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Archive for September, 2012

“Frank Lloyd Wright said, ‘TV is chewing gum for the eyes.’  What are your favourite shows to chew?”

First:  This should be my last post on the subject of vision, at least under the prompts of NaBloPoMo (National Blog-Posting Month).  Tomorrow, the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is visiting my parish, and I plan to be on hand for that.  Readers who are Orthodox will know what a Hierarchical visit entails, and I fully expect to be gone all day.  (And for anyone reading this blog who thinks, “Oh, goody, a chance to break in and steal stuff” – nice try. My husband isn’t Orthodox, hates driving in Massachusetts, and won’t be coming with me.)

Frank Lloyd Wright was, as all good architects should be, something of an artist.  He appreciated that all media should have, as its goal, the ability to move a person onto another plane, to make one think beyond one’s usual pathways and parameters, to expand one’s experiences, even if only vicariously.  For him to comment on television as “chewing gum for the eyes” strikes me as a profound statement, for after all, what is chewing gum?  It’s nutritionally devoid.  It’s worse for you than ice cream, which at least has some dairy content in it, in addition to all that sugar and fat.  Chewing gum has nothing.  I guess it stimulates salivary glands, since I see people chewing it everywhere nowadays – I think the last time I had a piece of chewing gum, I was thirteen years old – but I know that when I see people chewing mindlessly, I don’t think much of whatever is going on in their heads.

And the same with television.  It doesn’t have a lot going for it, especially nowadays, especially in the USA.  That said, there’s really only one show I will only give up during Lent:  NCIS.  I got into it because I once worked for someone who had been an investigator with the old Naval Investigation Service (now Naval Criminal Investigation Service).  I’m well aware that the television show bears very little resemblance to the job my old boss did, and not just because of all the high-tech gadgetry; it’s television, it’s supposed to be escapist and unrealistic.

But there are a number of cultural gags that I just can’t resist.  Primary among them is the “family” aspect.  The show is billed as being like “one big dysfunctional family,” and that about describes my family, too.  Abby is my little sister to the life (except for being a goth).  McGee is just like the oldest of my younger brothers, and Tony is definitely my nosy middle brother (the now-retired Treasury agent, so at least his bratty nosiness did serve a useful purpose n his life).  (In case you’re reading this, Donald, that was a compliment.)  Jimmy Palmer, the assistant medical examiner, is a lot like my youngest brother, who also has a very weird sense of humor, and to whom I owe my use of the word “distructions” as a cross between “directions” and “instructions.”  Ziva is me.  Definitely.

One of the other, really funny, aspects of this show is the generation gap.  Every once in so often, they’ll run a show where the electricity goes out in the building, and all the high-tech gadgetry fails.  The young people will start talking about “where will we find a dinosaur to figure out how to do this” – and up pops their boss, who not only knows how to get the job done, but also how to operate the ancient equipment that people of my generation always used.  And in his ability to pop up seemingly out of nowhere, especially just as a young staff member makes a rude observation about him, Gibbs is just like everyone’s dad or mom, with the eyes in the back of his head.  Ducky, the medical examiner, is like a kindly old grandfather with an endless well of stories, all delivered in an inimitable bumbling-old-Scot style – but his job expertise is unparalleled, and his knowledge of and comments on the dark recesses of the human mind, which result in the necessity for his job, are trenchant.

I miss that kind of family, all arguing with each other endlessly, tormenting one another with truly stupid gags, but all pulling together to get the work done.  And caring about one another – that comes through very clearly, episode after episode.  When one has a crisis, all the rest rally around him.  When one is in danger, all the rest go all out to rescue her.  Last season ended darkly, with the destruction of  NCIS headquarters, and this season, the office “mascot,” Abby, is having trouble getting back to her usual upbeat self – I was reminded of the trauma so many of us felt around 9/11, and I wonder if this season will be a way of exploring that and helping people to find ways to slot it into perspective, so that we never forget – but can still go on with living.

So for me, this show has depth and perspective, definitely not chewing-gum material.  It feeds a part of me that would otherwise go neglected, the point in time where my brothers and sister and all our cousins lived within a few blocks of one another, the part where we were Together.

