully on our new family spread, with enough room for the kids and their kids, if things get bad enough for them out here. Big enough house for them all to stay in, and room for them to build their own if the want. Piano room, big greenhouse, garden. My only luxury (the music room is NOT a luxury! Absolutely essential!) would be a nice kitchen. My standards for a decent kitchen are unfortunately high…. Everything else can be standard suburban quality. Enough insulation and air conditioning to ride out the 90% of the time I’m going to look outside and miss California….

E. Went on YouTube, watched a couple videos, and fixed our power mower. I am da MAN!

November is Gone Update (plus some d*mn virus math)

A. The level of idiocy remains at critical levels. It’s looking likely that about 220,000 ‘excess’ deaths will take place in 2020, of which about 150-170K might be attributable to the damn virus. Back in April and May, I didn’t think 100k was likely; now, I don’t know if it’s possible to back out the deleterious effects of the lockdowns with any accuracy. It is clear that about 50,000 ‘excess’ deaths (and counting) are not directly caused by the virus, but it’s harder, conceptually, to show they are caused by the lockdowns. The anecdotal evidence is strong, as is my bias to believe it – therefore, I’m exercising caution.

What the CDC data shows is significant upticks in deaths attributed to stress and panic related causes, such as suicide and heart attacks. It would take a massive independent audit, however, to show how many such cases show up in the COVID numbers. We know that sickly old people do in fact have their deaths speeded up by stress and loneliness, which the lockdowns have ratcheted up to inhuman levels.

So, as of now, it’s pretty clear that there are not 250,000 COVID deaths, or whatever count is being bandied about at the moment. At most, there could be about 170,000 COVID deaths, max (the 220K ‘excess’ deaths minus the 50K non-COVID ‘excess’ deaths). Of course, one could cook up a theory that the lockdowns saved lives that would have been lost to non-COVID deaths, such that the net – 250,000 COVID deaths minus the ‘saved’ (from flu? Colds? Traffic accidents?) gives us the 220,000 ‘excess’ deaths the CDC’s data shows. Far-fetched doesn’t begin to describe such a theory. That won’t stop people from proposing it.

The plan is to take a detailed look at the final or near final numbers from the CDC in January, and back into some totals. Without that audit, there’s no good way to really sift out the effects of the lockdown versus the virus. I expect the excess deaths – which are merely the difference between the CDC’s estimated weekly deaths and actual deaths as counted by death certificated submitted to the CDC (with a lot of small, often pointless, and needlessly complex adjustments) – to stay right about 220K, or perhaps even drop some, as some of the sickly elderly who might have hung on until Christmas in a normal year are already dead.

The overall story remains the same: the original forecasts and model used to gin up the panic, put together by the non-scientist, non-medical finance guy and operative Ferguson, have proven wildly inaccurate. Real world experience has confirmed what I, and everybody else who took an intelligent look at the original numbers out of Wuhan, the Diamond Princess, Italy, etc., noted: the overall real-world fatality rate was nothing like the 2-4% Case Fatality Rate range typically reported. The real infection fatality rate – the number of interest – couldn’t be over about 0.25%, and is probably lower. This virus is no more deadly than a bad flu – the 1969 and 1958 flus were worse; 2018 was almost as bad. The 2017 pre-COVID planning literature, prepared by the same CDC that’s helped create the panic, did not propose lockdowns or mask for scenarios an order of magnitude worse than this – the theoretical benefits of lockdowns and masks do not offset real costs.

The CDC data, at least, the reporting of it, is already being monkeyed with. As William Briggs noted, the weekly fatality graph used to go back many years, but now only goes back a year. This is suspicious, as a glance at the longer-term pattern made it clear that, while 2020 was shaping up to be a bad year, it wasn’t significantly worse than many preceding years, and that the pattern of more deaths in the winter and fewer in the summer was playing out exactly in 2020 – that what one would expect to see, based on history, without lockdowns and masks is exactly what one did see with them. My confidence that any numbers that can be used to expose the fraud will remain available has thus decreased.

