Posted by: jevcat | November 11, 2016

Life Lessons from Romeo & Juliet (with a Nod to St. Paul)

028-romeo-and-juliet-theredlistHaving spent the latter portion of Tuesday evening rocking back and forth in a fetal position and moaning, “The Supreme Court!  The Supreme Court!”, I woke Wednesday morning to a grey and brooding sky.  Almost the first thing that popped into my head – after the one about how maybe it was all a bad dream or there had been a miracle between sometime after two A.M. when exhaustion, emotional and physical, finally claimed me – was a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:  “The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.”  It ran through my head through that whole dreary day, along with the line that precedes it:  “A glooming peace this morning with it brings” – although how “peaceful” I was could have been debated.

When I was an impressionable 14, we were sent by our English teacher to see Franco Zeffirelli’s movie version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  It was love at first sight.  Having that summer been the victim of a seriously unfortunate short haircut (when entering high school in September, three months after the disaster, the first words of the man who is now my beloved life partner, whom I’ve known since we were nine, to me were “What happened to your hair?”), I fell in love with Juliet (Olivia Hussey)’s hair and spent the rest of high school unsuccessfully trying to grow my hair as long and lush as hers (I’m still trying).  And I fell in love with Romeo (Leonard Whiting), not to mention the actor playing Benvolio, and with the costumes, with Nino Rota’s score (setting off a life-long love of the early music on which the score was modeled), the sets, the romance of the story (who doesn’t want to die for love at 14?) – oh, yes, and the language.

I inhabited that film.  I saw it several times, pored over the souvenir program I’d gotten (yes, boys and girls, in those far-off days, first-run movies did often have souvenir programs you could buy), bought the record album that contained the music and many of the words, and listened to it endlessly – so endlessly that nearly 30 years later, when the dear friend I was visiting in England took me to a production of Romeo and Juliet outdoors in the ruins of an old abbey, she (a teacher) was stunned to realize I was “lip-synching” my way through the play along with the cast.  (I told her, “Don’t get too excited.  This is the only Shakespeare play I can do this with.”)

So maybe that’s why the words of that final speech, given by the Prince, kept echoing through the sorrow and rage yesterday, the raw weather and the raw emotions.  It felt (cliché alert) as though the world were weeping with us – and I say “us” because the majority of the people I know were at least as distraught as I was at the prospect of a petty, vindictive, spiteful, hate-filled, smirking ignoramus (and those are some of the kinder things I could say) about to become our President.

But what does a fixation on Romeo and Juliet have to do with our current national tragedy?  Well, on the way home, my mind, still on the play, drifted to an earlier scene, where Romeo is hiding out with Friar Lawrence after having murdered in a sword fight the odious Tybalt in revenge for Tybalt’s having (perhaps accidentally) just killed Romeo’s good friend Mercutio in a similar fight (one Romeo had been trying to stop).  Friar Lawrence, who in some ways can be looked at as a fool – without his well-intentioned meddling, there would be no tragedy – yet what he says to the grief-stricken, fearful, helplessly wailing Romeo is actually quite useful to one willing to hear it (Romeo wasn’t):  He lists for Romeo not what his (very real) problems are, but what his (equally real) blessings are:  Tybalt would have cheerfully killed Romeo, had Romeo not got Tybalt first; the law says death for his crime, but the Prince has mercifully changed it to banishment; Juliet is alive; Juliet still loves him.  As he ticks off each item on the list, he says to Romeo, “There art thou happy.”

All that “happiness” doesn’t make Romeo feel any better.  Friar Lawrence’s “pack of blessings” mean nothing to him.  The only thing he can see is the horror before him; the loss has obscured the good that remains.  And I realized that, in this dark night into which we have plunged, good still does exist – something to nurture and build on.  Hadn’t I spent the previous night and all day telling other sorrowing people, “We have each other”?  That’s no small thing.  Hadn’t I told them, too, “We have to keep holding on to each other”?  I know we will, and that’s no small thing, either.  I know, too, that there are other groups of people like us – we make up at least half the country, and we will not be silenced.  Standing together, we can be a very big thing, indeed.

The Prince’s full speech is:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

It can feel as though there’s never been woe like ours, but that’s not true.  So, yes, let us mourn this event that feels like a death to so many of us; let us have more talk of these sad things.  But, at the same time, let us not forget those things of which we can still say, “There art thou happy.”  Let us, in our grief and anger, not forget that pardon has a place, and that revenge ends up uselessly with a stage full of bodies.  And, arm in arm, let us work together, fight for justice together, be kind to each other, believe in each other and what we can do together, and never forget that “these three remain:  faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  (Not Shakespeare, but another great stylist, St. Paul:  1 Cornthians 13:13)

Posted by: jevcat | January 12, 2015

Epiphany Journeying

T-W Center 2013 Christmas

Tomorrow Epiphany will be a week old, and part of me feels as though I never made through Advent.

