too soon old, too late smart?

Under his white cassock, the good-looking young priest is wearing sneakers and jeans. I can see them peeking out from underneath the garment’s neat hem. The inside of the 110 year-old ornate church of my childhood is colder than this winter morning in the urban outside. The seat of the wooden pew is freezing my butt.

The church’s boiler has stopped working, and all through the service periodic clangings continue to irreverently punctuate the “words of the Lord.”

I am sitting in the exact spot in which I sat almost exactly a month ago. That was for my mother’s funeral service. This time it’s for my aunt’s (the wife of my father’s brother). They say that death comes in threes. I wonder if my 87 year-old aunt sitting to my left will be the third. I hope, instead, what will count is my dead desktop computer, which, at the moment is awaiting a possible resurrection on the repair desk of my most trusted geek. These are things over which I have no control.

I only go back to my home town for weddings and funerals, all of which include rituals celebrated in this spectacularly vaulted nave that is bordered by detailed mosaic depictions of the Stations of the Cross, above which large elaborate stained glass windows tell the rest of the story. The aesthetics of the church inspires awe, even without the faith that sustains it.

Neither my cousin nor I join in the line to receive Holy Communion. It has been decades since either one of us believed and practiced what we had been so carefully taught during our 13 years of Catholic schooling. When we sit around the table hours after her mother’s burial, my cousin and I and dredge up shared memories of some of our more innocent times — the May processions in which we tossed rose petals as we walked down the aisle (“one, two, three, this is for you, Baby Jesus…”) My mind slips away to the less innocent scenes from the movie “The Polish Wedding.”

We spend hours sitting around that table — my cousin and I and our remaining paternal aunt and uncle — sharing family stories and attitudes that had somehow eluded me during the 17 years I lived in the bosom of a clan that had, apparently, quickly separated into two camps — the “laws” and the “in-laws,” although which was which depended on whose perspective one adopted.

The story that surprises me most is one associated with the version my mother told of a seminal event in my life about which I once wrote a poem. In my mother’s version, her mother saved my young life; in the “in-law” version, my other grandmother believed that my mother was withholding medical treatment for me in favor of “leeches.” I see now that it became a stand-off between two matriarchs, and family relationships through the generations suffered as a result.

While it was my mother’s side of the family that I came to know best, it was an aunt on my father’s side who most impressed me, even though I only knew her for a very short while in my pre-teens.

Eleanor married my Uncle John, to the chagrin of my paternal grandmother. Eleanor was a free spirit, odd and artsy and strikingly beautiful. She had her kitchen ceiling painted red, she started to teach me how to sketch faces, and she sewed me a lavish ruffled robe that I wore until I could no longer button it across my chest. Suddenly (or so it seemed to me) she and my uncle were gone — moved out of state, out of touch.

And, in our post-funeral table conversation with my relatives from that side of the family, I learn just how strict my paternal grandmother was, refusing to accept her non-conformist daughter-in-law and leaving the couple with little alternative but to create a life for themselves apart from family expectations. I begin to understand the difficulties that my mother had in fulfilling her daughter-in-law role.

Eleanor and John had children — five, I think. I have never met them or been in touch with them. My cousin has but lost track of their lives long ago.

We have been a family burdened with expectations, and both my cousin and I acknowledge (with some private pride) that we opted not to meet a select number of them.

We are the matriarchs, now — much different in attitudes and expectations from our foremothers.

At least we hope so.

The Deathwatch Diary (Four)

Atheist though I am, I still marvel at the awesomeness of synchronicities.

All afternoon today, as I cried and blogged and cursed, and my brother argued, and my mother lay still and panting in her hospital bed, the fat gull flew and strutted around the roof outside my mother’s window, screeching, The sound was like fingernails on a blackboard. There was no ignoring it.
So, I googled “seagull totem” and found this, which I share here:

Spiritual Messengers

Sea Gulls are messengers from the gods, especially ancient Celtic deities.

They bridge the gap between the living world and the spirit world.

Opening yourself to their energy enables you to communicate with the other side.

Sea Gull can also give you the ability to soar above your problems

and see things from above. Seeing all the different viewpoints.

Better than any fortune cookie.

And then, went I went outside to get another book from my car, I found the item in the photo below in my book bag, and I hung it on the rack on my mother’s bed that is supposed to hold IV bags.

It’s the talking stick that I and my five women friends jointly and ritually made from a root, stones, feathers, ribbon, yarn, thread, spangles, and even a golf tee. Crone magic of a very special kind.

My daughter chants to set my mother’s spirit free. And I embrace roots and wings for my own spiritual sustenance.

Such everyday magic, these synchronicities.