There are other shows I watch – All Creatures Great and Small, primarily, Mystery! occasionally, and I do wish that the British television series around the Miss Read books would be imported, as that would be nourishing in a different way.  But to get back to my Roots – NCIS, every time.

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Do you like the color of your eyes?  If you could change them to another color, what would it be?”

Hah!  My first reaction was, I’d change them in a second.  When I was a girl, I couldn’t tell what color my eyes were, and it drove me crazy.  They weren’t brown, and they certainly weren’t blue.  Around the time I reached maturity (chronologically speaking), I realized that the color I look best in was brown, and that settled it:  I wished, with all my heart, that I had brown eyes.  Not a wussy brown, either – dark, rich chocolate brown.  Yum.  I married a brown-eyed man, and our son has brown eyes, and i used to love looking into them when he was a baby and a small boy.

And I had a friend who had ice-blue eyes, a really striking color.  I knew a girl at work who had ice-green eyes, also striking, and I knew a man at work who had sapphire-blue eyes – how often do you see that?  Most people with blue eyes have a light-blue color.  All of them were preferable to whatever-the-heck color my eyes were – at least you could tell what color they were.  My eyes were so nondescript that on my driver’s license, I listed them as “hazel,” since I had no idea what hazel looked like and I had no idea what color my eyes were.

Then one day, somewhere in my thirties, I took a really good look at my eyes and realized that they were a color, after all:  they’re green.  They aren’t that wonderful ice-green, and they aren’t forest-green, but they are definitely green, and while I’m not crazy about being the Green-Eyed Monster – yes, I know that refers to jealousy, but the association is inevitable – I do actually like having green eyes.  It’s an unusual color, distinctive, even, and it helps to keep that in mind when shopping for clothes and accessories.  I rarely, for instance, wear anything blue or black.  Lots of green, lots of cranberry, and yes, brown is still my favorite color, and will be as long as my hair retains even a modicum of that color.

I’m reminded of an ad that was on television several years ago.  A man and a woman are buying a car, and the salesman looks at them and says, “So, we’re agreed:  the blue car, right?”  The husband nods, and the wife says, “Wait a minute, I thought we agreed on brown.”  “Blue,” butts in the salesman, and the husband nods, then turns to his wife and says condescendingly, “Brown is the color of dirt.”  (The way his lips curl, you can tell he’s really saying, “the color of sh*t,” but they can’t say that on TV.)  And she looks him square in the eye and says, “It’s also the color of my eyes.”  And the two men look at each other, nod their heads, and say simultaneously, “Brown.”

I think I’d like a green car.

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“What is the first thing you see in the morning?”

The title of this post comes from an absolutely wonderful German folk song:

“Jeden Morgen geht die Sonne auf, in der Waelder wundersame Runde;/ und die schoene, scheue Schoepferstunde, jeden Morgen nimmt sie ihren Lauf.”  Loosely translated, “Every morning when the sun comes up, all the woods are filled with song; and the shimmer of a new creation, morning all too swiftly runs along.”  There are three more verses, but this post isn’t about those.

I am extraordinarily blessed to live, if not exactly in the country, in a rural small town.  It’s not as quiet as it was when we first moved here; too many people have discovered that they can drive to Boston from this part of the world if they leave early enough, and now our mornings, which used to ring with the moo of cows waiting to be milked, are filled with the swish of tires making their way to the nearby Turnpike, and thence to an interstate that will take them right into downtown Boston.

But it’s still quieter than when we lived in New York, almost on top of the Long Island Expressway, so the first thing I see when I wake up actually depends on the time of the year.  In the summer, my room is filled with a soft morning sun, and I can clearly see the icons that adorn my dresser across the room.  Now that it’s autumn, the sun doesn’t come up until after 6:30 a.m., so my room is filled with shadows.  From long habit, I feel my way to the windows and open the Venetian blinds, and the first thing I see out the window is – trees.  We have a yard full of them; no real flowers, outside of the “maybells” (lily of the valley – my husband prefers the German term for them) that encroach over the northern quarter of our yard, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to encroach all over the whole thing.  I love maybells.

