Caroline and her husband Larry met in architecture school and still maintain a firm together. They joined BOLLI in the fall of 2015 because, Caroline says, “Larry and I tend to focus too much on work. I realized we needed an outlet that we could both enjoy. After some research, we decided on BOLLI where we could have both a learning and social experience.”
Since joining BOLLI, both have enjoyed the wide range of classes the program provides, “giving each of us opportunities to learn things that we hadn’t had time to study over the years.” In addition to the courses, though, Caroline says she has especially enjoyed the summer/winter lecture series on history and music. She has also joined the Membership Committee and assisted in organizing this spring’s Back-to-School Brunch.
Outside BOLLI, Caroline has a variety of “extra-curricular” interests that keep her busy. “I have always loved plants and flowers,” she says. “I never had much time while working, but after retirement, I took a cue from the book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and decided to start a small vegetable garden. It’s difficult to battle the rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels, but I am persistent.”
“One thing that led me to architecture was my love of drawing,” Caroline muses. “Unfortunately, after you reach a certain stage, you don’t get to use those skills that much in an office. Last summer, I took the drawing course offered by BOLLI, and it helped me get back into sketching. In her recent course on 18th and 19th Century French Painting, Suzanne Art encouraged us to try our hands at still life.” On Suzanne’s cue, Caroline went, quite literally, back to the drawing board and created the following piece of work.
Perhaps her most encompassing interest, though, has been the Schwirian house and the preservation of the Auburndale Local History District. “Our home has been a labor of love for 42 years,” she said. “It was kind of run-down when we bought it, so we have a lot of ‘sweat equity’ in it.” She goes on to say that a small part of the house dates from 1810 when it was the gatehouse for a long-gone estate. Most of it dates from 1849, when it was one of the first houses in Auburndale, a Newton village. The house was designed by architect Charles Edward Parker who also designed the United Parish Church of Auburndale (1857) located nearby. United Parish is one of the few remaining wooden Romanesque churches in the area and is noted as a Newton landmark as well as being on the National Historic Register. The composer Horatio Parker was born in the house in 1863. Parker, who wrote primarily church music, went on to be the Dean of the School Music at Yale where he taught Charles Ives.
“Many of the homes in our area date from the 1840’s to the early 1900’s,” Caroline says. “Many in our neighborhood feel that we are only the temporary stewards of these houses. When a number of our neighbors realized that the character of the area was changing, a concerted effort was begun to protect the houses and their history by creating a local historic district.” Caroline co-chaired the Historic District Committee for the Lasell Neighborhood Association, and, following state guidelines, she, with others, researched the history and styles of many homes in the area and then presented the findings to the City of Newton. “Of course, politics were involved, so it took five years of work,” she says. “But the Auburndale Local Historic District finally became law in 2005.” Her interest in preservation has influenced her work and led her to move on to another office that focused on preservation projects. In private practice, renovations and/or home additions are designed to be compatible with the original structures.
Caroline, was born in Cleveland and attended Western Reserve’s School of Architecture (now Case Western Reserve University). She was one of only two women in her Freshman class of thirty plus classmates and was one of only twelve to graduate five years later—this during a time when only 1% of all licenses architects in the U.S. were women.
In the fall, Caroline and Larry will be sharing their love of architecture when they will serve as BOLLI SGLs. Their five-week course will focus on learning to look at architecture. “When we can, we enjoy traveling to see the art, the architecture, and the culture of other places,” she says. “My favorite journeys, though, are the ones that take me to see my grandchildren in Ohio and DC.”
There’s nothing I like more than getting to know the people around me even better! I hope you’ll leave a comment for Caroline in the box below. It means a lot to each of our profiled members! And I’d love to hear from you about you!
Congratulations to Suzanne on the publication of her book!
Suzanne says that “the memoir is about the ups and downs of the creative process, its challenges and joys, its successes and failures. It also includes over 100 color images in color of my paintings, prints and drawings.”