I hereby officially quit Catholicism

According to this site, it is possible to officially quit being a Catholic, despite the fact that Catholics believe there is an indelible mark put on your soul at baptism that identifies you forever as such so that the hereafter knows what to do with you when you get there. Apparently, you just need to make a formal and official statement, called the Actus Formalis Defectionis Ab Ecclesia Catholica, and you will be taken off the list of identified Catholics kept by — hmm. Whom, I wonder?

I just found out about that statement from here, which led me to the official wording of the document here.

I have to admit that it’s hard to totally shake the programming of 13 years of a Catholic education. For example, although I shed the confines of Catholic doctrine decades ago, I still won’t allow myself to put that wafer in my mouth, even though I have since been to many wedding and funeral masses (that’s the only time I go; and only for relatives). I was indoctrinated (through horrific stories of the wafer oozing blood into the recipient’s heathen mouth) with the fundamental feeling that it is a terrible sacrilege for a non-Catholic to receive communion. I don’t know if I sit out the communion line because I refuse to be a hypocrite or because it just doesn’t feel right to go against that old rote rule.

However, having come upon an official way to sever that denominational tie (if not erase that indelible soul mark), I feel that it is time to do just that. So here is my Actus Formalis Defectionis Ab Ecclesia Catholica:


I ___Elaine of Kalilily__, do hereby give formal notice of my defection from the Roman Catholic Church. I want it to be known that I no longer wish to be regarded as a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

I further declare that I am aware of the consequences of this act regarding the reception of the sacraments of the Church, including the sacraments of the Eucharist, marriage and the sick and also with regard to burial.

I undertake to make this decision known to my next of kin and to ensure that they are aware of these circumstances in the case of my being incapacitated.

I acknowledge that I make this declaration under solemn oath, being of sound mind and body, and in the presence of a witness who can testify as to the validity of this document.

Signed:___Elaine of Kalilily______________________ Address:___www.kalilily.net______________________

Witness:____the readers of kalilily.net_____________
Address:____the world-wide web___________________________

Date:____October 23, 2010______________

Now, the instructions say that:

With the above Form, you should include a letter with the following PRINTED information:
Your name,
Your full address,
The name under which you were baptised if married since,
The date of your baptism,
The parish Church of your baptism,
Your date of birth,
The name of your parents, and
The name of your godparents.

Of course I’m not going to put all that information out in public here, but if the ecclesiastic official who needs that information emails me (link to above “About” for address), I will be glad to send him those specifics. (I can use the male pronoun without question here, since we know that, in Catholicism, only males can be ecclesiastic officials.)

While I probably should have been excommunicated a long time ago, given I never got married in a church and then got divorced anyway — and I have proclaimed heresy any number of times and ways — somehow making it official makes it feel like it’s finally official.

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! I am vocally and officially coming out as a big

Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seem to me to be empty and devoid of meaning.
— Albert Einstein

What have been [Christianity’s] fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.
— James Madison

The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes; fools and hypocrites. To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.
— Thomas Jefferson

Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.
— George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 726]

(go here for some of the above quotes and more that show the intent of the founding fathers to ensure both freedom of religion and freedom from religion.)

ADDENDUM: Somehow it seems even more appropriate to post this today, Creation Day!

…the date that James Ussher, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, determined to be the very first day of creation in 4004 BCE. That makes the world 6013 years old today, in his chronology (if you’re adding it up at home, remember that there is no year 0).

Keep in mind that you now have excuses to party almost all week. Tomorrow, you should celebrate the creation of heaven and Space Water. You knew the earth was a floaty in a watery universe, right? I think the appropriate celebration is to drink.

Monday, you can celebrate Oceans and Plants day. Garden or go to the shore. And drink.

Tuesday is Moon Day. It’s also Sun Day. It took god a few days, but he finally got around to creating the celestial bodies. This should be a day sacred to werewolves and anathema to vampires. Celebrate by voting for Team Jacob. And drinking.

Wednesday is birds and fish day. This is a day of sorrow, because all the cephalopods will be weeping at their neglect — they don’t even get a mention in the book, except for a later declaration that they are generically unclean. Either that or the clueless idjits who wrote the book considered squid to be fish, which is highly offensive. Celebrate by contemplating cephalopods and raising many toasts to them.

Read more here.

how not to be eaten by a crocodile

TGB led me to the Cheerful Monk, where I also found these statements and the inspiration to try to finish the beautiful Spring sweater I’m working on.

The people of the tribe believed that when they died they would be called before their god Isis and be asked two questions: “Have you found joy in life? Have you brought joy to others?” If they could answer yes to both questions, they would be rewarded with eternal bliss. If they had to answer no to either question, they would be eaten by a crocodile.


Stay curious and open to life. No matter what happens keep learning and growing. Find what you love to do and find a way to share it with others.

So, today, a nice early Spring day, I will take a walk in the sunshine, play with my grandson, and finish my sweater. All with joy. After all, I don’t want to be eaten by a crocodile.