Then I move from the east window to the north window, and when I open that, I see my next-door neighbor’s house.  It isn’t a show-place by any means, but it reminds me how blessed we are to have good neighbors next door to us, quiet folks about our age with a similar outlook on life.  Good neighbors are a gift from God.

When I make my way into the kitchen, usually the first thing I’ll look for is a light in the windows of our neighbor to the south – a convent.  It’s actually a novitiate for the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Healing Love, and if I can see a light in the window, somehow it’s reassuring to know that the girls have survived the night and are not in any trouble.  Just as our neighbors to the north have our backs, it just seems right that we should keep an eye on these girls and make sure they are okay.

After that, I like to stick my nose out the back door and see what the temperature is.  We have a thermometer next to the back door – it’s been there since before we moved in, and frankly, it looks like it – and it’s not the most accurate tool on the planet, but at six o’clock in the morning, it does its job.  (It’s really only inaccurate in the afternoon, because our driveway is a sun trap and the thing registers about 15 degrees hotter than it actually is.)

Then – assuming I’m the one who’s up first, which isn’t always the case – I put the hot water on for coffee, and head into the living room for my morning prayers.  Coffee per se is my husband’s job; he makes better coffee than I do, and I can’t think why, because I’m the one who taught him how to make coffee.

That first look out the window at my world fills me with peace and strength to begin the day.

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“Do you agree with Nietszche’s quote: ‘Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes’?”

Oops, I missed a day.  Oddly, it was a day on which not a lot was happening.  Go figure.

First, let me say that I really hate that I do agree with Nietzsche’s quote – I hate agreeing with Nietzsche about anything, developer of Nazi philosophy as he was (and yes, I’m aware that he was unaware of that himself.  But from him we have the idea of Superman (Uebermensch) and Untermensch, sub-human, and, well, we all know enough about Nazism for me to need to go into it more than that.  Eww).

But I’ll make an exception in this case, because frankly, there’s nothing like long-term marriage to convince you of its truth.

You know how it is when you fall in love.  The one you love can literally do no wrong.  People who fall in love with abusers will make all kinds of excuses for their abominable behavior, and even those of us who fall in love with perfectly reasonable human beings think they are just the most perfect people who ever walked the earth.  Even when that becomes pretty obviously not the case, a certain element of it remains through courtship, engagement, and marriage.

It doesn’t take long for reality to set in.  A happily-married couple I know was talking about a party they had attended, where someone asked the husband, “How long have you been married?”  The husband responded, “We’ve had nine wonderful years together.”  After they left the party, the wife said, “Dear, have you forgotten that we’ve been married ten years?”  And the husband responded, “Dear, have you forgotten that first year?  That was not wonderful.”  The wife, laughing, went on to explain that when they got married, she had been living at home with her parents (college having been within commuting distance), and he had been living in a frat house.  It’s been over 25 years and they’re still married, so I guess they worked that one out.

Elsewhere on this blog – I think I called it “A Tale of Two Planets” – I’ve talked about the disparity of an only child’s being married to someone from a large family.  We both had some adjusting to do, and have had to make adjustments throughout our marriage, even now, in retirement.  Retirement can be stressful for both partners; one or the other is suddenly cut loose from the moorings of a lifetime, and the stay-at-home spouse, if there was one – I was – has grown accustomed to a certain routine that suddenly needs massive tweaking.  It’s almost as bad as having a new baby in the house, except at least this new “baby” can speak up.

After 43 years of marriage, such as we have had, you simply can’t close your eyes anymore, especially not to the fact that the person you married so long ago has grown old.  There’s no way around that.  But there is a way through it, and through all the other vicissitudes of the unique Friendship that a long-term marriage is:  We laugh.

By now, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that it’s impossible for my husband simply to walk out the door, if he’s going anyplace.  He needs at least fifteen minutes’ worth of separation time, from the time he says he’s leaving until he’s actually out the door and on his way.  When it gets too exasperating, I’ll start to laugh, and make some kind of comment about Poky Little Puppy.  He shakes his head in embarrassment that I know him so well, and moves a little faster.