Suzanne was the subject of one of our first BOLLI Matters member profiles. Just type her name into the blog’s “search box” to bring it up so that you can read more about her and her work. In addition, she has a beautiful website you can access in order to see many of her paintings. Go to: suzannehodes.com (or just click on the picture above).
The book is available at Blurb.com (less expensive) and at Amazon.
The BOLLI Journal, our bi-annual art and literary magazine, offers a glimpse into the creative lives of the many writers and visual artists in our midst.
At BOLLI, we have an opportunity to invent and reinvent ourselves through our scholarly and creative pursuits. Our writing, photography, and art courses, as well as our less formal groups, encourage members to develop and refine their expressive spirits and skills. The BOLLI Journalprovides a showcase for a variety of these efforts, illustrating who we are, how our history and imagination have shaped our identities, and how we craft our lives now.
The BOLLI Journalseeks original writing and visual art from all members.
BOLLI members may submit up to FOUR pieces of writing and/or art work (total) for consideration for publication in the 2018 volume.
WHAT TO SEND
Any BOLLI member may submit original unpublished fiction and/or nonfiction prose, poetry, or playwriting. Please double space and number each page of your work, but do not write your name on your manuscript/s. Include a word count below the title of each piece being submitted. (2000 word limit.)
Any BOLLI member may submit original unpublished, high resolution digital photography. Professionally photographed, high resolution images of original drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, and/or crafts may be submitted.
HOW TO SEND IT
Work should be submitted via email although hard copy may be left with Matt Medeiros for scanning and sending via email. (No particular computer program is preferred for either writing or photographs.) The email subject line should read “Journal Submission,” and material should be provided as attachments. In the text of your email, provide your name, home address, telephone number, and return email address. Send to the editor at: Bollijournal@gmail.com.
Your submission will be acknowledged within a week of its receipt. If you do not receive such acknowledgment, contact editor Maxine Weintraub: email@example.com.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
All material will be reviewed as “blind” submissions by The Journal committee: Editor Maxine Weintraub, Marjorie Arons-Barron, Beverly Bernson, Betsy Campbell, Jane Kays, Joan Kleinman, Marjorie Roemer, Larry Schwirian, and Sue Wurster. Other selected jurors are also part of the process. While suggestions might be made for improvement and resubmission of material, submissions will not be edited without permission.
So, what is Creative Nonfiction? The simplest, clearest, and probably most “apt” answer is this: true stories, well told. Recently, Steve Goldfinger shared a piece about Henry and Claire Booth Luce, and now, Lydia Bogar provides her thoughts about her local childhood library and the woman for whom it was renamed.
A FAVORITE HAUNT AND THE OLD LADY IN THE PAINTING
by Lydia Bogar
Even as her vision failed, my maternal grandmother always had her Bible, TheMorning Telegram, or The Evening Gazette) in hand. As she grew older and needed both a magnifying glass and a bright lamp to help her, she continued to read, every day, until her death at the age of 94. She passed her love of reading on to me, and it wasn’t long before the library became a favorite haunt.
The Greendale Branch of the Worcester Public Library was built in 1913 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie. The children’s section of the library was on the left, divided from the adult books by an enormous, heavy, oak desk where you showed your card to the librarian and were then able to borrow books to read at home.
I started with the Little Golden books and got hooked. Years later, I decided to turn a sharp right inside the front door and, over the course of that summer, read everything in the fiction section. That was when I met Mary, Queen of Scots and Ernest Hemingway. Eventually, I would drive my mother’s car there to “study” with friends. In my family, women passed on not only our love of reading but books as well. I have been hooked on mysteries since an elderly aunt left me her collection of Perry Mason paperbacks in 1968. My mother helped me to grow by passing on The Power of Positive Thinking, Silent Spring, and The Quiet American.
