Darn Technology

Well, at long last, my website and email are up and running again. For the past three weeks or so we were experiencing some maddening technical glitches, but it looks like things are working again. If you contacted me in that time and did not receive a response, it wasn’t because I was ignoring you, be assured, but because your email was lost in cyberspace.

Stay tuned—finally I am able to post a blog on my trip to Nahant!


A Year Ago

A year ago today, I was sore. It was hot; the sky was blank. I was in Spain.

On May 15th, the dirt road before me was a bold orange hue (like nacho dust, I remember thinking), and the forest on either side housed pines and bushes rife with tiny violet blooms. Mile after mile, I walked through that nacho dust, separated from my companions, alone with my thoughts and a God who was as quiet as myself that day.

It does not feel as if a year has passed since I walked El Camino de Santiago. Not at all.

Yesterday I gathered with friends to sip Spanish wine, eat a little prosciutto and gazpacho and sweet Tarta de Santiago—a foretaste of what is to come for those islanders who are soon to fly across the Atlantic to Europe. Yes, soon they will walk the paths my own feet tread. I ache to see again what they will see—roses crawling up a lonely stone shed, golden eagles gliding through the fog, vast cobblestone plazas, cathedrals that carry one’s voice to Heaven, cropland spattered with poppies, an ancient fortress on a hilltop, pilgrims from across the globe laughing together at table, misty cherry orchards, faces wizened by the Spanish sun, mountains as blue as the sea—for my heart has yet to let the beauty fade from memory. I cannot forget, because to forget would hurt more than it does to remember.

A year later, I find myself on Prince Edward Island, no longer sore, but impacted forever by the pilgrimage that drew me nearly 500 miles across Spain. Indeed, I do not believe I would be here on this island if I had not first been to Spain. As I have shared before, along the way to Santiago I befriended a seminarian from Boston who later bid farewell with the invitation to visit him in his beloved city by the sea. I accepted. While there, I stayed with his friends—a family that is crazy with contagious joy—and by the time my visit was through, I had discerned to return to live with them. It was to be my first experience as a family missionary. Three months later, I discovered I had gained the courage to respond to God’s prompting to come to this island of red soil and live with a new family.

Next week I will again be on American soil. Almost to the day we met, I will witness my dear brother in Christ become a priest for the Kingdom. I think, somehow, we are still pilgrimaging together.

They say no one walks the Camino by accident. I believe it. And so I eagerly await the stories my friends will bear home, knowing that what is inscribed upon the heart by El Camino de Santiago cannot be forgotten.

Remembering Mother

I’ve met many mothers on my travels. Quietly, I am learning, pondering their words and their ways in my heart—and I am piecing together the kind of mother I want to be one day. Funny, but the more fragments I gather, I am beginning to realize that the image materializing is my own mother.

Yes, you, Mother-Mine.

I remember your fingers running through my hair, scrubbing shampoo into my scalp or fixing my long, brushed tresses into a ponytail. And while I no longer need those fingers to work through my tangles, your ladylike nails still give darn good back scratches.

Do you remember the garlicky fragrance of kielbasa in the basement? I think the only thing that surmounted our incredulity that you would let us use an electric frying pan in our bedroom was our glowing pride to have such a mother—one who often says yes when others would not. (And because you also said yes to candles, you should know we had a lovely candlelit dinner featuring European sausage, fried puffed rice, and grape-juice wine.)

I remember waking up to discover, laid out in the living room, what treasures you had plumbed from the depths of Value Village for your girls. Treasures like new aprons and peasant-like skirts to wear out into the fields, or a wooden dish to hold whatever food you let us steal from the kitchen.

I can’t remember every silly song you sang us as toddlers, but when I do hear one, I can’t help but grin to remember those three speckled frogs sitting on a log, eating the most delicious bugs.

Do you remember our sandy feet on your white coverlet from Cracker Barrel? An annoyance, I will agree, but those sandy feet were emblems to our days spent at the Gulf of Mexico, collecting shells and sea combs, days you carefully tucked into Dad’s concert tours.

