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First, thanks to all who commented on my last blog posting, for affirming what I believe to be the correct course of action. Philippa, you are right, I shouldn’t read her blog, but at this stage, it’s the only way I have of keeping up to date with my grandsons. 😦

Now, on to better stuff. I recently became acquainted with a blog called Charming the Birds from the Trees. The nicest thing about it is that it’s another Orthodox lady — can’t know too many of those, there are so few of us! This young lady seems to be committed to a standard of gracious living that I thought was lost forever; good for her! Once a week, she posts a “Commitment to Loveliness,” which she describes as:

a fun way to increase femininity and beauty in our lives each week without even trying! All you have to do is choose five things that you would like to work on or do during the week that will increase the loveliness in your life!

I’m all for that! We can’t have enough beauty in life! So here are my five:

1. Listen to more good music. We’ve gotten into a rut lately of watching television, and although we don’t watch too many of the network offerings, we do have a rather large library of tapes and DVDs. Time to put them on hold, for this week, at least.

2. Make a point of tidying up the house. With all that goes on around here, it’s too easy to give the featherbeds a fluff and say, “I’ll make the bed properly later.” Or to stash the plethora of catalogues out of sight and say, “I’ll get to that later.” Not this week.

3. Make an appointment to get my hair and nails done. I started having my nails done a few months back, after literally years of neglect, and ya know? It feels pretty darn good to look civilized.

4. Sing Matins and Vespers regularly. With Jim home so much lately, it’s been too easy just to read the prayers, or not to say them at all. But this time of year has some of the loveliest music in all Orthodoxy.

5. See if I can actually go a week without using slang. This will be a tough one. New Yorkers speak better slang than they do English.

Once you have chosen five simple things, post them on your blog and link to this post in your post, and then post the direct link to your Commitment to Loveliness post in the comments section. This looks like it could be fun!

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Possession

Not demonic. I hope. This past week, I was bitten rather badly by the writing bug.

About 15 years ago, I wrote two books, back to back, about a KGB officer who became an Orthodox Christian. I haven’t especially tried to market them, because I sensed that I really didn’t know enough about Orthodoxy to be sure my information was accurate; and it’s a good thing I kept them to myself, because as it turned out, my characters decided to take a completely different tack from what I had envisioned then, and I’ve had to revise both books rather extensively.

Over the past 3 or 4 years, I’ve been trying to write about that different tack, but something has always stopped me. I figured my muse had deserted me, and frankly, that was fine with me — writing is a difficult business. (More later.) Then, just this past week, I got bitten again, in the form of a possible direction to go in that would clear up the cliffhanger ending I had in the second book. I knew it was right to go with this one, and since then, I’ve been writing at my old speed.

It isn’t the writing itself that’s difficult. It’s the physical reaction that you have between when an idea bites, and when you can actually put pen to paper. (I still write longhand, since I can take my notebook with me anywhere.) I’m serious. I can feel my pulse pounding, my head fills up with fluid of some kind, and my nerves are strung out taut until I can start writing, getting all this stuff, whatever it is, out of my system. Then I settle down, till the next day’s work.

And there’s the possession factor. Your characters take you over. You cannot tell your characters what to do, what to say, or where to go. They tell you, and the infamous “writer’s block” is what occurs when a writer tries to dictate to his characters. They just shut down, and leave you with the pounding pulse and the head full of fluid and the strung-out nerves, until you back down and let them tell their story. Once you have it all on paper, then you can start the revision process on the computer or the typewriter, but while the thing is in rough form, it’s rough in all senses of the word.

And my writing is so dark. I don’t know where that comes from, either, unless it’s a perception that a world that functions around the KGB is bound to be dark, and the only thing that can bring it light is Orthodox Christianity. But I don’t like the dark part.

Pray for me.

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Bear with me…


While I try to figure out how to add a picture to my profile….

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Why?

Yesterday, after Russian class, I realized I hadn’t talked to my sister in about two weeks, which is something of a record for us — ever since she got a new, and very part-time, job. So I called her and asked if she were available for lunch. She called back, said yes, we met at a local eatery, and talked for over 2 hours. My sister is 15 years younger than I am, so it’s like two generations in the same family: my experiences and memories are so vastly different from her experiences and memories. Between us, we’re a virtual encyclopedia of our family. (The three guys who arrived between my birth and hers don’t seem to remember anything family-related. Must be a chick thing.)

I got home, got on my e-mail, just to see what had occurred in the world between my 7:00 a.m. departure and 3:00 p.m. — and found a note from the Summer School of Liturgical Music: the wife of one of the graduates had been killed in a traffic accident, leaving behind two children. The kick in the head is, these people are all from Russia. Now this girl’s family will never see her again, and presumably, she will have to be buried in foreign soil.

They live in the Boston area, a city with which I am fairly well acquainted; so I really should attend the funeral, if I can get down there. However, there’s the rub: No one in his right mind drives in Boston. This is probably true for most big cities; for example, I’ve never driven in Manhattan, despite being a native New Yorker, and I never drove in Boston for all the five years we lived in close proximity to that city. Boston has the added “charm” of having streets that are so unpredictable, you can make four right turns and have absolutely no clue where you are — all you know is, you are not where you started.

So driving to Boston is out of the question. No problem. There’s train service between here and Boston, bus service as well. OK, now: How to get from either North Station (train service) or South Station (bus service) out to Roslindale, where the funeral will take place?

Do you think there’s anything so simple as a map of the city’s transportation system that actually acknowledges the existence of Roslindale?

That about sums up my whole experience with Boston: A city that should be a whole lot more convenient than it is, full of insane drivers (there’s a reason that ads for auto insurance always add, “Not applicable in Massachusetts or New Jersey”), and impossible — absolutely impossible — to get from here to there using anything that makes any sense. Why is that?

