we have different ways of serving God and we need the freedom to do so
Lest my lovely little bad of loyal readers think I have disparaged worship with my previous ponderings (“Does church get in the way of God?” Oct.13), let’s look at some of the many ways people serve God, and why we all need to be allowed to do so, in our ways.
If you are reading this, you very likely live in the U.S.A., a country founded on the premise of religious freedom. That is no small thing.
Our predecessors came to a rough and tumble wilderness across a dangerous sea — because they had been persecuted for their particular beliefs. Europe in the 1600s was embroiled in the repercussions of the Reformation and the actions of Henry VIII in England. The countries and cultures that had been Catholic now had protestants in their midst, and they didn’t always get along.
So when the Puritans had the opportunity to practice their form of Protestantism in a vast new place, without persecution, they took the risk. They packed their lives into tiny boats and came here and tamed a wilderness.
Our later leaders took the further step of declaring this an independent country, no longer under the laws of England. They had to fight for years to make that a reality, so when they wrote our laws, they made sure that “freedom of religion” was part of our constitution. (That is “freedom OF religion,” kids; not freedom FROM.)
It was very important to the founders of our republic that all of us would always be allowed to worship God the way we choose. They could never have imagined a country where most people worship no god at all, but that’s a topic for another day.
So, even though I do not go to church, as I explained yesterday, I have the right to do so. And so do you. And that is how it should be.
Is one church right and one church not? That is not for us to decide.
Can “churches” be dangerous cults? Certainly.
Can “religions” be theocracies? You bet! And if those theocracies do not mesh with our republic, you can also bet there will be some pushback. (Because theocracies are religions with actual civil laws of their own which supersede secular laws.)
But within the general definitions of worship, in our country pretty much everything is protected. If you are a satanist and wish to burn a pentagram into your own pasture, you are free to do so.
Which brings us to “waving for Jesus.”
We Christians are a diverse lot but one of the things most of us agree on is “service.” Jesus made that pretty clear: one of the best ways we can serve Him is to serve others.
“…as you have treated the least of these…you have done it to me…” (Matthew 25:40) is His way of saying that.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. That is a very Middle Eastern thing to do, to show respect.
When Tim Tebow’s “Night to Shine” hosts their proms for “other people” every spring, the volunteers polish the shoes of the people with Downs Syndrome and other disabilities as they arrive in their limos. That is his nod to that Biblical admonition, so it’s a good illustration, but Tim’s whole life is service. He got that message loud and clear, and he has practiced it to the detriment of his career. That’s commitment.
Franklin Graham grew up as the son of a world famous evangelical preacher. Billy Graham saved souls for decades with his powerful “crusades,” patterned after the old-fashioned tent “revivals” of early 20th Century America.
When Franklin became an adult he saw the need for a ministry of service. He started small, filling shoeboxes with items children in Third World countries could use, as well as little toys, and a small Bible or New Testament. You don’t win hearts to God with every shoebox, but the ones that result in a child finding faith….you can’t put a value on that.
Decades later, Samaritan’s Purse is a global service organization, providing comfort and relief following storms and other natural disasters. The day after Hurricane Dorian swept through the Bahamas, Samaritan’s Purse was on the islands, with their portable hospital and food tents. That is serving God in the best way, isn’t it?
We could cite examples for days, but the point is that we try to serve in the ways that God has given us.
I try to bring joy with my paintings.
I wasn’t always honest about that. For awhile, in the beginning, it was all about me, and I worked to make a small name for myself in my little art world, and succeeded. I’ve managed to make a respectable living with my work, too.
But in the last few years, removed more and more from the more competitive world of art, I’ve been able to let go of the need to constantly create “new and unique” and been able to focus more on what I want my collectors to receive from my work. What is the feeling a painting gives? How does it change your day? Does it give you a little boost to just look at it? Maybe the colors make you feel better even though you weren’t even aware you looked at it.
And because I have been more open to this little “mission,” God has been blessing me with inspirational images. You may not look at them and perceive that, but there are messages I’m not even aware of in some of my newest work.
The image that accompanies “having faith in a faithless world” (METHOD July 13, 2019) is called “glimpses of heaven.” I love the colors in it. The colors of the sky and the marsh make me happy.
The dog just appeared.
I didn’t picture the dog when I started. I had been painting a series of dockhouses, the little summer houses with amenities that people in the Lowcountry put out at the end of their thousand foot long docks. The dockhouse series has been successful, because they are somewhat iconic to our area. I was thinking about what color the tin roof should be, and instead — I painted the silhouette of a dog, facing away.
For his master to come back in a boat? Waiting for the sunset? Waiting for someone who won’t be back? I had no idea. Still don’t.
When I brought it to the gallery in Beaufort it started generating all sorts of wonderful interactions with people. It often made them cry.
I got that slip “slap up the side of the head” from my angel, that said, “see? Just listen. God won’t steer you wrong.”
So I am more cognizant now of my mission. My small talent can be a gift to other people to remind them of bigger, warmer, more wonderful things. Or smaller blessings. Perhaps remind them of God.
Which brings us back to “waving for Jesus.”
When me moved to our corner of the swamp almost five years ago, I would often pass a man on the side of the road as you drive into Beaufort. It was right after the first bridge onto the islands, and he would be there during morning “rush hour,” waving at the cars.
It was charming, but curious.
I always looked for him. And sometimes he wasn’t there, for months at a time. Then he would show up standing with a crutch. But still waving to the morning cars.
Finally, after we’d been here a few years, the local paper did a little story on him, and it turns out that he isn’t well but he wants to serve Jesus. Asking in prayer what he could do, waving to the rush hour cars was the answer. Just a little bright spot in your stressed out morning, a stranger smiling and waving at you. For no reason. For Jesus.
Once I knew that, I started looking for him more. He’s only there Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays now, and usually only an hour, between 8 and 9 am. And today he wasn’t there at all. But when he is, we smile and wave at each other like long lost friends. I toot the horn and we both point to heaven. It’s his little gift.
His little service to us. A form of worship. A reminder of God. Even people who have no idea why that man stands there and waves have to feel a little better when they see it.
So, I will defend your right to go to the church of your choice. And I will continue to ask God to point me along my path.
And now and then, one of us will perform an act of kindness, for no reason. Or “pay it forward.” These secular admonitions are the same as “even unto the least of these…” When we step outside our own needs, even for a brief moment, we all become better for it.
Because we’re all a little better when we know there is something bigger than us. And that “something” really wants us to work together here. We don’t have to agree on anything else.
I didn’t always talk with people about God. In fact, only in the last few years have I been talking with anyone outside my family about God, let alone total strangers. It’s been revelatory, and maybe not in the ways you might think.
There are a number of caveats in this observation and the first is that I do not proselytize. Ever. I wouldn’t know where to begin to try to convince someone to believe in anything. But I have a personal relationship with God which directs much of what I do, including the way I feed my family which is painting. (You wouldn’t necessarily know about that from my paintings, but I hope they are blessings to my collectors.)
The other caveat is that I am not even close to being a righteous person. I’m as flawed as any person between 50 and 100 has a right to be. And I didn’t always have this personal relationship with God. I spent many decades trying to prove He didn’t exist. It made my self-indulgences easier to excuse if there were no rules. This last, of course, is why everyone wants to believe there is no God, but more on that another time.
One of the joys of age is that you can observe your own life in large segments, and not just as a series of events. And a few years back I began to realize how things which had seemed like strokes of luck at the time were probably God rescuing my sorry ass from another bad decision. Because God always has a better plan for us than we have for ourselves. And if we’re open to that, He likely also has a purpose.
So, along the way, as you think you are living your life making your own decisions, God may now and then give you a nudge in the right direction. Maybe put a person in front of you with an option that, if chosen, will keep your feet on a more solid path. Mike Lindell, the “My Pillow” guy, calls them “pegs;” little legs up to help you not fail. If you’re a secular pragmatist, these “opportunities” are just luck. But if you’re a pragmatic believer you eventually see them for what they really are, little nudges from God.
To what purpose, you ask. What could God ever need from us? We’ve all asked God “what do you want from me?!” whether we believed in Him or not. Right? And some of us have asked it of Him many times, not always in jest or anger.
Thirty-five years ago when my son’s father was dying of cancer I asked that question a lot. And one time, perhaps because I asked in a different way, God told me it was preparation for something in the future. There’s been plenty of “no God in my life” years in between, but that was seared in my brain for a long while, because we don’t always get answers from God.
The other time God answered me was in that same time period, before I knew my husband was dying. He’d become a raging alcoholic and a little psychotic, and one morning I just fell on my knees, literally on the floor, and asked God what to do.