In the library, there was an enormous marble fireplace along the back wall. A portrait of Frances Perkins, for whom the library was renamed in 1944, rested above it. When I was a child, I had no idea who Frances Perkins was. To me, she was just an old lady in an old painting.
Eventually, though, I learned just who this remarkable woman was. Born and educated in Worcester, she started learning Greek from her father as a child, took classes in physics and chemistry at Mount Holyoke College as a young woman, and worked with poor, undereducated women in Illinois as an adult. After her graduation, Frances devoted herself to mentoring working women, black and white, especially those in factories who were trying to support their families on miniscule paychecks. She later earned a Masters Degree at Columbia University, writing her thesis on malnutrition among public school children. It is difficult to imagine how many glass ceilings she shattered just in her own educational efforts.
In 1911, when Perkins was in New York, she witnessed dozens of factory workers leap to their deaths in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire—a turning point in her life. From that point on, she dedicated her life to seeing labor conditions improve for workers. She worked with a legislative committee after the disaster and became a consultant to Governor Al Smith. Eventually, her lobbying efforts caught the attention of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who appointed her to serve as his Secretary of Labor, the first woman to serve in a U.S. Government Cabinet position. Serving in that position for over 12 years, she championed such causes as the Civilian Conservation Corps, Federal Emergency Relief, Fair Labor Standards, and Social Security.
Years before Rosa Parks or Gloria Steinem made their marks on our culture, Frances Perkins said:
“I promise to use what brains I have to meet problems with intelligence and courage.”
Quite a resume for a woman from Worcester whose portrait still inspires young visitors to the Greendale Branch of the Worcester Public Library.
Lydia has become a frequent BOLLI Matters contributor, even creating her own monthly feature, “Lines from Lydia.”
An Interview with Larry Schwirian by Sue Wurster (and Larry’s short selection, OH, WHAT A PARTY!)
Recently, Journal committee member Larry Schwirian provided the participants in our BOLLI Writers Guild with a piece of historical fiction that he had written in response to the prompt, “The Best Party EVER.” We thoroughly enjoyed the piece and spent some time talking about this fact that this has been a somewhat under-represented genre in our BOLLI Journal.
SUE: So, Larry, have you written a lot of historical fiction?
LARRY: No, but I do read a great deal of historical fiction. For me, it’s a much more enjoyable way of learning about the past than just reading textbook history.
SUE: What sparked your imagination and led you to do this particular piece?
LARRY: Well, the prompt for the week was about a great party, so I googled “Great Parties in History” and discovered that the Great London Beer Flood took place toward the end of the War of 1812. I thought about what it might be like to be almost drowned in beer and created a character to get swept up in it. Then, I wanted to related it, somehow, to the war.
SUE: Has writing always been an interest? Have you been published or thought about submitting your work for publication?
LARRY: I have attempted to write poetry, on and off again, over the past 25 years My first attempt was a poem I wrote for my father’s 80th birthday. I have also tried, on a couple of occasions, to write children’s stories using alliteration (with a preponderance of “P” words), but I’ve never tried to get anything published because I never thought anything I wrote was worthy of publication.
SUE: Do you have a favorite form or genre?
LARRY: I am somewhat of a history buff and have read the biographies of many of the founding fathers. I also enjoy architectural history and have been involved on a local level with historical preservation.
SUE: You’ve been active in the Writers Guild and have taken some BOLLI writing courses as well, haven’t you? How have they helped you with your writing?
LARRY: The discipline of writing every week is certainly helpful to making improvements. Also, the critiques from others in the Writers Guild have taught me to be a more vigorous editor of my own writing I also thought that, as someone who has tried to trace my ancestry, it would be a great idea to improve my writing skills so that, someday, one of my descendants might know not just my name but also something about how I thought. Plus, meeting every week with the same small group of people and listening to their stories or their poetry is a great way to get to know people and make new friends.
SUE: And that led you to joining the Journal committee?
