Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Fourteen

Thursday, 30 March, 1989
Fitz to Shrewsbury to Caernarfon
Day Fourteen

Whole party assembled at breakfast in the
main dining room in the morning, including Ted* and Susanna's* 17 month old baby, Timothy*. Intelligent child, even if not speaking intelligibly yet. The baby’s tone of voice and inflection made it sound as if he had something important to say, if only he could get his tongue around the syllables. Reminded me of the children at Coverdale*.

I thought about mentioning the mice, but refrained because I was only there the one night and Mr. and Mrs. Baly probably couldn’t do anything about it at the moment anyway.

After breakfast Harry* and Elspeth* and I adjourned to the sitting room to see a video on Shropshire the Balys had. It was a little boosteristic in places (I kept my mouth shut, though appallingly I was tempted to make cynical comments) but it did me the favor of showing me what Shrewsbury Abbey looks like.

Went upstairs thereafter and took a bath and all the rest of it, then packed up and was ready to go by 11:00.

I never know how it is with people. Last night Mrs. Baly was very kind and even motherly with me; this morning she was perfunctory and mainly concerned that I pay my £12.50 and let her get on with her business. I suppose that had something to do with it, since Fitz Manor is a working farm and they had had some Welsh sheep pastured on their land this winter, since Shropshire had grass while Wales (NE part) didn’t. And today the Welsh shepherd was come to collect his flock.

Still, my hostess’s change in manner had me wondering for much of the rest of the day what I could possibly have done or said. Maybe I’m oversensitive . . . but I’m afraid that if I blow that sort of thing off all the time, I’ll be in danger of being inconsiderate of someone I really have hurt. [I've recently learned something about the practice of overwintering the young mountain lambs on lowland farms and what a major undertaking it is to gather them all in to return them home. So yes, I was being oversensitive.]

Took off for
Shrewsbury along the not-so-well sign-posted lanes. Arrived there from the north, driving in from the castle side and went round and round from awhile, trying to find a carpark. No luck, till I found myself on the Wyle Cop (familiar name, that), going eastward across the bridge over the Severn, and heading up the Abbey Foregate towards the red sandstone front of the formerly Benedictine abbey church of St. Peter and St. Paul. I haven’t read all those Brother Cadfael mysteries for nothing.

Located a free carpark south of the church, reflecting ruefully that this expanse of broken tarmac and its attendant fenced-in spare parts yards were once part of the abbey grounds and gardens. The Meole Brace, which still exists under a different name, was completely obscured among the jumble of decaying modern buildings. The millpond still exists as a stagnant pool next to some archeological diggings sponsored by the University of Birmingham, but looking long unworked.

The abbey church is a stout Norman building with a Gothic choir and narthex added at either end. Along the south side you can see the jagged masonry where the demolished abbey walls and buildings used to join its fabric.

The interior is of three storeys, with round piers with plain banded capitals supporting no-nonsense rounded arches at the nave arcade and triforium levels. Above that the clerestory is a mural surface pierced by round-headed windows.

As I passed through the nave, I constantly had to stop myself from saying things to myself like, "This is the part that Brother Cadfael knew." He is, after all, only an invention of the writer Ellis Peters. Still, it was helpful to think of his character as I walked through "his" church. Though sometimes perplexed by them, the sins and foibles of man do not shake his faith in God. Whatever evil man can do, Cadfael is assured that God can do greater good still, and he rests in the confidence that God can make right, here or beyond the grave, whatever messes we make of our lives and the lives of others. Only a fictional character, true, but when so many evil fictional characters are influencing people to the bad, why not rejoice in the fact that an author has seen fit to invent one who can confirm one in the good?

It was funny-- they had a supply of the Brother Cadfael novels for sale in the little postcard shop. I peeked in one or two just long enough to look at Peters’ sketch maps of the abbey and its environs to reconcile them with the 20th century cityscape outside. Actually, that’s why I stopped in Shrewsbury in the first place.

There’s a road running south of the church as well as to the north, now. It’s called the Abbey Foregate as well.

They had a little pamphlet there, locating the places around Shrewsbury that Peters features in her novels. But it cost 60p and that seemed a little steep for a mimeographed sheet that would only serve to satisfy a literary fancy.

Headed for the
Severn, and walked a bit in a little garden that marks the approach to the Gaye. The Severn is a little river here, like most English rivers I’ve seen (when they aren’t estuaries).

The
English Bridge as it stands is an 18th century production, reworked and widened in 1924.

Crossed it and walked up the Wyle to the main square and ye olde tourist information office. Needed to know where the local NatWest is so I could cash in some traveller’s cheques, and learn where I could find
Butchers’ Row, to see the 15th century house I’d read of in Margaret Wood.

While I was there at the tourist office I, quite lazily, decided to make use of their "Book a room ahead" service. The man told me they’d find me a place in Carnarfon and would tell about it if I’d come back in a half hour. £1.50.

Found the NatWest, got the cash, and remembered to ask about the check I’d discovered missing the other day. The computer had a record of the amount-- £45--but none of the endorsee. I’d have to call Oxford for that.

So I went and found a phonecard booth and had the Cornmarket branch on the line, when it came to me that the check is one I wrote out of order before I left Oxford. So all is well.

Found Butchers’ Row. It has 15th century timbered and jettied houses at both ends, dragon beams and all.

Bought a cheese savory and a cream pastry at a baker’s shop and returned to the tourist office by 2:30 or so. They’d gotten me a place at a Mrs. Hughes’, in a house with a Greek name-- Pros Kairon-- and the man wrote out the directions for me.

Sat out in the square then and wrote the Mackintosh postcard to Jim* and Annie* [our brilliant furniture makers back in Kansas City].
Shrewsbury’s a pleasant town but could do with fewer agglomerations of foul-mouthed pre-teenaged boys. They’re on school holiday, too, and were hanging around the square trading insults and voicing threats of what they were going to do to some other gangs of boys, their chorus sometimes augmented by solos from one or two local drunks who found the square a convenient place to pass the time as well.

Posted the card, then went to the street leading to the Castle and stopped at
Boots, for some vitamins. I’m out. And got some shampoo, as well.

Didn’t go into the
castle keep (it’s a military museum now, which didn’t particularly interest me), but you can come into the walls and admire the garden and climb the tower all you wish.

The neck of land that falls between the two sides of the loop of the Severn in front of the castle is spanned now by the BritRail terminal and its platforms. It’s disappointingly, monumentally ugly.

Walked back to the carpark another way, more or less. Took note of the Norman south door on St. Mary’s. Then a little later, turned off the Wyle to follow the lane of St. Julian’s Friars. No remains of a friary to photograph, though, so I just walked along the Severn north to the English Bridge and back to the carpark.

Pulled out around 4:15. Back across the Severn, around the southern bypass (or what passes for one in this town), across the
Welsh bridge and through Frankwell, and thence to the A5 and Llangollen.

Into Wales at Chirk. First thing you notice is that the Welsh are very serious about
Welsh. I determined not to get into any accidents along these twisty roads-- I could never cope with an argument in such an unintelligible tongue.

But I had the fun of seeing the region for which so many Philadelphia suburbs are named. Passed by the turnoffs for both Bala and Cynwyd.

For one stretch I had the exquisite pleasure of forming part of a parade behind a very wide house trailer that was being moved. Police escort and all. They occasionally had to stop oncoming traffic so the trailer could go by.

After awhile the mist set in and it began to rain a little. Along the A4086, before the rail line for the top of
Snowdon, I passed through a valley that was grand even in its grim bleakness. There was no vegetation to be seen, and great black rocks lay in tumbled heaps and spills along the mountain faces, below nightmarish crags. I said to myself, "Mordor. It's Mordor. This is where Tolkien got it for Lord of the Rings. It's Mordor!" And the mist made it seem bleaker-- and therefore more romantic-- still.

Into
Carnarfon by 6:45, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Directions were fine-- to a point. Said take the second right after turning left at the firestation. Second right was a One Way Do Not Enter onto the motorway. Went back to the Shell Station near the firehouse, to ask directions.

Filled up the car while I was there, since the radio had said Texaco would be raising their petrol prices to £1.878, up by 7p a gallon, and I could just see Shell following suit.

Inside, everyone was speaking Welsh. Momentary fear: what if they’re so militant they’re not bilingual? But they were. I started to explain what my directions had said but the woman cut me off with a perfunctory "Listen!" which brooked no nonsense from idiot foreigners. In her opinion I was to turn left after the left by the fire station.

Tried that, and it ultimately worked, even if the street had no name plate, in Welsh or English, and I had to ask a passerby if I was in the right place.

All this is giving me an entirely new insight on Jonah 4:11. I used to think that bit about the people of Nineveh not knowing their right hands from their left was a metaphor for a kind of moral blindness. But now I see it simply means they couldn’t give accurate directions! It’s a good thing for them the way through the city was obvious, for if Jonah had had to rely on the directions of such people as around here, he’d’ve been preaching only in one small corner of the city those three days, not enough people would have repented, and Nineveh would’ve been destroyed.

Found "Pros Kairon" by parking the car and walking down and then up the street till I spotted a B&B sign. Mrs. Hughes, a little elderly Welshwoman, was ready to answer my ring; she said she’d been looking out for me.

Room was upstairs at the back, overlooking a bit of garden. Small, but nice, with an electric blanket on the bed and a space heater.

Since it was relatively early, I decided to be reckless with my cash and get a pub meal in the town center. The Hugheses directed me to a pub they recommend and I set off.

They live in a part of Carnarfon outside the Edwardian [Edward I--13th century] walls. The houses here are all pretty modern: Victorian or newer than that, marching in mostly-gray ranks up and down the hills.

To get to the town center you have to go down the hill, across the motorway via a pedestrian underpass, along a street or two, and then you’re in the
castle square. The city still focusses there, it seems.