But we’ll see.

UPDATE: Seems someone has already done what I proposed above.

As seen on Clarissa’s blog

What this chart shows are the breakdowns between attributed COVID deaths and *excess* (as defined above) deaths from all other causes. You get this by looking at the details for each category the CDC tracks. They forecast, based on history, population growth & aging + some really minor adjustments, is of how many death there ought to be in each category. Here’s my comment from Clarissa’s blog post:

Last I checked, CDC shows 220K excess deaths total so far this year. If the attribution of every excess death shown here to the lockdown is roughly true – seems likely & reasonable – then there are fewer than 100K total deaths caused by COVID, rather than deaths where COVID appears anywhere on the death cert, which is the way you get that 240K number, as you noted. Even that 100K number is almost certainly high, as the bulk of COVID deaths – between 60-70% – were nursing home patients & other very sick elderly people, who had a median life expectancy of about 6 months even if they didn’t catch the virus. Over time, these slightly premature deaths would (if the lockdowns ended) show up as lower deaths in the corresponding age bands over the next year. But the lockdowns, and the deaths they cause, mask this effect.

Also, could you please post the source link? I know it’s on the picture, but tiny, I can’t quite make it out. Eyes are getting old. Thanks.

So, if these calculations are correct, and barring some unlikely and counterintuitive offsetting effects somewhere in here (somehow, many thousands of lives were saved from non-COVID death by COVID, lockdowns, and masks) the total death toll from COVID is under 100K; the total excluding very sick elderly people is maybe 30-40K. Most of that 30-40K seems to have had multiple pre-existing conditions.

Thus, as the CDC correctly believed right up until they stopped believing it around April, 2020, lockdowns do more harm than good. Lockdowns kill people, and, unlike routine airborne respiratory viruses like COVID, lockdowns are completely preventable and don’t run their course within a few months.

B. I want to do something, but I don’t know what. I’m praying harder than I ever have for God’s mercy on our country, because if we get what we deserve based on our sins, the Great Leap Forward will look like a picnic. I’d like to do something to put our little infant sociopath of a governor in his place. But I don’t even know how to fly a helicopter. (That’s hyperbole for your spy bots.)

Lord, remember your promise of mercy. For if you remember our sins, Lord, who could stand? For the sake of the Sorrowful Passion of your Son, have mercy on us and the whole world! Amen.

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

Holy Mother Mary, Queen of the Angels, pray for us!

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

St. Michael, Prince of the Heavenly Host, defend us in battle!

C. About a week ago, started learning the 2nd movement of the Moonlight Sonata, the one everybody forgets is even there, as the 1st and 3rd movements are epic. Been working on a dozen or so pieces from the Well Tempered Clavier and on the Sonata Pathetique for years now, and have years to go at this rate, and I needed a break.

Almost got it down, as it’s very short and repetitive. Here’s someone who really can play it:

I find it very beautiful and fun.

D. Bunch of good stuff happening on the family side, but I’m sworn to silence for now.

E. I need to remind myself that I’m one of the most blessed and happy people I know, great marriage, wonderful kids, nice home in a beautiful state, lots of friends. Thank you, Almighty Father, giver of all good gifts.

2nd of July Update

A. Made a little progress on the 3rd year and running Never-ending Front Yard Brickwork Project of Doom:

IMG_5105
Got the forms removed, added a couple feet of brick walk. I needed to see how it looked before deciding exactly where to position the column that will hold up the fence. Thinking the column should be about 4-6″ in front of the wall, to add a little articulation. Yes, I’m that geeky and obsessive.  