“Nothing” was the word that filled my mind.
It didn’t seem like enough, but it was very clear, so I took that as the whole answer. But I was also still a smartass in those days, so I “gave God 6 weeks.”
If my husband didn’t pull it together in 6 weeks, I’d go to Plan B, whatever that was.
In less than 2 weeks, we all found out that my husband had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and 3 weeks to 3 months to live. He lived the whole 3 months. Imagine how horrible if I’d just left, instead of falling down and begging God for direction. I started paying more attention after that.
But after that I also had to deal with being a young widow with a little kid, so I felt sorry for myself. And while I didn’t “blame God,” per se, I nonetheless tuned Him out for a decade, self-medicating instead.
Evidently, though, God still had a plan, and perhaps even a purpose for me yet, because I’m still here. In the ensuing decades I learned to listen to God more and more, and things in my own life now have a simplicity of direction. I just ask God. What’s the worst that can happen? If God doesn’t answer, I trust the skills I’ve developed, and my instincts. But if I listen carefully, I often get “nudges.”
C.S. Lewis was an incredible witness for faith. He was brilliant, for starters. And he was an intellectual in the truest sense. And for a large part of his life, in between periods of faith — he was an atheist. He was able to argue against the idea of a God with his great big brain, and he did. But in the end, he realized he couldn’t. It made no sense at all. There are at least a half dozen of his books which make the case for God.
But he once said something along the lines that people spend lifetimes and enormous effort trying to find something other than God to believe in. Think about that, and about the people you know and how they fill up their lives. And the reasons they give for those things; the things which make us feel good about ourselves. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as Seinfeld would say.
There’s a reason AA says you have to “believe in a higher power” to kick an addiction. There’s a reason people pray when they’re scared. But a “higher power” is poo-pooed by the intellectual elite. God is for the smaller minds. But we’ll leave that conceit for another day. Or a C.S. Lewis book.
I still don’t know what sort of world God was preparing me for in that earlier time, when I asked and got an answer. But for the present, I occasionally talk with people about God. God just comes up. The gallerist I work with says that’s my calling. Maybe so. Many of my paintings have prayers in them; you can’t see them, but you get the blessings anyway.
You know that unexpected result I mentioned earlier? It’s this: a lot of people believe in God. A lot more than you would think. (If you live in New England or LA you probably think no one believes in God at all.) And if we’re speaking in a general, conversational way they will share this. In some cases, people talk about God like we used to talk about drugs, sotto voce — as if God were illegal. Which, in America in the 21st Century isn’t far from the truth. But again, a conversation for another time.
Our ancestors all believed in God and gods. They fought over them. Fought about how to worship them. Wars were waged and diasporas launched because of them. Crops and health were prayed for, and God was thanked or blamed. But few people questioned the concept altogether.
That came with science. Science has been the anti-God. With a few centuries of science under its collective belt, mankind was prepared to dismiss God. Not needed. Thanks, but no thanks. Science has an explanation for everything. If there is no explanation, someone gets a grant and studies it until there is. Except that science has a funny way of proving God. There is always the part they “just don’t know.”
And, unpopular as He is in the intellectual world, many scientists believe in God. They just don’t talk about it. They don’t want to be ridiculed by their peers.
So why on earth would I ever talk with total strangers about God? It has to do with my art. I feel that my art these days comes from God. I ask Him all the time to guide my hands and direct my work. The results are statement pieces which speak to people. And when they ask me what I was thinking, I have to tell them. So, maybe that is my mission in this godless world. Maybe the gallery owner is right.
The other reason I feel the need to talk about God is that almost no one does, and we have ended up with a society which has few rules, almost no consequences for actions, the idea that a person himself is the center of his own universe, curious levels of situational ethics, and practically no morality whatsoever.
We’re stunned when someone finds a lost wallet and returns it untouched. We are thrilled with good samaritans who risk their own safety for others. We expect police and military to protect us but criticize them if they “hurt” people. Everyone wants to have it all, with no restraints.
So God is simply inconvenient. And so last century.
Except for those of us who do believe. And we are all around you, whether you believe it or not. Just like God.
Back in the 90s, I lived for 7 months on the border of Slovenija and Croatia — and I do mean on the border: I could see the crossing from the house. The Istrian peninsula is an ancient, beautiful place. And it was an interesting time.
Yugoslavia had been “free” for a few years, depending on which new “country” you were in; some, like Serbia, were still sorting it out. I was an American actually living there, so I was a novelty, and got invited to gallery openings, weekend parties at someone’s getaway in the hills behind Porto Roz, jaunts into Istrian countryside to explore medieval towns, and churches from the Dark Ages, boat trips down the Dalmatian Coast, to places like Hvar and Lastavo. I even had a couple part time jobs, writing a column for the Koper paper, and being a deckhand delivering boats back to their owners in Dalmatia, who’d spirited them out before the shooting started, stashing them along the coast near Trieste.
It was very pleasant and congenial, and if the language had been closer to any other language I spoke, I might be there still. But a language as far removed from the romance family as Croat and Slovene was a bridge too far. Besides, I was getting old, and it seemed to make more sense to get old in my home country, where being poor was better than being rich in a lot of others. I was tired of watching TV shows where they spoke in one language I didn’t understand, and put the subtitles in two more which I also didn’t understand. Just little things. I’d already done a lot of adventuring, anyway, and had spent the previous couple years in an equally lovely spot in Tuscany. So going home seemed the thing to do.
About the time I had made this decision, I had the opportunity to crew on a sailboat delivery — to Istanbul. The captain asked me to do it because no one else he knew could take the three weeks it entailed, and I was a good deckhand, and cook. I considered it for about a minute: down the Adriatic, through the Ionian Sea, across the Aegean. Places like Corinth, and Athens, Troy, Gallipoli and Istanbul! I would never get that opportunity again. It was just too good.
It was also a very small sailboat, 35 feet, and it was January. The captain was a man I trusted, and he and I were both no nonsense types. We filled the galley, packed all the warm foul weather gear we each had, and loaded half the deck with jugs of gas for the motor, because wind is unreliable and we had a deadline. We had to be at the boat show in Istanbul, because it was part of the new owners’ deal. We also had to man the wheel at all times, because they were buying self-steering and other add-ons in Turkey, where they were cheaper. Four on, four off was how we worked it. One of us at the wheel while the other one slept.
We sailed south and east on the Adriatic, because we would have to refuel in Italy. Albania was still much too dangerous. Then across to northwestern Greece and through the Corinthian channel, a wonder all by itself. We’d had a few minor hold-ups: we had to wait the better part of a day when we entered Greece, because there was no one at the tiny port to stamp our papers (pre-EU), and we’d chosen to spend a night in Corinth because we’d been told there was a restaurant “up the hill” that we really shouldn’t miss. We had to wait awhile to navigate the Corinth Channel, because it’s boats going one way for awhile, and then the other. But, we were making good time.
We cruised past the busy port of Piraeus (Athens) and on to the edge of the Aegean, where we came to a screeching halt at the tiny town of Karystos. There was a raging storm on the Aegean, and even the freighters were pulling in and anchoring off the little fishing village. When you’re in a 35′ boat and freighters are hunkering down, you don’t take that chance.
I loved Karystos. I explored the antiquities museum, the delightful little orthodox churches; I lit candles to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, and bought a little piece of icon art, which is in my kitchen today. The mountains behind the town were covered with snow and if I’d been a tourist, I couldn’t have been happier.
There was a big Beneteau yacht coming out of France and headed for the same boat show. They had a 5 man crew and all the technology. They tied up across from us, and we raised many a glass in the little fishing bar that had CNN and the Weather Channel. The owner of the bar was a Greek-American, who spent half the year on City Island, an island that is part of the Bronx. He was delighted to have another American to talk with. It was a good place to be stuck.
But we were working.
The big Beneteau yacht left at the end of the second day, but we had to wait a little longer for the seas to lay down. Then we were off to the coast of Turkey, where lies Troy and Lesvos, which, not surprisingly was full of lesbian tourists. I had a heart-in-mouth moment as I tried to steer into the opening of the little round harbor of Mitilini, when the Greek Coast Guard came screaming up with lights flashing. We were flying a Turkish flag (and a Slovene flag and an American flag, but the Turkish one was the biggest.) Greece and Turkey have always had a bit of a sketchy relationship. The islands of Greece off the coast of Turkey are a natural destination for who knows what, and the Greek Coast Guard want to know what our “what” was. Once we explained the Turkish boat owners, the delivery, showed our Slovene and American passports, we were fine.
