Eight Letter Word for Global Virus

A Loggerhead Shrike flew in and flittered about the quail, sparrows, and finches that picked through seeds on the feeders in our orchard. It was the first time I had seen one here at the ranch. It is a small, striking blue-grey bird with a black band across its face like the Lone Ranger’s mask. What makes the shrike interesting and often a topic of conversation in the birding world is that it impales its prey, mainly lizards and small rodents, on cactus and mesquite thorns. It’s not uncommon to see a lizard that has met its demise hanging from barbed wire, a shrike perched in a tree nearby, scolding intruders.

I wanted to know more about the bird and found an online entry on the National Audubon Society site titled, “Shrikes Have an Absolutely Brutal Way of Killing Large Prey”. It struck me that someone writing for an organization that protects birds would use such vilifying language to describe what is the hunting pattern of a bird. I was curious of what other salacious words and phrases the author used to describe this predator of the songbird world and found these: gruesomely impaled, macabre behavior and weaponry. The last paragraph reads, “A headbanging, prey-impaling, death bird”. I thought of an Oscar Wilde quote, “To define is to limit”. The instincts of the Loggerhead Shrike had suffered at the hands of a writer.  

Words are powerful. They lead, inspire, and move us. They disgust, repel, and haunt us. Words can create a vacuum or fill a void; make us laugh or make us cry; build us up with love or tear us down with hate. Words tell the truth and spout lies. Filling libraries, churches, and schools, words record our history and predict the future. They work as agents among us building relationships, cultures, and ideologies. Words are the building blocks of stories, legends, and sagas. The language in songs and poetry cut us deep, connecting us to each other and to the world we live in.

COVID-19 has created a new vernacular. We have repurposed language to fit the unfamiliar circumstances we find ourselves in. Epidemic, pandemic and plague seemed antiquated a year ago. Like looking at tintypes of relatives long dead, these words were a thing of curiosity. What was it like back then? They marked periods in history that still send chills up and down our spines: smallpox, bubonic plague, yellow fever, Spanish flu, and polio. Now these words are part of our daily conversations.

The oxymoron, social-distancing is at the forefront of COVID-19 vocabulary. We yearn to be close to the people we love while standing six feet away in fear our hugs and kisses will spread the virus through droplets, a word formerly used to describe the first sign of rain. Other words once signaling a cold or the flu now mark the ominous list of COVID-19 symptoms: muscle aches, fatigue, fever, chills, cough, headache, nausea, etc. There are medical and scientific terms few of us had encountered before the pandemic: respirator, ventilator, mRNA vaccine, personal protective equipment (PPE), asymptomatic, herd immunity, super spreader.

Words are malleable, their definitions changing over time. They shapeshift and morph to fit our circumstances. The language once used in the mental health profession to diagnose someone are now blanket terms describing large swaths of society: Stress, depression, anxiety, anger, loss, grief, hopelessness, and melancholy sum up a collective malaise that’s hard to shake while joy, happiness, security, contentment, comfort, and pleasure are pushed to the fringe of our consciousness as we try to navigate our daily lives. The words we attach to our feelings define our moods. How much more can we take when the media reminds us, “There will be dark days ahead.” Things will get worse before they get better.” We should applaud ourselves for just getting out of bed in the morning. 

And what about the host of confusing vocabulary our elected officials have introduced to save us from ourselves? There are shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, and lockdown orders. We are told to isolate and quarantine. What do they mean and how do they differ? With the economy in shambles, we wait as Congress fights over words before dispersing stimulus checks. Years of hate speech culminated in a deadly riot at the United States Capitol leading us to consider the implications of words like insurrection, impeachment and evoking the 25th Amendment. Gone are the days of simple wordplay. Many of us have lost the inclination to sit down and tackle the New York Times crossword puzzle or laugh whole heartedly at a joke. We are under attack by forces both seen and unseen; a mutating virus at the foreground of our battles, distorting our language while upending our lives.