LARRY: Maxine asked me if I was interested, so I thought about it for a while and then accepted. I didn’t know I was going to be the only male!
Here’s Larry’s story…
OH WHAT A PARTY
It looked like it was going to be another bright sunny day on the morning of Monday October 17, 1814 on Tottenham Court Road in the parish of St. Giles in London. Alfie Appleton, a young working class laborer, was just starting his trek to the docks for another physically arduous day loading munitions onto warships headed for America; those uppity colonials ought to know better than to start a war with the heralded British Navy. To some extent his sympathies were with the Americans as they were decided underdogs in this war and had legitimate grievances with the arrogance and imperiousness of the British Crown and Parliament. Alfie had his own issues with the British aristocracy and propertied class as those of his social standing had virtually no say in the proceedings of the British government and were generally considered with contempt and loathing by those higher in social class.
It was a time when London’s population was growing rapidly due to the beginnings of the industrial revolution and men-of-means were investing heavily in new business opportunities. Industrial processes had led to a rapid rise in beer production and one new “Beer Baron” by the name of Sir Henry Meux had recently completed a large new brewing vat that was 60 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall. This vat, like smaller ones nearby, was constructed much like large wooden beer barrels with steel hoops to keep it from collapsing. Upon completion Henry invited 200 guests to dine with him inside the vat and subsequently had it filled with porter liquor.
Except for the sunny skies it was a day much like any other workday. Alfie would labor six days a week from sunup to sundown on the docks with only minimal time for lunch or “loo” breaks. Suddenly, and without warning, he was knocked off his feet by a surging wave of colorful liquid. It caught him completely by surprise as he found himself with many others swept haphazardly toward buildings and other fixed objects. After what seemed like hours but was probably only a few minutes he was able to right himself in this growing pond of what he now realized was actually “beer.” After the initial shock wore off he decided, with others around him, to take advantage of this wondrous opportunity to partake of “free alcohol.” Soon, other blokes and even women folk were pouring out of adjacent buildings to enjoy this “gift from heaven.” As other nearby parishes learned of this blessed event even more people poured into the area. By the time the liquid had nearly dissipated the entire parish was intoxicated.
In the end the equivalent of over 100,200 kegs of beer (1,470,000 liters) were released with the collapse of the new vat as well as several of the nearby smaller vats. At least seven people were drowned (ah but what better way to go) and many rescue attempts to help the injured were thwarted by the chaos created by thousands of people swarming to the area. When the injured did manage to make it to the hospital “reeking of beer” hospital employees and even patients fled to join the melee. The reason this event wasn’t recorded in the annals of history as a “disaster” is because a British court ruled that the beer flood was an “act of God.” Alfie, however, preferred to believe that the incident was an act of sabotage by an American spy and that the American victory at New Orleans, by Andrew Jackson, in January of 1815 was, at least in part, due to the British fleet being delayed by THE GREAT LONDON BEER FLOOD.
Note: While “The Great London Beer Flood” was a real event, it had nothing to do with the delaying of the British Fleet on its way to New Orleans. Alfie is, of course, a fictional character but the rest of the story is true…at least according to Wikopedia. A little more than a century later, in January of 1915, Boston suffered “The Great Molasses Flood” in the North End. This time the vat was 90 feet in diameter and 50 feet high, and twenty-one people died. The incident was declared a “disaster” and in a class-action lawsuit against the subsequent owner of The Purity Distilling Company, more than $600,000 in damages were awarded.
The BOLLI Journal committee hosted its first lunchtime program on Monday. November 14th—a literary and artistic “salon” in the spirit of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. We drank alcohol-free bubbly and indulged in cheese and crackers, brownies and grapes as we explored the creative process and its place in the BOLLI Program. Steve Goldfinger’s poetry (below left), Barbara Jordan’s photos and paintings (middle with Marjorie Roemer), and Jane Kay’s (right with Margie Arons-Barron) tale of a lovingly remembered childhood icon, a blue glass slipper, delighted the audience. Listening to each of these creative BOLLI members answer questions from Marjorie Roemer, Sue Wurster, and Margie Arons-Barron brought into focus the way in which BOLLI members change and grow as they explore and develop new talents within the BOLLI environment.