More fuel and food and a fast perusal of the amazing little street market in Mitilini and we were off to Canakkale, the Dardenelles Straits and across the Marmara Sea to Istanbul. Canakkale is a rather inhospitable (at least in January) and rather dreary spot, but I learned two things there: a recipe for the finest roasted tomato and sweet pepper spread I’ve ever had, and that American women are identifiable everywhere, even if we’re bundled up in foul-weather gear and hats. “Something about the way you walk,” I was told, again. (Evidently we don’t sashay like European women.)
I was at the wheel when we cleared the top of the Dardenelles. It was just before dawn, in that silvery time I love the best when sailing. The water and the sky were the same magical, metallic hue, and when the dusky dolphins started popping up alongside me on the starboard side, I was so enchanted I didn’t really register that the sun came up looking like a cherry candy…..”red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”
A few hours later, the wind started to come up too. I stomped my feet to wake up the captain, asleep at the end of his “four hours off,” to let him know we could raise the sail. We’d had such minimal wind for so many days, we were used to motoring. But motoring uses fuel, and a good wind could make us some good time. We were in the middle of what should be our last day before Istanbul.
We got the mainsail raised and started zooming along with the wind at our backs. Perfection. But as the captain got coffee down below, he had me read him the wind speed. 20 knots, 21, 22, 26…..29….35….And that was when we knew it wasn’t perfection. Because the wind kept rising. Pretty soon it was more than unnerving, and then it turned direction. We’d gotten a long ways into the Marmara Sea and had started seeing small Turkish fishing boats. Now those boats started heading back towards the west, and as they did, they started disappearing behind huge waves. One minute you’d see a boat, and the next there’d be a wave in the way.
We didn’t have charts for the Marmara Sea and the wind was now straight at us if we continued in the direction of Istanbul.
In a very risky move, we came around, and now the wind was at our backs again.
“Take the wheel, while I get the mainsail down!”
But I couldn’t hold the wheel. I was 5’4″ and in those days weighed 120 lbs. The seas were so strong and the wind had the mainsail in its grip. Even bracing myself against the bulkhead, I couldn’t do it. Which gives you some idea of what we were dealing with. So I had to crawl up on top, hook one leg around the mast to keep from being blown off, and pull down the heavy sail. The only thing I could do with it was stuff it down into the cabin as I went, so it wouldn’t blow out and cause even more problems.
I managed it, mostly one-handed, and when I was done, I just sat down on top of it, piled in the companionway ladder. I was physically drained, but I was also emotionally drained, so I just sat that way, until I got it together. I didn’t want to look like a wuss, after all. I had a reputation of being pretty fearless. But I was shaking from the effort.
Now we were flying in front of the wind, with a tiny corner of a jib still out to maintain direction. It was the size of a napkin but we were zooming. The wind was howling and there were streamers of spray everywhere. When I felt strong enough to turn around and look at my buddy, the captain, who was somehow maintaining our course — the waves behind him were the size of houses and foam was blowing off the top of them like pennants.
I think I screamed, because he said, in that no-nonsense voice all captains have, “just don’t look at them.”
I put the sail into a more organized pile and prayed. I wasn’t much of a Christian in those days, but I had been, and I still knew how to pray.
We flew along like that for hours: howling wind, air filled with spray and a following sea with gigantic waves. We finally reached the top end of the Dardenelles in inky darkness. We remembered seeing a sheltered harbor on the east side. I had my eyes peeled for the red and green marking lights at its entrance, but there was so much water in the air and the wind was so strong, neither one of us could see it. All we could see was glimpses of masts and a long stone wall with big breakers throwing out more mist.
Then a ro-ro ferry started honking its horn, and I realized it was training its spotlight on the entrance, so that we could see it. It had moved the light back and forth between us and the entrance, and we didn’t understand. But when we did, and started moving in the right direction, it kept the light right there. (It was going to a dock on the outside of the wall and must have seen our confusion.) If there’d been any way to get to that bridge and hug those seamen, I would have done it. But that is what sailors do for other sailors. I’m sure they didn’t think anything of it, and were just glad to help a little boat in a big storm.
Once inside the tiny opening, the water was considerably calmer. These little keyhole shaped harbors are all over the Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the Middle East. They build walls to protect the docks from the wind and then leave a tiny opening to keep the big seas out. But the wind was still howling. So, after throwing out the anchor, making sure it was holding, we still had to swap watches all night. Anchors and ropes can fail in strong winds.
The next morning was clear and cold. The deck was covered in ice but the winds had died as quickly as they’d come up. We motored across the strait to Gallipoli, where, without the benefit of any mutual language (amazing, since we had a half a dozen between the two of us) we managed to refuel, get more coffee and cigarettes, and replace the glove I lost to the wind.
We set out again and made it to Istanbul, where we found out we’d been caught in a Force 9 gale which had taken down 3 boats. The owners were relieved that we weren’t one of them, but I kept seeing those little colorful fishing boats trying to get home.
Why do I tell this story? There are a couple reasons. Most people in their lifetimes will not experience a Force 9 gale in a small boat and live to tell about it. When I got back to Italy, I walked through the living room one day and some guests in my friends’ B&B were watching “White Squall.” It was the scene where Jeff Bridges is trying to get to his wife, who is trapped below decks. I was stopped in my tracks and stood there shaking. I realized I had to continue watching, or I’d probably never sail again. I did and I do.
The other is a matter of trust and the question of safety. Both are worthy of discussions all by themselves.
If I hadn’t trusted myself, I couldn’t have hauled down the mainsail. If I hadn’t trusted the captain, I would have been a wreck, and probably couldn’t have finished the journey. If I hadn’t trusted God’s plan for me — even though I was a lousy Christian at the time — I wouldn’t have believed we would make it. And let’s face it, sometimes believing you will make it is the only reason you do.
But what about the concept of “safety?” For some people these days safety is never leaving their house. For others it is wearing a mask. For many it is a vaccination. None of those things were in play 25 years ago. But for many people 25 years ago, the idea of sailing a small boat across even small seas was beyond their concept of safety. This was not an era of cellphones with maps and GPS. There were GPS available, especially on boats, but it wouldn’t have helped us see the entrance to the tiny harbor when the air was full of seaspray, and the waves were over our heads. And we weren’t completely safe, even inside the harbor. We still had to watch the anchor line all night.
Of course, the type of trip that became, was exactly why my mother still worried about me. Bless her heart.
If I’d been overly concerned with safety, I’d have had an entirely different life. Which is not to say I was “reckless.” There’s a difference. Being too cautious is one thing; being reckless is another thing altogether. I grew up on the coast of Maine, so going out on the sea in ships, in boats of any size, was not considered reckless.
If we had set out knowing there was a Force 9 gale in our future that day, that would have been reckless. But we didn’t know, or we would have stayed put. Our access to “real time weather” was not even close to what I can pull up on my phone these days. We didn’t have the bells and whistles available to the crew of the Benetau yacht, either, which beat us to Istanbul by a day, and watched the storm from their hotel.
Safety is a relative concept. Safety for us was having the best equipment available to us and staying alert. Safety for others might have been to not go at all. But really, we are never actually “safe” until we sit at the feet of God in heaven. Nothing in our lives is guaranteed. Nothing is really safe. The vaccine you take to keep you safe from the virus might kill you. You can’t count on anything but your faith in God.
Years before this particular adventure, we’d been sitting around Henry’s in Charleston, drinking and telling tales, and a woman I knew asked me how I’d been able to do all the things I’d done. I told her I knew when to say “yes.” You get opportunities to do things, and the offer is in the air once. It doesn’t come back around. You weigh the pros and cons, and decide if it is worth the risk.
The voyage to Istanbul is one of the best choices I ever made. I found out things about myself – about trust and danger and survival – I would never have known. I got to travel through ancient (and modern) history. I’ve seen places that I read about in my Bible. I’ve bought cigarettes in Gallipoli. I have been to the capitol of the Byzantine empire. To Corinth. I sailed past ruins that go back 3000 years.
If I wanted to do that the safe way, I could have saved my shekels and taken a Viking cruise. But that’s not how I roll. And, let’s face it: it wouldn’t make much of a story.
“My” squirrels are so fat they can hardly get up and down the tree. This, because I bribed them with corn so they wouldn’t steal expensive bird seed. They still steal the bird seed, but now they are gorging on deer corn.
And there’s more of them now. When I come out the back door, there are five or six who flee to the tree line, instead of the usual two or three.
I know when the deer eat the corn, because the ears stay where they are. The deer eat the kernels and leave. The squirrels try to drag the whole thing up the tree.