My husband and I watched the movie, Rebecca starring Lily James and Armie Hammer (It’s streaming on Netflix.) I had read the book many years ago while taking a class called Traditions of the Novel for my MA at Northern Arizona University (NAU). The book was written in 1938 by Daphne Du Maurier. The story is about a young woman who falls in love with Englishman, Maxim de Winter, a widower ten years her senior. He is wealthy; she is a lady’s maid whose parents died of pneumonia. The couple marry and move to Maderley, Maxim’s family estate. The new, young wife, Mrs. de Winter, struggles to find her place among the memories of Maxim’s deceased wife, Rebecca. The book was all the rage when it was first published and was made into a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940 starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. It was adapted for film fourteen more times over the years including the version we watched.

The movie’s ending was different than I remembered. I was curious and found the book Rebecca in my studio. Flipping through the pages, I was transported to a world of words and ideas that were written after World War I when English estates were still tended to by servants, when sex was suggested rather than graphically depicted on the page, and when, unknown to Du Maurier or to her readership, World War II would soon ignite, setting the world’s political stage ablaze. Du Maurier’s words reached across time and rescued me, if only temporarily, from the worry and uncertainty I’ve come accustomed to since the pandemic swept into our lives a year ago.

Today I watched Joe Biden’s inauguration speech where he spoke of unity and healing. Powerful words of reconciliation given the effect language has had on our country in recent years. Americans like the Loggerhead Shrike possess a resourceful and resilient nature that transcends defamatory language. I felt a flutter of hope as President Biden’s words reached across the aisle and into our homes and communities.

Poet, Robert Frost said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

No truer words have ever been spoken.

A Christmas Miracle (The Tale of Fluffy and Bluffy)

A Christmas package arrived from my sister Kelli. Ron made me a cup of tea while Kelli and I face-timed, and I opened my gift. Inside were three copies of Fluffy and Bluffy, the children’s book I was holding when I first learned to read.

I had mentioned the book to Kelli months ago while Ron and I were in Green Bay. I told her that I often looked for it when visiting used bookstores and antique shops. There were two puppies with hearts for noses on the dust jacket, but I couldn’t remember the title. There was no way to search for it online. I asked Kelli how she ever found the books. She said as soon as I described the cover, she remembered the title. Our brains are hardwired differently. She thinks in black and white while information swims around my head in a gray fog moored to things more theoretical than fact. She’s eighteen months younger than I am. Her brain had taken a photo of the book, including the title, and had stored it among childhood memories.

Fluffy and Bluffy was written by Alene Dalton and published in 1951. It had been part of my grandma Betz’s children’s book collection. She taught kindergarten for decades in De Pere, Wisconsin. By my mom’s account, I was either three or four when I received the book and learned to read. I remember sitting with someone on my grandparents’ sofa. My mom thinks it was her dad, my grandpa Frankie. The book was already my favorite, and I was excited to listen to the adventure of Fluffy and Bluffy Pooch, twin puppies who meet Peter Rabbit, The Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf, and a little elf named Fibber-dibberus on their walk through the woods. Up until then, letters in books had appeared on pages as sticks, and circles, and humps. That day something magical happened. The words split up and floated on the page, rearranging themselves as tiny soldiers—each letter with its own unique place in a word. In that moment, I became a reader.

I flipped through one of the books Kelli gave me with delight. Peter Rabbit, the pigs, the elf, they were all there in the order I remembered. I lifted it to my face and breathed in deeply. The copy of Fluffy and Bluffy I received from my grandma had smelled musty, like old books do. An aroma that resides deep in me as comfort and a link to knowledge. It is the smell of George Washington crossing the Delaware from my fifth-grade social studies book and the scent of medieval knights raiding a village in a book I checked out from the Fairview South Elementary School library to complete my sixth grade Middle Ages project. It is the smell that burrowed into my clothes after hours of research in the Haggerty Library at Mount Mary University while working on a degree in education. It is what I remember most of that day on the sofa surrounded by people I loved and who loved me enough to sit quietly time and time again until I could read and share the story of Fluffy and Bluffy on my own.