The job I’ve had for the last few years has its busiest time in November and the first half of December, with long, intense, stressful days-stretching-into-evenings. This year, my freelance work was more demanding during that time period, as well. With all the best intentions in the world, Advent, and even Christmas Day, passed in a blur of day job, freelance, financial juggling, frantic last-minute prep for family Christmas.

Suddenly, Advent and the first day of Christmas were gone, so was my adrenaline, and I was almost too exhausted to stir. A week of recuperation, and then, just as I felt I was beginning to revive, time to go back to work, and BANG!: Epiphany. I’m still trying to clear out space for the Baby’s manger while simultaneously journeying to Bethlehem, and here were the Magi at the door. It felt rather like the time dear friends, having left early for fear of summer holiday traffic, turned up at my apartment 45 minutes early, while I was still vacuuming. I opened the door when they rang, said “Go away,” and closed it again. Well, I almost closed it again. Then I opened it wide and told them to come on in, but they’d have to take the place (and me) as they found it, which they were more than happy to do.

So maybe that’s what I need to do with the Wise Men (and God) now, too: just surrender, throw up my hands, and say, “Come on in, but you’ll have to take me as you find me” – which God always does, anyway. Oh wait a minute – that’s part of the point, isn’t it?

But then, Epiphany often finds me all at sixes and sevens, stuck between the joyous mystery of Christmas and the looming slog of Lent, then Easter, which, while the latter is also a joyous mystery and easier than Christmas, it’s just not as much fun. Cadbury eggs and Jelly Bellies, pleasant as they are, just aren’t in the same league as all those Christmas goodies; a basket from the Easter bunny is no match for Santa’s sack; and even the loveliest decorated eggs can’t hold a candle to the scent and sight of a Christmas tree lit and decorated with years of accumulated ornaments, each of which has its own tale to tell.

And if I feel confused, it’s no wonder – Holy Innocents comes on December 28th, but the Magi whose visit sparked the slaughter don’t arrive until January 6th. Who thought that made sense? (Although my Beloved, the high-energy physics engineer, is continually explaining to me that in a quantum universe anything can happen – he tries to explain how, too, but that’s where we run off the rails, or at least I do.)

Then there’s the whole “home by another way” thing. I, who sometimes feel like one of the Perpetually Perplexed, at least directionally, am notorious for getting lost while retracing my steps, whether literally on foot or metaphorically behind the wheel of a car, and I am brought up short: Go home by another way? Without even the star to guide them anymore? Even with the star, I have no idea how they found that manger-in-a-haystack, and without the star? Home by another way? Seriously?

Yet even when there’s not a baby king’s life at stake, sometimes we have no choice: there’s a washout on the road, a job ends unexpectedly, someone dies . . . and we have no choice but to go on/home by another way. And sometimes the home we wind up at isn’t the one we started out at. Maybe it was that way for the Wise Men, too. I, who am neither wise nor in any way magical, will just have to work it out. I will just have to keep stumbling about, stubbing my toes, and stopping to say, “Wait, didn’t I just pass this before?” – like the time a friend and I, having missed a turn, spent the better part of a summer evening, night, and very early morning driving through central New Jersey, passing regularly through Edison, which we always recognized without seeing a sign because someone earlier must’ve run over a skunk: catch that whiff, and we’d say to each other, “Oh no! We’re in Edison again” – but we did finally find our way, wearily, gratefully, home.

And so shall we all.

Wise Men, Nativity Set, St. Luke in the Fields, NYC

Wise Men, Nativity Set, St. Luke in the Fields, NYC

Posted by: jevcat | December 30, 2014

New Year, 2015

Maine Iced Over

New life, new creation,

alive our sense of wonder;

the time has come to be reborn;

the kingdom is right here,

the kingdom is right here.

New Life, New Creation, ©Benedictine Foundation of New Hampshire (Monks of Weston Priory)


I don’t make New Year’s resolutions – I don’t believe in them. But I love celebrating the start of a new year, and I am perfectly delighted to celebrate anyone’s new year, whenever it comes: Jewish New Year at Rosh Hashanah, the Celtic New Year at Samhain (aka Halloween), or any other New Year I hear about.