By now, he’s grown accustomed to my woolly-headedness.  I’m not exactly scatter-brained, but from a lifetime of dealing with kids and their simultaneous needs, I usually have at least four separate trains of thought running through my head all at once, and will jump from one topic to another with the ease of the Flying Wallendas.  And he starts to laugh, and makes a comment about my sheepish wool-gathering.  Sometimes one or the other of us makes such funny observations that we both collapse laughing.

It’s a unique way of closing your eyes to the “faults” of the other.  It actually opens your eyes to your own “faults” – and helps you realize that those “faults” aren’t faults at all, just idiosyncrasies that make the person you love – the person you love most in the world.

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The Doorway to the Soul

Are the eyes or the mouth the real doorway to the soul?”

I’m tempted to say, “the mouth.”  Thing is, I’ve never gotten this Eyes thing.  How can people read your soul through your eyes?!  I’ve never been able to do it.  Whereas, with your mouth, sooner or later your real self will show up.  Sure, mouths can lie.  People lie all the time.  But when they do, sooner or later they get caught, and what does that tell you about that person’s soul?

Or you can sound like a real loud-mouthed know-it-all – but for the person who understands what’s behind the loud mouth or the self-importance of Knowing It All, your soul is an open book:  You’re as insecure as if you were hanging out naked in the middle of Times Square.

On the other hand – maybe that’s just my life as a musician talking.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that for me, hearing is a much better indication of just about anything than any of my other senses.  I mean, who else cooks by hearing?!

However, in this whole “doorway to the soul” discussion, there’s one important factor that I think needs to be out there:  Nobody can really see into your soul.  Not through your eyes, not through your mouth.  They can tell, by whatever means, what kind of person you usually are, but your soul?

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the essence of a person is defined as the heart.  “God sees hearts,” we say, and by that we mean that He can see your truest intentions, everything there is to know about you, everything most accurate about you.  In the West, that’s usually what they mean by “soul,” so most accurately, only God can really see your soul.

What does He see?  Do you really want to know?  In Gifts of the Desert, Kyriacos Markides tells the story of a man who asked God to show him his true spiritual state.  Now, this was a very pious and believing man, who trusted in God for everything and realized that he would probably get a few unwelcome surprises; but he wanted to know what those were, so that he could work on them and bring himself more into alignment with his beliefs.  Instead, the vision he received was so dark that he sank into the deepest of depressions, and, as his priest said, they had to do some intensive spiritual work to get him out of it.  “Not even the most experienced monastic on Mount Athos would ask God such a foolish thing,” said the priest – Mount Athos being like a spiritual-energy powerhouse.

So, NO, you REALLY DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOUR SOUL ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE.  Let alone letting anyone else know what it looks like.  That said, it doesn’t hurt to “descend with the mind into the heart,” as one Orthodox elder has expressed it, go down as deep as you can to the place in your heart, or soul, that no one has ever seen, down past your secret hopes and fears, to the essence of where you think you live.  It may be pretty empty, or it may be pretty dark.  But when you are there – that’s where God meets you.  And that’s where you begin to grow.

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Requiem Mass

Note to Catholics everywhere:  This is not an anti-Catholic rant.  What it is, is reflections on the Novus Ordo, the “new” Mass enacted by Vatican II, the Mass that turned the entire Catholic Church on its head and led to the current state of chaos in that body.

In a recent post (“A Cloud of Witnesses”), I blogged about Things Unseen, and a large part of that post was the atmosphere of Mass in a Catholic church when I was growing up.  Okay, it’s true, you couldn’t really understand a word of it unless you understood Latin; but that’s what Missals were for.  Every Catholic I knew (and being from a large family and a Catholic school, I knew a lot of Catholics) had at least a Sunday Missal, and we schoolchildren were encouraged to have Daily Missals – and many of us did, me included.  You could follow along with the prayers, and they were reverent prayers, addressed to God in His glory and majesty.  If they were lacking in a certain understanding of God as a loving Father, well, that reflected much of the culture of the times.  Earthly fathers showed their love by providing for their families.  You wanted love, you went to Mom.