The castle, which I cannot do better than describe as a formidible pile (though Carcassonne on its hill is more aesthetically impressive), lies at the point where the River Seiont empties into the Menai Strait. The boats moored in the river mouth looked, in the mist-filled drizzly twilight, as if they were sitting on a water preternaturally calm.

There were many people about, even though not a lot of places seemed to be open. Everyone was speaking Welsh and most of the signs were in that language, or that and English both. I am beginning to pick out words here and there, written, but have no idea how the
grammar works.

The directions I’d received at the B&B didn’t work too effectively, for lack of street signs. I finally found the pub,
The Black Boy (and was it a racist act to go there?) via the offices of another pub, who weren’t serving evening meals but were happy to direct me to one that was-- the aforementioned B. B.

Ordered a plate of garlic mussels and sat down at a table to wait for them. The TV was on, showing some BBC evening soap opera, which soon ended. Then a program about some British man’s travels in Arizona came on. And I confess that the sight of all those cars driving on the righthand side made me a little queasy.

Pretty soon, the set was turned off and the juke box came on. It was highly incongruous, hearing the pounding background of those English rock songs laid beneath the general flow of Welsh conversation. You’d think they’d have some Welsh pop bands by now. Even funnier was when a Welsh tune did come on-- it was obviously meant to be some heart-stirring romantic or nationalistic ballad, and was sung dramatically by the Welsh version of Lawrence Welk’s inevitable Irish tenor-- and amongst the Welsh in the pub you could hear the very English expression from the brave young men of Wales: "Squelch it! Squelch it!!"

Some people don’t got no culcha.

One of the guys at the next table asked me, in English, what I was reading. At first my impulse was to give him the cold shoulder-- as in "I don’t talk to strangers"-- but decided not to be such a jerk. So we had a mild amount of chitchat, until he was called to join a darts match with some of his mates. The reason I felt odd about it is not that here I was an American in a Welsh pub, but that here I am 34 and surely he took me for someone closer to his age (mid-20s), or he wouldn’t have spoken to me . . . But why should I assume that? Maybe because I’m that way myself. Anyway, I felt odd, as if I were sailing under false colors.

The mussels were good, though they could’ve used a bit more salt. I had a half pint of
Worthington’s bitter to go with them. Not the best combination, but the ale itself was palatable and not bitter to the extent of Guinness dark, say.

Satiated my chocolate craving with a bar bought at an off-license on the way back to the B&B. Went back without loitering or rubbernecking, because although it was hardly 9:00 PM, with the mist the streets were a little surreal.

Pros Kairon has a guest sitting room downstairs so I brought my journal down there to sit in front of the nice electric fire and work on it. But instead I talked to the other guests and let myself be distracted by the television. The others were a couple from Australia. They’d already been to Israel and Egypt before coming to England, and were labelling their photographs. We told trip stories, not neglecting ones about driving around the UK (especially in those winds last week), until they retired about 10:00.

I followed shortly, to work on the journal a little more but more to read Walter Scott.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Do or Die?

I've emailed the chairman of my presbytery's Committee on Ministry asking to be put on their docket this coming Monday evening.

A presbytery's COM is its gatekeeper, pre-examining pastors who wish to serve within its bounds. And, along with the Executive Presbyter, it recommends--or doesn't recommend-- member pastors who wish to serve churches anywhere in the Presbyterian Church (USA) nationwide.

For the last four years I've been stymied by my COM. I've been limited on what ministries I may undertake and I haven't been referred even for the sorts I am technically allowed.

I've told myself that that was because I had an architecture job for a couple of years. Then I thought it was because nothing in my categories had come up. Then I thought maybe it was a case of out of sight, out of mind.

I've gone to work to rectify that. I've gotten myself on a presbytery committee. I see the EP at least once a month and ask him what's available. I've written a letter to the COM chair. I've lobbied people I know who are on COM. I ask fellow pastors to keep their ears open for churches that are coming open in their areas.

But nothing has come of any of it. I know that opportunities have come available. And somehow, the powers that be haven't seen fit to refer me even for an interview.

I wasn't present at the COM meeting four years ago when the decision was made to limit me. The only "specific" comment was that I seemed to need more mentoring than usual.

To what did this refer? I know I was unable to control the ruling family in my last call-- but neither were any of the previous pastors going back twenty years or more. I considered that maybe the difference is that the previous pastors (all men) toughed it out until they couldn't take it any more, then circulated their CVs and got new positions. They didn't bring the COM into it.

I did. Should I have kept my mouth shut about it? A fellow pastor who was on the administrative commission that took over the rulership of that church four years ago says no. He says I did a good thing for that congregation by reporting the shenanigans of my bull elder and his kin. They jumped ship to another denomination and the church is now recovering under the leadership of a new pastor.

While I, their indirect benefactor, am still treading water, doing nothing but pulpit supply.

I've been making myself visible in presbytery meetings. I have, I hope, demonstrated my capabilities as I make statements and ask questions graciously, forthrightly, and succinctly. I hope to show myself to be a competent person who can take a stand in a respectful, collegial manner, and not be turned to mush by the prospect of opposition.

Or am I totally wrong about this? Last meeting, I asked for what I thought was a simple doctrinal clarification from a man being examined for membership in the presbytery. He was confused and I had to retreat unsatisfied. On my return to my seat, a fellow pastor leaned over to me and said, "He probably thought you were trying to catch him out because you're a woman. He doesn't realize you're conservative." Do my fellow presbyters, clergy and lay, merely see me as unfeminine and over-intellectual and thereby, automatically, insensitive and unpastoral?

(That specious and false link was made by a previous presbytery several years ago.)

Well, yesterday we women clergy met for our monthly luncheon meeting. We all told our news: A prospective marriage for one of us, a daughter married for another, the church building repaired and rededicated for another, that sort of thing.

And I, not for the first time, brought up my situation. But this time we really talked about it. And one of the clergy women there, a COM member, told me flatly that I couldn't keep wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin' for the COM chair or the EP to move on my behalf. No, I needed to ask for time on the next docket and meet with them to learn what's going on. She herself could give no guidance; she's come on the committee since the fateful decision was made.

And, she said frankly, if there's something about me that means they'd never, ever recommend me for a position, officially allowed or not, I have to find that out. If they're just waiting for me to get tired and go away to some other profession, I have to find that out, too.

Because I'm not getting any younger. And lately I haven't been actively looking for architecture work. Not only because I'm not that qualified anymore for the mechanized way things are done these days, or because of the economy, but also because I want to do Christian ministry. I don't want to be hired by some firm and tell them goodbye in two months because sorry, I'm off to be an Interim Pastor for a year. I don't treat people like that.

But if I'm wasting my time waiting for something in ministry to open up, I have to get busy determining how else to serve Jesus Christ-- and to keep myself and my four-legged children off the street.

Whether I really want to leave the ordained ministry or not.

So if there's room on the docket, Monday may be the night I find out.

Kyrie eleison!
__________________________
Note: I've heard back from the COM chairman (3:00 PM), and there's no room on the June docket. Next on my own agenda: Push, push, push to get on their agenda for July.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Thirteen

Wednesday, 29 March, 1989
Glasgow to Fitz (near Shrewsbury)
Day Thirteen


Elected not to eat the hostel’s soggy breakfast this morning. I did have a little bit of chore duty down in the members’ kitchen before I could get my card back and leave, though. Not sure how that works but I figured it was better just to get it over with and not take the time to enquire.

Got a freebie parking space in a garage on the fringe of the center city when someone who’d gotten an all-day sticker left early and the garage attendant gave it to me as I was pulling in. Not strictly kosher, I gather, and so I was a good child and made sure to park on the proper level, even if it did mean driving around till a space became vacant.

Had my bit of breakfast at the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street. I hear rumors that they’re not precisely as Mackintosh designed them (I’m referring to the tea room itself, not to the jewellery store downstairs) but I don’t really care at this point. Shared a table with a nice Scots couple who have a neighbor who’s going to go study in Moscow. Which should tell you something about Scottish communicativeness.

There was a bit of fumbling around over culinary terminology with the waitress, as I ordered a crumpet, meaning an English muffin, but got what I call a pancake, but what the Scots call a crumpet. Confused? So I ordered a muffin instead, and got what I’d call an English muffin, but what the English would term a crumpet. Right. But it was what I wanted, anyway.

Asked for more boiling water but the waitress brought me another pot of tea. And left it off the tab. I reminded her of it when I went to pay the bill but she said to forget it. Well.

Decided to make it to Shropshire before night, skipping the Lake District. Called and made a booking at a B&B near Shrewsbury.

Walked down and saw Mackintosh’s Daily Record Building in its little alley, then got the car and drove back to the University area to see the Glasgow Style exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum.

By now even Mackintosh was beginning to become too much of a good thing and it was getting late. So I just ran back to the Hunterian to get a postcard to send Jim and Annie Schoenmacher* [our custom furniture makers in Kansas City] and took off south down the A74 to Carlisle.

But not before stopping at a Jessop’s in Glasgow and spending another £48 or so on ten rolls of film . . . 10% off if you get ten, you see.

Misty and foggy today. Raining in places. Traffic not too bad, though.

Saw many beautiful things in the landscape on the way south. The Scottish Lowlands are rolling hills, now seen through a mist, bluish on either side of the carriageway. Passed the turn-off for Lockerbie . . . Wonder how long before that will once again be just the name of a nice holiday town and not be known primarily as the site of that tragic terrorist-induced plane crash last December?

Picked up the M6 north of Carlisle, and so into Cumbria. The fields from time to time manifested, even through the closed car windows, quite an odor of cowpies. Cundry smells! At first I thought it was only from herds of grazing cattle but it occurs to me that the farmers may be manuring their fields, this time of year. Well, what do you expect?

The mountains of the Lake District, though not attaining to the heights of the Rockies or the Swiss Alps, have a towering stark grandeur that is awe-instilling even as you merely race through at 80 [or sometimes 90] mph. I am continually amazed at the geographical and topographical diversity of this comparatively small island.

