Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Hail Mary Pass

A colleague and now a close friend visited me the other day.  We are planning to write a book about a subject that is near and dear to both of us. It is a book about the maternity hospital I was born in. The building, now not only shuttered but cinder blocked-up, saw over 350,000 babies born between 1931 and 1979. It also holds some of the best Art-Deco architecture the world has seen. Within its walls, ground breaking work on preeclampsia and maternal-child health was performed. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt opened the nursery in 1931. And it had one of the first African-American and female board- certified Ob/Gyne on staff who later won a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Johnson. The list goes on.

The world needs to know all this and more.

But like anything truly wonderful in that city, it was overshadowed by political greed and corruption defiling its true greatness.

 We intermixed discussions of the chapters with salacious gossip, self-confessions and many hopes.  It was a great and productive night. 

She handed them to me as she was leaving.  In that split second I thought she was just grabbing my hand to say goodbye, but I was surprised to feel there was something in her hand. 

“I know you don’t believe in these but I want you to have them.”

I couldn’t help but feel the lump in my throat as she walked her to her car, her husband waiting patiently in the driveway.

She gave me bright blue rosary beads.

Rosary Beads. I have many of them stashed in drawers from my late mother, late grandmother and aunts. There is even one giant one with wooden beads and a large crucifix that my girls call “hang gliding Jesus.”  Sarcasm is truly a second language in my household.  I am afraid I have been the one heavily influencing its continuance.

Wikipedia tells me something I should have remembered from the twelve long years of catechism:

The sequence of prayers is the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary ten times, and the Glory Be to the Father, sometimes followed by the Fatima Prayer. Each sequence is known as a decade. Five decades are prayed, after beginning with the Apostle's Creed and five initial prayers. The praying of each decade is accompanied by meditation on one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall the life of Jesus Christ.

Mechanically similar strings of beads are used in other cultures; for example, the Greek kombolói, sometimes called worry beads, appear similar and are sometimes manipulated in a mechanically similar way, as if counting, but have no religious or cultural significance.

I am not one to pray.  If I had them, I would have worn out worry beads by now. The rote recitation of the rosary as a kid was enough to give me many a headache.  Many of the Catholic prayers I sat through and recited (and remember-even in French)  were just words that hopefully comforted someone because they didn’t comfort me. Besides, we were always praying for someone else anyway: the starving orphans of Africa, the astronauts of Apollo 13, flood victims, Mrs. Gizzi's many tragic operations, "Money for the Missions" (to the tune of "Pennies from Heaven"), Sr. Helen Charles' nervous condition and every other pathetic classroom, horrific national or dreadful international news item.   They might as well have been in  Latin.  In fact, I think I would have preferred the Latin since I would have learned something.

But lately I have been seeing rosaries more. It is a tradition in my family to have a rosary made of red roses hung in the caskets of deceased family members.  I saw one several weeks ago as I attended my father’s cousins’ wake.  It flooded me with memories of the far too many others I have seen in my lifetime.

But these blue ones are different. My friend has Stage 4 Breast Cancer and is doing well. In fact, I am in awe of her indomitable spirit and zest for life. Perhaps she meant them as a talisman holding some mystical powers because I can’t seem to take them out of my pocket.  Maybe that is the real  "mystery of the rosary:" a human connection for hope amid a lot of despair. I find it a bit jarring that the rosary contains fives “decades” or sets of prayers. Perhaps you have to be fifty to find meaning in these damn things? Or perhaps experience enough to actually need them? 

I have been granted the opportunity for a Hail Mary Pass in November. Details are not necessary.  Maybe with the right amount of study, a few beads, and lots of discipline, I will score.

Go team J! 

If Madonna can wear a cheer leading costume,  maybe I can too. God, Jesus, Our Lady of Fatima and the historic Apostles know, I was never the type. It has to be blue to match those beads.

Well, on second thought, maybe just blue pompoms. Like Mother Madonna, I am five decades old, after all.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Quidditch, Zoroastrianism, and the Languages of Papua-New Guinea

I am so grateful for the Internet and all its trappings. I am no longer an idiot to my children when subjects that I should have read about and remembered somewhere in my fifty years resurface in a high school assignment, a grade school composition or a college application.  I nod in agreement on whatever the subject, then sneak off to use Safari on my iPhone.  Don’t tell them.  It will dispel the myth that Mom is some kind of genius.  I’m just really curious, warding off a head slapping V-8 moment, and really embarrassed to look stupid.

It’s not my first stealthy acquisition of recovered knowledge.  Medical school and residencies were also fraught with similar schemes of one-upmanship.  Only then, our peripheral brains were carried in over sized pockets with indexes of medical tidbits, charts, equations and definitions.  Assignment clipboards had the “Wash U” manual attached as a cookbook for saving both your patient’s lives and your dumb ass.  Thank you mini-Harrison’s textbook, too.