That wise old 13th century mystic (what was it about the 13th century and mystics, anyway?), Meister Eckhart said, “We are all mothers of God, . . . for God is always needing to be born,” which is a great Christmas season quote, and I appreciate the thought from his theological point of view, but from mine, it’s me that’s always needing to be born – or rather, re-born. Which is why I love celebrating new years, over and over, as often as possible – who would not want a fresh start, a “do-over,” a chance to begin again?

God knows, I manage to screw things up often enough. At the ripe old age of 60, you’d think I’d’ve got it right by now, or at least be well on the way, but that does not seem to be the case. It’s not that I don’t learn from my mistakes, it’s just that learning from my mistakes does not seem to keep me from making them again, and, even when it does, I am perfectly capable of finding wonderful new ways to botch things up, to the extent that it’s sometimes hard to remember that I do – hopefully more than occasionally – actually get a lot of things right, as well.

While I recognize that “every day is a new beginning,” often it just feels like more of the same. Dawn happens every day, and becomes too familiar to register. I wind up just slogging on, forgetting that fresh starts and new pathways are there for the taking – or if necessary, making – and that I am not bound to old ideas and well-trodden paths by more than custom, or custom and fear. And fear can be overcome, ignored, or, if you’re me, more often bargained with.

So I just perk right up when I hear of some culture with a different new year than the ones I’ve known about previously, both because I always love finding excuses – I mean reasons – to celebrate, and because, well, I just like to celebrate.

Now here we are, almost at what most of our culture considers the official New Year’s Day, and we can all keep each other company, which does make new things less frightening and somehow easier: I’m hoping I (and we) can take a deep breath, step forward – and celebrate!

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.

– Meister Eckhart (full disclosure: I’m not absolutely convinced this is really a quote from Eckhart; although it’s attributed to him everywhere, I can’t find an actual citation. But I like it.)

Posted by: jevcat | February 3, 2014

De Amicitia

Make new friends, but keep the old

One is silver, the other gold.

A circle is round, it has no end

That’s how long, I will be your friend.


When I was a child, my mother taught me this old friendship round that she had learned in Girl Scouts, and we would sing it together.  When I was older, Mom, who was something of a Latin scholar in high school, introduced me to Cicero.  I never got to be the Latinist she was, but I, too, came to love Cicero, although I read him in translation rather than stumble through the original, and I preferred his essay On Friendship (De Amicitia) to the Orations Against Cataline.  In college, I discovered mediaeval history, and some of the wonderful writing on friendship by people such as Aelred of Rievaulx and the vexing Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who could write so beautifully and be so beastly.

Perhaps because I had no friends until I was five, friendship has always been important to me, and in recent months, that old round has been running through my head – ever since this fall, actually, because in September and November old friends who have long lived outside of New York City were here to visit.  It was so very good to share time with them again, and so hard when they returned to their present homes.

There’s nothing quite like being with old friends – it’s like taking off your dress shoes and slipping into your oldest, most comfortable slippers:  it says you’re home.  It’s not that the old and familiar can’t occasionally surprise, but that’s part of the delight of old friendships:  You like that, too?  How did I never know that?  What fun!

But every new discovery is undergirded with the deep richness and inexpressible comfort of shared history – all of those “remember when”s that bind us, because no one else could understand:  the difficult times we got through because we had each other, the knowledge of which makes us stronger even now, years later; the adventures that turned out just fine – or made good stories for telling after the dust settled; the funny stories, the memory of which can still make us laugh, over and over, sometimes when we need it most.  An old friendship is a treasure trove that never runs out, always there with what we need, when we need it.

Old friends are the ones who’ve shared the most with us, the ones with whom no explanations are necessary, with whom, as one dear friend once said to me, “We know each other’s stories.”  At the time, I couldn’t get that sentence out of my head, until it grew into a poem – one I’m glad I got a chance to show her before she died.  And, while one friendship may have generated it, it is true of a precious few others that go back so many years now.

Each Other’s Stories

“We know each other’s stories,” she said,

Sending my mind scuttling backwards

          down pathways that ran parallel,

                    if not always together.

We know each other’s stories—

The histories blending into myths that families tell each other

          around holiday tables, and at wakes.

We know each other’s stories, too,

As the women we became

          through the years that separated—

                    yet bound—

          the girls who first saw something that

                    was not “other” in another’s eyes.

Artist and writer, tellers of stories both,

We know their power, ancient and new,

          gnostic alchemy, turning friendship living gold.