My journey with reading and my love of books was nearly destroyed during my elementary school years. At 65th Street School in Milwaukee where I attended kindergarten, my parents were told by my teacher, a well-meaning, grandmother who wore her curly hair in a bun, that I suffered from petit mal seizures. In her opinion, my frequent episodes of staring into space (something I still do today) was cause for alarm. The news shocked my parents, and unintentionally their concern left me feeling that there was something wrong with me. I don’t remember going to the doctor or being tested at school, but I do remember there were no books in the classroom and that my days consisted of copying the letters of the alphabet from large cards that hung on colored yarn above the chalkboard.

It was in first grade across the street from 65th Street School at Our Lady of Sorrows that I learned being left-handed was the sign of the devil. The nuns had a duty to guard my soul. So, while my classmates learned phonics and read books, I spent reading hour in a classroom with a few kids I didn’t know sitting on my left hand while holding a pencil in my right hand trying to form perfect letters on flimsy, lined paper.

We moved to the suburbs after that terrible year, and any thought of reading books in second grade was dashed when once again I was ushered to a classroom across the hall to learn how to write properly. Over the summer my right hand had forgotten how to form letters. Saint Dominic’s was a new school run by a different order of nuns who also believed my left-handedness was something in need of exorcism. The hit to my budding self-esteem and confidence ran so deep that by third grade and yet another new school (my parents having had enough of the nuns had opted for public education), I could barely speak when called on and dreaded round robin reading where I stuttered so bad, I was often passed over. I had missed three years of phonics and practice in reading. I had also missed three years of learning how to follow instructions. To add to the gaping holes in my education, I have two forms of dyslexia that were identified in college. One is phonological dyslexia. I lack phonetic awareness and cannot sound out new words. The other is called surface dyslexia. It is still difficult for me to take a word or phrase from one text and copy it onto another. For example, copying information from an insurance card onto a doctor’s office intake form may take several minutes, and I usually get it wrong the first time.

My third-grade teacher, a young woman who wore floral-scented perfume, recommended that my parents find me a tutor. Kids smell fear and shame and before Christmas break that year, the bullies had cut me from the herd for their entertainment. The remainder of my elementary school days left a peach pit-sized sickness in my belly as I tried my best to avoid the mean kids while carving out a niche as the funny girl who joined forces with other misfits outside of school where, thank God, I developed life-long friendships.

During those early school years, I gobbled up books at home, escaping to new worlds void of bullies and teasing. Even though books have remained a constant companion in my life, some part of me had always believed if I could just find a copy of Fluffy and Bluffy, the final piece of the healing puzzle would be complete. The book was the key to redemption.

Like Fluffy and Bluffy, books and stories are meant to be shared. In 1989 I gave my daughter up for adoption. That Christmas a dear friend surprised me with a copy of Polar Express accompanied with a beautiful card. Inside she had written, Someday, you will have a chance to read this to her at Christmas.

In the story, a little boy meets Santa after being whisked away with other children on a train, The Polar Express, to the North Pole on Christmas Eve where Santa asks each child to choose a gift. The little boy requests a bell from one of Santa’s reindeers. Santa obliges and cuts a bell from a harness and hands it to the boy. Later, back on the train and headed for home, the boy reaches in his pocket to show the other children the bell but finds a hole instead. On Christmas morning the boy discovers a small box left by Santa. Inside is a new bell with a note, Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Fix that hole in your pocket. Mr. C.  The boy shakes the bell, and it has the most beautiful sound. Unfortunately, his parents can’t hear it. As time passes and his friends grow up, he is the only one left who can hear the bell. The book ends with his parting thoughts. “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”

I still believe. Maybe not in Santa, but I do believe in the power of stories and books. I’m blessed to have my daughter in my life now and sent her the copy of Polar Express I received so many year ago. I was hoping to spend Christmas with her and imagined reading the book to her children. Regrettably, I’m not with them because of COVID-19. I hope the book carries a bit of Christmas magic across the miles with this message for my daughter. I love you.

