A Remembrance… and a Revelation of Sorts

September 11, 2011

I still remember precisely where I was when it happened – the morning our world changed forever. I was standing at a table, over by a window in Father Maco Hall (the old cafeteria of the former St. Ann Middle School in New Britain, Connecticut), with several other members of the parish’s Stewardship Committee. We were cutting out brightly colored felt hands and bold lettering for our new banner, destined to hang in the back of the church. It would read, “We are the body of Christ… many hands, one heart.”

As on so many mornings before, we had gathered to work on one project or another after daily Mass; we were all also members of the parish’s Good Shepherd Funeral Choir. All the others were retirees; I was the only 30-something in the bunch, but despite the age difference, these women had become my spiritual sisters and we truly enjoyed one another’s company. That day, we had assembled to work on the banner before the first of two funerals at which we would sing that morning.

Spirits ran high that bright September Tuesday. It was a perfect, glorious day and we were filled with enthusiasm for the project on which we were companionably working. We teased and joked as we worked, enjoying both the creative endeavor and the camaraderie we shared.

“Who’s got the scissors?” one would ask. “Oh, that would be me; I’m hogging them,” another would reply. “Who drew these letters, anyway?” someone else piped up. “That would be Sister Ellen,” a fourth replied, adding, “She did them freehand.” “Wow, she’s really talented…” the chatter continued.

And then it happened.

Mary, one of the women from the parish office, hurried up the five slate-grey stairs to report that a small plane – most likely a single-engine Cessna – had struck one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

I can still see the faces of my friends – Lois, Ann and “Buddy Grace” – as we stared at Mary and then each other. We murmured nearly silent prayers for the safety of those on board the aircraft and those in the building where the little plane had struck… and then we resumed our work – a bit less gaily now, our spirits tempered by the sobering news of what must surely have been a terrible accident.

But then it happened again.

Mary rushed back to the steps – and this time she didn’t even climb the steps to deliver the news. “Another plane just hit the other tower!”

No accident. We dropped our scissors and ran. Down the stairs and across the hard slate floor to the office. Someone rolled in a television set perched atop one of those high, wheeled A/V carts left over from the St. Ann Middle School days (back when I was a 7th grader there) and tuned it to one of the local news channels. It didn’t matter which one; they were all covering the story.

We stood, rooted to the worn carpeting, eyes locked on the awfulness unfolding in ghastly color, as the solemn voice of the anchor – doing his best not to sound frantic – related what he knew.

Just before 9:30, we trooped numbly out of the office and made our way across the street, taking our place in the choir area and prepared to sing hopeful hymns of resurrection, while our hearts were struck with horror at what we’d seen unfolding on the 22-inch screen moments before.

After the funeral, we returned – like lemmings headed seaward – to the office. Sandy and Mary’s stricken faces told us something unspeakably wrong had occurred in our absence. A third plane had struck – its target was the Pentagon. And yet another had gone down, this one somewhere in Pennsylvania. But the news got worse still: Both towers had fallen. We watched in silent shock as footage of the alternately burning and then crumbling towers filled the television screen, again and again. And now the bottom of the television screen was alive with a news crawl, providing snippets of updated news, augmenting the terrible reports the anchor was delivering. Vast, almost incomprehensible, numbers of possible victims: fifty thousand people routinely populated those two buildings on a daily basis. How many had gotten out alive? How many thousands more were perishing within?

Too soon (and yet, in a way, not soon enough) it was time to go back to the church for the 11:00 funeral. I don’t remember whose funeral it was; nor do I recall a thing the priest said… all I can remember was a terrible feeling of cold emptiness. But then, partway through the Mass, as we sang, I felt a warm rush flow through me and a pure, perfect sense of calm settled over me. I don’t know how I knew, but I realized at that second, it was the Holy Spirit offering consolation and peace. It was the greatest source of comfort I felt that day or in the days that followed.

Driving home that afternoon – it was about 1 when I finally left the parish center – it felt strange to be on the road on such a perfectly beautiful day and suddenly feel unsafe. I can’t have been the only one worrying whether a car or truck near me on the highway, in another act of terrorism, might abruptly explode. Here I was, surrounded by cars, and yet I felt so vastly and inexplicably alone.