Thanks to all who came and participated. We look forward to many more such programs and invite all of our BOLLI members to become involved with the next Journal issue. Please submit your poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photos, and art to the Journal – submissions open from now until June of 2017. In the spirit of sharing, we include the brownie recipe–not from the Toklas’ cookbook and with no hidden ingredients. In fact, the recipe includes no leavening agents at all!
Grease and flour a 9 x 12” pan preheat oven to 350 in saucepan, melt two sticks of butter and one 4 oz package unsweetened chocolate remove from heat beat in two cups of sugar and one teaspoon vanilla beat in four eggs mix in one cup of all-purpose flour fold in one package semi-sweet chocolate bits pour into prepared pan bake until done (about 25 minutes, depending upon your oven) cool on rack and try not to eat them all at one sitting.
Possible variations on this recipe are endless. Any kind of chocolate chips will do. Try adding a fruit cup mix at holiday time. Nuts. Almond flavoring.
Maxine Weintraub, who heads the 2018 BOLLI Journal committee as editor, is no stranger to arts and letters magazines. She is a regular contributor to The Goose River Anthology and has produced two volumes of her short stories.
Works of art come in many forms–and for Anita Glickman, that form is botanical.
In 2005, Anita joined the Beth Shalom Garden Club in Needham. At the time, her husband was ill, and she thought this activity would be creative and relaxing, which it did indeed prove to be.
A few years later, she joined the club’s board and held various offices. In 2011, she served as the group’s co-president and then became president in 2012. At the time, the club had 85 members, and it has grown since that point.
The group’s main activity is doing the floral arrangements for the Temple’s religious services, but their contributions to the entire Needham community are quite significant. They enhance the Needham’s Vietnam Memorial, run a “Garden Therapy” program for special needs groups, and produce a popular annual antique show fundraiser. The proceeds from this show help provide special floral programs at the Walker School, the Charles River ARC Center, and the Needham Public Library. But the group’s most ambitious endeavor is its annual Needham Art in Bloom weekend event.
For this event, modeled after the annual springtime exhibit presented by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, members of the Beth Shalom group create arrangements inspired by art work created by students at Needham High School. The botanical and visual artists end up meeting each other during the exhibit, and the club honors the students’ work at the weekend’s close. “The students are outstanding and so enthusiastic,” says Anita, who has exhibited for the past 8 years. “It is such a pleasure to interact with them.”
Last year, Needham Art in Bloom featured 59 pieces of art and corresponding arrangements, drawing over 2800 visitors to the exhibit. Plans are already well underway for the 2017 event coming up this spring.
Anita joined BOLLI shortly after she retired from teaching in 2000. “It’s a wonderful program and very stimulating,” she says “Over the years, I have met so many fascinating people and made so many new friends.”
To find out more about the Needham Art in Bloom project, go to: http://needhamartinbloom.com Lots of photos of the exhibits can be found at: http://www.facebook.com/NeedhamsArtinBloom2013
Be sure to leave a comment for Anita in the box below–your response is so welcome!
At a meeting of the Camera Club during the spring term, relatively new BOLLI member Dick Hanelin shared linoleum prints he has made from photos he has taken. The amount of detail and intricacy in his work are quite stunning. Here’s what Dick has to say about his art.
I was an elementary school teacher for 37 years and taught in New York City and Newton, MA. As a teacher, I integrated the visual and performing arts into all curriculum areas. After retirement, I took a variety of art courses and found I was most smitten by creating sculptures and linoleum prints. Through Arthur Sharenow’s course at BOLLI, my interest in photography was rekindled, and I have used some of my photos as a springboard for creating some of my linoleum prints.