I have read more books this year than I have in the last five years combined. They have acted as friends and as a therapist during these troubled times. Kelli and I cried as I read Fluffy and Bluffy. She had given me the perfect Christmas gift. One copy is for my daughter as a bridge to my past. One copy is to keep here in the present to heal the little girl who believed there was something wrong with her, and one copy is to put in the future house we plan to buy in Wisconsin so that I may begin a new chapter with family and old friends.

Favorite Books I Read in 2020

Fiction

Chera Hammons-Monarchs of the Northeast Kingdom (my personal favorite)

Tara French books- In the Woods; The Searcher

Louise Penny- Still Life; A Fatal Grace (reading now)

Scott Graham- Arches Enemy

Jeanine Cummins– American Dirt

Laurinda Wallace- The Disappearance of Sara Colter

Richard Russo– Straight Man

Nonfiction

Amy Irvine- Desert Cabal

Aaron Bobrow Strain- The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez

Isabel Wilkerson- Caste The Origins of our Discontents (reading now)

Barack Obama- A Promised Land

Maria Hinojosa– Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America

Poetry

Tobi Alfier- Slices of Alice and Other Character Studies; Symmetry: earth and sky

Miriam Sagan- Star Gazing

All things Ken Waldman

‘Tis (Not?) The Season

In big, black letters the year 2020 is written across the cover of this week’s Time magazine with a crimson red X crossing it out. Underneath reads “The Worst Year Ever”. Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch may get a chuckle out of our suffering, but I find it sad and upsetting. After all, it is the holidays, or is it?

Many of my family and friends have canceled Christmas. It seems a reasonable response to the restrictions we are all living with. The entire planet is under siege this holiday season. Every living soul will mark his or her life by this unfathomable moment in history. And we are changed because of it. Holiday movies set in homes where family and friends gather for food and laughter bombard the senses with warnings. Careful! There’s a super spreader among you. While simultaneously, the longing from Christmas Past runs so deep we cry, surprised by our tears.   

I bought into the whole notion of canceling Christmas even as I lugged plastic bins containing ornaments and lights from the basement. Joy was replaced with obligation. Christmas magic sulked in the corner as I sorted through trimmings and resented the mess it would create knowing full well that I would have to pack it all away after the New Year. Because, really, what’s the point of shopping, baking, decorating, and planning if I have no one to share my dwindling Christmas spirit with?

Then a cold, rainy day awoke the little girl inside me who loved Christmas back in Wisconsin. I threw on a coat and went outside to walk the dogs and feed the birds. Back inside the house, I got to work. There were cards to write, gifts to order, and caramels, fudge, and toffee to make. Christmas music and hot cocoa with Bailys Irish Cream brightened my mood as I wrestled with lights and sorted through a lifetime of Christmas decorations. There is no denying this has been a horrific year, and there is no telling how much of 2021 will be gobbled up by uncertainty, sickness, and death. The Time cover did not lie, and yet suddenly, it seemed more important than ever to keep holiday traditions alive.

In 1647 Britain’s Long Parliament, led by Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, cancelled Christmas. The festivities were deemed abhorrent and sinful and were banned for more austere religious practices. Risking arrest and public humiliation, people still practiced Christmas rituals in the privacy of their homes. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jewish people went as far as attending Catholic services to avoid execution but still practiced Hanukkah with their families at home. Rituals are a part of the human condition. We honor the past and carry it forward through customs and stories. Atrocities and disasters have had little effect on our traditions, and in times of great struggle are the things we cling to. They give us solace. 

I was too young to remember the first moon walk, but I do remember sitting in a restaurant with friends eating breakfast and watching a tiny color T.V. when the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded in front of our eyes. It was 1986 and later that year, I was in my tiny apartment in Milwaukee, studying for an exam when breaking news announced the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster. On September 11, 2001, I turned on the morning news and was horrified as I watched the flames engulf the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. I called my friend, Sue, who lived in New York. I was still in my pajamas; the tea kettle whistled in the background. The phenomenon is called flashbulb memory. It happens when we remember where we were and what we were doing while witnessing or hearing something extraordinary. Like a flashbulb, our minds take a photo that we carry inside us forever.