IMG_5104
This gives some idea where we’re going with this. Column on the end where the rebar is sticking up, 8″ (2 bricks wide) wall along the front nearest the street, 12″ planter in the middle, 4″ wide wall in the back. 3′ tall iron fence runs down the middle of the 8″ wide 16″ tall wall, flanked at either end by a brick column. Then, after the gap for the water meter, an identical set up on the other side. Fearful symmetry. 

IMG_5111
Oh look! A row of bricks for the 4″ wall! The Caboose and I threw them down just now. 

It will be extremely cute, with a little orchard behind it and climby plants in the planters, maybe some rosemary hanging down. Hope I live long enough to enjoy it…

B. Speaking of which, still ill. Still think it’s at least partly the blood pressure drugs, but to be honest I’ve gained a frightful amount of weight over the last 25 years, to the point where I need to own that that’s most likely the root of the problems. So, I’ve cut calories by about 1/3. All I need to do is keep that up for a couple years,,,,

It would be good to get some regular exercise, but that’s tricky when I can’t count on feeling up to it at any regular time. Getting long walks in when I can. So I’m logging blood pressure readings several times a day, keeping track of when I take the meds and how I’m feeling. Then when my doctor gets back after the 4th, we need to talk.

No reading, very little writing – mostly just this blog. Concentration is intermittent. More apologies to my beta readers – I am grateful and will get back to you soon, I hope.

C. Finally, got laid off from my job of 21+ years. While not the prime cause, I don’t think, being unable to focus or even stay awake at work helped things. So now I have about 5 months to find another job before I have to start in on my retirement savings. Wish me luck. Say a prayer if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m in much better shape than most people who go through this sort of thing, thank God, and I’m frankly glad to get out of what has long been a deteriorating work situation. But it’s no fun.

Update of the Random Sort

Last night, the lovely Mrs. YardsaleoftheMind and I went out for dinner. This is not all that remarkable in and of itself, but there’s a story:

A few months ago, we arranged an anniversary getaway to a cabin at Elim Grove attached to Raymond’s Bakery, in Cazadero near where the Russian River enters the Pacific. We highly recommend it if you find yourself looking for a B&B among the redwoods only a couple hours from San Francisco. Our dear son thought he’d send us out to dinner, so he searched for nearby restaurants, and set us up with reservations at El Paseo in Mill Valley

This was a lovely and kind thought. However, while Mill Valley is not all that far from Cazadero as the crow flies, it’s over an hour away as the car drives. Our dear son, who has not driven that area, would not know this.

I did not check this out before we left. So, after having driven the couple hours up to the cabin, we find out there’s no practical way to make it back down to Mill Valley that evening for dinner. We had to postpone it. Until yesterday evening.

The 40 mile drive from Concord to Mill Valley takes anywhere from just under an hour to an hour and a half or more depending on traffic. Bay Area traffic can be and often is evil, so we left in plenty of time to spare. And got there in a little over an hour.

With time to kill, we walked around beautiful, quaint and well-moneyed Mill Valley, a old city nestled in the Marin hills, beloved by hippies, former hippies and would-be hippies with money. That odd and frankly crazy blend of wealth and counter-culture that characterizes much of California’s self image is nowhere better expressed than here. Just as the hippies aged into the Greed is Good crowd on Wall Street in the 80s while somehow still imagining that they were not The Man to whom they had lately imagined they were sticking it, elderly boomers with millions grab will grab an organic frozen yogurt here and browse the boutiques for natural hemp clothing and handmade South American art. Their high priced lawyers will be engaged to sue to prevent some other resident’s latest act of architectural self-expression interfering with the view. And so on, after the manner of their kind. But it sure is beautiful and quaint – great place to stoll and grab dinner!

As we headed up Blythe (one of the main drags) we spotted an enormous, ugly church, which I immediately would have bet money on being Catholic. Sadly, I was right.

This picture of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is very flattering. Built in 1968. The 60s live in Mill Valley in many ways.