It’s really pretty funny.
I have to police the empty ears, or my honey will tell me about them, next time he is mowing. So, as I distribute fresh corn, I fling the empty ears out into the woods. When I can’t find them, I look to the nearest tree. Sure enough, there will be one or two ears, emptied of kernels or still being worked on. They’re so close to the bottom of the trunk, I wonder if they don’t get them part way up and then lose them. They especially like the ears with the husks still on…..
Darn, I’d love to have night vision cameras out there. It’s a wild and crazy place in the back yard in winter. Food is at a premium, even in a mild climate like ours. So even the feral cat looks at the corn.
I suppose I could put it up on deer high “tables, ” with squirrel baffles, but that wouldn’t stop raccoons, or possums. I’ve seen several foxes, too. And we’ve heard the bobcat.
And, while I haven’t seen any evidence for a month or so, we often have armadillos. You can make all the armadillo jokes you want, they are disgusting. And toxic. Christian or not, I am not a fan of every animal.
The last time I lived in Florida was 20 years ago, for two years on Hibiscus Island. Iguanas were already becoming a nuisance, but nothing like they are now. And now iguanas have swum to the Keys, as well. If I’d walked out into my Key West yard 35 years ago and seen an iguana on my deck, I wouldn’t have been nearly as fond of the place. Not to mention the new snake invasion in the Everglades. Jeez. You might as well move to Australia, where nearly everything will try to kill you.
So, perhaps I don’t need night vision cameras out into the far yard….
…There’s probably a critter or two I am just as well not knowing about.
“When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark…walk on, walk on, through the wind and the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown, walk on, walk on, with [God] in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone…”
That, not including the change in lyrics, was a favorite song of my mom’s. Probably of a lot of people of her era, and it’s stayed around. Because we all need — as the song actually says — hope in our hearts. So we’ll get up and go forward every day. The slightest thread of hope keeps people going in places like gulags, and concentration camps, and sickness and despair.
These are some very odd times around us right now. One of the things humans do is attempt to fix “odd” times and things and people. But we really can’t fix everything. We will never be able to tweak all the right buttons and make the world spin into soft focus and slo-mo happy lalaland.
Because we are not in control.
Of course, most people are quite certain that mankind is in charge. We have the World Monetary Fund manipulating science and sociology around us right now, implementing their plan for a New/One World Order. It’s been in the works for a long time, but the world population hasn’t been malleable enough until recently, it seems, for them to start using the test case scenarios they’ve been trying for decades. Bill Gates wants to sow the atmosphere with chemicals to cool the sun. Honest.
I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am a clear-eyed septuagenarian who’s seen it all, from here, from afar, in the diplomatic world, in the money world, and in the world of who really rules it.
Money rules it.
Plain and simple.
But who controls it? WMF? Soros? Gates? Rothschilds? Big Tech? China?
God controls it.
That’s what humans always forget. Especially the power-hungry, control mad cabal at work around us right now. They don’t even believe in God. And, since they don’t, God can’t possibly exist.
They are the elite, after all. What they believe is what is.
And what they believe is that we are all too stupid to rule ourselves democratically. We need oneworldorder. Theirworldorder.
Why aren’t you on that page yet? You’re wearing a mask. It’s just a step. They only have your good in mind. Honestly.
Don’t you believe in your leaders?
Your leaders have sold their own souls.
Your leaders set up the opposition to look a certain way, and then spun the media and you bought it. You’ve been buying it. You think you’ll die if you go out without a mask. You think we’ll all die if I have a family BBQ in the back yard. You’ll report me.
You’ve sold your soul.
But it’s okay. Freedom isn’t all that big a deal. Free cable is better. A guaranteed amount of money in your account each month from the government. That’s better than being able to have an opinion. Or go to church. Or read the books you want to read. Or talk trash about your cousin from Boston. Free money. That’s it. Even if it’s not enough to buy bread. Free. Stuff.
Communism good. Orangemanbad.
Nothing to see here. Move along. It’s all for your own good. The public good. The common good. Worldpeaceworldharmonykumbayahnamasteoneloveunity
When all the doublespeak rationale makes you crazy, and you wonder why you are even trying in a newworldorder where you have no voice — look up that song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
In fact, look it up now. Modern singers have covered it fairly recently. I know, it’s a bit sappy, maybe, but not if you hear Mahalia Jackson do it. Sing along. Substitute God, for “hope.”
Of course, it’s simply a number, on a calendar designed to best utilize the cycles of the sun, and moon. And, as we always “joke” about the weather: the real weather doesn’t have to follow the map online, or on TV. So the craziness of 2020 may or may not stop.
In my old heathen days I took a lot of stock in astrology. I even learned how to use a slide rule, so that I could do charts for myself and others. (These were days long, long before computers were common, or handheld calculators.) Astrology is poopoo’d by everyone these days, but we still respect astronomy. Both studies are what brought the Wise Men to Bethlehem. They were astronomers, and very likely — especially in those times — astrologers.
So, with that in mind, I looked into what astrologers had to say about the recent Jupiter/Saturn conjunction. I remembered “conjunctions” being a big deal in the world of astrology. And it was. Is.
It seems that Jupiter and Saturn have a conjunction approximately every 20 years. But a conjunction which appears to put them so close together from our human/earthly perspective is very rare. Also, this particular conjunction signified the end of an astrological “era” for those two, if you will. (Since outer planets move more slowly, their influence is considered to be over eras, rather than individuals.)
“People are saying that this is the same alignment that happened when Jesus was born. I have been hoping for a second coming of Christ to polish off the end of the year, but living in the 21st century, I speculate this can look like an alien invasion,” says Berlin-based astrologer Randon Rosenbohm. “It’s always been an omen in astrology.” *
Also, the fact that the conjunction happened on the winter solstice, always important to those who follow the rhythms of the earth, and sky, made it more noteworthy.
According to the link provided below, astrologers are of a mixed mind as to what this means for the future. Evidently this was similar to a conjunction which happened near the start of the Renaissance, so perhaps we will all become more creative.
What I do sense, is just a feeling of sheer relief that a single, frustrating year is behind us. I feel like it was a year where we were forced to step back from our “real lives.”
That was, surprisingly, sometimes a good thing. My niece and stepdaughter, and others on social media, have spoken about how that influenced them in a positive way, by forcing them to become better families. Nothing wrong with that. There was nothing wrong with taking the rat race away for awhile. We were obsessed with our frantic lives. It seemed like you weren’t successful unless you were doing too much.
The down side of the same restrictions were that they actually destroyed businesses. They destroyed people’s livelihoods. They put people out of work. All for a virus with a 99% survival rate that was promoted as a “pandemic” that would kill us all. THAT was wrong. And THAT was promoted by the globalists, to speed up the One World Reset.
Call me a conspiracy theorist. Our grandchildren will know I am right.
So, my hope for 2021 is this – the entire world rediscovers two things: our common sense and our spines.
Thanksgiving is a uniquely North American occasion.
A group of Protestants seeking refuge from Catholics in Europe – who were suppressing their freedom to worship as they chose — took the risky option of sailing the unforgiving Atlantic, to attempt to colonize the “new world.”
Sounds like a good movie to me, but the Puritans were exactly that, puritans, so it would be a pretty dour and serious group. Not much color or real drama, except the action itself which was plenty dramatic.
The only people living in this hemisphere were the indigenous tribes we came to call Indians (because Columbus didn’t know where he was.) The Indians were, understandably, reluctant to share their natural paradise with aliens.
Nonetheless, the Indians of what is now Massachusetts shared their knowledge of survival and local agriculture with the newcomers. And since the newcomers were a “dour and serious group,” they did well with that knowledge. Well enough to survive for a year, complete a harvest, and put away stores for the winter. That is a huge accomplishment.
It all seems pretty ho-hum in the elementary school history books, but establishing a home in a new environment with rudimentary tools and a few livestock is no easy thing. Watch a few episodes of “Homestead Rescue” if you want to get an idea. And the homesteaders on TV often have power tools.
So, when the Puritans finished the harvest of the crops they had grown, with the aid of the helpful locals, the Christian settlers shared thanks to God by having a feast of God’s bounty, along with their new friends.
That is the simple story. (Remember: suppression of freedom; thanks to God. There may be a quiz.)
We all know that little of it was idyllic; they didn’t always remain friends, other groups followed, without the same principles, and the larger group eventually had to fight to establish freedom from the King who’d sent many of them here. The European kings were the reason colonists came to North America — either because they were fleeing them (like Protestants from Catholic persecution) or because the kings sent them, giving them commonwealths and land grants, money and blessings of their own.
