Archive | June 2015

Another Talk with My Friend Floey

Floeys Face 2

Floey

“Hey, Floey. What did you think about your new class last week?”

Floey grinned at me and replied, “I loved it! When you first told me I would be going to another class, I really wondered why. I passed my class last winter with flying colors. I couldn’t imagine why you thought I needed to go to another class. I’ve learned everything I need to know.”

I laughed a little, then said, “You’ve learned a lot in the seven months you’ve been part of our family, and that’s on top of all you learned in the first ten months of your life. But, you know, there’s always something more to learn.”

Floey sitting - profile“Boy, did I find that out in class last week! The two instructors had a little list of things we’ll learn over the six-week Intermediate Class. That’s no big deal. Although I’m not so sure I want to learn the “Go to mat” command. We’ll see about that one. At home I really need to go to the door whenever the doorbell rings to be sure it’s safe for you to let the visitor in. I need to protect you. I can’t do that if I’m sitting on a mat away from the door. But there are so many other things to learn in class besides what’s on the list. Did you see all those other dogs, Mom?”

“Yup, there were about a dozen, and they were all different kinds.”

“Most of them were about my size, or a little bigger, but there were a couple cute little white ones, and a great big German shepherd and another big dog with a hound dog face. Did you see the dog who said his mother was a dachshund but he had no idea who his father was? I bet his dad was a big, stocky beagle. He was really smart. The instructor asked him to help her demonstrate some of the things she was trying to teach us.”

“And, Floey, did you notice the dog to our left in the circle? She looked a lot like Abbey, your late sister. She was the same size and color, and her face was very similar – a very sweet dog.”

“Yeah, I did. And the dog on our right was really friendly. I liked her a lot. My goal for next week is to learn the names of all the dogs in class. And, I want to make friends with as many of them as I can.”

“That’s sounds like a good goal, as long as you learn the items listed on the curriculum, too.”

Floey-Marian faces selfie 2“Oh, Mom, that’s not the important stuff. I’ll learn that, too. But the really important stuff is to learn what I can from everyone else in class, and from all the surroundings. Do you have any idea how many things there are to sniff inside that building, and outside, too?  And during break time, I bet that German shepherd can tell me a lot about what it feels like to be the biggest, bravest dog in the world. And I’m sure the little white dogs can tell me all about the importance of having a big bark. I can hardly wait to go back to class again tonight.”

“Well, Floey, I’m so glad you like going to class and learning new things. I think I can learn a lot from your enthusiasm. And your curiosity. And your positive attitude. And your loving kindness… I’ve already learned a lot from you, Floey.”

“I guess we’re good for each other, Mom.”

“Yup, we are. I just read something about that in Joan Chittister’s pamphlet, “The Monastic Way.” On June 23 she wrote:

The relationship between humans and animals is necessary – not for the animal but for our own sense of kinship with nature and the full human development. Anatole France writes, “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

“But, Mom, that says ‘animal’ not ‘dog.’ Do you think that applies to cats, and birds, and goldfish? Certainly those creatures aren’t as significant as us dogs in awakening human souls.”

Mim with kittens

Mim and her kittens – a few years back

“Oh, I don’t know, Floey. Your other Mom, Mim, didn’t really know or love any dog until your big sister Megabtye came along in 1990. Mim was already 42 years old by the time Meg came into her life.  But her soul was awakened to the wonders of God’s creation through cats when she was just a little girl. Her mother Selma had her life enriched deeply when she was 83 years old and living with us after suffering a stroke, and a tiny kitten with a broken leg crawled into her life. Dogs are a really special part of God’s creation, but so are cats.”

Love in action: Mim's mom, Selma, caring for a stray kitten that had been dropped off at the farm.

Love in action: Mim’s mom, Selma, caring for a stray kitten that had been dropped off at the farm.

“Hmm. I’ll have to think about that. Are squirrels and goldfinches good for developing our souls, too?

