14 December 2014

Oaks of Righteousness; A Sermon for Advent 3B

It’s a good time of year to hear about John testifying to the light. The days are short, and even when the sun is supposed to be out the sky is often grey. It’s no surprise that when early Christians talked about God they talked about light. Darkness used to be dangerous.

For us, it’s easy enough to push back the darkness with the flip of a switch. I got a letter from PEPCO last week that compared my home’s electrical use with other similar homes. We are “better than average” but not “the best.”  And according to the helpful line graph, most of my electricity use happens between 5 and 11 PM.  “Think about who is using electricity in your home at that time.” said the letter.  The answer is we all are. That’s dinner time and bath time and if I don’t start laundry now my son won’t have clean pants for school tomorrow time. It’s also a time when I am prone to leave lights on in rooms I’m not using simply because it drives away the gloom.  I put the letter on my refrigerator, to remind myself that I should turn off the lights I’m not using and learn to live with a little gloom, but our Christmas tree is up and decorated and electric bill or no electric bill I’m going to have it lit in the evenings.

The stores this time of year are brightly it and aggressively selling CHEER at you. Cheer is not light, but it sure does use a lot of electricity. Cheer apparently comes in red and white stripes and is both peppermint flavored and spruce scented. Outside it’s dark and rainy, but inside it’s warm and bright and there’s cheerful music playing and there is not a problem in the world that cannot be solved with a cleverly packaged gift set of books or toiletries or a six foot tall pre-lit artificial fir tree on a rotating stand.  Commercial culture will tell you that no matter what the source of the gloom, you can spend your way out of it.

Into all of this artificial brightness comes our reading from Isaiah, healing words spoken to an exiled people. Listen to the words “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me . . . “ just as in the beginning the Spirit of God moved over the waters. Isaiah is telling a creation story, a recreation story, a story about coming home.  For the exiled Israelites who were returning to Jerusalem it was a promise of return to a real place, just as some of us are preparing for a Christmas journey to our childhood home.

But many of us aren't making that journey, because home is too far away, or we’re too busy. Maybe home isn't there anymore, or maybe the kind of home we sing about at Christmas was never part of our lives in the first place. That’s why all those stores are selling us peppermint flavored, spruce scented memories, it’s why we bake the same cookies and play the same songs. In a world as broken as this one, as broken now as it was for the exiled Israelites of Isaiah’s time, we long to build a home for Christmas where we are, just like the one we remember or the one we wish we’d had.

Isaiah reminds us that the home we are yearning for has a source greater than the shopping mall.  “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,” he says, “because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” The phrase “proclaim liberty to the captives” reflects the commission of the Jubilee year, a time when debts were forgiven and captives were literally set free.  Isaiah is saying the Spirit of God is upon me to bring these people home.

Isaiah’s people had been in exile and were returning to Jerusalem, but the place had been sacked in their absence. They weren't coming home to warm hearths and bowls of wassail and celebrations. They had come home, and yet they were still in exile. They were coming home to ruins, and had to build up not only a temple but a society, one that met God’s expectations for justice. “They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

Frankly that sounds like an overwhelming amount of work. It must have been tempting for those that had the means to put on the garlands instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and just pretend that the rest of it was true, too. Just as we are tempted to buy the tallest possible Christmas tree and pretend that makes up for all the missing merriment.  That’s why we have prophets, of course. Isaiah role was to keep people moving in the right direction, even when the work was hard.

It was this passage in Isaiah that Jesus chose for his first sermon.  To begin his public ministry Jesus stood up in front of his synagogue and read that passage from Isaiah, then he told the assembly that the the words of the prophet were fulfilled in him. He was telling them that the time of exile, of injustice, was over, and it was time to come home.

And here we are this Advent season standing in the devastations of many generations. Sure, our church building is beautiful, and we all made it here this morning with clothes on our backs and if you stick around after the service, which I hope you’ll do, there will be an ample coffee hour.  But once you step out of this building you will stepping into world so broken, so violent, so hungry, so unjust that just the daily headlines can break your heart.  The problems we face, the problems of racial inequality, of economic inequality, of unjust treatment of prisoners, are the work of many generations.

Where are these oaks of righteousness that Isaiah promised, that Jesus promised?

And then I read the scripture again. “They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

“They will be called.” Isaiah doesn't say “I will be called an oak of righteousness.” or “God will be called an oak of righteousness.”  “They will be called.”  Isaiah was sent by the Spirit to bind up the brokenness, not for the sake of wholeness alone, but so that the people of Israel could be oaks of righteousness, so that they can do the hard work in front of them, so that they can build a just society for everyone. There’s no easy way out promised by this passage. We can’t just say “God will sort it out.” because the promise isn't that the problems will be magically swept away. The promise is that we will be strengthened to do the work. The Spirit of God will be upon us, and God will work through us.