Many of us will experience personal flashbulb memories from our lives during the pandemic. This is the year we lost Ron’s mom and three beloved fur babies. It is the year my husband had rotator cuff surgery, which led to an infection, a second surgery, and terrifying moments of touch and go. It is also the year many people I love received terrible news from their doctors.

But even during this dreadful time marked by tragedy, I believe I will remember this period in my life with nostalgia. We rescued five ten-day-old kittens from an ancient boom truck Ron has parked out by the hangars. Two went to good homes, and we kept the other three who make us giggle with their antics. Ron had his second surgery in Green Bay where we stayed two months with my sister Kelli and her husband, Carl. We had an amazing time despite the circumstances. My calendar is less crowded now, and so I have the time to connect with and to pray for the people I love.

Maybe it seems silly to put so much stock in making candy and sending Christmas cards, but when I look back at this Christmas, and I will, I want to have fond memories filled with family traditions and those I’ve picked up along the way. Young people one day will ask what the pandemic was like. I will tell them I decorated the house, hung the lights, and baked a ham for Christmas dinner. These will be my flashbulb memories of 2020. Even Ebenezer Scrooge understood the meaning of Christmas. “I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.”

Tonight is Winter Solstice. It is also the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Some scientists and religious scholars speculate it was this celestial event that created the Star of Bethlehem which guided the Three Wise Men to the site of Jesus’ birth. So, if you didn’t buy the tree or stuff the stockings; if there are no presents to wrap or cards to send; if you just feel too overwhelmed by it all, it’s okay. There is still time to step outside this evening at dusk to witness the Star of Bethlehem in the south west sky. This is our Divine gift, our flashbulb memory for surviving a terrible year. It is also a reminder of what this season is truly about. Merry Christmas!

The Ghost of Thanksgiving Present

The Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield, New Hampshire is haunted. I didn’t know this when I was visited by a ghost while in my room on a break between writing workshops during my MFA residency through Southern New Hampshire University. It was my second semester in the program and our cohort’s first residency at the resort.

The ghost appeared in the bathroom as I unceremoniously sat on the toilet. Like smoke, she curled through the doorway and exited through the tiled wall directly in front of me. Her long, blond hair hid her features. She wore a beige, cotton nightgown. The bottoms of her bare feet were the last thing I saw of her before she disappeared. A chill filled the bathroom, and I grabbed a sweater on my way out.

Before joining the scheduled workshop, I reported the sighting to the director of the MFA program. She gave me a knowing smile and recommended that I share my experience with someone at the front desk. Upon doing so, the desk clerk listened with interest before producing a large ledger where she recorded the event. “I believe you saw a young woman who once worked here.” The clerk said. “Poor girl fell down the servant stairs and died. The stairs are gone now. They were back near the room you are staying in.”

“Oh, I see.” I said. “I didn’t know the hotel was haunted.”

“We don’t advertise,” she said. “You just described a spirit many people have seen in that part of the hotel over the years. I believe it was the ghost of the servant girl.”

Word got out that I had seen a spirit. The following morning at breakfast, the dean of our program approached me and sat down. “I understand you saw a ghost last night. I would love to hear about it.”

I told her of the encounter, and she seemed genuinely interested. When I finished, she patted my hand. “That’s a lovely story, dear” she said, “but I don’t believe a word of it.”

That left me puzzled. Did she think I had lied about seeing a ghost, or did she not believe in ghosts? The first made sense. She didn’t know me. Perhaps she thought I made the whole thing up. My second assumption is what I still wrestle with when I tell people I saw a ghost. If the dean took me as a credible source, then she was implying that she didn’t believe in ghosts. If this is true, then how would she or I explain what it was I saw in my room. Certainly, a girl with blond hair wearing a nightgown did not appear in my bathroom only to disappear into a tiled wall. I hadn’t been drinking and wasn’t on any medication. I also had no previous knowledge that the hotel was haunted. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could share the story and not be believed.

Belief. It’s a tricky word. The definition by Oxford Languages states, “[Belief] is the acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.”