“Haven’t you ever watched some teenage squirrels chase each other up and down trees? They are having so much fun, I wish I could join them in the chase.”

Monastic Way 06-15“Me, too. But you always hold me back from chasing them.”

“My soul finds delight in just watching their playfulness. Yours can, too.  And just listen to goldfinches singing. They are so happy it’s contagious. I think they’re praising God with their songs.”

“I can sing, too, Mom. Ann calls it yodeling. I have a beautiful voice and a wide range.”

“Yes, you do, Floey. God gave different gifts to every being in creation. That’s why it’s so good for all of us to be friends with each other. I think that’s what Joan Chittister was talking about.”

“Well, I really like what she quoted Anatole France as saying, ‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  Let me awaken your soul some more, Mom. Let’s go for a walk and watch squirrels, listen to goldfinches, and see whatever else nudges our souls.”

“Great idea! God gave us another beautiful day. Let’s enjoy it!”

Mom’s Big Adventure: A Road Trip to California in 1934

Elsie Kenseth Korth as a young woman

Elsie Kenseth Korth as a young woman

On August 19, 1934, in the heart of the Great Depression, three girlfriends started out on a road trip to California – Elsie Kenseth (my mom), Clarice Jarlsberg, and Eleanor Gilberts – three single young women in their mid-twenties who had grown up together in Cambridge. Within a couple years they would all be married and ready to begin having families. Their new identities would become Mrs. Carl Korth, Mrs. Joe Vasby, and Mrs. Lester Jarlsberg.  But the summer of 1934 was their time for a big adventure – a road trip to California.

Wedding of Clarice and Joe Vasby. Elsie is standing next to Clarice. Eleanor is on the far right.

Wedding of Clarice and Joe Vasby. Elsie is standing next to Clarice. Eleanor is on the far right.

In the early 1930s, Elsie had an office job at Madison General Hospital. Clarice also had a job in Madison, and the two of them shared an apartment, somewhere on the east side of Madison. They got together with their gang of friends from church in Cambridge often, and they all took many short trips together to visit other church friends who had scattered to Milwaukee and Chicago, as well as to neighboring towns.

By 1934, Elsie had saved up enough money to buy her own car, a 1930 Model A Ford, I think. (I vaguely remember hearing that she bought it used from her Uncle Dahl.) That’s the car they took on this adventure to California.

1930 Ford Model A Coupe - I think this is the kind of car Mom drove for this grand adventure.

1930 Ford Model A Coupe – I think this is the kind of car Mom drove for this grand adventure.

Since 1934 was before the time of cellphones, we have a glimpse into what this road trip was like through letters, postcards, and a few photos. The three women had planned the trip well, plotting out their route to be able to visit friends and relatives as well as see beautiful scenery. The earliest letter I could find regarding the details of the trip was dated July 30, 1934. It was from Art (I can’t read his last name) from Davey, Nebraska. The letter was in response to a letter Elsie must have written him about the possibility of seeing him during their trip. Here’s part of his letter:

Dear Elsie,

… Has it been hot out here? Well, we had fifteen straight days with the mercury above 105. How’s that? It’s the worst heat wave we have had for years…

I am at home at present and intend to be for a while as father needs me with his work so he says. Maybe he doesn’t want me to crawl away some place and starve, I don’t know. We have been working rather steady lately and have a few jobs bidded and lay awake nights praying for things to happen soon. But what I mean to say is that I will be home when you intend to come and not wishing for you to fool me and not show up for I really would like to see you again and actually talk to you face to face. Maybe I will be too shy so you may have to help me along. You must spend a day or so with us or I’ll feel bad. Our home is no mansion as the depression caused our taking a smaller place but you will have the typical western hospitality and if you will permit we can show you what there is to see…

A couple weeks later, on August 14, Art wrote another letter to Elsie, firming up the plans for their visit.

Second letter to Elsie from Art. The first one was typed.

Second letter to Elsie from Art. The first one was typed. This letter is extra yellowed because a newspaper clipping was enclosed.