Filled up the car and bought some cookies to tide me over just past Lancaster. Checked the map for my route. I’m getting better at remembering the road numbers and towns but a little paranoia doesn’t hurt.

Thought I might hit some heavy traffic along the turnoffs for Liverpool and Manchester, but it wasn’t too bad.

Jumped off the M6 at Crewe and went through there and so along the A530 southwest through Nantwich and Whitchurch towards Wem and Shrewsbury. Whitchurch is a goodsized town (by which I mean, it has a Boots). You pick up the B5476 there.

I found the brick and timbered houses and the hedge-lined lanes of Shropshire peaceful compared to the gray harled houses and the stone walls of Scotland. But here you still have people ahead of you going 30 in a legal 60 zone or people behind wanting to do 60, on a road that any sensible Missouri highway engineer would tell you was for 45 mph, tops. And the frustration of having nowhere to stop and take a picture of all the excruciatingly typically-English pastoral harmony you’re seeing through your windshield.

The directions I had worked wonderfully until, at around 8:00 PM, I got to a kind of flattened Y-junction on a one and a half lane road past Harmer Hill. I’d been told to turn left at a T-junction and thought that must be it, since the lollipop at the top of the sign said "Bomere Heath," the name of the biggest village near Fitz Manor. But I went much farther than the called for 100 yards and saw no sandstone cross, the landmark I was to watch for. Turned around at first opportunity, drove back through the junction, and off along and into Bomere Heath.†

Big enough village to have mercury street lights. Tried calling the B&B but the village phonebox wasn’t working. So I got directions from the clerk in a nearby grocery store and set off again.

Major frustration-- it was dark by now, there were no such turn-offs as the woman had described, and I had a train of other cars behind me who couldn’t pass on this narrow, hilly, twisting lane. I could’ve screamed.

Turned around again, tried to find the junction where I’d gone wrong before. No, I did that first . . . Seems I hadn’t gone far enough. At any rate, I couldn’t find it and ended up the other side of Bomere Heath, at a nameless hamlet with a pub by the name of the Romping Cat. Cute, but not where I’m headed. Turn around again.

Anyway, I’d tried the clerk’s directions, they didn’t fly. But on the way back to the village I found the signs she’d referred to-- but on the other side of the road. She’d told me left when it should’ve been right.

I was all right thereafter. Found the cross-- a WWI memorial-- and ticked off the mile on the odometer and so found the lodge and the drive to Fitz Manor.

Arrived a little after 9:00. It was nice to have the illustration in the Staying Off the Beaten Track book, because that way I knew I was in the right place. Drove up in the yard and two dogs, a border collie and small, smooth haired creature, came running up, barking their greetings. I didn’t mind and if I had thought to be concerned, I was too tired to expend energy on it.

Got out, and attended by the dogs, addressed myself to the front door. I was glad of the dogs’ noise, since I couldn’t find the doorbell and my knocking wasn’t having much effect. And pretty soon, Mrs. Baly, the lady of the house, answered the door and let me in. She was actually surprised I’d made it down from Glasgow in such good time, even considering my meanderings in the immediate neighborhood.

When it came out I hadn’t had lunch or dinner, she made me a sandwich and brought it to me in the sitting room, where the other guests were gathered.

There was a log fire in the fireplace, which was a pleasant sight to see and even pleasanter to sit before. The other people there were Harry and Elspeth*, a middle-aged couple from Middlesex, and Ted and Susanna*, who are from near Cambridge.

Ted’s* an Anglican curate and we all talked for awhile on the difference, if any, between a priest and a vicar and how the curacy works. He was acquainted with some people from Coverdale* two or three years ago but is sure none of them is there still.

Tea was brought and served round and I was treated to a serving of the trifle that had been the dessert at dinner.

The party broke up around 10:00 and everyone retired to their rooms. Mine was a cheerfully decorated chamber at the front of the house, made more cheerful by Mrs. Baly’s introduction of an "electric fire," as they call a space heater here. The coal grate was no longer in use, and just as well. I dislike the odor.

There was also a shelf-full of books, and considering how very tired I was I sat up ridiculously late, till past midnight, reading vignettes out of one of James Herriot's.

After I turned off the light I realized my encounters with animals might be more firsthand. I could hear the unmistakeable squeak and rustle of mice in the baseboards. I very much wished for my cat, as Didon would make short work of any rodents that ventured out.

But lacking her, I told myself to buck up and go to sleep. The house is around 530 years old and I’m sure people have been sleeping here for centuries with the sound of mice in the walls, and have been jolly glad to know it wasn’t Something Worse.
________________________________
†Thanks to the modern wonders of Google Earth and Google Maps, I see now that the original directions were perfectly fine. The problem was how I interpreted them. That, and letting a large chunk of them slip my mind. The funniest thing has been learning that given the nature of British country roads, that if I'd kept on, the "wrong" turns would have got me where I wanted to be sooner and in a shorter distance, vs. turning around and retracing my route. Oh, well!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Twelve

Tuesday, 28 March, 1989
Helensburgh to Glasgow
Day Twelve

Didn’t leave Helensburgh till nearly noon. Had a nice breakfast in the front hall of Mrs. Grant’s house, it being the basic bacon and eggs with one or two Scottish variations. I was attended by the family border collie, who did not get anything.

Went by the Baillie-Scott White House (not far from the Mackintosh), but it’s in private hands so I didn’t see the inside.

Then got some change for a traveller’s cheque, since Mrs. Grant didn’t know what to do with one, and bought a snack at a bakery for later on. Gave in to temptation and bought a book on Mackintosh watercolors at the Tourist office. It’s a real book, don’t worry. I paid by check and discovered I have one missing . . . At least, I don’t recall writing it. As soon as I come across a National Westminster branch I’ll have to ask them to check their computer for me.

Paid Mrs. Grant at the B&B, loaded up my bags, and headed for Glasgow. And it’s odd, but as nice as some of the English people I’ve met have been, with the Scots it seems more real and relaxed.

Usual absurdity with getting lost in Glasgow, this time the problem being compounded by big city traffic and parking regulations. At length made it over to the Hunterian Art Museum on the U of Glasgow campus, to see the Mackintosh house they’ve incorporated into it.

The Museum [Art Gallery] building itself is a piece of crap. The Mackintosh rooms are a revelation.

These are from Charles’ and Margaret’s own place. I love seeing evidence of how they worked together. He may not have had the happiest of careers but at least he had that in his marriage, and seemingly had it all his life.

They won’t let you take photos in there, which is too bad since doing that tends to fuse things into my memory as well as onto the film. Still, I think I can recall the lines and proportions of the rooms and pieces. I did have to wonder about the fireplaces, though. All coal grates. I hope to God his flues didn’t smoke-- they’d’ve mucked up those pristine white interiors in no time.

Spent a lot of time examining the working drawings/cum renderings for the furniture, displayed upstairs in a separate gallery. Mackintosh must’ve trusted his craftsmen implicitly-- there’s hardly a separate detail except an occasional rough axo of a pull out tray. Funny, but I was affected in a homely way by the notes as to how many tablecloths or towels or other linens this or that cabinet was to hold . . . Design isn’t all flights of imagination . . . And the process goes on even now; I am part of a tradition.

And even Mackintosh’s cursive minuscules held a note of familiarity: "All architects write alike" (as a non-architecture-student friend once said to me) . . . And I could tell from the state of each drawing and its title block how much time he’d had to get the design out. It still happens the same way now.

After this I went back down and compared the built furnishings with my memory of their drawings. Useful exercise.

Not sure what to say about the blue guest room. If the photos are correct, the pattern wasn’t all that relentless. But still, "daring" doesn’t half cover it. I never know what to say when an artist goes off in a new direction. I’d hate anyone to tell me I couldn’t do that myself, but when you admire the artist’s former style more, you’re left with the equally unattractive alternatives of wondering if the new work is really good and you have no taste, or if someone you admire is slipping.

It’s really too bad Mackintosh did no real architectural work after that. Because if he had we really could’ve seen where all this was leading.

He was born the same year as Frank Lloyd Wright. Pity he didn’t live as long.

Saw the originals of two of his Port Vendres watercolors in the watercolor exhibit elsewhere in the gallery. The colors are still wonderfully bright and fresh.

Discovered from a pamphlet I got at the kiosk at the entry that the Queens Cross Church was open till 5:30 today but wouldn’t be open tomorrow. It was 4:30 by now and I got back to the car and set out to drive over. Got thoroughly muddled again, thanks to the Glaswegian propensity for not labelling streets. After once too many of having to back out of a dead end that wasn’t properly marked, I nearly laid on the horn and screamed in a boil over of frustration.

Finally made it to Queens Cross by 5:20 (I’m now told it’s a fifteen minute walk from the Hunterian). Fortunately the people there were very nice and didn’t hurry me out. So I got to spend at least a half hour wandering around the church. It’s primarily the headquarters for the Mackintosh Society now, but one of the local congregations is using it on Sundays while their building is being redone. I was glad to hear that.

The decoration isn’t lavish but it’s varied and original. I particularly liked the design of the trusses in the parish hall. The stylized plant life motifs on each of the column capitals of the nave are all different, too.

The light was flooding into the side balcony (the day having turned out to be fine) and down into the chancel. I had to wonder if you could ever get an effect like that during morning services, but I was grateful for its beauty now.

Over to the Youth Hostel on Woodland Terrace thereafter. Got a berth, then took off again to see the outside of Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art. I’d discovered at Queens Cross that I won’t be able to see the inside this trip-- they’d closed for the Easter holidays, too. But I don’t trust this Scottish weather, so I thought I’d at least go shoot the facade while I had the sun.

It must be a heck of a thing to go to school there, and look daily upon the inventiveness of one of your forebears . . . Did you know the decorative motifs of the ironwork at the front are all different? And it’s wonderful how he’s coped with that difficult, steeply-sloping site. Not a pis aller in the place.