Why are people in Boston so hot and bothered about where they’re going that they drive like certified lunatics? When we moved there, 25 years ago, my husband was told that “red lights are strictly advisory,” and the person who told him that — a native Bostonian — wasn’t joking. It’s the only place I know of where you can have a green light and a pedestrian Walk light, and still have to watch, in all directions at once, every step you take.

Why was somebody in such a big honking rush that he took a risk that cost a young mother her life?

Why do people find it necessary — and this includes most of our ancestors — to travel halfway around the globe in order to find a better life?

And the obvious question, that nobody has any business asking, but I know it’s in all our minds: Why was it necessary to deprive a young wife and mother of her life?

Having gone through a similar experience, of having grown up without my natural father who died in a traffic accident, I can state with absolute certainty that this event will shape the entire lives of those two children, quite possibly for the better. They will never again take anything for granted that most people do. They will never again become so attached to anyone that the thought of losing them won’t be uppermost in their minds. When they marry, they will cherish every day of life with their spouse, even when said spouse drives them up the wall. And sadly, they will also probably put up some kind of a wall between them and their father — after all, the same thing could happen to him. Once it happens, anything at all is possible, right? Can’t afford to get too attached.

As for her husband: As you get older, you start to consider what life without your spouse might be like. Or what life might be like for your spouse without you. To me, it’s just a sensible precaution to make sure that Jim could get through daily life without me. But when you are young, in your 30s and 40s, getting things in order for your spouse to carry on without you is just not on the radar scope. Only for him, it’s not only on the radar scope, it’s scored a direct hit. He’s just experienced his own personal 9/11: catastrophic, unimaginable, destruction beyond destruction of something that was supposed to last a lifetime. And the need to carry on as though it were only a blip, a temporary disruption in the continuum of his life. He still has to go to work every day. He still has to put bread on the table for his kids. And only a few people care that he now also has to do everything for them that his wife did.

So, the final Why: Why do people imagine for one nanosecond that they can possibly get through anything like this without the presence of God? For Vladimir, that won’t happen. He’s a committed Christian, someone who became a Christian despite having grown up in an atmosphere that daily denied the existence of God. This is someone who will most certainly ask all they Whys I did, and many more; but he won’t have to ask the final Why.

Pray for these people. Pray for Vladimir, Anna, and Victor. Pray for the soul of Galina. And pray for those with whom you share your life, ’cause you really never do know when the last kiss you share will be the Last Kiss in this life.

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Hmmm…

Although I’m not sure it will show up publicly, I have just deleted 8 comments from my last post — all spam. Can’t help wishing these people would get a life. Now we all have to deal with Word Verification, meaning, if you want to post a comment, you have to type in a squirrelly-looking word that says you are a real live human being, not a half-life whose only purpose is to sell penis enlargement to women, or something equally dim-witted.

That said, I feel I must comment on something rather unpleasant that has occurred on the OrthWomen’s list. I’m referring, of course, to the current flap over feminism. I won’t go into the history of the flap, since I think you are all on OrthWomen anyway, but what was interesting to me was the reaction not only on the list, but among the moderators. This topic caused passions, misunderstandings, recriminations, sleeplessness — and one moderator resigned from that position, though still a member of the list. (Me.) To me, that says everything that needs to be said on the subject of feminism. It always was a hot button, it remains a hot button, as far as I can see it’s entire raison d’etre is to push buttons — this is not any kind of appropriate topic for Orthodox discussion.

And I am still mightily annoyed with the original OrthWomen’s member who felt compelled to push this agenda onto the list. Go feel Empowered someplace else, willya?

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There’s something to be said for getting sick at, or near, the beginning of Lent.

Since Saturday I have had a cold, although on Saturday I didn’t know it, and on Sunday I was just beginning to wonder about it. By Monday it was definite, and yesterday was the worst; and today, I’m still not fit for human society. Now, if you’re going to get sick at all, the best way to get sick is with a cold, or even the flu. It’s not serious enough to cause you to die by inches, in unimaginable suffering, but it’s enough to cancel all your usual plans, lay you flat, and get you to do some thinking, even if the depth of your thought is nothing more metaphysical than, “God, why me?!”

The thing is, being sick reminds you of the one awareness Americans spend most of their lives running from: We are weak. It’s almost unAmerican to be weak. Nobody likes weaklings in this country, and to be fair, America wouldn’t be America if we hadn’t had a sense of our innate strength. (I’m thinking of my great-grandmother on my father’s side, one of those tough old Kansas pioneer women who was a child in the days of Wyatt Earp and Jesse James, and who died at the age of 105.) It took stamina to settle the West!

But the fact remains: We are weak. My grandmother on my father’s side went deaf at age 10 from measles. My stepfather’s sister died from measles, also at age 10. (Come to think of it, I was 10 when I had measles…) My grandmother on my mother’s side died from complications in childbirth, leaving behind six children aged 11 to 6 weeks. Nobody wants these things to happen, but they do. Nobody wants to get sick, but we do. Why? Because there’s only so much stamina we possess, and when we tap it out — we get sick. And then what do we do? Stay in bed, drink hot fluids, growl at everybody, and grouse to ourselves that our lives have to be put on hold. And — at least, I do this — periodically I look up at my icons with bleary eyes and say, “This sucks.”

In other words, I turn to God.

It’s good to be reminded at the beginning of Lent that our own resources are limited at best, and probably more realistically an illusion. It’s good to turn to God, even if only to say, “This sucks.” And God, in His mercy — allows us to have this experience without pulling the rug out from under our feet (“You have two months to live”). Just enough to remind us that we can make all the Five-Year Plans we want — He’s still in charge.

Point taken, Lord. Now, what else would You like me to learn from this upcoming Lent?

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