Dear Elsie,

I hope to have your pardon for doing this in pencil but I wish to make a hasty reply so naturally this is it. Received your letter just five minutes past and was glad to hear that you really plan to come out to see us but really must it be only an afternoon visit? Why can’t you stay over and let us show you around Lincoln and our Capital of which we are so proud? We would try to make your brief visit entertaining as I have asked my dearest friend Ernest Johnson to help me. Now I just won’t take no for an answer even if your vacation is limited. Maybe the chance may never be so ripe again.

You say you plan to be in Omaha Sunday morning? Now here’s what you do… [a page and a half of driving directions followed]

Sincerely,

Art

[P.S.] Tell Clarice not to expect too much of the person in question.

Clarice and Elsie

Clarice and Elsie

The big day for the three women to pack up Elsie’s car and drive west finally arrived – August 18, 1934. Elsie’s mother, Hilda Kenseth (the only grandma I ever knew), wrote Elsie a letter the very next day. She mailed it to “Miss Elsie Kenseth, Denver, Colorado, General Delivery.” Apparently, Elsie found her way to the Denver Post Office to pick up the letter since I still have it.

Envelope to Elsie - General DeliverySunday afternoon

Dear Elsie,

Altho you just left yesterday I will at least start a letter today. Maybe it will be in Denver before you.… Was to church this morning.… Molly [Elsie’s dog] is O.K….  Will have to get something to eat now, as it will soon be chores time.

Haven’t any news but lots of love to send you. Quite a few asked for you today… Papa and Ham [her brother Helmer] are reading and Fletcher [younger brother] and Molly are busy at kitchen cabinet.

Lots of love,

Mama

The best correspondence of all was the postcards Elsie sent to Carl, her future husband. Those cards gave a glimpse into the adventures of the trip for these three young ladies. On August 21, four days into the trip, Elsie wrote this:

Elsie and Eleanor - car in background.

Elsie and Eleanor – car in background. Elsie looks pretty tired of driving. Eleanor appears to be texting, but I’m sure there was no time warp or my mom would have told me about it.

Postmarked BRIGHTON, COLO., AUG 22, 1934, 2 – PM

We reached the 1,000 mile mark today – and only have had to buy 1 new tire (the first day). Drove thru sand hills all day today, but expect to hit the mountains tomorrow. It’s a lot of fun – but I’m awfully tired. If you feel very ambitious you could write to me at Long Beach, California, General Delivery. We expect to get there eventually. Only 4 more cards to write – and then to bed.

Elsie

A couple days later Elsie sent Carl another postcard.

Post Card to CarlPostmarked ROCK SPRINGS, WYO. AUG 24, 1934, 6:30 PM

We’re way up in the air, and it’s awfully cold and windy. Have had so much trouble with the car I’m almost ready to go home. Had it in a garage 3 times yesterday and 3 times today. Twice today we were stalled in the mountains – once we had to get help from 9 miles away, and the second time a man towed us 5 miles. The country is beautiful, but the roads are terrible. Guess I’d rather live in Wisconsin after all. Outside of that we’re having a good time.

Elsie

Keep in mind, this was also before the days of credit cards. Elsie, Clarice, and Eleanor must have had enough cash with them to cover the cost of all these car repairs – plus gas, meals, lodging, and any other costs of this big adventure.

On Saturday afternoon, August 25, Elsie’s mother wrote her another letter.

Dear Elsie,

Just a week since you left and I wonder where you are now. Have been receiving your cards and am very glad to get them. Watch for the mail every day. Hope you are thru with car trouble now and will be able to make your destination all right…. Molly is as usual. She went out in the bedroom a few mornings after you left. She must have been looking for you. Papa took her upstairs with him when Helmer went with the horses. As she is so wild to go for a ride…

Where do you want us to write after this? Are you going on to N. Mex. Or not? You didn’t leave any more places you were going but figured on letting us know. Hope you make it all right and have no more trouble.