It’s a shame the buildings across the street are so damn ugly.

Back at the Youth Hostel (I know my way there, at least) I unloaded, then took my bit of food down and ate it in the members’ kitchen. Then I wrote Eric* [architect and former employer] a short letter, which may get me in a lot of trouble, but who gives a damn, I was entirely complimentary. Talked a little with a girl from Australia, who’s also here to see the Mackintosh work. She knows someone who’s going to try to get into the School of Art despite the out-of-term closure.

This week there are a lot of French students here. I’m surprised how much I can understand of what they’re saying. There are two elderly Frenchwomen sharing the room here; I don’t know if they’re connected with the others.

"May I Introduce . . . ?"

It's been edifying, milking present-day life lessons out of my Easter experience on the island of Iona nineteen years ago. Gives me something to ruminate over while I dig my vegetable garden.

One big piece of mental cud I'm chewing is how things coulda-shoulda-mighta been different between the young man I'm calling Lukas Renzberger* and myself that Maundy Thursday night during the tea break at the abbey. He confessed to me later that he thought I expected him to integrate me into the group spending Holy Week at the abbey, and due to the concealed conflict among those people, he couldn't deal with the prospect.

"Integrate," hmm? When I was doing an entirely different program in another building and only encountered the abbey group during worship services and evening tea times? Hey, guy, whatever happened to a simple introduction? Something like, "Blogwen, this is Malcolm. He's here from Edinburgh. Malcolm, this is Blogwen. We know each other from Oxford and she's from the United States." Straightforward, gracious, and leaving each introduced party free to pursue the acquaintance or not, as they wish.

The simple introduction: whatever happened to it, indeed? I've observed the past twenty-five years or more that the routine introduction seems to be moribund or dead. I recall in 1985 or so, standing with a friend in a recital hall lobby after a performance, when a young man came through the outer door and greeted the man I was with. The two began to talk, and I gathered that the newcomer had been the piano soloist with the city symphony at their concert the same night, and had come over to the other hall when he was done in hopes of meeting up with my friend, his old buddy from music school. All very interesting, but I was left standing there, irrelevant as a third wheel on a bicycle. Finally the pianist grew embarrassed at my friend's neglect, and introduced himself. If he hadn't, my friend would have chatted on and on and left me out entirely.

You see it all the time. People are together in a public place or maybe in a social setting, someone else joins them and greets someone of the original group, and the two focus entirely on each other and give the rest of the group no way to participate. Or it's the newcomer who gets left out.

The extreme version of this is the person who takes cell phone calls when she's in company. Not that anyone expects the recipient to introduce the caller to her friends who are with her physically. Which is a good reason why the cell phone should be put away on such occasions!

Then there's the larger impact of the decline of introductions. Used to be, thoughtful people would systematically introduce others to people it would be advantageous for them to know-- for marriage, for professional advancement, for social networking. Now we have to depend on Internet matchmaking sites and resume services.

Why do we not do this? Why has the introduction gone by the boards?

Some would claim it's because they don't want to meddle in other people's business. "After all, if he wanted to meet that big executive in his field, he'd introduce himself!" "I wouldn't think of introducing my niece to my friend's son who's just moved back into town! If she wanted to meet men, she wouldn't put in so much overtime at work!"

But I think it's just another sign of American individualism. Or, considering my experience on Iona, Western individualism. We focus moment by moment on who we are and what we want to do, with whom and when we want to do it. It's just too much trouble to expand our notice to include others, even others we've been with up to then.

American individualism can be a good thing-- if we spread it around and intermingle it so we all benefit. Making a point of introducing people would be a good place to start. At work. At parties. At church. Where you hang out. If you're concerned about protocol, it's the respectful thing to introduce the younger person to the elder. And, at the risk of being politically incorrect, the less experienced/less powerful/more junior person to the experienced/powerful/senior individual. And the man to the woman. But if you get it turned around, that's better than leaving a fellow human being dangling while you create your own private world with a third party!

Besides, if you introduce, you may find you get introduced-- to some people it'd be really valuable to know.

However-- however-- there is one place where the introduction is not dead. And that's in blogdom. It's called the link. It's the chaining blog awards given out by bloggers like Sandy and her colleague Daryl before her. It's cogent and thoughtful comments left on each other's posts.

No, we haven't met in the flesh; we don't necessarily know each other's real or full names. But in the virtual world we've been introduced, and that's been a benefit and a pleasure to us all.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Easter Weekend from Hell: Postlude

In the TV series Heroes there's a character named Hiro Nakamura. His heroic gift is to be able to teleport himself through time and space. Often he meets up with and interacts with a younger or older version of himself.

Well, if I had the fictional Mr. Nakamura's ability, I would teleport myself to my room in Coverdale* College, Oxford, on a Saturday in late April 1989, and knock my younger self up-side the head for being an ass and a blind fool. And I'd give one Lukas Renzberger* what-for for being a being such a self-centered turkey.

The precise account of what happened that day is in my regular journal, not in my travel diary, and won't be transcribed here. But a week after Lukas* and I had both returned to Coverdale*, I was still avoiding him, unable equally to make nice as if nothing wrong had happened between us on Iona or to confront him with it, either one.

Finally after lunch that Saturday, where I'd spoken to everyone at the table except him (though he'd attempted repeatedly to catch my eye), he'd followed me up to my room.

He said: "You've been avoiding me. Something's wrong between us and I want you to tell me what it is."

Yes, really. He did. And-I-Quote.

For a long stretch I could say nothing. But at last I blurted out, "I think that if somebody asked me if I'd seen you in Iona, I would have to say, No, at least not the Lukas* I know at Coverdale.*"

We had a long, long talk. It lasted till the bell rang for dinner. And if I in my 2008 self were there listening, I wouldn't fault either party for much of what was said and concluded. It's true that I needed to get over the idea that everyone else (especially big hunky good-looking guys) was always stronger and more capable and more secure than I. It's true that I needed to understand that I was as capable of hurting his feelings as he was of hurting mine. It's true that I needed to allow him to be weak and vulnerable, too.

But oy vey! After all was said and done I sure hope my 2008 self would say, "Pardon me, Lukas*, but you say you held back from being friendly to Blogwen at Iona because you were convinced she expected you to 'integrate'-- that was your word, 'integrate'-- her into the Abbey group, and you just couldn't, because you knew that real conflict underlay the ostentatious cameradie of that crowd. Where, pray tell, did you get the idea she wanted in? You say you were confirmed in that conviction when you observed her inability to get deep into conversation with anyone at tea after the Maundy Thursday stripping of the church. Did it never occur to you that she might have been exhausted from travel and the weather? That your own failure to give her a friendly word at the tea table might have put her off, just a little? That your swings that weekend from cold aloofness to ceremonial intimacy and back again might have been distressing and alienating, considering your usual relations at Coverdale*?

"And Lukas,*" I'd go on, "you say your coldness and distance at the train station in Oban was mere lack of sleep and exhaustion, that you hadn't even wanted to deal with the Abbey group people you were chatting to on the bus, let alone Blogwen after the tensions of the previous four days. Did it never occur to you to say something civil to her like, 'I'm really tired right now, I didn't get to bed at all last night, please forgive me if I'm not up to talking. I need to get my train to Inverness and I'll see you back at Coverdale*'? Something that acknowledged this vulnerability you want her to allow you?"

"What it sounds like to me, " I'd continue, "is that you, Lukas*, want your weaknesses to be understood, overlooked and excused, while Blogwen's are to be repented and punished and done penance for. Sounds a little unequal to me, doesn't it to you, hmmm?"

And to my 1989 self I would say, "Hey, you! He's said some things you needed to hear. But enough already! You've told him that you found no comfort in the amateur theatricals that passed for worship service content. You told him you were starved for the clear reading and preaching of the word of God. You don't need to apologise for that. You're letting him make it out that that means you're living too much in your head and need to work instead from your heart. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is heart food! It's the only genuine heart food there is!

"What's more, young Blogwen, you're letting him sit there analysing you! You're submitting to playing the patient or parishioner to his pastoral counsellor! Remember, he's as weak and frail as you are. Don't flop like that! Grow a backbone!

Then, "Oh my God, child, he's just asked you to tell him what you can do to become more extroverted! Yes, it'd be a good thing, but after Iona, Lukas* is the last person who has the right to coach and correct you on that! I mean, where was all his extroversion that god-awful weekend? Stop trawling for his approval! He's got his role in your life, but that ain't it!"

To be fair to us both, after dinner I went to his room and made it clear that we still both needed openly to repent, receive forgiveness, and be reconciled for what we had done to each other "through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault." I forgave him and received his pardon in return. And in case I ever should forget that, I wrote it down in the back of my Bible the next day during a slow period in the sermon.

But even after that, my 2008 self still would have private business with the 1989 me. It'd go like this:

"Kid, you keep talking about your weakness, weakness, weakness in all this. It's high time you recognised that all your depression and alienation and near-hopelessness at Iona and at times throughout that entire tour wasn't really about weakness, it was about Control.

"Yes, young Blogwen, control. You wanted to feel you were in charge of your life, even if it meant being in charge of bad things happening in it. After the first few days, it never occurred to you once to take into account how vulnerable you were physically, mentally, and emotionally to the stresses of the journey. Getting lost on the road almost daily. Pushing yourself too hard driving and walking and sightseeing. Dealing with severe, even dangerous, weather. Skipping meals or eating food that was unbalanced or inadequate. Not getting enough sleep. Did you think to yourself, 'Of course I'm a little cranky, I've been through a lot this past week, just taking this trip'? No. You didn't even consider it. You just assumed that your stamina was equal to anything, that you were in control.