In my case, the spirit existed. I saw her. The story I told the dean was true. But beliefs have nothing to do with the truth. Not really. They are based on attitudes, and as the dictionary states, an acceptance that something is true, not that something is true. Our beliefs are hard wired and often begin at home when we are young. My Catholic mother believed in the Immaculate Conception while your mother may have believed in the teachings of Buddha, which is why I pray the rosary and you may use mala beads during meditation. Beliefs affect our thinking and our perceptions of the world we live in. We hold steadfast to them whether they are the truth or not because our families and friends share the same beliefs. Who are we and where do we go if our beliefs differ from those closest to us? I may believe that ghosts do or do not exist, but the truth is something or someone other than a human being entered my bathroom that night.

I have thought a great deal about the dean’s comment over the last several months: I don’t believe a word of it. We are being forced to choose sides based on our beliefs, and now that the holidays are just around the corner, what are we to do?

I’m hearing from friends that the situation we are in because of Covid-19 is creating family arguments and mudslinging before we have even gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. People are being accused of wanting to stay home when in fact they fear getting others sick or getting sick themselves. Some have been given ultimatums. “Well, if you don’t come to our house for Thanksgiving then we’re not coming to yours for Christmas.” Still, others are being ostracized. “If you don’t like the way we do things around here, stay home.”

Many of us continue to work on our relationships as Covid-19 has become politically weaponized. Whatever your beliefs, we are all experiencing tough times right now with many of us pushed to our emotional limits. I have lost count of the people in my life that have suffered because of Covid-19. I am sick of it. All of it, and despite my beliefs or yours, this is still something we must deal with every day.

Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Emil Frankl, wrote about his experiences living in various Nazi concentration camps. He noted that people who kept track of the days and dreamed of being released by a specific date (For some it was a birthday or anniversary. For others it was the beginning of Hanukkah or Passover.) often tried to escape when the day came knowing full well they would be shot and killed. He said the human spirit isn’t designed for that kind of disappointment. Instead, Frankl survived by relishing the memories of his family and of the life he had before the Holocaust. The holidays may look different this year, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Whether you are like the dean at Mountain View Grand Resort who didn’t believe in ghosts or like Frankl who believed in the resilience of the human spirit, be good to yourselves and to the people you love. We all deserve it.

Have a Little Faith in Me

Old Saint Joseph Church, located on the Saint Norbert College campus in De Pere, Wisconsin, shares a long history with my dad’s French-Canadian side of my family. Rev. Charles Albanel, a French Jesuit, erected the first church in 1676 where it stood for over 200 years. In 1870 Green Bay Bishop Joseph Melcher established a parish at the site for the French-Canadian settlers who worked in the lumber mills along the Fox River. My great-great grandparents Louis and Pheilomen Colburn were among the first parishioners. The community was known as French Town and Saint Joseph’s Church as French Church. In recent weeks, this tranquil place of worship has served as my sanctuary.

Ron had surgery in July for a torn rotator cuff. All seemed to be going as planned until we noticed an abscess on his shoulder where stiches had been removed. We arrived at my sister’s and brother-in-law’s house in Green Bay on August 11 and immediately went to the emergency room. That night we learned Ron had an infection and over the next month he would endure painful procedures and a second surgery. Overnight our medical vocabulary and their significance grew exponentially: joint aspiration, synovial fluid analysis, debridement irrigation, arthroscopy of the intraarticular joint, debridement of the anterior portal, P. acne infection, intravenous antibiotic treatment, PICC line, occupational therapy.

Ron’s mental and emotional health deteriorated at a rate that matched the excruciating pain he was in. My sister Kelli and her husband Carl were gracious and took us in. The unknown plagued all of us. When was this going to end? Some nights, I made childish deals with God: If you let Ron live through this, I promise to….

Kelli often got me out of the house and out of my head by playing tour guide. The city of Green Bay is situated along a labyrinth of waterways including the Fox and East rivers that spill into the bay. Bridges connecting the east and west side make driving a challenge for people new to the city.