Love from us all,

Mama

[P.S.]  Don’t forget to bring greetings to Fletcher & family [Hilda’s brother living in Long Beach, California]. How I wish I could see them all.

The threesome did make it to California. On September 1, Elsie wrote this card to Carl:

Post Card of Long Beach 1934

Post Card Elsie sent to Carl from Long Beach, California. They had reached their destination! Time to head home.

Postmarked SOUTH GATE, CALIF, SEP 2, 1934, 4 PM

We’re at the last point of our trip now & hiking back tomorrow. Went swimming in the ocean today & the waves made me dizzy (more so than I usually am). It was lots of fun though. I’d like to come again sometime, only on a train or in someone else’s car. We’re going to church in Los Angeles tomorrow & Clarice is to sing. Will be home next Saturday or Sunday. My car won’t stand another trip so I’ll borrow one next time.

Elsie

That’s all the correspondence I can share in this blog post. I know there’s a box with more postcards from this trip somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.  I remember reading about some of their meals en route and meeting up with other friends and making new friends (usually in churches) when I was packing up boxes to move from the farmhouse to the condo eight years ago. As I re-read the postcards and letters that I did find, I was quite impressed by my mom’s sense of adventure, her self-confidence in driving a Model A Ford over thousands of miles of only partially paved roads, her friendships, and her sense of humor.

The Elsie I knew as Mom was a Sunday School teacher of pre-schoolers, a secretary who drove to Madison every day to work, a gardener who raised enough vegetables to freeze to keep her family eating vegetables with every dinner for a whole year – year after year, and a mom who kept the cookie tins filled with fresh-baked cookies – often from brand-new recipes she’d discovered somewhere.

Reading about the Elsie who went on a big adventure with a couple girlfriends in the middle of the Great Depression adds a new dimension to her character for me. I wish I had asked her more about that trip. Thank goodness cellphones hadn’t been invented yet – or I wouldn’t know anything about this adventurous side of Mom at all!

Elsie - the adventurer

Elsie – the adventurer

My Musical Destiny

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in 1998.

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in 1998.

Seventeen years ago, Mim and I created a new business called Korth-Jacobson, LLC. Within that business structure we have done lots of different things – from being a bed and breakfast to selling real estate; from doing strategic planning and project management for small businesses to providing music in churches and a pub and other venues; from hosting spiritual retreats to caring for the elderly in our home. All of these businesses have been based out of our home. For the past 12 years, one of our businesses has been Country Comforts Assisted Living. We currently care for two 94-year-olds in our home, and we also coordinate the care of a third almost 94-year-old who lives with a neighbor.

By the very nature of this caregiving business, we are working 24/7. Whenever we are at home, we are responsible for being sure the needs of our residents are met. Whenever we are not at home, we need to be sure another caregiver is present to meet these needs. We have finally realized that to meet our own need for a break, we must take some time off, and that means we need to be away from our work environment – away from home. Lately we’ve established the schedule of taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off from about 1:00 or 1:30 pm till about 8:00 pm. Our most usual destinations on these days are Woodmans, Costco, and occasionally Trader Joe’s for groceries; Menards for hardware items; Farm & Fleet for dog treats and toys and for clothes when they go on sale (really!); and resale shops for books, clothes, gifts, and other bargains we “need.” Occasionally we’ll go to a movie if we don’t have any shopping that needs to be done.

A couple weeks ago we redeemed a gift certificate from a good friend and went to see the matinee performance at the Fireside Theater of “All Shook Up.”  We had a wonderful time listening to all those Elvis songs from the 50s and 60s, and laughing about the inter-racial mix-ups and mistaken sexual identity antics. Hearing those Elvis songs from our grade school and high school years brought back one of my childhood memories.

Lowery Organ 2

Lowery electronic organ, state of the art using vacuum tube technology in 1957.