"Then you got to Iona. You recognised that the lack of spiritual food was getting you down. Good. You griped some in your journal about the weather and the programming. But you didn't face how much they were wearing you down. Think how your straitened funds and the fact that you'd prepaid for the weekend kept you from even considering checking the ferry timetable and leaving, say, on Saturday--psychologically and financially, you were trapped! Think how the weather made it impossible to go outside safely alone after dark so physically you couldn't break free of the lockstep of the evening schedule. Hey, didn't you notice how a lot of the people at the MacLeod Centre were jumpy and emotional? Marie* with her schwarmerei about Seamus.* Karen* with her outrageous stories. Jeannie* irrationally blurting out that you must hate her. Did it never occur to you that you all were suffering from cabin fever, that you were going a little stir-crazy? No? Is that because you thought you were strong enough to deal with all that? That that part of things, you had under control?

"And the trouble with Lukas*, the part you're confessing as your weakness, as your lack of control: No, young Blogwen, that's where you sought to retain power most of all. Once or twice you played with the idea that the problem and therefore the responsibility might lie most of all with him. But most of the time you were saying to yourself, 'What have I done wrong? How did I make him treat me like this? What must I be to deserve this?' Sounded really humble, didn't it?

"But, young Blogwen, humble it was not. Because if you could put Lukas'* uncivil behaviour down to something you had been or done, you were still in control. You could fix it, or solve it, or atone for it, or change yourself from being it. But you can't fix, solve, atone for, change, or control him. Not Lukas Renzberger*, not any other person outside yourself.

"And, kid, you know what's funny: if you'd been awake to and willing to accept your true weaknesses and vulnerability, you would have achieved true control-- that is, over your own attitude. You could have confronted the stresses and storms raging in your life head-on like the adult you were supposed to be. What's more, you could have said, 'Lord, I've got a lot coming at me, I can't handle it on my own, but I trust You to help me focus on You and live in Your strength, not in my own weakness. Things aren't wonderful up here at Iona, they're not what I expected, but with Your help, Lord, I can make the best of them. And if my friend Lukas* of his own fault has a problem to do with me, You can help me make the best of that, too."

All this is what I'd say to Lukas* and to my 1989 self. But it's a good thing for me to say to my 2008 self, too.


One last thing, and we'll get on with the journey. In our conversation that April Saturday, I'd told Lukas* that I'd seen and feared his Easter behavior as a repeat and worsening of his sudden coldness to me at Christmas in Switzerland. He told me he'd had no idea he'd lapsed into nothing but Swiss German after Christmas dinner. Nor had he felt any constraint between us. The German, he said, had just been the result of his being at home and relaxing and going back to normal home habits. Nothing else.

That's what he said in April. But in June, shortly before we both returned to our respective countries, a revelation emerged. Seems when I came to visit in December, his mother found out I could sew, cook, keep house, and I was good at picking up languages. So at Christmas and from time to time subsequently she'd been dropping little hints that I might make her son good wife material, hmm, ya know? And while he felt safe enough with me at college, when it was just us out in the world, he felt obliged to, well, discourage anything in me that he took to mean I was, um, agreeing with her. And in fact part of his problem at Iona was that he was sure I was there largely to make his mother's wishes come true.

Oh, good grief. The truth will out, whether it's in time to be useful or not!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Eleven

Monday, 27 March, 1989
Iona to Helensburgh
Day Eleven, Easter Monday

My attempts to get to sleep last night looked for awhile to be quite in vain, as Therese* contracted a bad case of diarrhea of the mouth. She started rambling inanely on and on about her adventures in prep school till I had a terrible case of the giggles and Marie* nearly came over and killed her. Still, in a perverse way it was nice, because predominantly it seemed hilariously funny and not a cause for rancor at all.

Dragged myself out at 4:15 nonetheless and got everything packed up in the nick of time. Marie*, bless her, got up and dressed just to see me off, though I nearly had a heart attack at the jetty when my backpack, which she had carried out for me, was momentarily nowhere to be found. I’m afraid I didn’t impress anyone with my maturity for a minute or two . . . All the suppressed stress threatened to come out at this least opportune of moments. Thankfully, it was found and all was well with the luggage.

Raining again, of course, and pitch black, except for the lights, so no photos of the Sound of Iona again.

Not a hell of a lot to say about the trip to Oban, besides that I’m glad to have a reasonable set of sea legs. Makes boat trips much more enjoyable. As for my hope of talking to Lukas* on the Mull bus, forget it. He was still thoroughly occupied with one of the girls from the abbey program. If I did fancy him I could’ve felt jealous, but as it was I was merely disgusted at his incredibly rude behavior at not even greeting me this morning, especially after what happened in Communion yesterday. I don’t know what he did on the ferry to Oban; he retired to the boat’s cafeteria for some breakfast and I ascended to the observation deck.

There I was kept amused by the Tzubekis’* little girl Tumelo* and her friend, the little son of another African family that had been on Iona, and was able to be useful in taking a picture of the two families out on the boat’s deck.

A short time later we docked in Oban and I lugged my stuff to the Astra, which thankfully was still there in the BritRail parking lot, undisturbed. As I was stowing my things in the trunk I thought about Lukas* and wondered what Jesus would do in this situation.

My inclination was to bitterly say to hell with Mr. Renzberger* and drive off. The positive and mannerly thing would be to go back to the train station and wish him a good trip. Who knows what Lukas* would’ve preferred, but as far as I could tell, Jesus would do the positive thing.

So back I went, to wish him well and to inquire civilly after his further plans. Well, said he formally and distantly, he’d be up in Inverness for awhile and then after that, who knows; he didn’t have to be back at Coverdale* when the regular students did and he might not return till after the 20th. Charming, considering he’d said before the end of Hilary Term that he’d definitely be back the week of April 9th and had accepted my invitation to dinner . . .

Hell, what would Jesus do in a situation like that? Jesus has the advantage of knowing that it isn’t any sin He’s committed that’s making another give him the brush-off. But I can’t help but wonder what the hell is it I’ve done to offend Lukas*, that he should treat me so badly.

My tiredness and lack of sleep and the stress of driving on wet, narrow, twisty, rock wall lined roads added no good to my state and the only thing that prevented me from breaking down crying right there at the wheel was the knowledge that if I was blinded by tears a serious accident could ensue.

But as soon as I reached Inverary I stopped and bought a pastry and a bit of bread and cheese to eat. And I got a postcard and wrote and sent it to Friedhelm* [a German theology student who'd spent only Michaelmas Term at Coverdale*] . Friedhelm*, to my recollection, though at times reserved, never acted like a jerk. I miss Friedhelm* a great deal.

After that I made it down to Helensburgh without having an accident, despite more rock walls and being stuck for a long time behind a trailer being drawn by one of those ridiculous three-wheeled mini-cars.

When I got into town I parked the car at the lot by the big Clyde estuary and went and got a cup of tea and another cake (just what I needed, more sugar). Back to the tourist office then and found out the way to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s
Hill House.

Still thinking about this thing with Lukas*, though. The only thing I can conceive that I could’ve done to offend him is to be myself, who I am. But you can’t go to another human being and say, "Forgive me for living"-- because that’s not your fault, it’s God’s. They should take it up with Him. Still, I don’t know what’ll be worse-- if we get along terribly once we’re back at Coverdale* or if he’s sweet and nice again and I suppress all my anger at him because I’m afraid this weekend was all my fault or because I don’t want to rock the boat.

The Hill House was swathed in scaffolding and translucent plastic, to repair the exterior surfacing. But it was still open inside. It was thoroughly a matter of "O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!" as in its perfection of proportion and decoration and detailing it is excruciatingly beautiful. Especially when I came into the drawing room, with that white bay window flooded with light, I just wanted to sit down and weep for the sheer loveliness of it.

But you can’t-- all the chairs say "Do not sit!" on them. And the place was flooded with other people, all talking in whispers as if they were in church . . . funny, when you consider all the children the Blackies had, and how they must’ve gone running and shouting up and down those gracefully-ornamented stairs.

Seeing all the custom designed furnishings and fittings, I had to think of Eric* [the architect I'd worked for for over seven years] and the work he does, that I used to do with him . . . And to wonder if the design I did for the Griffons* just before I left Myron’s* [the architect I'd been working for up to the time I left for Oxford] has been built, and if so, how properly.

Because although it costs more now and the craftsmen are hard to find, this sort of thing can still be done. Maybe not the amazing curves in the furnishings, but the inlays and repoussés, yes.


It’s good to have all the rooms I’ve seen in photographs now totally assembled and arranged in proper order in my head. It’s now a house, and not an artifact.

It’s hard to know what to say about it all; let the photographs I took speak for me. But it makes me what to get back to designing myself, and if my work should have a bit of Mackintosh influence in it, so be it. Originality cannot come to life fully blown, it must pass through many stages and influences first. (Or so I tell myself in resolved self-correction, for my lack of productivity as an artist is largely due to my feeling that if what I’m about to do isn’t going to come out a masterpiece it oughtn’t to be done at all.)


It is so wonderful to see how everything flows together to make a total design, and good to know that the clients do exist who are willing to help make it happen.

I wandered round the garden afterwards. The rose bushes were just coming into leaf. Stylized roses within, real roses without. But these were also stylized in their way, being trained to the lines that Mackintosh drew, as individual trees or as intertwined arches. I wondered about the suitability of this, but may not a cultivated rose, which is not strictly a "natural" object after all, rejoice to find itself accorded a part in a great artist’s vision?

Perhaps someday I’ll see it all in bloom. Then I’ll be better able to tell if he was right.

Thereafter drove back down to the city center and waterfront and got the lady at the Tourist Bureau to book me a room at a Helensburgh B&B. No way I was going to make it to Glasgow tonight. Too damn tired.

Before going over I found a place to sell me more 400 Ektachrome. Yes, I’m out again. Six rolls, another minor fortune on the Visa.

Had a dickens of a time finding the place I’d been sent to, and when I arrived the lady apologised but they’d just been painting the walls and her husband had vetoed the idea of taking in any guests till the paint was thoroughly dry. They’d already fixed me up at another place, though, and I set out in search of it.