Some Dissident Praise for Kalilily

The following is why blogging keeps me blogging.

I got an email today from a Dr. Lilian Friedberg which said:

Hello Elaine,
I recently discovered your website, and was so delighted (and sincerely impressed with very good content) that I mention it in my most recent column, “Voices of the Peoples” at the ClarkPost. Here is the URL, this month’s column is called and includes a paragraph or two about your site: The Death of Democracy in America: The Foundering Fathers and the White Roots of Peace

I do hope you’ll understand my discussion of your site in the appreciative and playful spirit it is intended. It is a wonderful place to visit.

Another dissenting Crone,
Lilian Friedberg, PhD
Cognitive Dissident

Dr. Friedberg’s piece is long but worth reading for the well-researched perspective she gives not only on the death of democracy in America, but also on its origins and the misconceptions most people have about its development.

Of course, to me, the best parts are what she says about Kalilily, which I post here with a big dissident smile on my face:

To my cognitively dissonant delight—one ray of inspiration did appear on an otherwise dim string of search results which led me to the weblog of Elaine of Kalilily, Self-Proclaimed Resident Crone of Blogdom, who also describes herself as a “True Blue American,” and whose blog entry for November 5, 2004, “My Blue America,” glimmers with subtly placed signs of hope. The real gems are buried in the links she supplies: truths debunking myths of Puritans fleeing religious persecution only to export it to the colonies in the form of domestic tyranny abroad, truths about witch-burnings, and about the foundational principle of genocide underlying the birth of this nation—on a link that’s worth singling out here, since it’s rather cleverly cached behind a hyperlinked reference to the military that benignly obscures the page’s content.
Genocide and The American Indian Peoples

Nor did I leave Kalilily’s site without finding the scoop I was looking for on the founding fathers, in particular as they relate to the third part of this essay, The White Roots of Peace—but we’ll return to that in a moment.

Emoticons cannot express my response to the quality and truth content of these treasures on a site that looked, at first blue blush, to be an exercise in kitsch- and cupcake-artistry. Just goes to show, never judge a blog by its clip art.
About the time I hit the genocide link, I went back and, with a quizzed “who-the-hell-is-this-person” look, and clicked on the “ABOUT ME” link. Voila!: My faith in the American people restored. At the risk of offending the self-proclaimed Crone of blogdom, I must admit what first came to mind: “Well, I’ll be damned,” I thought, “it’s just a little old retired grandma sitting there raising hell at the keyboard!” (That wouldn’t be an altogether fair assessment of a rather accomplished career woman and crafty writer who truly has earned her Crone-Coronation, so I invite the reader read site the rest of the story, which includes a great pic of the author.
Rest of the Story

And it was on Elaine of Kalilily’s site that I found one of the spokes in the wheel I was hoping to “uninvent.”

The people of the Six Nations, also known by the French term, Iroquois Confederacy, call themselves the Hau de no sau nee (ho dee noe sho nee) meaning People Building a Long House. Located in the northeastern region of North America, originally the Six Nations was five and included the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. The sixth nation, the Tuscaroras, migrated into Iroquois country in the early eighteenth century. Together these peoples comprise the oldest living participatory democracy on earth. Their story, and governance truly based on the consent of the governed, contains a great deal of life-promoting intelligence for those of us not familiar with this area of American history. The original United States representative democracy, fashioned by such central authors as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, drew much inspiration from this confederacy of nations. In our present day, we can benefit immensely, in our quest to establish anew a government truly dedicated to all life’s liberty and happiness much as has been practiced by the Six Nations for over 800 hundred years.
The Six Nations and the Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth.

[UPDATE: After contemplating the Dr.’s reference to “cupcake artistry,” I decided to clean up my kitsch and make my site look more the way it did when I started — not so clip-arty. Less is more, right?]
And so, on this second day of a new year, with a week facing me probably filled with rounds of doctor’s visits trying to figure out what’s going on with my mom’s swollen lips and with trying to get ready to go out and stay with my daughter later in the month while she recuperates from some surgery (now, that I don’t mind doing because I get to be with my toddler grandson) — as I sit here feeling sorry for myself for missing what’s supposed to be my Golden Years — I get the message. Thank you, Dr. Friedberg.
Blogging keeps me going. Keeps me golden. At least it keeps my brain from getting too tarnished.
Much of my original interest in the the legacies left to this country by the Six Nations was stirred up while I worked in the New York State Museum, where the histories of the Hau de no sau nee are preserved and revered. It was there I learned about the status and influence that women, especially older women, held in those Native American communities. Among all of the important democractic legacies of the Six Nations that our American system has discarded is the fundamental role of the Clan Mother, the Crone. Dr. Friedberg explores those legacies in her “Death of Democracy” article.
If you want to read more of what Dr. Friedberg, my newly discovered “sister-in-croney-dissidence.” writes, check out the following:
Election Results Challenge Our Faith in America and Its People
An Open Letter to the NYT (and by Implication) the Rest of the US Media Who Are Trying to Whitewash the Election Scandal
Worse than Watergate? Yep. Worse Yet. Worse than Hitler
I Love the Smell of Cold Turkey in the Morning: A Week in the Life of