The Lord’s ways are not our ways, it is always good to keep in mind. We walked up and tried the door – locked. As we walked around the building, we tried the various side doors. Finally, on the far left, the last door was open! We went inside to look around.

One woman knelt in the middle section of pews, but otherwise the church was empty. Coming in at a weird angle far off to one side, it took me a minute to notice the monstrance atop the tabernacle – Adoration was in progress! All the sudden, that became a very beautiful church!

We knelt and prayed for a bit, then took a look around. I walked past the lady in the pews, who smiled and whispered, asking how I knew Adoration was being held – I told her we didn’t know, just lucked into it. She said they were doing an all night Adoration.

As we left, another woman was arriving. God bless them – and I’m sure He does! – for being there for Him. How beautiful that these parishioners keep this devotion.

As we headed out, I noticed the epiphany chalk inscription above the door of what appeared to be the rectory. Cool! So, whatever the architectural and artistic limitation, the people at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel seem intent on keeping the faith. God bless them all!

We descended down to our dinner. El Paseo is heavy on the quaint in keeping with Mill Valley city ordinances no doubt, set back from the street accessible via a brick passage and pateo and ensconced in an old brick building. Sammy Hagar, who you might have heard of and who fits in marvelously with the overall 60s sort of vibe of Mill Valley, bought and renovated the restaurant some years ago. I honored him by refusing to drive 55 on our way there and back.

All in all, a lovely evening was had by my beloved and me. The food and service were excellent, and Mill Valley is still beautiful. Our son’s kind deed was finally realized.

Prayers, Thanks & Updates

1. Start it off with GKC:

The Americans have established a Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America. The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England.

Chesterton had a pure and white hot hatred of Puritanism. He granted that at least the old Puritanism encouraged reading the Bible, thereby populating young heads with heroes and warriors, feminine woman and masculine men – something new improved Puritanism has eliminated.

2. 5 years ago, our son Andrew’s death was a means of grace for a conversion. Here is Nadia Mitchell, convert from evangelicalism, being interviewed on the Journey Home:

3. Just yesterday, Mrs Yard Sale of the Mind and I were talking about Pat Bravo, a childhood friend of hers with whom she’d stayed in touch since they’d graduated high school and went their separate ways. She had not heard from Pat in months, even though Pat is the sort of friend to remember every birthday and holiday and unfailingly send cards at the very least.

Anne-Martine had left messages on the phone and had not gotten a call back. Finally, yesterday after our discussion, she tracked down Pat’s father’s number, and left him a message. He called back this morning.

Pat suffered a massive brain aneurysm on August 18th and died the next day. She had had brain cancer many years ago, went into remission after treatment, then had a recurrence, went into remission again, but I guess it finally caught up with her. She was 55, I think. She also had a rough personal life, with a husband who left her and strained relations with her family. She had moved a couple hours away, to Orville, where she’d bought an old house and spent her time fixing it up.

Now Anne-Martine is beating herself up for not having gone to see her this summer. This summer was super-busy around here, and the last conversations she and Pat had were looking at calendars and not being able to work something out.

Eternal Rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Pat’s death is the third among the small cohort of my wife’s friends from high school or before. Historically, I know having lost a large percentage of childhood friends by your early 50s isn’t all that odd. But it sure seems like a lot.

4. From the profound to the ridiculous: the cat, who spent 10 days in a vet hospital after having eaten a bunch of Nerf darts (stupid cat!) is now sleeping on my bed as I type. He smells like shampoo, which, given his condition and the laxatives they were treating it with, is a huge improvement. Huge. Improvement.

It’s almost like cats know what to do to reestablish bonds with their humans – humans who, in this case, are more than a little grossed out and lighter in the wallet as a result of said cat’s decision to eat toys. He’s been wanting to be carried around or lie on laps purring since he got back.