More fun with that; had to stop at a gas station where one of the clerks called the place and got more specific directions.

So I finally landed around 6:30. Lovely house, lovely hostess, tea and biscuits on a tray-- but God, that room was cold. I suppose I was hungry but I was too exhausted to move. I just put on another sweater and sat huddled in a chair, trying to make sense of this weekend but unable to maintain a continuous string of coherent thought.

Gave up around 9:00 and got into bed but stress kept me awake quite awhile longer. The noise from the TV down the foyer made lightnings go off in my head, just like Daddy used to have after his head injury . . . I wonder if he knew a lot of that was probably stress.

I wonder if I was the cause of a lot of it . . .

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Ten

Sunday, 26 March, 1989
Iona
Day Ten, Easter Sunday


Odd thing at breakfast. For some reason they toast only white bread here, and put it out on toast racks to get cold, while the wheat bread sits in the basket untoasted. A couple days ago I located the toaster in the kitchen and as it worked like the kind we have at Coverdale* I’ve been nipping back to do myself some wheat toast, properly hot. This morning I took orders for some others at the table and came back to do them, seven slices in all. Jeannie Brownlea*, one of the older members of the MacLeod Center party, was back there on the same errand. I told her what I was there for and she said, "I’ve got six in here already. Is that enough?"

"No, I need seven."

"But I’ve got six in here."

"That’s all right, but I need seven. I’ll do more."

"There’s no more wheat bread."

"Oh. Well. Well, don’t worry about it. We’ll make do."

"Is six enough?"

"Well, we wanted seven . . . "

I haven’t recalled this word for word, I’m sure. The point is that she kept making all sorts of suggestions that simply ignored the mathematical realities (especially if she’d been planning any of the wheat toast she was making to go to her own table) and I could not make her understand otherwise.

Whereupon she rounds on me and says, "I think you hate me. I can tell these things and I really think you hate me."

The uncomfortable thing is that I am not entirely innocent of negative attitudes in her regard; she is in her late 60s or so and has the look of the kind of woman who appears in Presbyterianews as having loudly supported some outmoded and anti-Christian liberal cause at the last General Assembly. And I confess I find her hovering, birdlike intensity is a bit wearing. But I also know that many people who have at first struck me unfavorably eventually have been revealed as worthy of esteem. And even if not, "hate" is too personal, energised, and involved a word for her in this situation.

The joke is, that my "hating" her is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. For now I do want to avoid her, if only because she’s the uncomfortable type of person who takes a conversation onto a personal level in the most inappropriate circumstances. If she were my age I would tell her so. But because of her years I need to keep my distance-- and keep my mouth shut.

After breakfast somebody came in and said we were supposed to be doing toilets right then, just like yesterday and the day before. Not bloody likely. I have to get dressed for church.

Wore the gray corduroy skirt and the silk blouse, with silk longies under. Bright pink wool Shetland sweater over, but the only real concession I made to possible foul weather was donning my black suede boots instead of dress flats over my white WinterAlls stockings. Dammit, it’s Easter and I am not wearing my blue corduroy jeans to church. Especially because I am not feeling the impact of the occasion, it’s essential I keep up the ceremonies, to prevent me from degenerating entirely.

Karen* and Therese* conspired to put up my hair and I donned my blue silk Liberty scarf. When I assayed the makeup Karen* said, "Are you trying to seduce the priest?"

"I’m trying to figure out if there is a priest around here!" Three days of services already and I still don’t know who’s in charge.

More half-baked drama in the cloister beforehand, a somewhat silly updating of the Road to Emmaus story. But I expect that by now.

And there was actually a sermon during the service proper, by a big mucky-muck of the Community who came in from Glasgow or somewhere. Full of the meaning of Easter as it bore on all sorts of bad social and political situations. Not bad for its kind, very applicable and cogent, but I’m starving for some Scriptural exposition. Then he ended up referring to the Holy Spirit as "she" again and what could I do but put up with it?

To do him justice he did mention the plight of people around us, but I-- I feel I have no right to feel any hurt, having been in no wars and no long term deprivation . . . Not physically, at least. Marie* was talking last night (after she’d decided it was her fault Seamus* was acting like a jerk) about the need not to want things as we’d like them . . . Right. So let’s forget about loving or being loved and become Stoics or Buddhists. There is a Christian renunciation but how it works is a mystery to me.

I thought as hard as I could about Nigel*, down in S--, in church, maybe with Emily*? trying to cope with the rotten situation going on in his family, and I was thinking Bless him, bless him, O Lord; since I can receive no blessing, grace him with my share even now . . .

But more I am aware of Lukas*, and unavoidably think of the song "Easy to Be Hard":

How can people have no feelings?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to be hard,
Easy to be cold.


’Specially people who care about strangers,
Who care about evil, and social injustice!
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend . . .


And here it is Easter, and there he is, one of three pairs who will administer the Sacrament, and here I am, feeling cold and dead and entombed still, wishing I were a million miles away. But I am gripped cruelly by the stranglehold of present reality, seeing that though we celebrate Christ’s resurrection every Easter, that each Easter I rise with Him less and less, till some time soon I will revive not at all and stay closed in the tomb forever.

And then, O God, the three pairs took up their stations and we were instructed to receive from those closest, and I was in the aisle seat in the crossing, and Lukas* and his partner were assigned to the crossing. I couldn’t convince myself that he hadn’t seen me sitting there, thus freeing me to receive down front. Doing it under his eye would have been a demonstration of personal feeling that even I, degenerate though I am, recognised to be dreadfully out of place.

So I was doomed to be where I was. I let many people into the line ahead of me, trying to put it off as long as possible. But it couldn’t be avoided.


The girl who was distributing the bread gave me much too big a piece. But I confess I probably would’ve choked on it anyway, however small, my mouth was so dry. There was no time to get it down before I’d stepped over and stood in front of-- whom? My friend? Don’t make miserable jokes. This time I won’t comprehend.

I didn’t want to look at him but I had to, to keep from dropping or spilling the chalice. And as I received the wine he stood there with his hands outstretched as if in blessing. And he looked straight into my eyes, the most intimate of smiles in his own, as if he were saying, "Take, drink, I share this with you!"

And I don’t know what mine said back, but they wanted to scream, "Lukas Renzberger*, are you trying to kill me? What is this mockery? You pretend to offer me Communion-- why can’t you maintain it in our daily lives?"

My misery was such that I could hardly stand. I felt very, precipitously, close to committing the unforgivable sin of falling down crying before him, as if somehow I could beg and plead the caring, considerate Coverdale* version of him to please, please take me in his arms and let me cry out all the hurt and turmoil-- not as prelude to any claim upon him, but as a support, till I could stand alone again.

But I controlled myself long enough to get back to my seat, though I couldn’t produce the words of the Communion hymn. I dared not cry; he was too close. I was too exposed.

Then the service was over and everyone went back out into the cloister. The fiddle played, the flutes piped, the little choir sang. And those who were moved to, danced around the daffodil-bedecked cross that had been placed against the Lipschitz sculpture at the cloister garth’s center. I stood there woodenly looking on, but forced myself to understand that if Lukas* should happen to see me there alone, he would probably conclude that I had come up to Iona just to be with him, and was refusing now to be with any other.

So I exerted myself to put on a social façade, a process aided by the suggestion? command? made inside the church that when the remains of the Communion bread went around we were to share it with someone we didn’t know. Fortunately I didn’t have to choose with whom in all that vast crowd of strangers I would share with; an abbey staff person named Fiona*-- I think she’s in the choir-- came up and offered me a bit of hers. There were enough safe topics to talk about there, so that was ok until I felt I’d put in my time and could leave.

There was a seminar afterwards, back at the Center. I was a good girl and went, though for a moment it threatened to be disastrous. The topic today was Joy, and the woman leading was eliciting things each of us were feeling joyful about. I was afraid we were going to have to go around and speak each in turn, and I was hovering so close to the surface of brutal honesty that I wouldn’t’ve made things very pretty.

But thank God, the discussion got off on the difference between joy and happiness, especially as it related to the case of the Tzubeki* family, who are here in Scotland studying in Edinburgh, and trying to get political asylum from South Africa. So Caroline Tzubeki* kept the floor most of the time, talking about life in Soweto, which I found a salutary distraction in more ways than one.

It’s a real temptation for me to want to say to her, "What are you complaining about? You’ve got your nice husband and your beautiful little girl. You don’t have to face your problems alone!" Which shows you what a selfish degenerate I’ve become, and where I think the answer to all my problems lies . . .

Wrote a poem about this morning at Communion during the seminar. Always helps, turning hurt into art. That is if it is art. Maybe that’s what I’ll find out if I can get a creative writing tutor next term. I don’t want my work merely to be the emotional and verbal equivalent of a trip to the toilet. And I’ve seen much so-called poetry that so obviously is.

Easter dinner was pleasant. Great triumph of sentiment over principle-- we had ham. And it was good ham, too.

And they’d scrounged some more construction lumber scraps to build the fire with. I know that’s full of creosote-causing preservatives and isn’t half so hotly-burning as coal, but it has the blessed advantage of being a heck of a lot easier on the nose and the lungs, especially as this fireplace here doesn’t draw worth a poop. (Practically brand-new and there’s soot all the way up the chimney breast.) This weekend’s the first time I’ve ever experienced a coal fire, and I regret to say that it smells like what we would at home call a very bad case of pollution. I can’t believe people put up with it.

But it was wood at dinner today, and that was a relief.

Yesterday evening in the laundry room the housekeeper told me that due to the Easter Monday bank holiday there’ll be only one bus across Mull tomorrow. And to get it we’ll have to catch the Iona ferry at 5:30 in the morning. At dinner, then, I discussed with one of the men here the possibility of hitching a lift with him across Mull a little later, since he brought his car as far as Fionnphort. He says it depends on whether the Mull to Oban ferry is running more than once tomorrow.