My sister Nancy (11 years older than me) started giving me piano lessons before I started school. I’ve  enjoyed playing the piano ever since. When I was nine, my mom bought a Lowery electronic organ. She had grown up playing a reed pump organ, and she missed playing an organ. A piano wasn’t as much fun for her, although she played it some. When the new electronic organ was delivered to our house I was as excited as I could be. I got to take the ten free lessons that came with the organ from Ward Brodt in Madison, and then I continued taking lessons from our church organist – both piano and organ. But from my first organ teacher at Ward Brodt I learned that any kind of music can be played on an organ – not just hymns. I had to walk through the print music department at the store to get to the lesson rooms, and I always browsed the music on my way out of the store. Most of my allowance was spent on music books with titles like “The Best Hits of 1962 for Easy Organ.” I acquired quite a collection and learned to play songs as varied as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” to “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

One Thursday morning when I was about 10 or 11, (I know it was Thursday because that was my mom’s day off) Eleanor Jarlsberg, one of my mom’s friends from church, came over for morning coffee. Mom and Eleanor were sitting at the dining room table drinking their coffee, and I was in the living room playing the organ just for fun, not practicing. I was going through my latest “Greatest Hits…” book. I was playing mostly the slower and quieter songs so that I wouldn’t disturb their conversation in the next room. When I finished playing the Elvis’ hit “Love Me Tender,” Eleanor asked me what hymn that was – she really liked it. When I told her it was an Elvis Presley song – not a hymn, she laughed and laughed, and I felt kind of embarrassed.

That’s when I began to put two and two together to understand that my destiny was to be a gospel pianist/organist, regardless of the type of music I tried to play. I’m not the gospel pianist that my Aunt Edith was who added all kinds of embellishments all over the keyboard. I’m not very good at that. I’m the kind of gospel music player that can play very expressively by varying volume and where on the keyboard I’m playing – high or low – and by sometimes holding a note a little too long to build the tension. I do simple stuff to draw the listener into the emotional message of the song.

Over the years as I learned more classical music on the piano and more traditional hymns and hymn arrangements on the organ, I tried to become more classical in my style of playing. But that was never as much fun for me. But then I noticed that Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” can easily morph into “Jesus Loves Me.” And that “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” can weave itself into Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.”

Beer Barrel Polka sheet musicOne morning last week I had a musical breakthrough. A few years ago, a friend of mine was planning her funeral, and she asked me if I would be willing to play for it. Of course, I said sure. Then she said she wanted the funeral to be a joyous time of celebration. One of the songs she wanted me to play was “The Beer Barrel Polka.” I happen to know the song because that’s one of the songs my first organ teacher at Ward Brodt taught me. But, I’ve felt uncomfortable with that song for a funeral ever since she made the request. My friend died last week. As I was mulling over whether nor not I should play the song, it suddenly dawned on me – if I can morph “Clair de Lune” into “Jesus Loves Me” I certainly can morph “The Beer Barrel Polka” into “Jesus Loves Me.” So I did.

Yup. That’s my destiny. Regardless of what type of music I try to play, gospel is what’s going to come out. God made me that way, and I’ve finally come to whole-heartedly accept it.

Thanks, Nancy, for helping me learn that lesson.

Nancy Koplin cropped

Nancy Koplin, a good friend who helped me find “Jesus Loves Me” in “The Beer Barrel Polka.”

Learning to Work Together

Danny and me looking down from the hay barn - when I was still too short to plant tobacco.

Danny and me – when I was too short to plant tobacco.

I remember when I was too short to plant tobacco. Oh, how I wanted to grow legs that would be long enough to reach the foot rests on the tobacco planter.

In early June when my dad pulled the tobacco planter out of the shed to get it ready for tobacco planting, my brother Danny and I would climb all over it. Our planter had originally been used with horses, and the seat for the person driving the horses was still on top of the water barrel. We’d scramble to see who could get to that seat first to pretend to drive the horses. The loser, usually me, wouldn’t really mind because then I would sit in one of the two planting seats near the ground. Every year I stretched my legs as far as I could to try to reach the foot rests. But I was too short.

tobacco planter w horses

The only significant differences between this tobacco planter and ours is that ours was pulled by a tractor instead of horses, and my dad sat on the tractor instead of on top of the water barrel.

