Sunday, June 5, 2022

Of Magic, Queens, and Paddington Bear

There’s a picture online of Queen Elizabeth having tea with Paddington Bear, and it made me smile when I saw it. But I wasn’t surprised. You see, I have my own Paddington/Queen Elizabeth story.

When I was 6 or 7 years old, a nearby missionary family received a shipment of children’s books. They generously let me borrow some from time to time, which is how I came across A Bear Called Paddington. It was instant love. And with the decisive logic of a 6 or 7-year-old, I decided that the Queen of England needed to know about that love.

My parents gently explained that:
Her Majesty was a very busy person;
her staff was very busy;
a letter from our tiny town in Ecuador would take weeks to reach the U.K. and might get lost along the way;
I would probably never hear back from Buckingham Palace.

Then they gave me paper and pen and Mom helped me spell the big words. I don’t remember the whole letter, but I do know that I thanked the queen for running a country that had such things as Paddington Bear.

Dad took my letter with him to the capital city on his next trip and mailed it from the main post office. As the weeks passed, I pictured the Queen reading my letter and sharing it with her gal pals. They were probably too busy having tea to write back, but I understood.

And that could have been the end of the story.

Instead, about two months later, I received a small package from London. There was a note on palace letterhead thanking me for writing to the queen. Enclosed was a Paddington Bear pin.

As I got older, of course, I realized that there was probably some office vaguely attached to the palace and tasked with sending out form letters to school children who wrote to the queen, and that someone in that office dug one more pin out of the box of thousands, folded one more school-kid form letter - and then decided to ignore geographic boundaries.

But this is really a story about parents teaching kids that it’s okay to risk disappointment. It’s about the importance of reaching for stars beyond our grasp. It’s about the kind of magic that happens best when we're 6 or 7 years old and know that queens often take tea with adventurous bears.

And it's about the lasting impact of a fleeting moment of kindness, even when it’s to some random child in a backwater town in a small, faraway country.

-cs 060522

 

Matt Brown from London, England, CC BY 2.0 
<https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Saturday, December 25, 2021

In Spirit and in Flesh

The spirit of Christmas-now walks soft beside me,
weaving as we go:

the chat with a good friend;

Christmas dinner at a table set for two instead of six;

unkind words about another driver; 

kisses blown to sick loved ones through a patio door;

quiet moments reading (sometimes to the cat);

until what I truly value is etched into the fabric of the day,
a gift to me:
an image of my Faith, raw, unmasked, unclothed.


The spirits of Christmas-yet-to-come stand silent:
 
watching, shifting with the winds of time and choices  
from now and yesterday,
until one stands alone,
pregnant with possibilities and Hope.


But the Spirit of Christmas-long-ago – ah, that!
It wraps itself around me,
embracing me in all my humanness,
holding Humanity itself so tightly
that it can’t help but be born
in spirit and in flesh;
and it whispers softly that its truest name is Love. 


©Carol Shaw 122521

 

©evgenyatamanenko - Can Stock Photo Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Of Lent and Litterboxes

Lent was approaching, and I hadn’t yet decided how to observe it. In my particular tradition, Lent is a time to slow down and examine how we live our faith in the day-to-day. It’s a time to challenge our comfort zones, which can so easily become barriers to a dynamic life of faith.

Last year, of course, we were midway through Lent when the entire world came to a screeching halt. And it didn’t start up again on Easter Sunday.

So this year seemed a little odd. I’d had a year of semi-isolation, yes, but I hadn’t really slowed down. If anything, I was busier than ever. I was focused on work and associations and research and to be honest, with nothing and no one at home to interrupt my introvert self, that comfort zone had gotten a little more rigid. I put on a few extra unwanted pounds, but otherwise the isolation of the pandemic didn’t affect me as deeply as it did others. I kind of liked my rut.

On this particular day, though, a friend stopped by to drop off a book. After placing the book on my doorstep, Jim withdrew partway down the walk and texted me. I came out and stood in the open doorway to visit a moment. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a flash of movement.  A cat was running down the alley across from me, a little over a block away.

As Jim and I chatted, the cat made a beeline across the street, down the sidewalk and up my walkway, glancing up at Jim without breaking stride. When he reached me, the cat paused, looked me in the eyes, and walked through the open door into my house.  

After Jim left, I went to find the cat. He was sitting on my sofa. I could hear him purring from across the room. I grabbed my phone and took a few pictures. A cat this friendly must have humans somewhere.

The pictures went up on Nextdoor. I searched the “lost pet” websites and bought cat food and kitty litter. Temperatures were dropping that night and I wasn’t tossing the friendly little guy out into the cold.

Besides, I like cats. The first pet I ever had that didn’t have to be shared with my siblings was a little grey tabby with tiger stripes.  He disappeared when I went off to boarding school; it broke my heart.

The next day, I let Cat out of the bathroom where he’d spent the night turning a toilet paper roll into confetti. He ran outside the open back door and disappeared. Gone to find his family, I assumed. Minutes later, he returned, meowing loudly at the door. After a while, I let him back in. It was time to take him to the vet to check for a chip.