It’s working. Stupid humans. Remaining issue: he was in no condition to groom himself and neither were we there to brush his super-fine and long hair. So now he has mats, several in locations where brushing (or cutting – don’t tell the vet!) them out will be difficult. We’ll see how tolerant he is of people tugging on his fur in awkward ways and places. Did I mention he’s a very large cat with serious claws and a high 0 to shred them! time? Sigh.

5. Grateful for my family, faith and health. Grateful God has seen fit to make us not poor by any stretch – learning magnanimity sounds like a better draw than learning poverty. Grateful I live in a beautiful place in a time of peace and plenty. It would be small of me to regret having to share it with those Californians who give us the reputation we, unfortunately, deserve. Right? Give me a second to unclench my jaws. There, much better. The weather is really, really, nice – about 70 and sunny today, for example.

6. Heading off to Uncle John’s for family Thanksgiving in a couple hours. 3 out of 4 extant children are here. Anna-Kate, the younger daughter attending school in New Hampshire, is staying with her Uncle Patrick in Massachusetts with other family. She baked them pies – she’s very, very good at baking pies, or, indeed, baking pretty much anything. Lucky them.

However, Mrs. Yard Sale of the Mind, from whom Anna Kate learned to bake, is baking *us* pies. Lucky us!

Have a happy and holy Thanksgiving!

Curious Aside

So, traffic has been up hugely at this humble blog – relatively speaking, of course. Still a humble blog. Since views are up much more than visitor count, seems like someone or some small number of people have been reading through the blog?

Just a shout out, if you’re a human being – thanks. Let me know what you think.

And, since I have an unhealthy interest in numbers, it’s rained over 2 1/4 inches in the last 24 hours here. That’s a big storm by CA standards. Was told to expect ‘up to 1″ ‘. It’s almost like the forecasters are just guessing!

30 Years and Running

The only 2 pictures I carry in my wallet:

Anne-Martine 8th Grade
Miss Anne-Martine Brilliant, around 8th grade. I love this picture, and have carried it in my wallet for over 30 years. I just like to be reminded of the sweet, bookish girl who grew up to be my wife. 

Kids
Our 4 oldest, taken about 16 years ago. The personalities of these kids hinted at in this picture absolutely held true as they got older. I don’t carry a picture of our youngest son – must remedy that!  The photo paper has not held up so well, but we have other copies. 

30 years ago, right around this hour, the lovely Anne-Martine Terese Brilliant stood in front of God and church full of people  and vowed to be my wife. I, with much less trepidation than would have been called for in her case, likewise vowed to be her husband. And, thus, we confected a sacrament together. It was pretty fun. It keeps getting better.

Three decades, two trips to England and one to Italy, 5 children born and 2 miscarried, the founding of a very weird school, the loss of a son at age 20,  the loss of 3 parents and two sisters and one grandmother, a college graduation, a household that’s gone from 2 residents to 7 to 3, endless birthdays and holidays and holy days later – I’d do it all over, no questions.

Now we face more of the troubles life presents if you embrace it, more relatives getting old, sick or both, more growing pains with kids and friends and relatives, more concerns with what it means to be a mother and fathers, a wife and a husband to and in the world, more questions about God’s will and whether we are surrendering to it.

Accepting all this, with any luck, Anne-Martine and I get to grow old ourselves, together. If God so wills, then we, in the fullness of our lives and surrounded by our children and children’s children, will join our son and our parents and siblings in the places He has prepared for us, and await the family we leave briefly behind.

Thank you, Anne-Martine. Thank You, my Lord and my God. Have mercy on us, and let Your Light shine on us!

 

Mothers

Late, as usual…

Saturday, the three members of the Moore clan still in Concord attended a very sweet wedding at our church. Helen, and Les got married after finding each other 50 years after being high school sweethearts.  After getting to know each other in band (Les: trombone; Helen: clarinet) and sitting next to each other on the band bus and otherwise become an ‘item’,  Les joined the army upon graduation and went away. Helen waited 6 years, then got married; Les also got married somewhere thousands of miles from Helen. All this happened about 50 years ago.