Since I wasn’t big enough for the fun job of planting, I had the boring job of pulling plants. The way tobacco is grown, at least the way it was raised in Wisconsin back in the 1950s, is by first planting the tiny seeds in a tobacco bed. A steam engine came to the farm and steamed the garden patch where the tobacco would be started. After the soil was steamed, my dad built a frame for the bed, then he spread the seeds throughout the bed, and finally he covered the frame with a thin white canvas. Over the next few weeks he faithfully watered the bed through the canvas until the seeds sprouted and the plants began to grow. When the plants got to be six to eight inches tall, they were ready to transplant to the tobacco field.

Mom and Dad pulling tobacco plants

Mom and Dad pulling tobacco plants

On the mornings that we were going to plant tobacco, the whole family gathered by the tobacco bed.  We carefully removed the canvas and soaked the bed using watering cans that we filled from the metal tank near the bed. The tank had previously been filled with rain water or with a long hose from the pump. We placed a plank across the tobacco bed for every two people.  One person sat on each end of the plank and reached into the bed to pull out the biggest seedlings, one at a time, pulling carefully so as not to damage the roots. When we had a handful of plants, we carefully placed them in a bushel basket that was lying on its side. We tried to pull enough plants to fill as many bushel baskets as my dad thought we could plant that afternoon – sometimes a dozen or more. That job really wasn’t boring when the whole family, including some cousins sometimes, worked on it together. We raced to see who could fill up their bushel basket first – without sacrificing quality control. Mom and Dad kept an eye on that. The boring part came in the afternoon if the planters needed more plants, and I had to pull them by myself. Everyone else was busy doing the fun work, riding the tobacco planter.

Finally, when I was nine or ten, I could reach the foot rest! I was big enough for the fun job!

tobacco plant singleThe way the tobacco planter worked is that two people would sit next to each other behind the water barrel, close to the ground. As the horses (or tractor in our case) pulled us, the planter dug a single trench in the field, just the right depth for planting about a six-inch tall tobacco plant. About every nine inches or so, about a cup of water was released from the barrel into the trench. One of the people sitting on the tobacco planter placed a plant in the trench just when and where the water was released. The “shoes” of the planter then closed up the trench as the planter moved along. The tobacco plant was left perfectly standing as we rolled away. There was a rhythm to follow when planting so that the plant would be placed into position just as the water was being released.

The two people sitting on the planter took turns setting the plants. The person who sat on the left side of the planter, planted with his right hand. The person on the right side, planted with her left hand. (Pronouns are intentional. Since I’m a lefty, everyone was just as anxious as I was for my legs to grow long enough for me to be the lefty planter.) After planting each row, we lifted another big bunch of a couple hundred plants out of the bushel baskets that were sitting in the shade. We laid the plants on heavy canvas mats that both of us had on our laps. These plants would be used for planting the next row.

A freshly planted tobacco field.

A freshly planted tobacco field.

Of all the jobs I’ve had over the past sixty-plus years, planting tobacco is my favorite. I think it’s because of how much fun it was to work together, and to appreciate each person doing their part. I won’t say that Danny and I never threw clumps of dirt at each other when we planted together, and sometimes we glared at each other. But usually we concentrated on keeping the rhythm of setting the plants just right. We worked together well. It was also fun to plant with my mom. Mom and I often talked about what a wonderful time we were having working together outside on a beautiful sunny day.

Whenever I think about those days, I can still feel the warm sun on my back and the cool water on my fingers as I placed each plant just right. I can hear the click and then the short rush of water as it was released, over the steady drone of the tractor. I feel the rhythm of planting.