God Bless America! Letters from the Heartland: Open Letters to George W. Bush October 14 – Nov 3, 2004
And, speaking of “golden,” I thought these were supposed to be my Golden Years. Right.
Great op ed piece in my local paper today by Silvio Laccetti, a professor who wrote the piece for the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. I can’t seem to find it anywhere else on the web, at least not yet.
Here are just some excerpts from “A Sandwich Generation Reaches Its Golden Years:”
We are the smallest generation. Once called the silent generation, we are the pivotal generation of the last 60 years. We are the rock ‘n’ roll generation, born from 1940 through 1945. My generation. This New Year, 2005, the first of our number arrives at the golden age of 65.
Sandwiched between the greatest generation and the baby boomers, we occupy our own high place in America’s social history. We have served as foundation builders in key areas of American life, and we have cemented the social structure of the last 35 years. Our generation is recognized by many names.
Of course, as the rock ‘n’ roll generation, we discovered and popularized the music that radically changed popular culture. In the early ’50s, proto-rock ‘n’ rollers found the moondog music of black artists on obscure R&B stations. “Rock” became a cultural attitude, infusing the arts, theater and even politics. We were the first modern generation of rebels, albeit rebels without a cause. We said rock ‘n’ roll would never die and, for better or worse, it hasn’t.
Clearly, my generation is also the atomic generation, closely identified with the 1950s and their epochal changes. Domestic joy and tranquillity contrasted with apocalyptic visions of annihilation.

Because we passed through so many mini-revolutions, we were also the cement that binds much of our society together. We went from the 78 rpm record to the DVD recorder disc, from the typewriter to the Palm Pilot.
Forty years later, it’s 2005 and most of us are staying alive (oops). Thanks to new attitudes toward seniors and second careers, and with continued help from medical advances, we remain an undeniable part of America’s future. As veterans of four decades of change in which America became the sole world superpower we still have much to contribute. We will not fade away.
Yup. There’s a dance in the ol’ dame yet.

The Crone Evolution.

These are my two grandmothers in the mid-1940s, when they were a few years younger than I am now.

That’s my mother’s mother on the left — the small, straight-backed, serious woman — the one who saved my life with her Old World medicine magic (see poem below).

My father’s mother is bigger, softer-looking, but was no less strong. She remembered growing up in Sklody, Poland, admiring her third cousin, who became the famous Madame Marie Curie. Strong women, all.

But how old they look to me now, even though, today, I am older than they are in that photo. Life was hard for them — very serious business, with five kids each and hard-working blue-collared husbands. They cooked well, cleaned well, and passed along to me their matriarchal genes — the blessings and curse of my crone heritage.

On this day of memory, I remember my grandmothers.

Cyganka! My grandmother shouted
as I bounded off the front stoop
onto the wet city street,
propelled by the promise of stolen kisses
and the musky taste of Tangee
still slick on my lips.

Gypsy! Even the word
brought blood rushing
to the pit of my stomach.
How I wished for the wild hair,
dark eyes, skin like old copper,
for the freedom to gleam
like crystal when I walk,
for a wisdom ancient as the land,
as the sweep of continents,
the shriek of willful wind
through openings in stones.

Cyganka! She hurled it
like an epithet,
but I role it like a broom
over landscapes grown deaf to her fears.

She named me true, my Polish grandmother
— a small strong-handed woman
with gypsy fire in her voice
and a back turned straight
against truths too bold to hold.

Yet, they tell me once,
as I lay young and dying
lungs rattling with rifts of air,
fever lighting my face to flame,
(the doctor came and went,
scowling at the earth) —
in the draped and stifling room,
she unfolded her family secrets:
holy candles, crystal cups,
vials of spirits, leeches, as
my mother watched from shadow,
willing demons away with her eyes.

They tell me when the priest arrived,
surprised to find the child alive,
he never commended on the faint red circles
following the tender length of spine,
or the sprinkling of blood marks
along the back, like the bites
of mythic bats or the denounced
touches of wizened old wives.

And so I keep signs
of these grandmothers, still
–in fragrant herbs sprinkled in tea,
in shells and stones arranged on shelves,
in faint red circles, drawn in firelight.

Cyganka! I call to my daughter,
offering gifts of crystals
that fire the sky
where she walks.
(copyright EF 1980)