To do this work, to restore justice, it will take more than a memory of a more just time, even if we had such a memory, just as creating a true Christmas in our homes requires more than a memory of the kinds of Christmases we loved or wished for as children. We must, as God does, love justice and hate robbery and wrongdoing. We must, as Isaiah did, bind up the brokenhearted. We must, as John did, proclaim the light not only in words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts but in real, concrete actions in our voting booths, in soup kitchens, in schools, in prisons, in the protests on the streets and wherever the Spirit takes us.

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

29 November 2014

A Plea for Slightly Less Stuff for Christmas

I have too much stuff. My kids have too much stuff. I sent this out to my family a week ago. 

Dear Family,

Although they don't realize it yet, Bird and Airplane are two very lucky kids because they have all of you who love them very much, and who provide them with fantastic presents. The boys have plenty of stuff, even after several sessions of sorting out toys, some of which have been donated and some of which are stored in my closet so they'll be more exciting on a rainy day.

This year, as you think about Christmas presents, I hope you'll consider giving experiences instead of stuff. Ideally the experiences would be with you, of course, but if that's not possible then gift certificates will allow us to take the boys.  I have a short list of suggestions, but it's hardly inclusive. If you have something in mind but aren't sure if the boys would like it, please ask.

1. A trip or a membership to the National Aquarium
2. A trip or membership to Port Discovery. This is one of the places that the boys mention most often when asked what they would like to do on a day off.
3. A trip to the movies. Here is a link to our favorite multiplex.
6. A tour of Washington DC on a duck bus.

If you prefer to give stuff, the boys both love to make art. Airplane has been drawing lots of pictures and writing short letters to his friends, so a gift of colored pencils and stationery is likely to come back to you via the USPS. Bird loves constructing art, so glue, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks and similar items would be popular. 

And of course both boys love books. Bird is a strong independent reader, loves adventure stories and anything silly.  Airplane loves being read to, especially if the book has great pictures. Both boys enjoy longer books to read aloud a chapter (or two) at a time at bedtime.  I've added several books to their Amazon wish list.

much love,
Bread, Wine, Salt

18 November 2014

The Spare Room

Worn In
There was a room in my house that only I knew about. You got there through a half door in my sister’s closet. I haven’t been in that closet in years, but I believe the half door is real. The room itself is impossible, which isn't to say that it’s not real, only that it can’t be. We’re not talking about a bit of a cubby, a utility space where one could stash a journal or a treasure box or even one’s own small self. The secret room was whole room, as big as any of other bedrooms in the house but instead of being crammed with furniture it was empty and it’s only appeal was that is was a room entirely devoid of stuff.  There was no point in putting a wardrobe in there after all. The room itself was already in Narnia.

At some point early in my childhood my parents built an addition on their house so that they would have a bigger bedroom for themselves and my sister and I would each have our own bedroom. I remember the addition being built, and I remember sharing a room with my sister, so I think I must have been five or six when it happened and the dreams must have started before then.

It is not a room I imagined on purpose. I dreamed it, repeatedly throughout my childhood, sometimes rediscovering it, sometimes simply arriving from sleep directly into the room. It was a haven. Enough space to play with friends, or to read a book entirely alone.

Even after I moved out of the shared bedroom into my own room, I still went to the secret room sometimes, and the entrance remained firmly, stubbornly in my sister’s closet. If it had been a real room that would have been a serious problem, because getting to the secret room would have become increasingly difficult. Big sisters are not generally known for enjoying having little sisters creeping about opening real doors to impossible places.

My mother still lives in the house I grew up in, and if the family pattern holds I’ll be at least in my fifties before I have to say goodbye to the house. When it is emptied, all those years from now, and I walk through one last time, I will check the closet for the door which I’m sure is real, but I may not open it, because a cubby full of plumbing would be such a disappointment.

Inspired by Justine’s post about keys.

16 November 2014

All We Like Sheep, A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, Year A

As prepared for delivery, November 16, 2014*
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, College Park, MD

There are lots of sheep in the readings today. Sheep in the Hebrew Scriptures and sheep in the Gospel, with some goats thrown in for good measure. As I was working on the sermon this week I joked that the Bible is fifty-percent sheep.  You could say that all of Christian tradition is fifty-percent sheep. Sheep in the histories, sheep in the prophesies,  sheep in the psalms, sheep in the parables, sheep in the liturgy, sheep in the stained glass, sheep in the hymnody.