I was drawn to linoleum prints because of the bold and graphic images that can be created through the use of contrasts. In seeking out subjects for my prints, I am always thinking about shape, texture, line, and value. These elements of design are my driving force. That is why, for example, I find construction sites and basements (not your typical subjects) as fertile ground for my prints. I try to create a tension and movement in my pieces by using both realistic and imaginative elements in my compositions.
The printmaking process begins with making a drawing and then transferring it onto a block of linoleum. I then carve into the linoleum with a variety of tools that create marks of different thicknesses. After this, ink is rolled onto the block of linoleum. (For my prints, it’s black ink.) Where I have cut out the linoleum, white lines, shapes, and textures will appear, while the rest of the print will be black or gradations of grey. This process takes much time, but I find it very enjoyable.
Dick and his wife Isobel, both career educators, are now active BOLLI members who serve on the Study Group Support Committee. We are all benefitting from the wealth of their experience!
Currently, a host of Helen’s photographs are on display at 60 Turner Street. Beginning at the stair landing where two pieces hang, viewers can proceed to the Purple Room to find an additional set of framed works which showcase her lovely work.
This is not the first show of Helen’s work. She has had pieces in both group and solo shows at the Holyoke Center Art Gallery in Cambridge, the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, and at both the Arlington and Watertown Public Libraries.
Helen says that “Photography has inspired me to find new ways of expressing the way I see and experience the world. I find beauty in the smallest details; in the fleeting shadows and light; in the juxtaposition of lines, texture, colors and shapes. Whether traveling or observing nature, I use my camera to capture an image (of plants and trees especially) that might not be a traditional view. My goal is to bring back a glimpse of what I’ve experienced in a way that makes you stop for a moment to enjoy and reflect.”
A virtual tour of Helen’s current show at Turner Street includes:
“This photograph of a yellow wood tree was taken several years ago at Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Sadly, it is no more–it was struck by lightning and taken down last year. So, this image is a treasured memory.”
“I took this one last summer when we were visiting Great Brewster Island and lighthouse. The shoes, held together with clothespins, were sitting on the lighthouse base drying in the sun.”
“The stewartias, my favorites, are two trees located in the Consecration Dell at Mt. Auburn Cemetery that have ‘four season interest.’ This photo was taken in the fall, and you can see the leaves turning a beautiful shade of red/orange. But it’s the bark, which stays the same all through the year that makes me love the stewartias. Shades of brown and gray, stately and grand.”
For information about purchasing images or future shows, contact Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every August, a group of writers and teachers of writing gather at the Bread Loaf Inn near Bread Loaf Mountain near Middlebury, Vermont for a ten-day conference. The New Yorker has called it “the oldest and most prestigious writers’ conference in the country.” And this August, that group of prominent writers and teachers will include BOLLI’s own Marjorie Roemer.
Marjorie’s background as a teacher of writing is an impressive one, which includes her having served as director of the Rhode Island Writing Project and having been a frequent contributor to The Quarterly of the National Writing Project. Her scholarly publications have appeared in numerous professional journals; she has presented at a wide range of professional conferences; and, all along, she has taught.
At BOLLI, Marjorie’s memoir writing class has been a perennial favorite, with many participants, in fact, returning semester after semester. (One class member has actually taken the course all nine times that it has been offered!) “I’m most relaxed when I’m teaching writing,” she says, “and after teaching everything from junior high through grad school, working on writing with this population is thrilling.” She explains that, in this setting, people write what is real, providing testaments to lives lived and reflected upon. “When we read and share, it is a stirring affirmation of our time of life and the wisdom that helps us to cope.”
And yet, writing and teaching writing were not Marjorie’s original path. She actually started out as a dancer.