Then, a few years ago, Helen’s husband died. More recently, Les’s wife died. His mind turned to Helen, and, with the help of his children, he tracked her down on Facebook and asked if he could come see her. She said yes. (I can only imagine what went through her mind! She must have a very forgiving soul!) Next thing you know, Helen sells her house in Florida and moves to Concord to be with Les, enters the Church to better share his life (which is how we got to know them) and marries the guy! They are a cuuuute couple.

I don’t really know them all that well – my beloved got to know them better. Les has some children, but Helen was childless. Everything in my limited knowledge of her suggests she’ll step right into the mother role for Les’s grown children and the grandmother role for her new grandchildren.

Which is a very good thing, essential, even. The role of mother may be created by biology, but is much more than that. Human beings are not solitary animals, nor even family-group animals. As Aristotle says,  man is a political animal. The smallest unit in which a man can act politically is the polis, the city. To state the obvious: no city, no society can exist for more than a generation without mothers, and biology is only part of it. Something that has slowly dawned on me over the 30 years I’ve been married and the 25 years I’ve been a father: the roles of mother and father only begin in the family, but are truly expressed and deeply needed in the community at large.

This is why the church blesses and recognizes as a sacrament even a wedding between two elderly people who are far past the age for producing children. As wonderful as conceiving and raising children is, it remains just a part of the picture, and not, ultimately, a required part. A marriage is a marriage even if no children are produced; a woman can be a wife and even a mother without bearing children of her own. C. S. Lewis makes this point in That Hideous Strength in the characters of the Dimbles – a childless couple who nonetheless serve an indispensable role as mother and father to many children of all ages.

I watch my wife and other mothers who have embraced the fullness of their vocation, and see them mothering EVERYBODY. Just as fathers will gather to be patriots – fathers to their country – mothers act as mothers to their society and culture. In this rich moral universe – the real world – there is no either/or for mothers – acting as a mother to her own children by its very nature moves her to be a mother at large. Just as being a father means sacrificing for the culture and society in general, being mother means nurturing not only her own children, but nurturing the children of all ages who embody the culture in which her biological children live. Mother love is in this way the opposite of loving mankind – she loves exactly those real people in her life, and in the lives of her children and family, that make up the relationship among friends that is the ideal of society.  No mere abstractions.

I love my wife more for being the mother of our children, just as I suspect she loves me more for being their father. Like all mothers to the degree they embrace their vocations as such, she is moved by her natures, by her loves for me and our children, to try to do good for our friends and neighbors. It is the sum of all these little actions by all the selfless mothers out there that create the emotional backbone of a culture, that enable us to see in others somebody’s son or daughter, and to love them at least a little for that alone.

For these reasons, Mother’s Day is not just the celebration of the blessing a mother is to her own children – although it is certainly that – but a day to recognize the essential role motherhood plays in any society worth living in. In this days where everything about mothers from their basic biological role to their honored and noble place in society are viciously attacked, let us celebrate mothers in their full glory.

Holy Thursday Art

A happy, holy and blessed Holy Thursday to all who read this blog and their loved ones.

Let’s look at some nearly randomly chosen Last Supper art:

By anonimous master – Basilica di San Marco, turistic book, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4274743

Along the east coast of Italy, facing what used to be the Eastern Roman Empire across the Adriatic Sea, there are a number of churches that look east for their architecture and style. San Marco, in Venice, is the most outstanding. Above is a mosaic of the Last Supper, from sometime after the 10th century, capturing the moment in St. John’s Gospel where, at Peter’s urging, John lays his head on Jesus’s chest and asks who it is who will betray Him. Typically of iconography, little attempt is made at realism – feature, not a bug, as the point of all such art is to raise our minds to contemplation of the Truth, not artistic realism.