Vatican II – the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council – was supposed to correct certain…I don’t know how to describe them.  “Misunderstandings” doesn’t seem right, since nobody really misunderstood the Mass.  “Abuses” is definitely not what needed correcting; those have occurred since Vatican II.  “Misperceptions,” perhaps?  Such as the lack of understanding of God’s love for us?  One of the visions for Vatican II, I have come to understand, was a hope that the Mass could be reformed in such a way as to appeal to Protestants.  Pope John XXIII (that’s Twenty-Third, for you Roman-numeral-challenged folks), himself full of the love of God, hoped for a second Pentecost.  I’m not sure he lived even to see the Council convened; he certainly did not live to see its end, nor any of the abuses that took place because of it.

And the first abuse was the abandonment of the Latin Mass.  I’m currently reading Vatican, by Malachi Martin, and was surprised to learn that the abolishment of the Mass in Latin was specifically prohibited in the Vatican II documents.  We were told that it was the Latin Mass that had been prohibited.  The Latin Mass was a thing of great beauty, the way it soared to the very rafters of a church.  You felt the presence of God and His heavenly host.  With the abolishing of the Latin Mass, Gregorian chant was not far behind; the criticism was that it was so “difficult” to sing English to Gregorian chant.  Listen, I’m a musician.  If you can adapt Byzantine chant to English, Gregorian is a snap.

In Vatican, you can find the origins of expressions such as the “people of God,” and “celebration” (instead of “sacrifice”) of the Mass, and the changing of the words of institution at the Consecration that completely water down what’s gong on at that moment.  And you can find a description of the deliberate destabilization of the entire Catholic Church, beginning with “reforms” such as vernacular Masses and the substitution of very Protestant-sounding hymns (and in some cases, actual Protestant hymns) for the beauty of Gregorian chant.

What, I wonder, was actually wrong with that beauty?  Beauty is from God.  The Garden of Eden was beautiful.  Paradise was beautiful.  God is described in the Bible as being so beautiful that no one can see Him and live.  If every aspect of our entire lives should reflect some portion of that Beauty, certainly our worship should, first and foremost.

Instead, you have the “people of God” singing inane ditties about “Jesus” being our “Friend,” strumming “folksy” instruments and waving their arms in the air.  You have the interruption of the Mass almost at its high point for a pointless “handshake of peace,” that usually devolved into a meet-and-greet either of people you have never seen before and will never see again, or of people you see every blessed week (if not day) and have no need to establish “peace” with.  In some of the more shocking abuses, you can find “liturgical dancing,” or Masses specifically constructed to protest certain aspects of Catholic teaching.  In the most extreme case, you can find people not even worshipping God; instead they worship “Sophia,” apparently a “female manifestation of God” (as is apparent from the newsletters I get from the nuns I had in high school.  They get more and more bizarre).

In short, what you have is the “people of God” celebrating themselves as the People of God, completely oblivious of the presence of God; as one German priest once put it to me, as if God could say to them, “Just keep going without Me for a little while,” and nobody would even notice that He had taken off.  What’s the point of the Mass, if not God?  You might as well just skip to the coffee hour.

Most painful of all, for my generation, is the awareness that there are now several generations of Catholics who have no idea of how different it was, how different it can be.  One Orthodox priest wrote of being approached after a Divine Liturgy by a couple who introduced themselves as visiting Catholics, and wanted to know if the Orthodox Church ever “celebrated” the “traditional” guitar Mass!  People!  There is nothing traditional about guitar Masses!!!

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of my mother-in-law.  A faithful Catholic, she made no bones of her disdain for the new music, but did her best to see “both sides” of the matter; she was a great one for seeing both sides of a question (which sometimes left you wondering which end was Up, but that’s another matter).  When she died, I approached her parish priest to ask if we could possibly have some music by Bach, which she loved dearly, and was told, No, the Mass was For The People.  And we suffered through all the empty non-music she so deeply abhorred.

My husband told me, over supper, that he had considered slipping over to the local Catholic parish to attend Mass for his mother.  Two problems with that:  One, apparently Catholics don’t say prayers for the dead anymore.  On the anniversary of his father’s death, he had requested that a Mass be said for his father, and was floored to find that his father’s name wasn’t even mentioned.  The other, and much bigger, problem was that, as my husband put it, “I knew I would have been counting the seconds till it was over.  The Mass is just intolerable, the way it is.”  This is someone who once considered becoming a priest.