But, back to the first “thanksgiving.” It was a simple harvest ceremony that included Christian prayer and a feast. Humans have been having similar events since they started growing crops.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, though, the settlers’ “thanksgiving” became, first, an official holiday where everyone went to share a meal with their families and watch football. (In the 50s, we actually went to church on Thanksgiving, but that disappeared entirely.) Then, Thanksgiving became a huge blow-out of a meal, with as many people as you wanted to invite and which your facility could accommodate. Soon, it was the sort of event which demanded replication in military facilities, homeless shelters, ex-pats in exotic countries — in other words, the only holiday comparable to Christmas.
And that ushered in Thanksgiving, Part Two, wherein the retail merchants, ever eager to make their biggest profit season start as early as possible, came up with “Black Friday.” The bean counters had noticed the spike in sales on that Friday following Thanksgiving, and the horses were out of the gate.
Retailers tried to outdo each other with ridiculous “door buster sales” until mobs of people were actually breaking down doors and trampling each other. Only in America could you have a melee, with injuries, over 60″ TVs. There were shootings, and arrests. Lots of crazy videos on social media.
It went on so long that it became a part of Thanksgiving, the day. Stores would open Thursday night at midnight. Or Friday at 3 am. Many people made it a challenge. A game. Many did all their Christmas shopping then, and kept score. It was fun and funny, in that fun and funny way we Americans have with consumerism.
We all love a bargain. I once posted a JC Penney receipt which showed me getting almost $300 of clothing for something like $27. I’d gone in for a shirt on sale for $12, but could get two more free if I bought another $5 item. That item was Buy One/Get One, so it just snowballed. It remains one of the craziest shopping experiences ever. It was the weekend after Thanksgiving, not that long ago. Some of you who get gifts from us may be wearing a pair of slippers, or some pajamas from that craziness. I remember walking to my van thinking, “No wonder JC Penney is in the red!”
That is what we had come to, prior to this Thanksgiving. The 2020 Thanksgiving.
Everything about 2020 has been one for the books. Since March, nothing in our lives has been normal. The littlest things have been disrupted. And big things, too. Thanksgiving is huge. Huge turkeys, huge gatherings, huge eating and drinking and arguing and everything that goes with groups. Huge shopping.
Not this year.
This year, in many states, you were liable to be arrested for having too many people at your house. The number varied from state to state, as did the penalties.
The Washington Post claimed that “the world looks on in horror as Americans gather in groups for Thanksgiving,” or some other foolishness. We are all going to die from cranberry relish, because it is a “super spreader” all by itself. Wear masks at all times. Bring your own food and utensils. (I kid you not — that was some advice I read.) In New England, the site of the original Thanksgiving, you couldn’t travel between Maine and Massachusetts because they “quarantine each other.” DiBlasio threatened anyone who left or came into the city of New York.
Nonetheless, I was pretty sure there were still people going out to shop on Black Friday.
I live in the South. Our state has been open since June. We are required to wear masks in some stores, and social distance. Period. And for those of you who find this alarming, we have had similar spikes and valleys in cases, but our death rate is no higher than your state’s, where you can’t do anything at all.
I needed groceries. I have access to real grocery stories in four directions, and all of them are at least 17 miles away. Two involve I-95. And one involves the tourist destination of Beaufort. I didn’t want to go to Walmart either, because… Black Friday. But I also needed bird seed and corn for the squirrel mafia, so I had to go where there was either a Tractor Supply or an Ace Hardware.
The town with the least possiblity of tourists or interstate travelers had an Ace. So off we went. My husband only went because he needed some actual “hardware.”
We found out that Ace has their own Black Friday. Ace Hardware has Christmas decorations, guns and ammo, fishing supplies, grilling and smoking supplies, and carries clothes by Carrhardt, UnderArmour, and Simply Southern, and some of all of it was nicely marked down.
They were very busy.
We ended up with spray paint, ammo, a fishing rod, and the hardware.
And the seed and corn.
The wild bird seed I needed was two 20lb bags for $10, and 50 lb. bags of corn for $8. Cobs or kernels, your choice. They had two young men with earpieces doing nothing but loading deer corn.* Because that’s what it really is. It’s hunting bait, not squirrel bribes. But it’s all the same to me, and if I can feed my critters for months for $18 – yay! One of the guys had my 50 lb bag on his shoulder as soon as I asked for it to be added, and he carried it out to our vehicle. He told me he’d been doing nothing but that all week.
After we’d been in town for awhile, got the groceries and were headed home, my husband told me every truck he saw, and SUV with a tail rack, were loaded with deer corn. He saw a pickup with Florida plates filled with it.
Why not? This is 2020. None of us knows what is going to happen next. The chance to put a couple deer in the freezer to feed your family? You bet. We weren’t raised to be fragile flowers. We were raised to take care of ourselves, and our families, and our friends.
Hope is not a strategy for a person with common sense. And in spite of all the urban elite, who are stymied by life without virtual assistants, our country has a lot of people with common sense, who know how to farm and fish and hunt.
It seems we may have come back to the first Thanksgiving by default. It’s not a bad thing, either. Self-sufficiency is always going to make a difference in your quality of life.
And if Jeff Foxworthy says, “If you do your Christmas shopping at the hardware store, you might be a redneck” — well, proud of it!
Carol Joy Shannon grew up on the coast of Maine and moved to the South in 1968. She paints, too.
Baiting animals and birds for hunting purposes is very specifically regulated and varies by zones, private and public land.
“Our” deer know they are safe from hunting. Clearly, so do the squirrels. Nuisance animals like feral hogs, coyotes and armadillos can be hunted whenever you see them. Since they’re all nocturnal, we rarely do. We have all three nearby and an armadillo wreaking havoc on the “lawn” every night.
It started out harmlessly. A friend in London knew a man who’d lived in Venice. He told her about Brunetti. Brunetti is a native Venetian. Rare, any more. A really good guy, too.
Don’t worry – my husband knows. He’s a little tired of Brunetti’s opinions, I think. But, then, I don’t care for the opinions of Brunetti’s wife. Or his insufferable daughter. In fact, as the year has gone on — 2020 being insufferable in its own right — I like Brunetti himself a little less than the first time we met. But I still like him enough to follow him around.
Just about a year ago, my old friend in London and I were comparing notes. We’ve both been travelers; it’s how we met, working on cruise ships, “when we were young and cute.” She traveled longer than I did, and to different places. She actually lived in Istanbul. I only traveled there, for example.
But I lived in Italy. And I adored Venice. From the first time I saw it, on a cold, rainy, winter morning in 1974.
When I lived in Tuscany in the 90s, I was an “illegal alien,” and since it was before the open borders of the EU, I had to leave the country periodically over the year and a half, to keep up the appearance of being a “guest.” I was working in Tuscany, milking sheep, making cheese, and catering to real tourists, but this isn’t that story.
I always went to eastern Europe, because it was close, and cheaper than Switzerland. I eventually spent 7 months there, but this isn’t that story, either. I always made it a point to go stay in Venice on at least one leg of the trip to Koper, or Budapest, or Lastavo, getting my in and out stamps in my passport. “Yes, I am a tourist. No. I can’t explain why I smell like hay.”
I’d stop at the tourist kiosk outside the train station, and they’d find me the cheapest room on the islands. Sometimes I even got a little balcony over a canal. All I wanted was to walk the streets of Venice as much as possible. It is one of the few truly timeless places — especially if you can walk those streets at night. It’s a lot like Charleston in that regard. Just a thousand years older.
I’ve even written an unfinished series of supernatural romances which take place in Venice. Who hasn’t?! The saying that something has a certain “je ne sais quoi” quality is La Serenissima in a nutshell.
But it is also a city where real people still live, in the same buildings people lived in a thousand years ago.
Guido Brunetti is a fictional police “commissario” who’s also a native Venetian, married into Venetian aristocracy. The author, Donna Leon, lived in Venice herself for over 30 years. My old friend’s friend evidently knew her casually, so his corner newstand in Venice would alert him whenever she published a new book.
Suffice it to say, it sounded like a good prospect.
Yes, I know, oh boy, do I know, that Venice has changed since my first, and even my 90s visits. When we were there in 2007, it was hard to see any locals at all. I saw no small old ladies in long skirts with their rolling carts. Not a single school child riding the vaporettos, much less groups of them. The service class seemed to be entirely Philippino, and all the pizzerias were owned by Albanians.
