Family / Hospitality / Ordinary Life / Spirituality / Work and Rest

Summer Shorts

In a moment of general regret my husband said: “I’m sorry.” He was looking at me with tears in his eyes. I thought he was referring to the way he ignored me when I asked him to read another version of this letter. But, no, his apology was about our IRA. “You deserved so much better than this. I haven’t made any money at all for us.” I could’ve said something gooshy, but without thinking, I chose to be wry. “Ah, but You deserved so much better: A woman who could diet and have sex everyday.” This feminist betrayal made him laugh. And anyway, I did have enough money last week to buy myself a nineteen dollar pillow for the ache in my neck and that’s good enough for now. (However, I’m going to try to pawn it off on him cause it’s not helping. That’s life. Relief is rarely where I think it should be.)

Then he stood behind me, his arms wrapped around me as we looked out the kitchen window and waited for the coffee to brew. The leaves on the trees were still that wet, newly-born green and the red squirrels were tearing up and down the lindens.

Several young friends have been trying to figure out if the love they’ve found is the kind that makes for marriage. In the last few weeks two couples have left relationships that looked pretty good at first. Two others are planning the wedding. I don’t think it’s easy to figure out. Among other things, romantic notions are hard on a relationship and most relationships (not the notions) get shed in the light of an ordinary day. I thought I needed someone who, I don’t know, I wanted someone who was committed to the Christian faith certainly. I also wanted someone who broke my heart every day because he was a poet but helped keep my stick on the ice because he was a hockey player – a kind of sexy cross between Leonard Cohen and Gordie Howe. (You probably don’t know that Gordie was the greatest hockey player ever.) Oh, and he had to be really smart.

Denis never played hockey, but I think he’s brilliant and funny, and he occasionally writes poetry a lover would appreciate. What felt best about being with Denis was the sense of coming home. Of being safely at home with someone else in the everyday. There was a relaxing of neurotic tension. It was remarkable to be someone’s beloved in such ordinary things as reading a book for three hours without looking up or wandering into the kitchen at 7 a.m. with unwashed hair and gunk in my eyes.

There were some differences we chose to ignore or didn’t know existed until after the wedding. I’d like to say so what? But that’s not quite helpful. A young married man told me a lot of young couples today feel duped by older Christian couples who only report the glow of marriage. I felt the same way after our first fight which didn’t involve fists because I knew I would lose. Why didn’t anyone mention things like this? Would it make a difference (I’m seriously asking) if I told you there are still times when I wish I could either run away or make my husband hurt bad? Or that sometimes I’d like to say something so mean he’d be reduced to snot? I believe we’ve learned not to mortally wound when we fight, and I’d like to think that by now our love alone sustains us, but I doubt it. We still need our vows, the Church, and God our Lord to keep us. That, unfortunately, is how fallen I am, in spite of love.

We’ve been together for 38 years. I can’t fathom it. When I was in first grade I was in love with my cousin who was seven years older. He sat behind me on the bus and was so beautiful with black hair and dark eyes. I was sad to think that by the time I was a marriageable seventeen years he’d be twenty-four and way too old to make a family. When I met Denis twelve years later I learned that my fondness for dark hair and brown eyes was merely premature. God has faithfully helped us sustain and care for our marriage all these years. I am humbled.

Humming with Meatloaf
Yesterday a dazzling red Hummer with vanity plates reading “Her H2” pulled out in front of me forcing me to drive behind it for three blocks until I turned off for Toad Hall. You know I fume over these vehicles; they’re great for going to war, but hauling camisoles home from Talbots?

I am somewhat assuaged by the news that GM will no longer manufacture the largest model, the hulking Hummer H1 which lists for $140,000. It also comforts me in a spiteful way to know that at current gas prices it costs $150.00 to fill one up. Of course, if you can afford this monstrosity in the first place….

Which is why, in the end, I turn to meatloaf. Yes. A little less venom, a more humble concentration is required of me. An inspiring little cookbook came out this year: Fix-It and Enjoy-It. It’s one in a series of spiral-bound, practical, no glossy photos or rarified flavorings cookbooks. Just plain cooking from Phyllis Pellman Good, a 57-year-old Mennonite with round glasses. Her recipes are for people simply trying to get decent food to the table on an ordinary day. Cheeseburger soup, deviled eggs, and double fudge brownies are not Food Events which is sometimes how I think of every meal. Nothing faux about her recipes, just welcome home kinds of dishes that can be fixed by anyone. She includes meatloaf which is something Denis loves way more than my grilled Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp. Plus, he thinks there’s nothing better than (uck) a cold meat loaf sandwich the next day. My recipe for meatloaf is a little different from Phyllis’s and only takes about 6 minutes to whip up.