He had no chip.

I sat down at my desk to see if anyone had responded to my attempts to find his humans. No luck there.

Cat jumped onto my desk and stared at me. Did I mention he’s a grey tabby with tiger stripes?


“You’re gonna to be such a pain in the butt, aren’t you,” I said, and he crawled onto my chest, put one paw on either side of my neck and pressed his face into my shoulder in shameless agreement. 

Forget my comfort zone. The cat now interrupts every activity and takes over my desk. When I work, he supervises.  

 


I had to upgrade my noise-cancelling headset so that Zoom depositions wouldn’t be interrupted by indignant yowls when I locked him out of my office.

My daily power naps have long been a perk of being self-employed. My first midday snooze after Cat moved in was interrupted by an unexpected thud! on the bed that my drowsy forgetfulness interpreted as the presence of an intruder. Adrenaline does not mix well with naps.

I decided to shut my bedroom door at night to avoid such surprises. The first night, I woke up out of a deep sleep, every sense suddenly on alert. I’d heard something, but wasn’t sure what. There it was again! Scratching… on the inside of my bedroom door

Heart pounding, I snapped on the light. Two paws were slid under my door, scratching on the inside to wake me up. Soon there were vocals. Not a simple “meow”, but a three-toned “ah-OOH-uh”, sometimes varied with “AHH-ooh-ah” or even “ah-ooh-AH”, which always sounds like a question.

I yelled, “Cat! Stop!” and realized he needed a name so I could yell at him properly. He looks like Irish Cream in a cup of coffee, so Bailey it is.

One week later, Texas went into a deep freeze. My house lost power. In a time when I’d gotten too busy despite a worldwide pandemic, my personal world now came to a screeching halt.  

As the temperatures dropped inside, I took refuge under my covers with my fully-charged laptop, phone, portable charger and Kindle. A camp lantern sat on my bedside table. For the next four days, Bailey joined me. Sometimes he crawled down to my feet like a feline hot water bottle. He watched me on the computer, stared over my shoulder as I read, and occasionally went to monitor the rest of the house.

Since then, I’ve lost a few of those pandemic pounds. It’s hard to snack absently when every bite must be guarded against a curious feline.

I can’t focus just on work anymore: there’s a litter box to clean, food to supply, backyard doors to open and close, and “stop that, bad cat!” to yell from time to time.

My fourth granddaughter was born, and when I finally got to hold her I was horrified to hear myself crooning, “Oh, she’s a good girl, yes she is. Such a good girl.” I may be on my way to becoming that cat lady.

Lent is almost over. Today is Good Friday. Although the pandemic persists, there are signs of hope on the horizon and I think of the disciples’ grief and hopelessness. Spring buds promise new life, and I think of Mary in the garden on Sunday morning, every expectation about to be shattered.

Sometimes we go into Lent with intentionality. We examine how the comfort of our worldview may be hindering our spiritual journey. We solemnly mark the days until Easter Sunday.

But sometimes Lent surprises us. Sometimes, to borrow from Carl Sandburg, Lent comes to us on little cat feet.




 Photo credits: Carol Shaw  

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Murphy and the cold, hard facts

There are icicles on my porch roof that haven’t melted since Wednesday. The weather folks say it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re getting snow with high winds tomorrow and are on our way to single-digit temperatures.

I love the cold. My teen years and early adulthood were spent high in the mountains. Chilly weather makes me feel young, energized. Cold in Texas is a treat, so when I went out to pick up a last-minute order from my local Walmart, it was with an eye to staying off slick roads, not out of the weather.

30°F

It was still light outside when I left the house just after 6 p.m. Walmart is barely 2 miles away, so I slid my feet into sandals and threw a lightweight poncho over my short-sleeved t-shirt and sweat pants. That’s all I would need to sit in my car while some bundled-up teenager put my purchases in the trunk. Besides – young and invigorated, remember?  

I must have said that last part out loud, because somewhere, Murphy’s ears perked up.

When I got to Walmart, the app kept telling me I was 18 minutes away. Eventually it dawned on me: I’d placed the order on the other Walmart, 5 miles away in rush hour traffic. By the time I got to the right store, dusk had faded into dark and the temperature was dropping.  A polite, cheerful young man loaded my purchases and I started back home.

Ooh, Boston Market! Chicken pot pie for supper sounded perfect. Unfortunately, by the time I managed to move over just one lane, Boston Market was 5 blocks behind me. I’d have to loop back. The added “adventure” seemed to justify a Boston Market brownie, too.

27°F

Eventually, I pulled into Boston Market’s parking lot. My sandals no longer seemed practical so I decided to stay in the car. After placing the order online, I pulled around to a curbside pick-up spot to wait my turn. Switching off the car, I sat and enjoyed a few moments of unbusy-ness.