But the city itself is still there. And it still has its own aura. And the books are so Venetian, Leon won’t even allow them to be translated into Italian! (They are translated into every other language, though, and the Germans even made a TV series of some of them.)
So when “Death at La Fenice” turned up in paperback at the Habitat Re-Store early last December, I thought it a little providential that it was my “free” book (#10 in a store that often gives you 2 if you buy 1!) and that it turned out to be the first in the series, to boot.
By the middle of December, I had ordered the next one from Amazon.
But by early January, I had found Thriftbooks (I try not to make Jeff Bezos any richer than he already is.)
By the middle of January, I already knew about the Chinese virus from reading the Epoch Times. So escape to Venice every night was becoming more and more appealing, even if it did involve murder and duplicity.
I’ve listened to hundreds and hundreds of books. I listened to them when I painted 40 hours a week, and I listened to them while I drove all over the country to sell those paintings.
But I like to actually read the printed page, on paper. Especially at night. It is the one surefire way to get to sleep. For me. Even if I’m reading about crime and corruption. And Italy is so corrupt. And full of communists, since the time of real Bolsheviks. Still, it was an escape on many levels, and became my dopamine, selenium, whatever.
But I’d think about them, too. The next day. I’d think about the crazy crap going on this year, all over the world, and how inured the Italians are to corruption and lack of consequences, after generations of it. When you can trace the innate secretiveness and duplicity of Venetians back to their seafaring merchant and world-conquering ancestors, it can keep even a year like 2020 in some kind of perspective.
Venice as microcosm, with idiosyncrasies.
So Guido and Paola and their children, Chiara and Raffi, took me into their kitchen and their living room, and we sat on the terrace. Sometimes Paola’s patrician family opened their doors, and we sat looking over the Grand Canal.
More often though, I stood at the cafe bars with Brunetti and Vianelli, reading Il Gazzettino, and drinking coffee. I knew exactly the feeling when Brunetti said he couldn’t drink another one. Or imagined walking into the casino with Griffoni, a commissario herself, dressed to kill. I felt the coolness of the narrow alleys, and the wind off the Adriatic — especially that, having sailed up and down the other side a good bit! Definitely my kind of escape.
So, when I had read every one of the 27* — I just started again. They are extremely well-written books, much more than the mere mysteries that unfold. And this stupid year wasn’t getting any better, so….
I’m almost at the end again, and I find that I don’t like Brunetti quite as much, as a person, as I did the first time around. He’s still a really good guy, but I missed some of his flaws when I was reading for clues to the crime. I’ve never formed a very good imaginary picture of him either, though I have pictured everyone else.
But I like Signorina Elettra even more. I found her wry sense of humor more appealing, as I realized more layers to her. And Vianelli and Puccheti, and the serious EM, Rizzardi.
The second time, I also skipped a couple books that I didn’t like as much the first time, like the one where Brunetti’s wife throws a brick through the window of a travel agency that sells sexual tourism to Thailand. I understand how she feels about it, but it was just idiotic, and annoying. Childish. But she’s in love with Henry James, so, emotional outbursts…
I highly recommend Commissario Brunetti. I hope that Donna Leon has finished her newest, and that it will take place in Venice during the Great Reset. It must have been very weird back in February and March when Venetians weren’t allowed to stand at the bar to drink their coffees. It’s hard to overstate how important that is to Italians. It is not the same as sitting at a table in a coffee shop, at all.
Plus, their city was empty.
They are probably happy the cruise ships are gone, even if the big shipbuilding yard, Fincantiari, must also be closed down.
I’m sure that money loss is the only reason any of them missed the tourists, too. But, Venice, like Charleston, is inhabited by more people “from away,” now than ever before, so maybe not. When the EU made it easier to own real estate in other countries, the landrush was on. Palazzi were getting bought by rich Germans and Brits, like the Yankees knocking on the doors south of Broad. So they probably don’t need the tourists as much as the native population once did. But people still need to make a living.
Certainly retail does. And that changes. Brunetti watched as the little grocers and flower merchants give way to Chinese gondolas and masks, over the years. Maybe the shopkeepers are gone now for good, and you have to go to the mainland for groceries. It’s been almost 14 years since I saw the old belle of the Adriatic in person.
But Brunetti will always be there, so go have a coffee with him. Ask him about Patta. See what Signorina Elettra is wearing today. And what Paola is cooking for dinner. Ask about the case of wine the Conte sent over. I guarantee that once you visit with them, you’ll keep going back.
Tell them a woman in the Lowcountry sent you. The one following them through the stone streets every night. Listening in, trying to understand Vianelli’s Castello dialect.
(The 2020 book isn’t out in paperback yet, and I want to keep my collection consistent, even if the books cost only $2 to $4 each. LOL. I’ve got another series in the wings for 2021. But I kind of hate to leave Venice, right now…)
Since there has been a lengthy discussion of near-experiences with “ghosts,” it’s necessary to get to “the angel’s share.” My own angels will have nothing less.
“The angel’s share” is a term used in whiskey making, for the portion of whiskey which evaporates “into heaven” from the wooden barrels during aging. According to whiskeywash.com, the angels share is both a blessing and a curse: the wooden barrels absorb some of the harsher chemicals, and the evaporation of the angel’s share adds further smoothness. But it can also affect the proof and the volume, depending on the outer environment (dry heat, moist heat etc.). The same may be true of us!
During the quarantine my husband has become an expert in several fields, thanks to the History Channel and Discovery. Seven months of Couch Crew information absorption means that we know more than we will ever need to know about moonshining – especially since we both stopped drinking 20 years ago. And my husband now knows a great deal about mining for gold in Alaska, and searching for obscure treasure in Nova Scotia.
There have been other areas of study, but we are talking about the angel’s share. I loved that term the first time I heard it. It conjurs up images of drunken angels if you know its real meaning, but as a general term it just seems like something that should be parceled out every day. After all, angels protect us and encourage us.
For some reason, the modern church does not believe in angels, at least in real time. The church believes angels existed in the Old Testament, and the New Testament, but apparently decided to disappear for the last 2000 years.
That, alone, is one of the reasons I left churches. It’s simply ridiculous to have a “Christian faith” and yet deny the supernatural. We are supposed to believe that angels “ministered” to believers in the 1st Century, and then just stopped. Why?
Or do Christians not believe in angels at all? Perhaps they believe they are a metaphor. Perhaps they believe they were simply useful teaching tools and in the age of “science” we no longer need them.
We are supposed to accept “miraculous healing” and inexplicable escapes from death and destruction, but not embrace angels?
Because God is impossible to prove by empirical methods, angels, too, must simply be myth.
That’s fine, and if that is what you think, just stop here, and pick up the blog another time.
Ghosts, which have no basis whatsoever, except those weird sorts of experiences we talked about the last time, are fully part of our culture. We love the idea of ghosts. They are fun, and, since the majority of people don’t think they are real, they are the basis of much fiction, serious and humorous alike.
Angels, though, seem to unnerve people. Even though angels are usually considered benign and helpful, they make people uncomfortable.
Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because angels are from God, and God makes people uncomfortable. Even Christians.
Christians today like their God to stay in the Bible and to be a pleasant guide for living.
The prosperity doctrine Christians like to think God exists to reward them with wealth. A lot of people who don’t really believe in God at all think of angels as adorable, chubby cherubs who look after their grandchildren. The current “Pope” doesn’t give them a second thought, as he has rejected God for globalism.
Unlike ghosts, with which I have a somewhat humorous lack of experience, angels have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I just didn’t realize they were angels.
It may only be one angel, or it could be random angels. I have no idea how angels are assigned, but I’ve been fortunate to have angels assigned to save my sorry self. Many times. In fact, the “little girl ghost” in Tuscany could be an angel, for all I know. They are well documented assuming unexpected forms.
What I now also realize are angels, is what I used to call “luck.”
I was “lucky” that the Slovene captain on the Marmara Sea saved our tiny sailboat in the Force 9 gale.
But maybe there was a huge angel standing behind him, helping him hold the wheel. I couldn’t hold the wheel with my then 130 lb. self. And neither of us could see a thing. Once I was able to wrestle the mainsail onto the deck, with one arm and one leg wrapped tightly around the mast to keep from being blown off the boat — all I could do was push the heavy, soaked fabric down the hatch. When I dared to look, the following sea was 12 feet above the deck and spewing off into curlers we could have surfed.
I sat in the top of the hatch opening, and prayed.
I wasn’t a person of faith in those days, but I had been before, and I would be again, and there was no other recourse. I don’t know if God answered my prayers in particular, but we made it to a safe harbor in the Dardanelles Straits, with last minute help from a Ro-Ro which shined its bow light onto the entrance, so we could find it in the huge waves.