To me, it depends upon what Lukas’s* plans are, for in this I do want to accord my actions to his. Perhaps he just wants to spend all the time he can now with his new friends. But when everyone leaves there’s a chance we can have a nice companionable chat on the bus, my tensions towards him can be relaxed, and I won’t go off feeling as I did after I left him in Switzerland last December. And I might find out what happened in Liverpool. There is to be a ceildhe tonight here; I could make myself inquire casually after his plans then.

Wrote postcards to friends in the States after dinner. Funny, but I forgot to take them to the postbox at the abbey when I went over there to buy my obligatory Iona sweatshirt. Not 100% sure why I got one of those, but I did. Burgundy red, medium. And a detailed map of the island. It’ll help me label my slides later.

Still overcast but the wind has died down considerably today. So around four o’clock I set out to do a bit of the hillwalking I actually came to Iona for. Left my skirt on-- a romantic fancy, I suppose-- and simply pulled the blue hiking socks over my winter weight stockings.

Set off more or less to the west. I was actually aiming for the high point north of the MacLeod Center but the fences kept getting in my way. I am told that since this is National Trust land it’s ok to walk anywhere, but you’d never know it from the lack of gates and stiles. There were a lot of other people about, so if they could find ways through, so could I.

Going out was definitely a good idea. I don’t say anything so silly as that the necessity of choosing to which tussock or stone to step next puts one’s interpersonal problems into perspective. But the mental and physical occupation does blunt some of the emotional sting as you run over the problems in your head.

Thinking about it thus, it seems to me that the best explanation may be that Lukas* is one of those people who assigns others to specific times and places, and if a friend steps out of that frame they’re out of place and can legitimately be ignored. As soon as they put themselves back, all again is well. Because I cannot come up with anything I have done to offend him and I refuse to believe he’s being calculatedly mean. I do think he’s being thoughtlessly rude, though. And it doesn’t become him at all.

The barren yet varied landscape with its muted tones and textures played harmony to my overall melancholy, which thankfully was able to be expressed in music. Bless you, Lord, for allowing me my top notes and good wind today, so that I could produce a satisfactory and sustained sound despite the scrambling around I was doing. It was even more satisfactory in that after awhile, as I moved further inland, there was absolutely no one else around to hear me, except for the sheep. They paid strict attention, wanting to make sure this strange noisy creature meant them no harm, and they’d stop grazing and stare and stare until satisfied I was harmless.

Sur les monts les plus sauvages,
Que ne suis-je un simple pasteur?


I tried to sing some Easter hymns but I kept getting the verses scrambled. And so fell back on Berlioz and Schubert. Dear Hector! Why are you dead and gone? I think you would’ve so much enjoyed walking these hills . . . You might even have been able to deal with me. But thank God, your music goes with me, even if you cannot.

There’s so much amazing vegetation out on the moors. There is a lot of a low-growing evergreen sort of groundcover, whose new growth comes up red. And this soft black moss, like velvet, that grows on the rocks. I don’t know if its color comes from the peaty soil (i.e., it’d be green elsewhere) or if it is an example of planned symbiosis between plant and site. Whichever it is, it's marvellous in its subtle beauty.

I wandered as far as the sea at the Mhachair on the west side of the island. The sun was peeking in and out, laying silver bands of brilliance upon the water. Somebody had stamped his initials in the wet sand of the beach, which was a pity. But still I could enjoy the silence that was only augmented by the surging of the waves and the high mewling cries of the gulls.

It was getting up towards 6:00 by now but I wasn’t particularly concerned, since Summer Time came on last night. Still, I felt I’d better head back. Did indulge in a scenario of what if I were benighted and the gales came back and . . . But I decided it wouldn’t be feasible to perish out there tonight. I hadn’t any paper or pen with me to write and apologise to my mother for being such a bother-- and to thank Nigel* (in a discreet manner of course) for how good he’s been to me. As for Herr Renzberger*, he wouldn’t get any coverage, and good enough for him, too.

After awhile, though, increasing fatigue made undivided attention to picking my footing and making sure I was headed in the right direction supersede any such thoughts. The ground, understandably, was thoroughly soaked and two or three times, despite my best care, I slipped on grassy slopes and arose with a glaring souvenir of bog mud on my left side and back. (This was deliberate-- the right side, where I carry my cameras, must be protected.)

Thought I’d make for the beach on the north end of the island and follow it round to the road I took yesterday. But when I got up there I was further to the west of it than I thought and only steep rocks led to the sea. So I headed for the next landmark I knew, the great high point of the Dun, I think it’s called. Wanted to go up it before; now it was the best idea since from its top I’d be able to see the abbey and the Center and I’d know exactly where I was. And so I did eventually reach the summit, and added my stone to its cairn (no one has told me so, but that seemed like the proper thing to do).

Couldn’t stay up there admiring the view, though, for inevitably it began to rain. Straight down rain, thankfully, but not what you want to stand about in anyway. My shoes were long since thoroughly soaked and now the rest of me had a chance to join the party, if I didn’t get moving.

Carefully down the slope, through a few more bogs, across another burn or two, and then, finally, through a gate into a farmer’s field that was so thoroughly squelching with mud that there wasn’t any point in being careful about it. Then out the gate to the road and on through the rain to shelter as quickly as possible.

But I still had breath for what was important, and be hanged to any German-speakers who might hear me as I drew near to the abbey:

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz im warmer Liebe entzunden,
Hast mich in eine bessre Welt entrückt,
In eine bessre Welt entrückt!


It was past 7:30 when I got back. There was a wedding in the abbey church at 6:00 with a reception after that that everyone was invited to, which of course I’d missed. But I can go to weddings anywhere. Only in Scotland can I have the exquisite fulfillment of slogging through peat bogs and being a better person for the experience.

First item of importance, take a shower. Second thing, wash out the filthy shoes and clothes and put them in the drying room. And hope they’re ready to be packed by tomorrow.

Changed into my other skirt and made my appearance at the ceildhe after 9:00 (it started at 8:30). By then I was so tired I didn’t really care, but had decided enough of this crap, I had to talk to Lukas*.

The dances were all of the country variety, but unlike at Coverdale* at Christmas nobody taught them. It was like my home church choir director and the "Hallelujah Chorus"-- no rehearsal time because of course you’re born knowing it. It was pretty funny, because the PA system went down and you couldn’t hear the fiddle or guitars at all, but only the thump of the tambour and the shouts of the dancers counting steps in largely-vain attempts to keep themselves straight.

I didn’t dance; you needed a partner and I was too physically tired to make the effort to choose somebody to ask. Lukas* was keeping himself thoroughly occupied on the floor, a fact which at another time I would’ve witnessed with vicarious pleasure and satisfaction. Just now, however, it only filled me with the cynical sense that well, our little world of this weekend is yet proceeding according to its own established order . . .

But I did get a chance to talk to him a little while he was sitting one out. A bit of chitchat about the dancing, then a casual question as to whether he was leaving tomorrow morning or staying till later. He replied that it was tomorrow morning or nothing, so I kept my mouth shut about the possibilities of rides across Mull later in the day. If I appear on the jetty in the midst of the rest of the sleep-benumbed throng tomorrow at 5:30 AM, he will have no reason to impugn my motives.

I told him I’d just been on a three and a half hour hike around the island. He immediately countered with the statement that last Wednesday he, along with the rest of the abbey group, had gone on a six-hour "pilgrimage" around Iona, visiting all the famous hermitages and other religious sites, and, in the process, establishing a wonderful bond among them all. That, I thought, was tolerably obvious.

I wanted to say something that would reveal even to me myself that I could rejoice with him in this, but I couldn’t manage it. So I sufficed with something on the order of "That’s nice," and said we at the Center weren’t so fortunate, as having to spend so much time in services and other activities we hadn’t much chance to form interpersonal relationships. "I’m afraid there was rather more program than I’d bargained for, though I suppose I should’ve expected it . . . "

"But you didn’t have to attend all those things! You could have done other things if you’d liked!"

Oh? Maybe so, but that’s not the way I was raised.

The last dance was played around 10:40 and then the abbey group members took turns taking funny pictures of their assemblage. It briefly flitted through my mind to offer to take one of them all to give to Lukas* at Coverdale*. But just as quickly I knew that’d be meddling impertinence. Besides, I’m sure he’s already got someone pledged to send him a copy of theirs.

So I took off for the laundry room to see to the last bit of wash that was still soaking in the sink, and so much for my first Scottish ceildhe . . .

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Nine

Saturday, 25 March, 1989
Iona
Day Nine, Holy Saturday

Another session this morning, which I wasn’t particularly keen to go to. The handout had a poem in it, and I had to make myself see my apathy in that I couldn’t even identify with it, though the situation the poet described could be considered very close to my own. "That’s his problem," I tend to think.

But the sun was still out afterwards, and I walked to the beach at the north end of the island, joined for awhile by Marie*, one of the other women in my dorm room. Today you could see the peaks of Mull, with one tallish one all covered in snow. And I could observe the horses out running, and the red-feathered chickens, and the sober black-faced sheep, and the shaggy Highland cattle. A lark was singing high overhead, the first I’d ever seen or heard.

Marie* turned back when we approached the beach, as the sea air breezes give her sinus trouble. But I went all the way down to the rocks and looked out at the little islands across the water. There were cattle grazing among the washed-up kelp and sea gulls crying overhead. This is what I came to Iona for . . . instead I’m spending most of my time so far sitting in church and not in particularly satisfying church, either.

After a hurried lunch (I was late getting back; it was vegetarian again) I did more handwash. Only this time the spin-dryer really got off balance and the plastic baffle affair you put on your clothes really got chewed to heck. At least it’s only that and not the machine itself.

Finally got around to writing Daddy a note for his birthday. Took it down to the village to mail it, borrowing a piece of tape from a store clerk when the envelope gum refused to stick.