Margie’s Meatloaf
1 pound lean ground beef
1 egg
½ c. oatmeal, (or substitute 3 slices of bread torn to tiny bits)
1/3 c. milk
1 T. Worcestershire sauce (or other steak sauce)
1/2 t. garlic salt
½ medium onion, chopped
Salt, pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a bowl – except the catsup – mix with your hands.
Pat mixture into whatever’s handy: pie plate, loaf pan, casserole dish. It doesn’t matter. Smear catsup on the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until crusty brown on outside and a tiny bit pink on inside. Serve with a baked potato, toss salad and crusty bread.
Tip: if you don’t like to get your hands yucky, just grab some plastic gloves (NOT the ones you use to clean bathroom) wash them like you’d wash your hands with soap and hot water and then begin squishing the meat around until it’s all blended.

Confessions From Crash
This is me. Sustainable Ag Woman shopping at the Good Earth Alternative Everything Store. There’s a certain clerk I avoid because in the three years she’s worked she still hasn’t learned to speed up her check-out or remember the difference between sweet potatoes and yams for pity sake. I admire her beautiful silk head wrap and dark eyes, but I wish the guy stocking tomatoes would get up to the register and sort her out.

Then there is the Nice, Good White Girl strolling through neighborhood with mostly Tamed (his eyebrows could stand a trimming), White Husband. We pass a house a block from ours and stare at the new Toyotas and deep ruts that have replaced the lawn. We gingerly step around caked mud and drying puddles as the air vibrates with Latino polkas and dark-haired children rattling up and down the sidewalk on Big Wheels.

I’m sorry. I’m a closet bigot and the movie Crash outed me. As a Christian, you can’t be too careful. You must be alert at all times because you never know when reformation is going to assault you. We don’t comment on our neighbors anymore because c’mon, what if we were from a Guatemalan village living in a U.S. city where no one ever walks or rides the bus? What if all your people believed that owning a new SUV represented the impossible dream?

Watching Crash momentarily relieved me as I witnessed other races venting spleen against my whiteness. For one second it gave me permission to think nasty names against others, names I would never say out loud. But then I was trapped when it came to this scene:
A painful argument arises between two characters. An African American sarcastically calls his sometimes girlfriend a “Mexican,” and invites her to teach him a lesson about sex. Angered, she replies, “You want a lesson? I’ll give you a lesson. How ’bout a geography lesson? My father’s from Puerto Rico. My mother’s from El Salvador. Neither one of those is Mexico.”

To which he replies: “Ah. Well, then. I guess the big mystery is who gathered all those remarkably different cultures together and taught them all how to park their cars on their lawns?”

Ow. I laughed at this vicious slap because I knew well what he meant. Maybe I’ve listened too sympathetically to our neighborhood organization complain that property values are threatened because certain immigrants use their yards to repair cars. Perhaps as a child I wasn’t sufficiently punished for calling my siblings pot-lickers. Suddenly I was aware of my duplicity and the Holy Ghost perched on my shoulder.

Forgive us our Debts
Crash gives us a story of the postmodern generation. Like many of today’s movies it reflects beliefs and questions about important issues in life – meaning, spirituality, death, relationships. The questions can range from deep personal issues to global matters that affect all aspects of human existence. This film is about racism and the randomness of your skin color and nationality. It is powerful, disturbing, beautiful at times, and convicting. It’s a perfect film for discussing how universally human it is to find ways to despise and hatefully use people of another race.

I know genocide and slavery are big offenses, those I get. But Crash also forces me to look at the little racial sins that seep out of my heart, like when the kids two doors up stole my bird feeder. I saw it hanging empty on their porch. I know it’s mine, because they’re just not that into nature. Besides it’s not the only thing they’ve stolen from us. I wanted to offer them our thistle seed since they already have our feeder, but Denis wouldn’t let me. He knew it was just cynicism.

Crash raises the question of the Good Samaritan in a way Sunday School can’t – or at least doesn’t. Is it possible to overcome blood and history, to act with love and justice? Does anyone escape the intolerance of other races that is expressed from the boardroom of a business executive to a policeman’s squad car?

In the world of the movie the experience of suffering opens a small window of hope. Perhaps, just perhaps, the universal nature of suffering will bring us together – finding a van full of hand-cuffed starving Asians ready to be sold to a sweat shop might cause us to react with compassion. This is good because, as a Christian, I know the Gospel narrative is replete with suffering.

As a follower of Jesus, I long to understand the stories of this generation. I watch movies because they help me translate my Christian world view into something more than Biblical platitudes or sentimental good wishes. By the time we reach discussion phase whether it’s at the coffee shop after the movie or sitting around our living room with others, it must often be prefaced by confession. For through their stories I discover I’m not the Christian I ought to be. I may think of myself as a kind neighbor who parks her car on the driveway and donates to Channel One, but the point of the Good Samaritan is that there is only one truly good neighbor – Jesus Christ. The rest of us are too ready to slip past while making comments under our breath. This film helps me explore what the Gospel really means – on the same ground with the rest of fallen humanity. On those grounds I am reconciled to my brother because God has reconciled me.