I remember Grandma saying presentation counts, and I finally appreciate that she passed that conviction on to you. Potatoes aren’t served in the big silver pot but in a pottery dish, because it’s not only about getting people fed, it’s about enjoying something beautiful together. And for that, I’ve always loved preparing meals with you, from Sunday supper to sautéed shrimp after Christmas Eve Mass. I think that is why our festivities are a joyful time, not a stressful time—because you’ve taught us how to make food preparation a gift of love wrapped with artistic flair.

Gifts—yes, you’ve never given a gift that didn’t say, “I thought this through for you.” Do you remember Shenanigan, the Beanie Baby Leprechaun? In the store, when she caught my eye and I begged to have her, you wondered aloud why I didn’t want the one with curly golden hair—but no, I insisted upon the one with grass-green hair that stood straight up. And even though you thought she was unappealing, it was Shenanigan that I found folded inside wrapping paper that Christmas.

I cannot count them, but my heart remembers your every kiss—not just because they leave lipstick marks, but because they are not squandered, like your hugs, like your I love you’s. Just enough sunlight to let that flower grow, but never too much to scorch it.

Not that I haven’t felt your dragon’s breath. Do you remember yanking our ears? I can’t say I appreciated it in the moment, but I appreciate it now—because it taught us to sit like angels in Mass, to stay on our chairs at the table, to come when we were called. I still sit like an angel in Mass, stay on my chair at the table, and I am learning to come when God calls.

I remember the sounds you made at your babies. I find myself making them now at other mother’s babies, and I can’t wait make to be making those sounds at my own babies. They may not make much sense to anyone else, but they are a language conceived from love overflowing.

Do you remember my anger, my tears, my occasional foot stomp when I could not figure out my horse and would not listen to your encouragement? But you never gave up on me. I don’t think Islander would be mine if you hadn’t believed I could tame his feral heart. And I did tame him . . . but I don’t think it was so much me who did it as it was you.

I think everyone who has visited the Malletts remembers the home you’ve created, no matter the house we’ve lived in—and we’ve lived in many, haven’t we? (I blame my nomadic heart on you and Abba.) I know it is a home that is warm and inviting and safe, because even strangers will take the tea poured them and sit themselves on the couch and draw their legs up as if it is their home too.

Do you remember telling me not to fly to Madonna House, or walk the Camino, or live on Nahant, or leave for half a year to live far away in the east? Of course you don’t remember. You were never anything but enthusiastic.

I remember your tears as Tianna pulled the curtain back and you saw her standing there on the pedestal in a wedding dress, an elegant bride-to-be. It was beautiful, because it revealed a heart that is as tender today as when Ti-Bird was your little buck-toothed kid. Maybe someday I’ll be in the same place as she: Peester, your little pooky-eared kid in a wedding dress.

Do you remember accepting my every apology? I do.

I remember that most.

Yes, Mother-Mine, I want to be a mother like you—forgiving, spontaneous, generous, laid-back, strong, patient, passionate, thoughtful, unwaveringly supportive—because though no mother is perfect, a rare few are close to it.

A Spring Wells

Somewhere in the mountain a spring wells, somewhere so deep in the mountain that I once believed I was pure rock. When others cried, I could not, even when I wanted to. But then one day, You opened a fissure in the mountain, and the spring overflowed. And I realized my heart was placed so deep in the mountain because, when released, it is a tumultuous thing. And it hurts, this crashing down the mountainside. You knew this, O Beloved, knew how easily my heart could be wounded—and the mountain was protection. But then the time came for the spring to water the fields below, no matter the cost.

Down, down, down the mountainside. My heart sinks into the waiting earth and nurtures the seeds planted by You; who but You knows what beautiful flowers will arise and unfold beneath the sunlight?

Always now, the spring is overflowing, sometimes only as a trickle, sometimes as a torrent, but always I feel. Yes, always now feel.