“Yes,” I said, “We know each other’s stories.”


Posted by: jevcat | February 2, 2014

Sea Changes

Life, like the sea, both changes and remains the same.  It’s been a long time since I had time to write or post, and I don’t really now, but a conversation with a friend led to my thinking about something I wrote (to my astonishment, as long as 15 years ago!), that still remains true to me and, I think, to her, so I thought I’d post it, along with a photo that I believe was taken by my Beloved, who also has the sea in his blood.


Let Me Grow Old by the Sea

Oh, let me grow old by the sea,

the soft swells whispering

of new life to come,

the salt breeze carrying the tang

of worlds and oceans

yet to explore.

Oh, let me grow old by the sea,

the surge of the storm

and the gentle lapping waves

speak of the same cycle

of power and calm,

death and rebirth.

Oh, let me grow old by the sea,

where the serene arc

of the gull in flight

and its raucus call

are halves

of the same whole.

Oh, let me grow old by the sea,

let me close my eyes

to the dazzle

of sunlight on water

moonlight on wave

and wake to life and worlds unknown.

Posted by: jevcat | July 28, 2013

Summer Sunday

Sleeping Oz

A quiet, chilly summer Sunday,

where greyness chases shy sun across the sky – and mostly wins –

a desultory breeze flits through the window,

and there is time for tea and cinnamon toast,

to read and doze

and watch the birds play hide-and-seek between the branches,

and it feels like a dream-memory,

the morning swim a travel in time

back to days

bereft of worry, fear, and ceaseless obligations.

Tomorrow I’ll be a grown-up again,

but just now,

an open book beckons,

there’s a cat needs petting

and a human to cuddle against for a while longer.

I’ll  s t a y.


Posted by: jevcat | June 30, 2013

On Quiet Celebration


There’s something healing in a gentle summer rain.  I knew this even as a child, when a rainy afternoon would spark me to sing the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Rain on the Roof” over and over to myself or anyone unfortunate enough to cross my path – I even had a bunch of gestures I’d choreographed to illustrate the words, which my long-suffering mother had the grace not to laugh at or appear bored with, no matter how many times I performed them.

As I’ve gotten older, I think I appreciate the respite of a rainy afternoon even more.  It refreshes, but it also reminds me of things I tend to forget:  that things that look dark can nurture good things; that moisture – including tears – can nurture and nourish; that perpetual sun would not, after all, be a good thing; that gifts can come in unexpected ways; that it’s good, once in a while, to stop and stand still, open to receiving whatever may fall.

So today, at home on Staten Island, tethered to a computer and freelance work (which I do both need and normally enjoy) when I would have been in Manhattan with my friends, celebrating summer, victories won, love, and friendships that “remember when,” the pit-pat of the drops, the sh-sh-sh of the rainy leaves in the slight breeze, tell me that celebrations need not be noisy, and that quiet, stillness, and  time for just listening, savoring, then getting on with what needs doing, are important, too.  And, after all, rainbows make no sound.

Posted by: jevcat | March 19, 2013

The Wide Wildness

Acadia National Park, Maine.  Photo by Roger Bingler.

Acadia National Park, Maine. Photo by Roger Bingler.

I didn’t make it to church last Sunday, but the week before we sang “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” and I’ve been humming it ever since.

This is not really a problem, because it’s a hymn I’m fond of (which isn’t always the case with the more modern tunes), but it’s got me thinking, because when I first heard it, years ago (and had not yet seen the text), I thought the first words were, “There’s a wildness in God’s mercy, like the wildness of the sea … ”

While mercy may not generally be thought of as wild, the idea appeals to me, and I’m not sure I don’t like it better than the “real” version, because it has a feeling of something untamed, and I don’t think God is tame-able – though God knows, we try.  There’s a human tendency to want to make God manageable – we are creatures who want to be in control.  We want to think that if we say the right words, do all the right things, pray in the right way, everything will be the way we want it to be.  If that were true, a lot of Bible stories would be different, and faith would not really be necessary.

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, and another hymn I love is “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” which I say every morning.  I’ve never forgotten something I read about it – I think in a book on it by the Rev. Andrew Greeley.  It said that when St. Patrick made his prayer, he was in a situation where he knew he might be attacked and killed.  The prayer was not to be safe, but that whatever did happen, God would be with him in it and through it:  however wild the situation got, it would not be too wild for God’s presence.