I believe a guardian angel was there throughout.
I won’t bore you with near-misses and close-calls with death over the years. I was a drinker and did a lot of drugs during some parts of my life. I self-medicated quite seriously for a decade after my husband died unexpectedly. I put myself into precarious situations. But I was also the mother of a precious little boy, and angels kept scooping me out of those situations.
Saving my life.
They should have knocked me up the side of the head, is what they should have done. And after awhile, I realized they did that, too.
Not all angel intervention is in the shape of miraculous escapes. Sometimes we get thrown to the ground, because we’re hard-headed, and we need to understand that there are rewards and consequences. Some of us need to have dramatic lessons in order to “get it.”
So, that abusive lover who stole everything you owned and would have destroyed you? He was surely sent by the devil to turn your heart black, but angels didn’t intervene until the message was clear. Unlike the proponents of modern, feel-good faith, I’m old school. I know the devil is real and working hard every day. Again, you can leave the room now, and maybe still like a future blog. No hard feelings. (But caveat emptor: we may discuss the devil, too.)
I used to think “instinct,” that inner voice, was my own. Some form of genetic memory perhaps. I believe we do have instincts, and we should be taught to trust them more than we do. But I also believe those inner voices are a lot like the cartoon angels: sitting on your shoulder, giving you advice you can accept and believe, or reject at your own peril. Not all those inner voices have your best interests in mind, either. There was a reason the cartoon angel was balanced by a little red devil.
At this point, I’d be remiss not to recommend “The Screwtape Letters,” but let’s stick with angels here.
I’ve come to understand that much of what I’ve credited as “instinct” over the years, was my persistent, annoyingly loyal, angel. Trying to steer me in the right direction. I don’t always listen, to my detriment. Humans like to believe we are in control. And we are, we can choose to ignore good advice.
It’s interesting to me how people of faith resist angels, and other supernatural manifestations of God. I understand why non-believers have no interest in them, but how can someone who studies the Bible not believe there are angels among us?
But they don’t. Many believers dismiss the devil, too. And hell. For these people, it is all a “concept,” a way of life they have chosen in order to be better people, with some vague hope of heavenly reward.
The angels and demons are just literary devices.
Things that make you go “hmmm.”
My personal “literary device” has been saving me for 70 years, despite my best efforts to the contrary. I have no idea what God has been saving me for, if anything, but I no longer talk back when my angels advise.
I’m working on a piece of serial fiction, for older kids, and one of the first challenges faced is the adults reacting to angels. The kid gets it. So does the dog. But the adults think it must be a special effect of some kind. A big random hologram.
Or they pass out from fear.
How would you react to a larger-than-life being with wings and a sword, and a certain glow about them?
Carol Joy Shannon is a painter who writes. Her ongoing series of dinosaurs is available in book form here. She’s received accolades, commissions and fed the family with her art. And, believe it or not, people have paid her to write since 1970.
The Couch Crew – that’s me and my husband, with occasional guests – have been discussing ghosts this week. My son sent me a picture of our grandson, wearing a little 4 yr old sized “Ghostbusters” uniform, watching “Ghostbusters,” the movie.
“Ghostbusters” was my son’s and my favorite movie for a long time, and it’s still high on my list. It came out when he was his own son’s age, happily oblivious to trouble of any kind. By the time he was 7 or 8 and we were watching it once a week or more, I was a widow and he was learning to live without a dad. So “Ghostbusters” was our happy place. It still cracks me up to imagine the “portal” to the other side being a refrigerator!
So fun ghosts.
Then, I was looking up some info on Sammy Hagar. My husband is a musician. The home studio doesn’t get used much these days, but he’s also an amateur historian, and that includes music history. We were watching another program about Van Halen — with Eddie dying recently, they’ve been scouring the vaults — and I came across a bit about Sammy Hagar being on “Celebrity Ghosthunters.” He had dreamed his drunken father had been banging on his door, demanding to see his new grandson. When the banging on the door continued for real, it was a bandmate telling him his dad had been found dead.
Sammy may have slipped some in my husband’s estimation at that moment. He doesn’t believe in ghosts. (Ghosts don’t care whether we “believe in them” or not.)
So I told my husband, once again, about the ghost that saved my life in Tuscany.
I always says I’ve never seen a ghost, just had “close encounters,” but that isn’t entirely true. I did see a ghost once, very clearly, and if I’d realized it wasn’t a real person, I would have paid a lot more attention.
Some friends of my dad, a young couple from Manhattan, had rented a farmhouse on the coast of Maine for a year, for the husband to write. A lot of writers dream of doing that. There’s something about the idea of a big old house, overlooking the rocky coast, with the fog rolling in. It’s atmospheric to start and you figure it will spark creativity, as it did for other writers.
So this couple — we’ll call them Mark and Amy, because they are real people, he’s a little famous, they are no longer married, and I don’t want to have to track them down to tell them they are in my little blog — had met my dad because of books.
My father “collected people,” and had a very interesting group of friends. These two came to dinner shortly after I’d returned from living in Europe and the Middle East. I was living in my parent’s basement apartment while I figured out what to do with the rest of my life. It was 1977. We had a lot of interesting talk around the table. Amy was from Germany, and I had spent some time in Bavaria….yada, yada, yada….and since I was closer in age than my parents with them, and we were all new to Maine, in a way, they invited me to “the farmhouse” for a meal the next week.
While there, I was directed to the bathroom down a long narrow hall, which continued on to connect to a closed-in “breezeway” that led to the barn. This is common in Maine farmhouses, because the weather can get vile, and you don’t want to have to dress for Antarctica just to get eggs.
As I left the bathroom, I looked down the hall and saw a blond woman cross the space at the other end. I noticed her, but didn’t think about it, because I thought it was Amy.
But when I returned to the kitchen, Amy was standing at the big wooden table, tossing a salad. There was no way she could have passed me. She also had her hair down and was wearing slacks. The other woman had her hair up and was in a long dress. (I’d just thought Amy had changed for dinner!)
I have no poker face whatsover, so they asked me what was wrong. I told them what I’d seen, trying not to sound like a crazy person. They were “cool” people, who lived in Greenwich Village, after all.
But they just looked at each other and both started talking at once. They were glad I’d seen something. Neither of them had. But they knew it was there, and it maybe had friends. They’d begun to question their own sanity.
Until I’d seen the “woman,” they just called it “the ghost.”Over dinner, they told me about the numerous instances of “the ghost” exerting its presence.
Lights came on and went off in random ways that the local electrician could not explain (wiring was only a few years old; the whole house had been refurbished for rental.) Doors would be carefully locked and found flung wide open. One night they’d returned home to discover every light in the house on, including rooms they never entered. Things like that. The ghost would hide things, like jewelry and small tools, which would then appear days later in odd places, like on a stump outside, or in the barn.
I was fascinated, but they were unnerved. They managed a little while longer, but it ramped up its annoyances, and it got so bad they finally went to the landlord — who to their surprise was not shocked. Their experiences wound up in an article in the Portland paper, but it still made them pause, even years later.
Growing up in New England had always included ghost stories. It’s an old place, as America goes, and the Indians were there for thousands of years before us. They don’t have any problems with the validity of ghosts.
Fast forward to the mid-80s. I had been living out west when my husband had died and I taken a job in Key West as an escape from reality. When that contract ran out, I asked my son where he wanted to live — he was 6 — and he told me he wanted to live where there was snow.
So we moved to North Conway NH, and I got a job as a waitress at the Scottish Lion Inn. We lived in a condo with a couple other wait staff, while I figured out what I could really do in a ski resort, besides wait tables.
The Scottish Lion was well established, an historic old farm on the edge of town which served authentic Scottish fare in a picturesque setting overlooking a valley on whose other end was the stunning visage of Mt. Washington, a piece of real estate even the Indians had been wary of. The whole area is a postcard. And the inn had been one of the first buildings built, originally as a farm. In the 1980’s the barn was a tony shop selling jams and Scottish tartans.
We served lunch and then closed from 2 to 5. Often, if we were working the dinner shift too, some of us just stayed. My son would get dropped off by the schoolbus and he was welcome in the staff room in the basement. It was a small town, the inn was a family operation, and it was a simpler time.
One afternoon, one of the waiters, one of our housemates, was hungover from the night before and said he was going up to an empty room to take a nap. It wasn’t allowed, but he took a big tablecloth to cover the bed, vowed he’d smooth it all out so no one would know, and made us promise to wake him up at 4:30.