Into the Trees

Well, it’s snowing. I suggested we begin the season over again and celebrate Christmas this upcoming weekend, but my idea was soundly kiboshed. We will continue to endure wintry weather—without gingerbread and eggnog.

It is an exasperating thing to find the flurries enchanting, even as I wish they would melt before touching ground. But they aren’t melting. In truth, the spiky green weeds I tread upon this Sunday—then free from snow to pop their little heads into the world—are no longer visible. Still, I will grant that the acres surrounding the house remain a beautiful getaway. Two days past I went further than I ever had before. Led by the eldest boy, defying the doleful sky above and the nip in the air, I journeyed into the trees.

Beyond the brook, only a humble trickle now, is the hardwood, where the maples and the evergreens grow close as if to comfort each other there in the place where wild animals leave their prints. And yet we saw no fox, no coyote, no rabbit dashing over fallen, rotting logs. No birds even to ease the silence. Only our voices and our footsteps, the latter sometimes sinking deeper than our boots allowed.

Redder than the dirt on this island were the fragmenting innards that spilled from a stump, and pale as lemon slices were the leaves that clung resolutely to a sapling. I paused now and then to touch the warped limb of a tree, wondering what made it grow so, loving the emerald moss that ages even the youngest tree. The boy and I appreciated those glades among the tallest trees that would shelter a tent and campfire quite nicely, dreaming of the summer that may never come.

Oh, I shouldn’t write such things. I hold high hopes that this spring will restore its pride and overcome this cold streak. Into the trees I will soon return—but to cross a wider brook. And eventually to pick the lovely Lady’s Slipper. That’s the plan anyway.

Soft Touch

When the little one yanked her older sister’s hair, I pulled her away, chiding, “No, you can’t do that.” Baby crumpled to the carpet in tears, utterly devastated. I let her be, but she continued to sob. Finally, I gathered her into my arms and stepped outside onto the veranda. Instantly, she quieted, but she continued to shudder every few moments with those hiccups that mean the child has indeed been utterly devastated. With her head resting against my shoulder, we were quiet together. I did not stroke her hair or coo soothing words—I simply swayed gently from side to side. This little one, who is rarely still long enough to be cuddled, did not push away or straighten her body.

In the ebbing sunlight, I experienced the power of the maternal heart—that soft touch that no man can give quite like a woman can. Baby is not my own, not flesh of my flesh, but in that moment, I could almost believe she was.

After a few minutes, I walked to the edge of the veranda, sat, and held her in my lap. We gazed out at the woods, the dimpled snow, the ravens that flapped above the treetops to flash their wings against the pale blue sky. Still, I made no sound. And she too remained quiet, dark lashes blinking, blinking, as she looked about, taking in the melting world. Bare toes warmed by the sun, she leaned against my arms, studying the water drip-dripping from the downspout into the flattened grass below our feet.

Eventually she rose from my lap and toddled to the weathered steps where we again sat, only this time to chuck crystalline snow as far as we could (not far), our fingers turning red. If a robin whipped by, or a raven cried from the highest branch, we paused to study it. A breeze did not stir. But the draw toward motherhood was indeed stirring in my soul.

Often I feel wholly inadequate to give what a child needs . . . but it is in those moments that, if I acknowledge my inadequacy and surrender, He who knows the childlike heart best rises up in me—and I am able to give what I don’t have. I can cradle with His arms. Yes, I think that must be how a parent loves, day after day, year after year.

I pray I will one day find myself sitting on my own veranda, contemplating simple beauty with my little one.

Crushing Weight

After observing the debate between the Catholic and the atheist at the university, I returned home—only to discover that I was locked from the house, my hosts off to attend a celebration. A little smile crept onto my face, and I found myself crawling into the truck’s bed and then onto its rain-sprinkled roof. I laid back and crossed my ankles. Above was the night sky, thick with clouds, but I sensed the galaxies beyond the veil.

