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My Table Is Spread

Around the deathbed and the birth bed

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On Dec. 21, my mother died. On Jan. 21, my granddaughter was born.

As my mother lay dying, my children came to say goodbye to their grandmother, the woman they knew as Atoo. For most of her last few days, mother did not open her eyes or speak. We kept vigil. On Monday afternoon, I turned to my older son, who is a physician, and asked him, “Why can’t she open her eyes?”

My, yours, ours: a prayer out of balance

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Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

I’ve played with the font -- “my sacrifice and yours” -- and tinkered with the punctuation -- “my sacrifice, and yours” -- and still the words jar, like a mathematical equation in which the two parts are uneven, and, so, forever out of balance.

A new meaning for the manger

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In my memory, the Arnett aunts, my grandmother's sisters, are all dressed in pastels -- suits with jeweled pins on the collars -- and wearing hats and kid gloves. A patent leather handbag hangs over each aunt's arm.

There was a rhythm to the attire (suits, hats, gloves, nylons, heels for Sundays and family gatherings) and to the conversation. My father would always inquire after their health.

We laugh because we know who we are

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“The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked.” -- Thomas More

Dictators run some countries, and dictators run some families. Dictators can even be found running some churches. What the tyrants have in common is a hatred of the sound of laughter. Rather than indulge in laughter, they indulge in what G.K. Chesterton calls “the anger of the idle kings.”

Someone is always unhappy with the music

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Music is the lit dynamite of liturgical debates. It is the struck match in a parched field; the gasoline-soaked rag stuffed in a bottle and tossed, flaming, into the crowd. Music is a marker: “Thee’s to the right; You’s to the left. Please, no talking.”

I once walked into the Bishop DeFalco Retreat Center in Amarillo, Texas, and paused at the sign prohibiting firearms. I looked around for the other sign directing me to the hymnody conference.

Broken promises, love and long nights

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Sometime in the last two months, my mother stopped sleeping at night. The hospice nurses called it “sundowning.” My sister-in-law, who had just moved her father into a locked memory care unit, called it “dementia’s 36-hour day.”

Imagine a 100-pound newborn, her days and nights mixed up. Now imagine that the newborn has osteoarthritis and the faint beginnings of pressure sores along her protruding spine and skin the thickness and strength of moistened tissue paper. This is a baby who can neither be swaddled nor soothed.

From Italian to Latin, words on wall say what need not be said

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Some years ago, my husband and I visited a Norbertine Abbey in Belgium. The abbot's chair looked like a throne. But just across from the chair, on a wall the abbot faced every day, was a carved skull. Underneath the skull the name of each former abbot was carved into the stone, with space left for the current abbot's name and for the names of those yet to be appointed abbot. Memento mori. (That's Latin for "Don't take this seat personally.")

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