A couple hours later, my friend Leigh and I were sitting in the staff room talking, when David walked in, with a face as white as the table cloth he was holding.
“Very funny, guys,” he said. Though he didn’t sound like he really thought so. “Where’d you find the old-fashioned dress?”
When we shrugged and shook our heads and swore we had no idea what he was talking about, he sat down and told us.
He was sound asleep, on his back with his hands on his chest, and someone was pulling on his stocking’d toes, telling him to wake up. He resisted and the person pulled harder on his toes. When he opened his eyes, a woman in a Victorian dress was standing at the foot of the bed. He closed his eyes and opened them again and she was gone. He didn’t think much of it, because he thought it was one of us, playing a particularly good prank.
Until he saw both of us in the staff room only moments later.
We’d all heard the place was haunted. The family who’d built the farm had died in an avalanche and were buried in a plot nearby. But you don’t really take stories like that seriously, do you?
The ghost never came downstairs. Some guests had claimed to see it, but we just figured they were drunk. The inn had a dozen rooms and a bar that had a life of its own, so…
The public restrooms, however, were all on the second floor, and my 7 year old son never used them again.
In 1991 we moved to Charleston, SC and rented the bottom floor of an historic carriage house, half a block north of Broad Street in the French Quarter. The French Quarter is one of the oldest neighborhoods on the peninsula, which is itself one of the largest historic districts in the country. In the French Quarter, many of the window sills and frames, as well as the doorsteps are painted deep, dark blue — to keep out the spirits.
In the Gullah culture, in the rest of the Lowcountry, a lighter blue is called “Haint Blue” and is painted on porch ceilings. The Gullah believed haints were unable to cross water and would be confused by the color. Sherwin Willliams has a Haint Blue paint for this purpose, and it’s hard to find an historic house in Charleston without a haint blue porch ceiling.
I didn’t know any of that when I moved into the French Quarter, where we would live for 5 years. But I soon started hearing the stories. In those days, there were still “old Charlestonians,” people whose families had lived in the same house for 300 years.
Unfortunately, for all of us, most of them have given way to Yankees with million-dollar-pockets. I’m sure there’s an eccentric old woman holding on to a sagging single house somewhere south of Broad, but she won’t be much longer. Charleston has become a theme park version of itself. Celebrities live there, doing “resto-mods” on the insides of protected buildings. Daryl Hall, whose hobby is restoration, bless his heart; Bill Murray who owns the Riverdogs, and watches basketball in bars on Broad street. Many others, fleeing the cold and chaos of northeastern cities, for the steamy south…
…but I digress. When I lived there 30 years ago, Charleston was only beginning its recovery from Hurricane Hugo. There were still blocks of unrestored history that reeked of ghosts. There were ghost tours. Walking, riding and carriage. No one who’d lived in Charleston — old, peninsula Charleston, not the sprawling suburbs still, technically, Charleston — anyone who spent any time in old Charleston had a ghost story.
I knew they were all around. I’d seen glimpses of the past in the fog, but I’m an imaginative person. There’s no imagination involved in a pillar of cold air in an alley on a hot night in August, though. That alley didn’t have a duct or a grate in that spot; it wasn’t always cold, but it was often cold. Alleys between streets and between buildings, where the light shifts suddenly, and you feel something brush past you, something that feels like a person. Shadows in windows of empty buildings. Little ephemera, not to put too fine a point on it.
Charleston is younger than Venice and Istanbul, but it has a similar feel. You can almost hear and smell other times. History itself has an aura.
I had had no real encounters, though. My upstairs neighbors were two big people. I knew when they were home. It was a block of 4 rooms on each of the two floors, with an enclosed stairway to the second floor behind my kitchen wall, but opening onto the front step. There is a certain form of intimacy in knowing which rooms your neighbors are in.
So, when they moved out and the landlady did a nice remodel, I knew all the nuances of that, too, and I became very used to the silence while it was empty, waiting for my friend Jackson Brown to claim it. That was a period of several months, for which he gladly paid rent in order to secure the sweet little spot for the future. (He ended up living there for over 20 years.)
During those months there was no sound in the building unless me or my son had made it. There was no office building in front, like there is now. The actual stables were still there, and were rented out as “covered parking,” though the “cover” was dubious protection, over a hundred years old.
So, one morning, when I heard footsteps go up the stairs and walk across the floor and stop above my head – I wondered who was up there. I hadn’t heard the front door open, or seen anyone pass my windows. This is cottage small. Everything is measureable. I knew who walked in the yard. Stone courtyards.
So I called the gallery and asked if there was a workman up there. There wasn’t. Why? Oh, just some noises. Old building. Nothing. Don’t want to be the crazy woman in Apartment A…
I never heard the footsteps leave.
But I heard them again, many times over the next few years. It was always the same: they ran up the stairs walked across to the front room, above my living room, and stopped. Nothing else.
Jackson never ran up the stairs, ever. So, I knew when it wasn’t him.
(These are benevolent spirits, not haints, by the way. Haints are malicious, like the woman in the farmhouse in Maine. That sort of delineation requires its own discussion.)
The funny thing about the carriage house ghost was that the man who took over our little apartment, when my son went away to school and I moved to Italy – gave ghost tours. He heard “our ghost” often, he said, but he never saw it either. Nor did he ever see any of the ghosts he told tourists about. But he said he “felt them around, especially in the Unitarian cemetery.” Again, worth a few paragraphs on its own.
The best ghost I didn’tsee, was the little girl ghost who saved our lives in Tuscany.
My friends had bought a 50 acre farm with a shell of a 600 year old main house that had once been a monastery. It had an old stone barn, built into the side of a very steep mountainside. Everything on that farm was nearly vertical. We picked olives lying down. Gorgeous though. You could look across the valley, across the Tiber River and see more sheep and more history on the other side. As clear as crystal, in that special Tuscan light.
At that time there were a handful of guestrooms in the restored, but still rustic, main house, and the barn still held livestock, which we tended as well, along with the guests, who came for the agritourisma experience. In the winter, there were rarely guests. The driveway was a challenging series of gravel switchbacks, with steep drops on one side and rocky promontories on the other, accomplishing a thousand feet of elevation in less than a mile.
No one could sneak up on you, though.
Brent and I were alone. His husband was working in Milan, and so, wrapped in quilts in the old, cold stone building we had finished another vicious game of multilingual Scrabble in front of the fireplace, and retired for the night.
I was enjoying the temporary luxury of one of the 2nd floor guestooms, while Brent was asleep in the room at the foot of the stairs that doubled as his office. He liked to be close to the ground, where he could hear the animals. I knew what he meant, because sometimes I slept in the cheese kitchen, when the house was full of guests. The barn cat could just walk in the window, and I could hear the chickens cooing across the driveway.
I had vivid dreams in that house. The whole farm was so ancient. The very land. I could sit in the fields in broad daylight and be transported back to the times of the Etruscans, who tended sheep in the same manner I was doing, on the same bits of land. Tuscany does have a magic to it.
So the dream of the little girl sitting on my chest pounding her fists against it, saying “alzati! favore! alzati!” wake up! wasn’t so unusual. I had big story dreams here. I was waiting to see where this would go.
But she didn’t stop.
So, I woke up.
And when I did, I could smell smoke. The room wasn’t smoky because I slept with the window wide open to the wonderful mountain air, yes, even in the winter. We had huge, goose down duvets. But when I opened the door to the hall, it was stronger, and when I went down the stairs, the first floor was filling up.
We opened all the windows and doors and then solved the mystery: a fierce cold front had swept in and blown the flue shut. We would have, could have, died from smoke inhalation.
When things had settled down and we were resting on the sofas, waiting for the rest of the smoke to dissipate through the still open windows, Brent asked me what woke me up.
When I told him, he said, “The little girl! Wow. That’s so amazing.”
When he’d been rebuilding the place, mostly alone, sleeping on the floor in front of the fireplace, she’d made herself known. She’d helped him, then, too. I forget the details. He had been wary of sharing that experience, but then some guests had heard her playing outside their window. When they looked out she’d been “gone” so they’d asked him whose child they’d heard.
(After you’ve shared a ghost story and your listener doesn’t dismiss you as a lunatic, it becomes easier to share them again, when the situation warrants.)
So, the little girl waking me up was like the dream waking up Sammy Hagar. Both started out as dreams that intersected with reality.
My guardian angel may have something to say about some of the “ghost” designations, and pragmatists like my husband will always have a scientific explanation.
Until they see an anomaly in the dark, on a foggy lawn, under the swamp moss……
Carol Joy Shannon is an award-winning artist who thinks about stuff. And reads too much.