We have metaphorical sheep stacked to the rafters,  but because we are mostly urban and suburban residents most of us don’t know a lot about actual sheep. I am not an expert on sheep, but I was an Animal Science major in college, where I learned a little bit about sheep. I learned how to flip a sheep, which sounds like tossing a sheep on its head, but really means gently sitting the sheep down on its backside, a position used for shearing, hoof trimming and other husbandry practices. I took a course in sheep, visited any number of working sheep farms, designed sheep diets and for a final project wrote up a business plan for a hobby sheep farm that would sell the wool of Black Welsh Mountain sheep to the hobby spinners, weavers and knitters all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. I had to design a barn, find a source for my starter flock, and write up a budget. I got an A, and  my paper farm turned a tidy profit in its first year, which is something real farms almost never do. If you think you’d like to start a farm, I highly recommend a paper farm. Very few bad things happen on a paper farm. None of your feed is ever moldy, your employees are trustworthy, your lambs never die of disease or exposure, you don’t need to worry about the big sheep pushing with flank and shoulder and butting all the weak animals until they are scattered far and wide, and your livelihood isn't threatened every time an animal gets sick.

Of course, a paper farm full of paper animals doesn't produce real wool, milk and meat that can be turned into clothing, used as food or sold for money. You need real animals for that, and because sheep are nimble, good foragers, compact, gregarious and multi-purpose they were popular livestock in Ezekiel’s time, and in Jesus’ time, as they are in many parts of the world today.  The biggest drawback to sheep is that predators find sheep as tasty as people do, and sheep, while they  have many fine qualities, are not smart. They need protection, and if a flock of sheep is following the best grazing, you can’t just bring them all back into the barn at night and go sleep in your soft, warm bed. The shepherd has to be out there with the sheep, keeping predators away and caring for the injured. The shepherd has to know which sheep have the best temperaments and which sheep have the easiest time at lambing.  If there is danger, the shepherd needs to be able to bring the sheep to him quickly.  The sheep, in turn, must know that the shepherd is trustworthy and safe.

That’s the image of God we’re given in this Sunday’s readings, and yet if you look on the cover of your bulletin you will see that we call this Sunday “Christ the King.”  As an American whose ancestors were kicked out of the all of the respectable countries, I don’t have much good to say about Kings and Queens. For a long time, Monarchs used the Church as a tool to oppress the poor.  The rich and powerful were said to have been anointed by God and the poor were poor because of God’s will. To be a good Christian was to be obedient to the Monarchy. Kings and Queens wore crowns of gold and if there were blood, sweat, and tears to be shed, you can be sure that it was not their own. A King used his power to push the little people around. A King ate rich foods every day, while the peasants who tilled the soil and raised the livestock barely had enough to survive. A King turned peasants into foot soldiers and sent them into battle knowing that many, if not most, would die, caring not how many fell, but only that they defeated the enemy in the process. Come to think of it, there are plenty of rich and powerful folks doing that today. We might not call them Kings and Queens, but they sure act like Kings and Queens, some of them even still use God as a cudgel to get the peasants in line.

The Rich and Powerful of today are not listening to Scripture any more than the Kings and Queens of the past who claimed that their leadership was a Divine Right.  Earthly rulers may push and shove to get their way, they may see themselves as God-like, but  the God of our scripture is a Shepherd King with dirt under his nails instead of blood on his hands, and the earthly powers are mere sheep,  just as the exiled Israelites of Ezekiel’s time were sheep, just as you and I and the poorest of our brothers and sisters are sheep. Humans, like sheep, are nimble, and good foragers and gregarious.

Gregarious, when used to talk about a college student means friendly and outgoing, often seen in groups, in livestock circles it means not only does the animal like to be in groups, it needs to be in a group. A sheep alone in a pasture is a sheep that is about to be eaten. When I say that humans are gregarious, I don’t mean that we’re all extroverted, but that we all need our flock. We depend on each other and on our Shepherd for our survival.  In today’s Gospel reading, the flock, our flock, is sorted not by how well they followed the rubrics of the church, or how well they obeyed the rich and powerful. They are not sorted by how quickly they called their neighbor to account, or if they cast out their own eye because it offended them. They are not sorted by how often they went to church or which church they went to or what clothes they wore when they were there. In this parable they’re not even sorted on whether they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

When the Son of Man turns to the sheep at his right hand he doesn't tell them “Congratulations, you were the smartest, the most pious, the shrewdest investor.” He tells them “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” That’s the criteria. We get to be sheep on the right hand side if you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger and visit the imprisoned. We do these things because Christ is in all of those people and we serve Christ, and because Christ the Shepherd is in us, and the Shepherd serves the flock.   We promise, in our baptismal covenant, which we’ll renew today as we welcome Drew, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Not the powerful human beings, not the human beings who have the same race, color, creed, gender, sexuality or nationality as we do, not even just the ones that we can see Christ in, all people, the whole flock. The promise is to SEEK and serve, not to SORT and serve.  The love of God which we are called to spread is the servant love of a Shepherd King, and every sheep matters.