Perhaps that (and my life in recent years) explains why I’d rather sing about “the wildness of God’s mercy” – and why I so love the Celtic blessing I know from The New Zealand Prayer Book, where it appears as the “Sentence of the Day” for Friday in the service of Night Prayer (Compline):

 The blessing of God, the eternal goodwill of God, the shalom of God, the wildness and the warmth of God, be among us and between us, now and always.

Posted by: jevcat | February 18, 2013

Jonah’s Tantrum

The daily lectionary starts off Lent with an Ash Wednesday reading from Jonah (3:1-4:11).  We’re past the whale here and beyond children’s Sunday School story territory – though not beyond childish behavior.  Jonah, left without any other real option, gives in and goes to Ninevah to preach doom, destruction, and repentance – and the people of Ninevah, whether from true remorse or enlightened self-interest, do repent, so God spares them – which was God’s intent all along, as Jonah well knew.

God’s mercy does not sit well with Jonah.  (He is not alone in this; far too many of us want mercy for ourselves but not for people different from us — it’s for us, not them, and bring on the schadenfreude and that wonderful sense of being justified and righteous.)  So Jonah is angry and does what any self-respecting spoiled child would do:  he gets all petulant and pouts.  And he’s justified:  all that work, going up and down the city telling them all how wicked they are, and God doesn’t even have the decency to stand behind what he’s told Jonah to tell the Ninevites and destroy them.  Arms crossed, back turned, “Humph!” says Jonah, “I wanna’ die – go ahead, kill me.”

God is, I suspect, as amused and exasperated as any parent dealing with this sort of behavior, and asks gently, “Do you do well to be angry?”  God had been a parent for a long time even then and should have known better.  No kid wants to answer that sort of question accurately, and neither does Jonah.  He just stomps up to a place with a view of the city and plops down in hopes of getting to watch a good show if God does follow through and destroy the city.  Maybe if he does this, God will feel obliged to destroy it – justice meted out with a satisfying (for the watcher) impartiality.

By this point, if I were God, I’d be more tempted to thump Jonah than anyone in Ninevah, but God is a progressive sort of parent, and still trying to lead Jonah to see the right of things on his own.  So God has a plant grow to shade Jonah.  Things are going well now, Jonah must think, feeling like a baseball fan in possession of a stadium seat with unobstructed view but just under an overhang for shelter from direct sun or rain.  But then God sends a worm to kill the plant and a hot wind, besides.

Detail of Jonah window from Christ Church College, Oxford, borrowed from

Detail of Jonah window from Christ Church College, Oxford, borrowed from

Now that things are uncomfortable, God asks again, “Do you do well to be angry?” and gets the sulky reply, lip stubbornly stuck out, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.  So there.”  (The Bible does not actually add “so there,” but I am fairly certain Jonah would have said it.  Or the Hebrew equivalent.)

Sometimes, the kid is just not going to “get” it, no matter what you do.  So God finally tells Jonah, “You have pity for the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, … And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city?”  I think this is again God trying to lead Jonah to better behavior – I sincerely doubt Jonah pitied the plant; he pitied only himself, and I’m afraid I have been in that position, too.

And that’s where the story ends.  The Bible doesn’t tell us if Jonah ever grew up and learned to think of anyone beside himself, stopped wanting to see other people punished (even if some of them are actually innocent) rather than wanting to see them move on to something better.  Maybe that’s because people in general are still trying (or not trying) to learn that lesson, and it’s not that far from “Yes, I do well to be angry” to “Crucify him!”

Posted by: jevcat | January 13, 2013

Epiphany Wonderings

Jutta's Stars-2

It’s Epiphany season, and although (or perhaps because) I wound up not getting to church last Sunday for the big celebration, the thought of Epiphany has been floating in the back of my mind, periodically bobbing up and down, all week, maybe sort of like that star the Three Kings followed.

I can’t imagine dropping everything to follow a star.  I’m a nester; I’ve moved only once in my life, 27 years ago, and I think I’m still traumatized.  In some ways, though, I’m a follower:  I prefer to work in the background and generally am uncomfortable being in the spotlight.  And I try, not especially successfully, I fear, to be a follower of Jesus.

But we all follow something or someone, I think, even those of us who lead – follow many things, in fact, in different ways.  And what we follow says a lot about us and who we are.

So I guess what I’ve been trying to figure out this week is:  what star(s) am I following? (other than see above).  Do I know what my goal is (come to think of it, did the Magi know? — They thought they did, but I rather suspect what they found wasn’t what they expected, which may be true for many of us).  What does what I follow that say about me?  Do I like the direction?  Does it feel right?  Where has it lead me?  And, perhaps most important, should I be going home by another way?


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