A lot of agendas went into the creation of the “new Mass,” but it’s becoming more and more apparent that not a lot of thought went into it, or heart; and nothing whatsoever of prayer.  And I’m not sure that that prayerful tone, or that beauty, can ever be recovered.

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This one’s from Plinky:  “Which holiday would you rather skip?  Why?”

Frankly – all of them.  Holidays are like a disruption in the Force, a rift in the Time/Space Continuum – they rip you out of your ordinary life, force you to “celebrate” something that may or may not have deep meaning for you, then thrust you back into the workaday world, where you have to spend at least half a day trying to get back into the groove of whatever you were doing when you were so rudely interrupted.

Most of us humans are creatures of habit.  We get up at the same time every day, perform various personal-hygiene and beautification tasks, feed ourselves in whatever manner we have established that works, and then get into the swing of whatever it is we do.  This is one reason why retirement is so stressful:  Both the retiree and whoever s/he lives with have to restructure their whole lives around the reality that both of them now share a space that didn’t used to be shared.  Holidays are just one more stress in an already stressful world, and I would like to see them all go away.

That said, I’m not a Scrooge who thinks that people should keep their noses relentlessly to the grindstone, churning out profit for the Good of the Company (and by the way, yes, corporations are people.  The purpose of a corporation is to establish a business as a legal entity, a legal “person,” so that it can continue once its principals have passed on.  In addition, corporations are inevitably made up of flesh-and-blood human beings, so they are “people” in that sense, too.  But I digress).

“Holidays” were established by belief systems as a means of setting aside an important aspect of faith, something that should hit you where you live, and therefore something that you should be able to take time to reflect upon.  The very word is a blend of two words, “holy” and “day,” a holy day, a day set aside.  The Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, predate anything Christian by centuries, if not millennia, and while I am no anthropologist, I’m sure that other religions around the world, all of them older than Christianity, also have their holy days.

Time set aside to reflect on an important matter, therefore, is a good thing, and far be it from me to deprive anyone of that time.  That said, though:  Take a look at how we actually use holidays.  There are “traditional” Presidents’ Day auto sales, Memorial Day is the “traditional” start of the vacation season (and Labor Day its “traditional” end), some kind of football game has become “traditional” for Thanksgiving, and we won’t even get into the Christmas catastrophe (one of the funniest takes I’ve ever heard on this is available on YouTube.  It’s called “The Christmas CanCan.”  I’d post a link, but apparently you have to sit through ads on YouTube, now, and the one preceding this is particularly offensive to me).

Of all of these, only Labor Day was originally structured around a three-day weekend; Presidents’ Day used to be two days off, Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday.  Memorial Day was always May 30, and involved special ceremonies, which had nothing to do with the start of summer vacation, to remember those fallen in wars.  At one time, they all had an actual purpose; now, they are just an excuse to buy a car, or go skiing, or open or close the summer house.  Where’s the reflection?

And that’s just in my own country.  In Europe, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are all two-day holidays; but they are the three most important Christian holidays.  What if you don’t think of yourself as a Christian any longer?  Where’s the need to reflect?

What I would like to see is for every country to add up the total number of official holidays on its calendar, both civic and religious, and create a Holiday Pool.  “Here’s a total of fifteen holidays,” for example.  “They are all paid, and you can choose from among them to celebrate your own traditions in your own way, or to squander if you want to.  The office will still be open, but you will not be penalized for the days you take off that are drawn from the Holiday Pool.”  Then, to ensure that the work-work-work culture doesn’t get their hands on the Holiday Pool the way they have on people’s vacations, don’t pay overtime to people who work on holidays.  Done.  That way, people who couldn’t care less about National Occupy Day would have an extra day, or three, to put towards the holidays they really care about.  And people who celebrate holy days at a different time of year – I’m thinking particularly of Russian Christmas, celebrated on January 7, or Orthodox Easter, usually celebrated anywhere from one to six weeks after everybody else’s – could take those days off without dipping into their vacation time.

And that way, maybe holidays will be celebrated as they were meant to be celebrated – as Time outside of Time, as days set apart for reflection, or at the very least, as days to be spent in the bosom of family and friends.

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