A young woman opened the Boston Market door and made her way toward the car. I hit the window button, and nothing happened. Oh, right, the engine was off. I pushed the ignition. Lights flashed, something chittered in the console, but that was all. Nothing useful happened. She walked around to my side and handed me my supper through the door. I explained that my battery seemed to be dead and I’d have to wait there for Roadside Assistance.

24°F

Roadside Assistance notified me that my rescuer would arrive in…. 1 hour and 49 minutes? I decided to eat my pot pie. And brownie.

The cold  was no longer invigorating. Bracing, maybe. I thought about how it's been a minute since those chilly nights in the mountains of my youth. I pulled my poncho closer around me, tucked my feet in a bit and prepared to wait. Time crawled by. I read Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and WhatsApp, emails and all 5 news sites on my phone in a steady rotation to pass the time. Unbusy-ness had lost its charm.

20°F

An hour and 45 minutes later, my toes were on strike and my arms were thinking of joining them, when a truck pulled up beside me and a man got out, wrapped up like a human burrito. I stepped out into the night in my frozen-toed sandals to say hello, and popped the hood on my car. Arctic wind whipped my poncho around. I climbed back behind the steering wheel, not sure if it was the cold or my arthritis that was slowing me down. My cheerful rescuer hooked up the cables. Frigid fingers pushed the ignition. Frozen toes pushed lightly down on the accelerator. The engine sprang to life and warmth, blessed warmth, began to fill the car.  

Burrito man walked over as I let the engine run. “I never knew it could get so cold in Texas,” he said.

“Yeah, but it’s been a while,” I answered. “Back in the mid-80s we had several cold winters, if you’ll remember.”

“I wouldn’t know,” he said politely.

“Oh, you’re not from here? Where are you from?”

“No…” he hesitated, then went on, “I am from here, but back in the mid-80s… ma’am, I wasn’t even born then!”

Just like that, the years caught up with me. Thanking human burrito child, I drove away, amused and grateful for my greying hair and thawing toes and the heated bliss pouring from the vents. Maybe, I reminded myself, maybe sometimes I should embrace the wisdom of Not Young. 

And somewhere, I swear, I heard Murphy laughing gently in the cold, invigorating night.  


Friday, July 24, 2020

On Stories and Holy Ground

For the last 3 weeks, members of my church have been meeting in small groups online for Safe Conversations - honest, vulnerable looks at stories and experiences of racial prejudice and bias and our own, often-subconscious responses. For me, it keeps coming back to the stories. Listening to someone else's reality without judgment or critique. Listening to learn. Listening for what is holy.
Holy Ground Come. Let me move myself over. Sit a while and share with me your story. Let your words Filter through the cracks and fissures of my world, past my certainties and creeds and the neat arrangement of my understanding, until they take shape, and grow. Stretch the sinews of my conviction. Push my inner parts aside. Let your story hollow out in me new holy ground and let me witness God’s eternity in you. © Carol Shaw 072120


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Cuaresma, Cuarentena


In Spanish, the word for Lent is Cuaresma. The word for quarantine is cuarentena. But the word cuarentena is also a rarely-used synonym for Lent. This year, during Lent, the world itself made a sacrifice of change and isolation. May we, like Jesus, come out of our desert stronger, with lessons learned.

Las palabras cuaresma y cuarentena tienen una misma raíz. Pero cuarentena es también un sinónomo poco usado de Cuaresma. Este año, durante la Cuaresma, el mundo mismo ha hecho un sacrificio de cambio y aislamiento. Esperemos que, como Jesús, salgamos de nuestro desierto más fuertes, con lecciones aprendidas. 

..............................


Cuaresma/Cuarentena

Ven.
De la ceniza de
tu miércoles
no queda huella.
La cuaresma está
por terminar.
Abraza tu desierto.
El ruido, déjalo atrás.
Entra al silencio
de esta santa cuarentena
hasta que lo único
que queda es respirar.
Tu viernes
se vestirá de luto; 
el sábado de
gloria y confusión.
Pero el domingo renacerá
en destellada Luz
que convertirá
en catedral
tu solitario balcón.

-cs 041120


(Loose translation into English)

Lent/Quarantine

Come.
Of your Wednesday ash
not a trace is left.
The Lenten season is
coming to a close.
Embrace your desert.
Leave the noise behind.
Come into the silence
of this holy quarantine
until all that you can do
is breathe.
Your Friday
will dress itself in mourning;
Saturday in turmoil 
and in glory.
But Sunday will be born anew
in blazing Light 
creating a cathedral
of your lonely balcony. 

-cs 041120




Saturday, April 20, 2019

And the rains came


the rains came down
and we huddled,
cradling our pain and confusion

this was not the promise.

expectations drowned in mud,
reality in lockstep marching
without malice
without mercy,
void,
a red line slowly strangling
the world.

when all was lost,
when we were lost,
that’s when the rains came down.

and the Earth thundered.
the Heavens split,
Holy Fire engulfed
a man-made Tree,
leaving only bitter Ash

cleansing ash
mixed in mortal silence
as the Living Rains came down. 





-cs Ó041919