“I think I always danced,” she muses. “We did a lot of creative play in the neighborhood school I went to in Queens, so there was often a lot of movement. I started lessons with Sophie Maslow at the New Dance Group when I was six.” Sophie Maslow, who danced with the Martha Graham company for nearly a decade, was, herself, a modern dance pioneer who founded the group. “Sophie did with us what modern dance teachers do with children—jumping over puddles, reaching up high for stars. It didn’t seem serious enough to me, and I didn’t like it. So I took ballet—and, to me, that was real dance! Eventually, when I was old enough to take the subway into the city, I studied at Ballet Arts at Carnegie Hall, and on Fridays, after class, I would go to City Center to watch the NYC Ballet Company. When I was a high school freshman, I finally saw Martha Graham, and it was a revelation. I began studying at the Graham studio and then, later, I was back at the New Dance Group—this time, with a new appreciation for puddles and stars. And then, I went to Bennington, in part because of its famous dance department.”
After graduation, Marjorie studied at the Jose Limon company on a scholarship. Classes were not only taught by members of the company but often by Jose himself whom she remembers as “a tremendously elegant man who wore black tights and a ruffled white dress shirt when he taught. I never danced with his company but with Joe Gifford and my then husband Martin Morginsky who both ended up forming companies in New York. We taught and performed at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. And then, I had a baby, needed to make a living, and began teaching junior high school.”
After a thoughtful pause, Marjorie says that, “teaching feels like choreography to me” and that, to this day, she still gets that “on-stage, it’s-here-and-now, rush” before every class begins. “I feel like my whole life has been ‘provisioning’ as I have looked to find the rhythm and the shape of it. Looking at a class this way gives me a sense of how I might shape it–but how I might improvise at the same time.”
This juxtaposition of planning and improvising seems to be central to Marjorie’s thoughts about dance, about teaching, and about life itself. “That idea of working with ‘the chance thing’ is so intriguing to me…surprising yourself—shaping but maintaining some wildness.” The poet Stanley Kunitz, she points out, says that, “when you pay too much attention, the garden becomes a landscape.”
Today, Marjorie’s writing takes a largely reflective bent—as is evident in the following sermon she wrote and delivered recently at the UCC in Franklin.
A Sermon by Marjorie Roemer
I’m a retired English professor, but the sonnets of Shakespeare are not all memorized in my mind, in order 1 – 154. They are not even all entirely familiar. But one of them has always nestled in my thoughts, even before it had particular, personal meaning for me. Sonnet 73. Here’s the first stanza:
That time of year thou may’st in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
The poem reflects on the waning of life, the time when most leaves are gone, when only a few yellow leaves remain. The branches that once were filled with birds are now bare, like the empty section of a church where the choir once was housed. The poem is about the November of life… that time of waning. Not the end, but toward the end.
Somehow, the poem always seemed resonant for me, but as my husband was struggling with brain cancer in the last year of his life, the words seemed more and more relevant, etched into my consciousness. Don died almost a year and a half ago, but the poem follows me around, stays with me as background music, a sound track for my life.
That time of year thou may’st in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
So, now in my 76th year, I think about this November of life. There is much, always, to remind us about aging. The new aches and pains, the knees that don’t quite work the way they used to, the forgetfulness, the night blindness, the diminishment of some faculties, the many losses in our world, in our circle of friends, in our closest loved ones.
But perhaps nothing marks age for me as sharply as my incompetence with electronic devices. Four-year-olds can manage what I struggle with. My grandchildren need to be called in to show me, one more time, how to play the DVD, how to work the iPad, how to text. What is intuitive for them is not for me and seems to mark a dividing line between our lives. Even more significant than our differences in musical taste, or the TV shows we watch, or the movies that we go to are these differences in how we access information, place ourselves as receivers and senders of the pertinent facts about our lives.
If I manage to master one medium, they are already on to the next. I’m on Facebook, but they have moved onto to InstaGram or Twitter. I can manage writing on the computer, but I don’t blog, use wikis, crowd source, or podcast.