When I got home, I remember gazing up into the clear blueness of an otherwise perfect Tuesday afternoon and neither seeing nor hearing a single jet. We live almost directly along an air route from New York to Bradley International; it seemed there was always a plane overhead. Until that day. Nothing. Nothing but eerily freakish silence.

That night, needing to reconnect spiritually and mourn the loss of thousands of my countrymen, I rejoined my parish family for a citywide prayer service. Christians and Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus gathered for the 7 p.m. prayer and remembrance event. St. Ann Church was packed so closely, people stood along both side aisles or crammed in the back of the church and surged out into the vestibule. The pastor even opened up the old organ loft to accommodate the overflow. And again, in the midst of that sense of emptiness and loss that enveloped me during the service, I felt that whoosh of peace – that reassurance from the Almighty – that He had everything under control. Right there was where I was meant to be just then – amid fellow Americans of faith, turning to God in a time of unspeakable horror, seeking oneness and peace.

My wish for you this September 11th is that you find that oneness – and that all the world may come to understand that same comfort, consolation and peace – the peace that found me all those years ago.


Not the Write Time?

February 19, 2010

Okay, it’s been two-plus weeks since my surgery; my oncologist would get tremendously upset with me if I were to say, “since he gutted me like a fish,” – because, apparently, it’s self deprecating… so I won’t say that. It’s been fifteen days since my surgery (albeit only four since that teensy weensy oozy setback) and I keep feeling like I ought to be back to writing by now. Except that (yes I know this is a sentence fragment; hey, I’m under the influence of Percocet, leave me alone, okay?) every time I begin to think about writing, I decide it’s time to take another nap.

Well, I guess I should enjoy them while I can – the naps, that is. I mean, I seriously doubt my employers [no matter how fond they are of me] would not take kindly to me snoozing beneath my desk. Kind of evokes odd memories of George Costanza from Seinfeld, doesn’t it?

I had been hoping to rejoin the working world this coming Monday… but that depends on a number of factors:

1) whether I’m feeling sufficiently energetic after my followup appointment with the doctor that day;

2) whether my darn company-issued laptop plans to cooperate and recognize the VPN this time (hey, the ubiquitous “they” always tell us the third time’s the charm); and

3) whether the words will actually cooperate and come out to play when I call upon them – and not just spend the afternoon lollygagging about in my cranium until I threaten to coax them out with a crowbar. Okay, so I wouldn’t really do that; who in her right mind (write mind?) would use a crowbar to dislodge adjectives and prepositions? Everyone knows you’re supposed to use a small claw hammer.

What? You were expecting additional factors? Wasn’t three enough for you? I distinctly said it depended upon “a number of factors”; is three not a number?

Okay, okay… in case you find yourself in desperate need of a fourth factor, how’s this grab ya?

4) whether “Take a nap” supersedes everything else on my to-do list.

It occurs to me that each of those four factors may be boiled down, in essence, to one overarching reason: Good writing cannot be forced, cajoled or bribed. When it’s not the right time, it’s not the right time. Period.

That said, it’s probably time for another nap.


Writing through the pain… er, I mean, the drugs

February 12, 2010

It’s such a shame to let good drugs go to waste.

There. I thought I’d get that out right up front.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way… “Let me explain. No, there is too much; let me sum up” (quoting Mandy Patinkin in his role as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride).

February 4th, I underwent abdominal surgery; I’d learned three weeks earlier that I had stage-one uterine cancer. The surgery was more extensive than they’d anticipated, but it went well and they released me early Sunday evening with some phenomenal pharmaceuticals and a caution not to do too much too soon.

The other day, in a Percocet-hazed spate of helpfulness, I volunteered to help my darling hubby with a writing project for his job. It seemed like the ideal offer: I write prose for a living, he’s one of those techie types who spends his days writing code. This should be a breeze. Well, sort of.

So I came up with a splendid idea and ran with it… the piece I wrote was filled with vivid imagery,  excellent comparisons – and some really stunning adjectives, if I do say so myself. It likened the various components of the topic to the individual ingredients in a lovely pot of soup. I told him all he had to do was plug in items about the subject matter to fit the analogies I’d used; then we could work on it a bit further, let it simmer overnight and serve it up with some crusty bread.

Alas, it was not to be.