There were children in the lane playing with pieces of styrofoam insulation that the wind had blown away from the Center construction materials depot yesterday. No telling where the rest of it is now.

Stopped into the Abbey bookstore and only bought a few postcards. Christine MacLean was there and I told her about the spin dryer baffle. She said not to worry; she doubted it could be that bad.

So I came back and did my best to destroy it some more, doing more wash that wouldn’t fit in the first time around. Actually, I have gotten the hang of how to stop the machine before too much damage is done.



I’m not sure what to make of Karen* and Therese*, the two other girls in my dorm. Therese* is a vegetarian but she smokes, so I suppose her motivation for not eating meat is concern for animals and not care for her own health. Karen* puts on the most outrageous airs and tells whopping tales that you simply can’t believe. Where they are as Christians I can’t tell at all, because although they seem to be into things that smack terribly of New Age spaceheadedness I couldn’t say if they’d go along with the rest of the N.A. program or if they simply have certain ecological, etc., concerns in common with New Agers. And I haven’t got the energy to get into a debate about it.

Besides, I find they have a streak of cynicism about the whole programmatic structure here that I find all too easy and amenable to identify with. They cheerfully sleep through anything they please. I have punted a seminar or two already but I don’t feel too confident about it.

But I tell myself I can sit in church meetings anywhere, and these aren’t particularly effective or fulfilling church meetings, I feel so out of fellowship here (
Palm Sunday service in March was much better). But only here (in light of my schedule) can I walk along the hills and beaches of Scotland, and that’s what I came here to do.

If it would stop blowing and sleeting for an hour together!

Yes, it started again this afternoon, almost as bad as before. I’m glad I dug out my silk longies at the last minute before I left Oxford.



Saw the film The Mission in the chapterhouse of the abbey this evening. I’d been wanting to see that. Problematic picture. One knows that love is more powerful in the long run but still I found myself wanting to root for the priests who chose to fight, who left the way of peace. Maybe it’s because I’m rather angry right now, at things in particular, and those people were doing what I felt. More objectively, it seems as if the people in the story failed to ask the essential question. And that is, if we have to cease to follow Christ in order to preserve the Jesuit Order, what the hell use is the Jesuit Order?

Or any church institution, for that matter?

Marie*, who also saw it, thinks it was done from a liberation theology viewpoint and of necessity would glorify the priests who chose to fight. I didn’t see it as quite that severely slanted but she has a point, anyway.

She’s a funny person. She’s going through a divorce, or has just gotten one, I’m not sure which, and her emotions are extremely volatile. At one point she’ll be telling you how incredibly high and happy she’s feeling in the experience of being here and two hours later she’s crying her eyes out. Or she speaks of how calm she feels-- but confesses she’s been chain-smoking since she arrived.

There is something in the way of an explanation, though. She also has a friend attending the abbey program, who, like Lukas*, apparently hasn’t been acting all that friendly. But it’s worse for her-- she confesses she has been in love with him and he knows it. And seemingly he’s attempting to squelch it in that disgusting wet-blanket male way.

It was enough like my situation that in the tea time between the video and the vigil service at 11:15 PM I pointed out Lukas* and told her why I could empathise with her problem, even though mine isn’t exactly analogous. I was even so reckless as to admit that though I don’t fancy Mr. Renzberger* in that way there is another Coverdale* student I wish I could, except that he’s thoroughly taken . . .

But I think that was mostly to keep her from thinking I did like Lukas* the same way she likes her recalcitrant friend Seamus*-- as well as for the sheer pleasure of speaking about Nigel* even without actually naming him.

The rotten thing is, the more Lukas* acts like a complete jerk and вопреки, the more important he’s becoming to me. He didn’t come to the video and I found myself regretting his absence. And seeing him across the room with his new friends, acting as if I didn’t exist, made me want to slide into the attitude of a dog eagerly waiting and hoping for the least crumb from its master’s table. I try to shake myself out of this by taking the superior position that well, obviously he hasn’t learned the lesson of the
old Girl Scout song:

"Make new friends
But keep the old;
One is silver
And the other, gold."


But in the general frame of mind I brought with me its very hard to maintain that. I keep thinking it’s me, something I’ve done to offend him, and I feel myself craving his notice and approval to reassure me I’m acceptable and forgiven.

It sounds as if I’ve got this all analysed out and intellectually settled, but I haven’t at all. Somehow his present caddish behavior is throwing the memory of what a dear, caring person he can be into bright and high relief, making me want to flee to that Lukas* for comfort and warmth and security-- but instead I find only this cold, heedless, aloof reality, and my sense of loss is doubled. If only he would--! I am tempted to think, and the responding "Never!" falls into the deep pit of all the other "nevers" in my limited life, a pit that threatens to swallow me up with them.

Hope of some vague, unfocussed sort does insist on rearing its head, however. Both
last Saturday walking along the Backs behind Nigel's* old college of Clare and now here in this wild weather I am nudged to recall the Robert Browning poem, "Never the Time and the Place." I wonder if the abbey library has a copy of it. God, it would be wonderful if I could be sure that

This path so soft to pace shall lead
Through the magic of May to [him]self indeed!


But how and with whom, I haven’t the least idea.

But now it was time for the Easter vigil service. I can’t say I really like this night-before celebration business, it seems a bit previous to me. I suppose I need the sense of anticipation brought about by sleeping on the thing, both at Christmas and Easter. Anyway, here it was.

The service had more drama and no preaching and little if any Scripture reading, again. I guess they assume everyone here knows the Easter story, because a lot of it was pantomime, in the American sense, and not all that well done.

I was somewhat taken aback when in a Scripture quotation used as part of a litany the Holy Spirit was referred to as "she." I’d be awfully interested in knowing what the exegetical basis of that is. But at the moment I shall assume it is merely a fashionable affectation and like disco and polyester leisure suits will eventually blow over. There’s nothing I can do about it here and now and besides, it is only a ripple in the great pond of my isolation here . . . isolation caused not so much by evident doctrinal disagreement with most people here as by, apparently, some fatal flaw in myself. I seem to be losing all ability to make and keep contact with others, and Lukas* and his avoidance of me is a glaring, blaring symbol of my alienation. If he will not come forward and accept me as a human being and a friend, how can I ever expect anyone else to?

Well, a little early (11:55 PM) but close enough the service got to the point where the Lord could be officially declared to be Risen and the abbey bells tolled and tolled. A great continuing chant of "Alleluia" arose and the church was gradually relit, the candle flame being passed from one person to another. The ornaments were brought back as the black draperies were stripped away.

And last of all, as I’d expected, dear Lukas* himself grandly bore the silver cross back to the altar and placed it there as offstage (appropriate term) cymbals clashed and the altar spots came back on for the first time since Thursday night. And I, neither wanting to succumb utterly to my misery nor to allow myself to feel too proud of him, despite his actions toward me, dragged a bit of grim, cynical humor out of it all, thinking, "Well, his mother obviously gave him a good Swiss upbringing-- he puts things back where he found them."

But it didn’t help a great deal, as the last of the printed songs and responses were sung and the piano banged into "Lord of the Dance" and he and the other people in the worship group began to dance in the aisles. If it’d happened at my home church I would’ve said, "Great!" But here, even though I was singing along with the choruses I was growing more and more distant from it all. If Christ is risen, he is not risen in me, not tonight. Not yet.

My candle blew out at the cloister door, and with it the last of my own warmth and light. Out in the cloister people were grabbing one another in great hugs and crying, "Happy Easter!" If the greeting had been, "He is Risen!" answered by "He is Risen Indeed!" I could have coped with that. That is a statement of fact. But "happy"? That is an emotional state that has nothing to do with me.

The wind and rain were still howling, otherwise I would’ve gone straight back to the Center. But as it was, the prudent thing was to head back to the tea table in the abbey seminar room and wait for the weather to die down.

I was making my way through the crowd in the cloister, not far from where Lukas*, with a very unSwiss lack of reserve, was hugging everyone in sight. Goodie for him. And all of a sudden he was there before me and was enfolding me in his arms, exclaiming, "Happy Easter, Blogwen!" and I-- God help me, I held him tightly as if by the mute pressure of my hands upon his back I could tell him how much I needed him to acknowledge and accept me as a human being and a friend. And then I grew frightened, because if I continued I might not be willing to let him go. So I held him apart from me and asked, "How is it going with you?" meaning this week at the abbey, meaning last week in Liverpool, meaning he himself (when he is himself). He took the first meaning only and politely said, "Oh, the week’s been great. How do you like it?"

"It’s all right," I said noncommittally, knowing my attempt to break through had failed. He released me completely then and turned his attention to others, while I made my way through the painfully joyous crowd, feeling so estranged and alienated but far too present as well. I couldn’t even find any of the people from the Center program. I could no more wade in and embrace those people than if I’d been made of stone.

I am bullheaded in my way, though. I hung about in the cloister passage till Lukas* made his way out of the celebratory embraces and tried again to engage him in conversation. I tried humor, since my emotions had to be kept down at all costs. "I see your mother trained you well. You put things back where you find them."

"It is not a matter of training. It’s a matter of spirituality."

Oh, shit. Does he always have to be so blasted literal? Yes, I realise now it was bad taste to make a joke about something that happened in the service. Just because I was feeling out of it doesn’t mean he was. But he never can tell when I’m joking, and I don’t think it’s the language barrier, I think it’s his lack of imagination. It’s not me. I made another joke in front of one of the Englishmen a little later in the tea room and he got it and laughed immediately.

Hung around in the tea room reading the paper, playing with building blocks, and making polite conversation till 2:30 DST. Lukas* was back to being Mr. Aloof again and I was trying not to give a damn.

Then I and a few others made our way back to the Center. I revised the poem I wrote yesterday . . . Then was in the process of crying myself to sleep with the aid of Schubert Lieder when Karen* roused and informed me the music was leaking out around the headphones and could I please turn it off?

Sure. Right. Whatever you say.