What I have finally managed to use is my GPS. For several years, I avoided it. That woman with the irritating voice always wanted me to get on 495 from exit 17 on 140 instead of the King Street exit 16. So, I found myself at odds with her from the beginning. I put away the device and said I’d get along without it, Googling directions in advance and printing out a map. But, recently, I’ve come to rely on the lady in the GPS. When I’m driving alone now and floundering, it is useful to have her tell me that in .2 miles I will be turning right. Or to have her let me know that I’ve got another 45 miles to go on this road and I’m likely to arrive at my destination just in time.
But if I have any idea where I’m going, that I want to come home on 495, not on 126, that I don’t want to drive through Framingham Center on this trip, that I won’t get off the highway at Forge Park . . . I hear that voice saying over and over again recalculating, recalculating.
It has become a new mantra for me . . . recalculating. As I move on to a life alone after 48 years of marriage, to a house without children in it, to a life after retirement, I find myself recalculating, taking a new path, making new choices in the November of my life. And in this “time of year thou may’st in me behold,” while there is no GPS to tell me where to turn or how many miles more I have to go, I have found remarkable guides along the way, a reminder that when you have to throw yourself on the mercy of the universe, it will respond, it will provide.
I began to search out supports. Suddenly, friends became more central to my life . . . the women’s group at the condominiums where I live, the people I know from BOLLI. Old friends. Things that were in the background of my life moved to the foreground. My children became essential to me in a way that was new. And I added some new things as well: painting classes at the Danforth Museum and attendance at the First Universalist Society in Franklin.
I did not grow up believing in a bearded man sitting in the sky keeping watch over my every move and listening to my every cry for help. But I can’t help but believe in some sort of benevolence in the universe, some way that the world can provide what we need if only we are ready to receive. I arrived at the church sort of unexpectedly, venturing tentatively one Sunday when I read there would be some Miles Davis music played. It was right down the street, easy to get to, easy to sit down, and easy to enter on the fringe of this community. The music was great. The feel of the place was interesting. Though the rituals were new to me, the feel of a sacred communal space was palpable. I stayed.
Eventually, I took a sermon writing class and found that the task of writing in a way that bears witness to your own experience while also offering some hopeful idea for others to grab on to was intriguing and challenging. For me, in this last year, the primary subject has been loss– how to deal with it, how to survive it, how to make something useful from it. Writing sermons offered me new ways to approach the problem. I’ve searched for images or situations that could name what I was experiencing. What I found was…Recalculating.
So, on my recalculated journey, what have I found? Certainly that there is love and support in the world that you may overlook when you are tightly enmeshed in your own self-sufficient, small cocoon. Possibilities for growth and new directions are there when you need them enough to seek them out.
The final couplet of that Shakespeare sonnet is:
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Those lines haunted me as Don was dying. Mortality is certainly something we all know about. Still, we come, at certain moments in our lives, to know mortality more acutely, more directly. So it was for us when the surgeon said: “The surgery was entirely successful; he has fourteen months to live.” For fourteen months, we lived with that life-sentence hanging over our every minute. And it was true . . . those moments became more precious because we knew that they were few, that they would soon be gone.
And if there is something positive to be wrested from this ordeal, it is that sense of mortality that gives meaning and savor to life. It is because it is fleeting that life is so very precious; it is because it is finite that we have to use it well. And, in the end, it is love which is the enduring, transforming action. Love emerges as the stave against obliteration, the defense against loss.
In her online column, Heart Advice, the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has some advice that can be applied here. She says:
YOU HAVE A CHOICE
If you have embarked on this journey of self-reflection, you may be at a place that everyone, sooner or later, experiences on the spiritual path. After a while it seems like almost every moment of your life you’re there, where you realize you have a choice. You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or let go, whether to harden or soften, whether to hold your seat or strike out. That choice is presented to you again and again and again.
In my words: We can always recalculate.
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