Its enough to have Attention Deficit Disorder.  I listen to music on the radio sometimes and think “Am I singing those lyrics right?  Okay, a quick look at www.azlyrics.com at a long stoplight  and “Mad drool all the way”  becomes the correct “Mad bull has lost his way,” from Gimme Shelter. And apparently that is a reference to the cruel behavior of a Texas Sheriff during the civil rights movement. Thank you Wikipedia and 3G.

I am not the only one.  How many times do you now have to beep your horn at someone who didn’t notice that the lights had changed?  

I read the news today, oh boy….Thank you, New York Times on-line.

The sudden storm we recently experienced in the Baltimore-Washington area with gale force winds, a deluge of rain but without a hurricane warning became a “derecho,” a word I had never heard of before and still mispronounce.  Thank you, Merriam Webster on-line.  

Derecho is pronounced:  day- ray-cho.  Thank you  www.forvo.com/word/gazetteer/  

Different accents are also available. The British always sound better and more intelligent than Americans, except for that "schedule" thing.

And for those who are just curious:

Quidditch is the game played in Harry Potter but also now in over 300 universities and high schools.  Thanks, www.internationalquidditch.org.

Zoroastrianism was formerly a major religion in the world and now only practiced by approximately 190,000 followers.  Thank you, www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian/ataglance/.

And there are over 350 languages and dialects spoken in Papua -New Guinea. Again, what would we all do without Wikipedia.

Googlito ergo sum.

Perverse Latin for “I google therefore I am.”  

I am not the only one. Imagine that,  John Lennon (and azlyrics.com). 

And yes I googled “Google” to get the image above. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bruce, Borges and the Fountain of Youth

If youth is the period of hero-worship, so also is it true that hero-worship, more than anything else, perhaps, gives one the sense of youth. To admire, to expand one’s self, to forget the rut, to have a sense of newness and life and hope, is to feel young at any time of life.                 

                     –Sociologist Charles Horton Cooley     
I thought of the late Jorge Luis Borges, the writer, the other day.  Something popped up on Facebook that it was his 113th birthday and it amazed me that I had once been in the company of someone (besides my grandmother) who could be that old now. 

I clearly have trouble accepting this middle-age thing.

I didn’t really meet him.  I had read sections of his masterful Ficciones in college and thought it would be cool to see him at a lecture at my university. I was never really into hero worship but somehow I needed to go to that lecture.  As usual,  I went by myself, lest I be terrified to go with another student who might ask me questions that may have indicated I hadn’t read Borges’ text all that well.  Learning by terror was one way I made it through college. I don’t think I was the only one.

I still have the visual in my head. I was sitting in Cobb Hall only about 30 feet from him on the left side of the auditorium.  Borges was a very old man, seated at a table on stage, barely audible, his papery skin holding a cane with both hands. He whispered his answers to questions that I don’t even remember. I don’t think it even mattered.  It was the kind of interview that only really elderly people get.  Soft and respectful questions then mumbled answers. He spoke in Spanish, another barrier to my understanding.   But I do remember being in awe of someone who actually wrote the magically complex stories that we had studied.

I don’t go to many lectures or concerts anymore. There are the ones with my preteen daughter, but frugality tells me I can download most good music on my iPhone or iPod. Medical stuff aside, NPR now serves as my auditory education in the arts, politics, economics, sociology and the humanities. My minivan is my lecture hall.  Concerts are often a hassle, expensive, and bizarre going to alone. 

Bruce Springsteen was another must-see during college. I remember going to a record of three Springsteen concerts in one week in 1981.  My former roommate was enthralled (obsessed?) with him and although I was just a fan, her fervor was contagious.  I have to say that Mr. Springsteen put on quite a show. I would love to see if now, thirty years later,  he still has that enthusiasm. A recent Rolling Stone article about his nearly 4 hour marathon concert in Europe reported that Mr. Springsteen has not slowed down. Perhaps his fountain of youth is contagious too.

What do we really get out of being in the same room, concert hall or stadium with a famous person or act when their work can be experienced by other venues?

I confess I love biographies. I like to read that the famous and the infamous led real lives. Perhaps at the concert and lecture halls, we get the idea that these people, even with their amazing gifts, are human too.  They live, they breathe, they age, they sweat, they smell like Bengay, they take bathroom breaks, they make mistakes.  Just like us.

But I think Mr. Cooley also has a point.  We get a tiny bit of time back when we connect to those we admire. And not just the pun of the 1975 magazine cover.

Rereading Ficciones again will be easy. I still have the book. I am such a pack rat. 

Mr. Borges, I learned.  Although it seemed it was the very hard way as usual.

Now about seeing Springsteen.  He's appearing at the Meadowlands later this month.

Now that would certainly shed the years and make me forget the rut on many levels.

Logistics be damned.