Saturday, January 1, 2005

Round the World and Home Again

That's the sailor's way.

Happy New Year! We had a nine o'clock New Year's last night for Tommy and Chrsitian with noise makers and auld lang syne, and then afterward, two rousing Scrabble games, while Sam played Halo 2, and then we watched while Anderson Cooper reminded us that this is already a new year tinged with tragedy.

"Am I supposed to like him?" I asked.

"He's Gloria Vanderbilt's son," Tom told me, "So he wasn't raised to be snubbed by you."

"I'm having the same reaction, Jen," Dereck said.

"He's very good looking," I noted, "And I think that is why I don't know what to think."

We are having a leisurely departure from the farm this morning, by design. This morning before I got up, Roy the bull calf got out of his pasture and was grazing outside the kitchen window. Tom and Joyce said that because of all the work I've done with him this week, getting him back into his pasture only took a pan of grain and a little gentle persuasion.

We want to go out this morning and say goodbye to our farm animal friends, and the new chickens, fourteen two-month-old hens, who managed to kick the rooster soundly out of their pen last night.

Last night, Dereck and I went to Vespers at St. Tikhon's Monastery, and I confess to a little too much looking around me and not enough spirituality. There were some women with lace head kerchiefs on, which surprised me. If you ever get the chance to see the inside of a big Orthodox Christian church, do it. It is unimaginably beautiful, covered with icons, huge icons on the walls, gold brocade, beautiful hanging lamps in red and gold. I really do think, though, that the monks would have scared the children half to death-- they look like dementors-- though there were some very small children there and they were not scared. Apparently, you can move freely about the church during the service, kissing icons and looking around, as one young mother did with her young children, holding her young son's right hand to make the sign of the cross. I went up for a blessing and the priest told me rather gruffly to "Get your head up!" which I did not find very friendly, and I was sad that I couldn't pass for knowing what I was doing. At the end of the service, the priest walked around to everyone with his hand held out for everyone to kiss, except to us, with whom he simply shook hands.

The monks wear these looooong black gowns, which are fitted on top, and up close, you can see there are also thin black vests, and then they go down to the tops of their black shoes. They also have these cool hats: they look like someone took an empty cool whip container, flipped it upside down, covered it in black cloth, and then put a long black veil on the back, so when the monks wear them, only their faces are showing-- the hats cover everything else, hence, from a distance, the dementor effect.

It exceeded spooky church. I told Dereck, "The amazing thing is, they do this every day." But more than impressing me, it made me think of how much money it must cost to have that chapel, those candles, the oil for the lamps, the electricity, for the sparse number of monks they have there. Tom and Joyce said that there are also seminary students there, which would explain the monks without hats, and some of the women with the kerchiefs would be their wives. Orthodox priests are allowed to marry, but their wives are along for the ride from the beginning, and must commit to all of it, too.

All told, I preferred the homey little Orthodox church in Columbia, which was more intimate and nobody had kerchiefs or looked like dementors, and it was not so ornate as to distract you from what you are there for.

Some of the chanting yesterday was also distracting-- they were going on and on about St. Basil and Christ's circumcision, again and again, and one monk then chanted very very fast and repeatedly, "Lord have mercy," to the point that I almost wanted to laugh and Dereck said, "That phrase now has no meaning for me."

But the thing is, for all of my lightheartedness, it is the kind of thing I could become accustomed to, and so what is your natural reaction when you are overwhelmed by something or do not understand it? To poke a little fun. At least, that seems to be mine.

Alas and alack, it is time to pry myself from the computer and finish packing the car, shower quickly, and make our goodbyes.

None of us want to go-- this has been its own little retreat of sorts, the kind of retreat made of the healing effects of exertion, purpose, reflection, good company, rest, and peace.

It's a very good kind of life.

Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa D, for an unforgettable Christmas. Tom, be sure to write that story about Harry and the airplane on your blog.

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