I thought about the atheist and his belief that the universe did not come from God, and I felt the emptiness in that—I felt how crushing the weight of the universe could be without a God to explain its purpose. Why this world? Why us if not Him? Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes.

Around me the woods were melting, releasing the tangy fragrance of the pines. Every tree begins with a seed. Indeed, everything natural begins with something—this we have observed. Every creature has a father and a mother. Every landslide begins with one stone shifting. Every effect has a cause, and this pattern can be traced back into infinity. But infinity itself has no cause by definition, thus rendering it unnatural—or rather, supernatural. What is infinity, then, but existence sustained by He who is eternal?

I think the atheist must have a comeback, but in the end . . . what cannot be disputed is that innate desire in every human heart to be satisfied, to be fulfilled. Why? I’m thinking it’s because that desire was placed there by God, to be satisfied by God, who is supernatural.

Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

who was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. 


A Farm to Love

When I stepped into the barn, my eyes began to sting—but it was not from that pungent, earthy smell known to animals, but from that unshakable thing in me that loves the lifestyle that dances with creation. A farm. My heart squeezed when I saw the gray-and-white cat, and I might have cried with happiness were children not gathered about me. Silly me, yes? But, oh, how I love you, cat. And I would sit with you in the straw, sheep and goats, if I were not wearing a dress. May I stroke your silken neck, dear cow? Chickens, I love you less than the others, but I will admit that your clucking and ruffling feathers is something like music (to my ears anyhow).

A farm to love. Milk from a Jersey cow, speckled brown eggs from hens, vegetables from the garden, berries from the woods. A rope swing in the barn, a rocking chair beneath the eaves, a braided rug on creaky walnut-stained floorboards. Ay yi yi, I have the horse, but not the pasture; the blue-and-white dishes, but not the cupboards; the will, but not the means. And so my little place in the country remains a little getaway in my mind.

Not Made for Tea

Is it strange that something in me is a little sad that I no longer must spurn tea, now that Lent is over? Perhaps less strange upon some reflection.

Why do we fast in the first place? It is to sever attachments to other gods, yes, but the heart of fasting is to become more attached to God himself. How is this accomplished by giving up tea, coffee, chocolate, or whatever else? When we sacrifice, we suffer, and when we suffer, we seek consolation. Deprivation craves satiation. When you cannot turn to tea, you must turn to something else, you must turn inward, inward to God.

And I think that explains my sadness—because during Lent my soul drew closer to its Maker. Under His wing, against His breast, I am warm—as I should be always. Which leads me to the point that sacrifices must, absolutely must, extend beyond Lent, or a soul will not draw nearer the Lord. Lent, as a friend told me, is a detox, a time to cleanse one’s system from toxins—afterward you must begin a lifestyle that is “healthy”, otherwise detoxing is without lasting purpose. Sacrifice—suffering—is not optional for the Christian if we wish to be healthy in spirit. Without sacrifice, there is no sanctity. Without sanctity, who are we but of the world? And we were not made for this world but for the next.

I was not made for tea but for Truth.

A Marshmallow Bunny

I wish I had something more profound to write today other than that when I smelled a marshmallow bunny, I was instantly returned to my childhood and nearly cried for homesickness. And I think that that was my cross to carry this Lent: not being with my family. Mistake me not, here on the island is where I am called to be. And the Triduum was beautiful, especially the candlelit vigil in the looming basilica, where I found myself absorbed by the readings that span history—and by the choir that filled the sanctuary with their harmonies. Beautiful too was the cloudless sky Easter Sunday morning, and the joy we shared throughout the day as we played and cooked and ate together. And my hosts were sweet to gift me with my favorite tea (Cream of Earl Grey) and dark chocolate, all I desired in the face of the children’s weighty chocolate bunnies and copious jellybeans. Yes, it was a good Triduum. But it wasn’t home.

And I believe in this homesickness, because I believe in the Resurrection. Every cross, if carried to the end, is rewarded by life everlasting. Would we be Christian if it were otherwise? This is my hope.

Christ is risen.