The drive along the Fox River is magical. In the 1870’s steamboats were replaced by railroads. Iron smelting, lumber milling, and paper production soared in Green Bay. Business tycoons built lavish Victorian, Tudor, American Craftsman, and Greek Revival homes on the banks of the Fox River that are still beautifully maintained today. As a little girl, I dreamed of roaming the halls of these gorgeous estates. And to be honest, I still do. 

On our drives, weary and overwhelmed, I often asked Kelli to stop at Old Saint Joseph to steal a few moments in prayer. Each time I go, I sit across from the stained-glass window of Saint Patrick to remind me that my mother’s Irish side of the family is from this land, too. I am grateful for the strength and grit my mom’s clan has instilled in me. 

In 1889 the original church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. After a donation campaign, Old Saint Joseph Church was constructed in 1890 and today serves as the first college parish in the United States. In 1898 Rev. Bernard Pennings, O. Praem, a Norbertine priest, arrived in De Pere and purchased the church from the Diocese of Green Bay. Abbot Pennings is credited with starting Saint Norbert College. My great-great grandfather Louis and Pennings were friends. Before Louis passed, the family home and land were donated to Saint Norbert College.  

In 1870 Pope Pius IX named St. Joseph the patron saint of the Catholic Church. The National Shrine of Saint Joseph is housed in a chapel at Old Saint Joseph Church. 2020 is being celebrated as the year of Saint Joseph, and the shrine is designated the national pilgrimage site. People come and go to the shrine while I pray, and it is not lost on me that Saint Joseph watches over travelers.

Life’s journeys rarely begin at a starting gate or with a map. They are realized later when we have time and space to breathe and reflect. Old Saint Joseph remains my anchor through this storm. While praying the Rosary, my heart rate slows to focus on gratitude for all the blessings this journey has given me.

I spent time my daughter and met the lovely couple who adopted her. I also met my precious grandchildren for the first time. I have connected with my sister and come to appreciate her as a friend. My cousin Tracy stops by each week with a beautiful dinner for all of us. Carl, my nephews and their girlfriends make Ron and I laugh, reminding us there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Our pets are being loved and cared for by my mom back in Arizona. Ron’s family checks in often for updates and are a great source of encouragement. Old Saint Joseph Church and the land surrounding it are infused with the lives and blood of my family. This connectedness resides in my bones. My prayers are interrupted by big love, a gift the Blessed Virgin Mary has bestowed upon me. She gave of her only son so that I may experience the tremendous joy of family in my heart.

Ron finally got some good news last week. The infection is responding to the antibiotics. He still goes to the hospital each day for intravenous treatments, but we have an end date. He will meet with his doctors on October 1, and we have made plans to return to New Mexico on October 3. His range of motion in his shoulder is getting better each day, and he started driving again, which has given him some independence; something we both need.

 

It is the first day of autumn and the leaves are changing color. The seasonal shift is felt in the crisp morning air. Chatty dances of Sandhill Cranes fly low overhead while we hike the thick woods outside of town. They are making their way south for the winter, reminding me our time here is coming to an end. Preparing to return to the ranch in New Mexico feels more like planning a vacation than a trip home. I will miss my family and friends and the solitude of Old Saint Joseph Church. Part of any journey is recognizing when it is over and how best to say goodbye.

Prayer to Saint Joseph following the Rosary, especially during the month of October, which is dedicated to the Rosary:

To you, O blessed Joseph,
do we come in our tribulation,
and having implored the help of your most holy Spouse,
we confidently invoke your patronage also.

Through that charity which bound you
to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God
and through the paternal love
with which you embraced the Child Jesus,
we humbly beg you graciously to regard the inheritance
which Jesus Christ has purchased by his Blood,
and with your power and strength to aid us in our necessities.

O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family,
defend the chosen children of Jesus Christ;
O most loving father, ward off from us
every contagion of error and corrupting influence;
O our most mighty protector, be kind to us
and from heaven assist us in our struggle
with the power of darkness.

As once you rescued the Child Jesus from deadly peril,
so now protect God’s Holy Church
from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity;
shield, too, each one of us by your constant protection,
so that, supported by your example and your aid,
we may be able to live piously, to die in holiness,
and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven.

Amen.