I remember one day I asked my mom what tobacco was used for. I understood the other crops we grew – what they were used for. I knew that hay was for the cows to eat. I knew that we took corn and oats to the mill to be ground into feed for the cows and chickens. But I didn’t know what tobacco was used for. Somehow, she avoided answering that question.

tobacco cigar patchNow that I know that the big premium quality leaves of our tobacco plants were used for wrapping cigars, I probably shouldn’t have such fond memories of planting tobacco. But I do. It’s where I learned how good it is to work together. That’s a very transferable life skill. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to learn that skill at an early age so I could use it my whole life.

And I’m really thankful that my legs finally grew long enough for me to learn that lesson.

Danny and I had to work together a lot. Here we are spending most of a summer day husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

Danny and I had to work together a lot. Here we are spending most of a “summer vacation” day husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

For Crying Out Loud

According to the idioms section of TheFreeDictionary.com, “for crying out loud” is “An exclamation of anger or exasperation, as in For crying out loud, can’t you do anything right? This term is a euphemism for for Christ’s sake.

For crying out loud, I’ve been reading Joan Chittister’s monthly pamphlet for more than four years now. The pamphlet for last month (May 2015) is the first one that I really haven’t liked. This year, instead of reflecting on beautiful paintings each month, she’s reflecting on one particular quotation for a whole month. Brother Mickey McGrath creates a new illustration of the quotation for the front flap of each month’s pamphlet.

The quotation for the month of May was by St. Catherine of Siena:

Cry out with a thousand tongues. I see the world is rotten because of silence.

Cry Out Pamphlet CoverThe quote is an order to do something – to cry out – because of a terrible observation – that the world is rotten because people don’t cry out. Unfortunately, the quote is more depressing to me than uplifting. That’s not the way I want to begin each day – being depressed.

Chittister’s reflection for Thursday, May 21, was probably my least favorite of all.

Silence is a virtue only when it prepares us to act well later. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a symptom of spiritual narcissism.

I took a little offense at that comment. Most people who know me would describe me as a quiet person. I rarely speak unless I think I have something worthwhile to say. If I have to make small talk, I will, but I don’t like it. It’s far from my favorite thing to do.

In contrast to making small talk, I see silence as something good. Silence is an opportunity to think, to learn, and to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. For crying out loud, I certainly don’t see silence as a “symptom of spiritual narcissism.” (Or is it? Maybe I need to think about that a little more – but not this week.)

Silence ripplesBut perhaps, I’m taking Chittister’s comments too personally. Toward the end of May I decided to re-read all the daily reflections in one sitting. I understand that her point for the month wasn’t to criticize the golden moments of silence that I treasure, but rather to criticize the silence that is the opposite of standing up for what is right – the  silence that is the opposite of working for justice.

In her introduction to the month’s reflections, Chittister quoted Pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote during World War II:

Martin Niemoller 2

Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

For 31 days I read a paragraph each day about the need to cry out for justice. On May first Chittister talked about all the injustices worldwide and ended with another quote – this time one by Helen Keller.

Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.

The next day she pounded the same point. “Evil can only remain evil as long as the rest of the world continues to be silent about it.”

One day she brought Anne Frank into the discussion, who had written,

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

Finally. A ray of hope. Something uplifting. We can start improving the world any time we want.

snowflake-avalancheAnother day Chittister asked the question, “What did I do today to minimize the evil in the world, in my neighborhood, in my family?” Just in case we feel that we are too little and insignificant to have any real impact by what we personally say and do, Chittister reminded us of what Stanislaw Jerzy Lec said:

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

Chittister summarized the month’s reflections with, “It is your voice and mine, alone as well as together, that are meant to raise the alarms. If we don’t point out the breakdowns in human community and make clear the unseen millions in need, they go on being unseen by the many.”

Okay. So this wasn’t my favorite month of “The Monastic Way” pamphlet. But, by the end of the month, I was maybe a little inspired by the message. For crying out loud, “the world is rotten because of silence.” For Christ’s sake, I guess I can join with others and “Cry out with a thousand tongues” to try to make the world a better place, especially for people who are treated unjustly. Now I just need to decide where to begin…

Cry Out