He took one look at it and said it wasn’t going to fly. Well, of course it wasn’t! Have you ever seen a flying soup (which, you understand, is nothing like having a fly in your soup – but that’s another thing altogether)? At any rate, the bottom line was all those lovely ideas and images had gone completely to waste!

Well, the exercise did serve one purpose: Last night, hubby was IMing with a co-worker who had asked how I was feeling; he told her I certainly seemed to be enjoying the drugs. She mentioned that Percocet can do odd things. His reply: “I know. She’s helping me work on this project and came up with something about soup and executive chefs. Trouble is, I’m supposed to be doing a white paper about database architecture.” Apparently, Amy got quite a chuckle out of that.

Well, I guess I’ll wait for the drugs to kick in again and then check in with a few of the characters in my novel to see if they’re up to anything interesting. On second thought, maybe it’s time for a nap.


Mother’s Day? Mothers’ Day? Mothers Day? Which is correct?

May 7, 2009

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. That’s right. Not Mothers’ Day. Not Mothers Day. And certainly not mothers day. Mother-apostrophe-ess: Mother’s Day.

A number of folks have asked me via email, “How do I know when to capitalize Mother (or Mom) and when to leave it lowercase?”

Great question. Here’s the quick-and-dirty answer:

If you were writing, for instance, “I went to visit my mother; we played canasta,” the lowercase form of “mother” would be appropriate. However, if you were to write, “I went to visit Mother; we played canasta,” you would capitalize “Mother,” because that is the name you call her.

Have other questions? Just leave a comment.

Oh, and whether you’re currently overrun with young’uns or your kids are grown and gone – or even if you’re someone’s godmother or favorite auntie, Happy Mother’s Day to you!

And, if you happen to be among the women for whom motherhood was cut short, this is your Mother’s Day, too. Take time to honor yourself and your departed child(ren) this Sunday. Remember to be gentle with yourself… and, above all, know there will be better a Mother’s Day for you in time.


CAPA-U… Seven Days and Counting

May 2, 2009

Next Saturday (May 9, 2009), I’ll be taking part in an editors’ panel at CAPA University, a day-long professional-development day for writers; I’ll be part of a three-member panel of experts. This sixth annual event is sponsored by the Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association.

Some of the topics we’re sure to discuss will be word usage, spelling, grammar, punctuation, general editing and proofreading.

What are your thorniest proofreading/editing concerns? If you were to attend this panel discussion, what burning question would you most like answered or addressed?


To Tweet or Not to Tweet… That is the Question (with apologies to Shakespeare)

April 21, 2009

Okay, I’m about to expose my online naïveté. I admit it: I don’t know the first thing about Twitter.

But in the interest of striding boldly into the 21st century (and only nine years behind schedule; how d’you like that?!), I’m thinking of taking the plunge — pushing myself out of the nest, as it were.

But before I do something I might end up deeply regretting (like my 58-year-old friend Stella’s hummingbird tattoo that she got when she was 18 and which now looks sort of like a vulture on Prozac), I want to hear from you: What should I know about Twitter before I go and get myself in over my head?

I caved in to the pressure from my pal John and got on Facebook about four weeks ago — and now I spend my free evenings looking for a good 12-step group to get myself unstuck (before I come unglued, that is).

Talk to me… and soon. I’m almost hoping one of you will talk me out of it.


When to use “They’re,” “their” or “there”

April 12, 2009

Question: Which sentence is correct?

“There putting they’re stuff over their.”

– or –

“They’re putting their stuff over there.”

Answer: The second one is correct.

I was going to put “Obviously” at the front of that sentence, but it’s all too clear that the answer isn’t obvious.

It seems so simple, yet it’s an issue that continually plagues everyone from middle-school students to business executives. Let’s tackle this one with a few simple examples.

Basically, if you’re attempting to replace the words “they are,” you’d use “they’re,” which is a contraction of those two words.

If you’re giving directions, that one’s easy. Just think of it this way: “I just have to put a “t” on the beginning of ‘here’ to get to ‘there.'”

And “their” is a possessive pronoun. So “their stuff” means “the stuff that belongs to them.”

With that in mind, our second sentence could be reworded thus: “They are putting the stuff that belongs to them not here, but in that place.” Or something like that.

What are your spelling bugaboos? Have you got a word you chronically misspell? Talk to us… maybe we can help you come up with a simple solution to remember the correct spelling.