An oddity: all 12 apostles are shown – and each has a halo. Since, at this point in the narrative, Judas has not yet left to lead the soldiers to Christ, is the artist trying to tell us he is still an Apostle, still counted among the holy?

Here, for example, from a few centuries later:

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“The Last Supper” by Jaume Huguet (c. 1450)Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

Note that John still had his head on Christ’s chest, even though at this point Christ is shown consecrating the bread and wine. Judas, front center left, does not have a halo. He is depicted as having already abandoned himself to treachery and the devil. There’s a long history of northern Europeans – largely, the Germanic tribes – having a very legalistic view of things which the missionaries from Italy had a devilish time trying to convert them from, such as compiling books of exactly what penalty each carefully-defined sin would get them in the confessional. The Eastern artist wanted to convey that even Judas was chosen by Christ for holiness and salvation. Huguet wants us to know who the bad guy is.

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The Last Supper, Fra Angelico, 1422

Meanwhile, back in Italy at roughly the same time, Blessed Fra Angelico painted this Last Supper in San Marco – the Florentine Dominican monastery, not the Venetian Basilica.

Giotto, Last Supper, 1305. Awkward seating, odd dark halos, which everyone gets. Giotto was working out this whole realism stuff within the context of the Byzantine style of the time. It works better some times than others.

Fra Angelico wanted to be realistic, after the fashion of Giotto, with real figures shown doing real things.  He’s also working with the existing architecture – he’s fitting this fresco on a wall under an arch, which intrudes in the upper left. He takes these considerations, and makes them strengths. He can’t hang his Apostles suspended in mid-air behind a table whose surface is in another plane from wherever it is the Apostles are located, so he wraps the table around under the arch, gives the three Apostles sitting there a higher built-in bench to sit on so that they line up nicely heightwise with the Apostles along the other stretch of table.

 

But there’s not enough room to show all 12 in this manner. Our Byzantine artist in Venice would have just packed them in, and that’s what Huguet did – nobody is eating dinner in his picture, they’re practically sitting on top of each other.  Fra Angelico instead shows 4 empty seats that, had the Apostles been sitting on those benches, would have put them awkwardly with their backs to us, and instead has them kneeling – a nice reference to the way people would have received Communion in the churches in Italy in his day. These four Apostles obscure each other – unlike the other 8, they are not individuals, but a crowd. I think Fra Angelico did this on purpose, to have those 4 represent us, the people not at the table at the Last Supper, kneeling to receive Him today nonetheless. Also, he sticks Judas in that crowd, compromising on the halo question by giving him a dark one – Judas is still among the chosen Apostles, but he is losing the gift of grace as he embraces treachery.

Unlike the other paintings, here the table is cleared of dinner. “When supper had ended” we are told in Scripture, Christ consecrated the bread and wine. The other artists wanted to emphasize the Passover meal, and so showed it still on the table. Fra Angelico wants to emphasize the connection between what went on at the Last Supper and what goes on today at Mass, so the table is cleared. It is the Lamb of God distributing Himself Who is portrayed, Who completes and supersedes the pascal lamb of the Israelites.

Christ comes around the table to distribute Communion, just as the priest at Mass comes down to the railing. Assuming Christ was sitting in the middle, he’s starting with John, who would have been next to him according to John’s Gospel, and, as the youngest would be a beardless Apostle. But there’s also a clean-shaven Apostle on the end, so can’t be sure.

Finally, he puts Mary (I’m pretty sure) kneeling in lower left. Some tradition place her at the Last Supper, although she is not mentioned there in the Gospels. It serves Fra Angelico’s purposes to show her there – she is also us, in a way, the woman who said yes and for whom the Almighty has done great things. That yes and use by God for great things is what we aspire to.  Judas is in a kneeling crowd, a crowd of those aspiring to what Mary has achieved – total surrender to the will of God. He could have chosen otherwise.

There are hundreds of other wonderful representations of the Last Supper. Maybe in future years we’ll get to a few more.