I’d like to close with a quote from Thomas Merton, a Twentieth Century Trappist Monk and theologian: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.”

*St. Andrew's celebrates Christ the King Sunday a week early so that we can celebrate St. Andrew's day the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Most Episcopal churches will celebrate Christ the King next Sunday.

The Lectionary Page
The Listening Hermit: The Feast of Christ the ComradeThe Church of Scotland, Starters for Sunday (.pdf.)
Holy Baptism, The Book of Common Prayer
The Church of Scotland, Starters for Sunday (.pdf.)

Cross posted on the Sermons at St. Andrew's blog

25 May 2014

Don't Forget Whose Kid You Are, A Sermon for Easter 6A

As prepared for delivery, Sunday, May 25, 2014
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, College Park, MD
John 14:15-21 
Jesus said to his disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 
"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

My the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you oh God, in whom we live, and move and have our being.

Today’s Gospel reading is a direct continuation of last week’s. Jesus is preparing the apostles for their lives after He is gone. The reading is short, but like much of the Gospel of John is it circular, and it seems to me that the apostles must have found Jesus’ speech incomprehensible. Jesus says “I will ask the Father, and he will send you another advocate” This advocate is the “Spirit of Truth” which the world does not see or know but the apostles will know because he is in them. And this advocate is coming because Jesus is leaving but Jesus is also coming to them. Jesus will live so the disciples will live, and Jesus is in the Father and the disciples are in Jesus and Jesus is in the disciples.

Even if you know that the Advocate is the Holy Spirit, this passage is not going to clear up any theological questions about the Trinity. But if you take a step back, don’t worry about the details, and listen to the music of the words, the meaning is actually pretty straightforward. We belong to God, and we belong to each other. This belonging is not one of ownership, but of being loved by and loving one another. There is just one rule for this belonging, and Jesus says it twice in our short reading: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Jesus says “My commandments” just four times in the Gospels, all of them in John, and unlike the Moses commandments which filled not only two stone tablets but also the book of Leviticus, Jesus only really has two: Love God with your whole self, and love one another as I have loved you.

Jesus is still getting the disciples ready. They knew that the love of Jesus was a servant love, a feed the hungry love, a speak truth to power love, a touch the unclean love, an eat with sinners love, even a wash the feet of your friends love. What we know, but they didn't yet, is that is an even unto death on the cross love. That love is a tall order, more than any human being could do alone. Is it any wonder that at Pentecost we’ll find the Apostles hiding a locked room afraid of the world outside and of the task they’d been given?

Sometimes we’re in there with them.

We as a society, as a big C Church, are clearly failing at the kind of servant love that Jesus modeled for us, from the children in this neighborhood who won’t have breakfast in the morning after school closes in a few weeks because the cafeteria will close too, to the people around the world who get sick every day because they don’t have safe access to clean drinking water. If we all remembered that we belong to each other, the world wouldn't look like that.

Mother Theresa said “If we do not have peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Or, as my father used to say to me when he was sending me out into the world without him. “Don’t forget who’s kid you are.”  And if you think that’s sweet, let me assure you that he meant “There are expectations for you as a member of this family, young lady. Behave yourself.”

Take a moment and imagine what the world would be like if we all remembered that we belong to each other, if we remembered whose kids we are, if we loved each other as Jesus loved us.

There are small things that would look the same. It would look like a new mother handing her baby to a member of her church family so she could have a few moments of quiet reflection. It would look like Wednesday night potlucks where take-out pizza sat next to homemade chicken soup and families without the resources to bring a dish were welcomed anyway, except that there wouldn't be any families without those resources. It would look like our offering of letters on Bread for the World Sunday, except we would already have a sustainable, compassionate food policy, so the letters would read “Thank you, and keep up the good work.” It would look like girls and boys around the world being safe in their homes and their schools regardless of their color, their creed, or their sexual orientation. It would look like our war veterans getting the care they needed in a timely manner, and it would look like swords being beaten into plowshares so that there are no more wars.

If I lost you somewhere in that list. If you thought “Not in my lifetime.” I ask you to remember two things. The first thing is that we are called to do the work, not to finish it. There will be laborers in the harvest long after we are at rest. The second is to think about how many “not in my lifetimes” you've lived through. In my lifetime, the Berlin Wall came down. In my lifetime, apartheid ended in South Africa. In my lifetime we had a woman as a serious presidential candidate and an African-American in the oval office. In my lifetime we have marriage equality in Maryland and 18 other States plus the District of Columbia. In my lifetime we've created pocket computers more powerful than anything on Star Trek. In my lifetime we've eliminated Smallpox.

No, that work isn't finished. The Kingdom of God isn't here yet. But we can do great things when we remember whose kids we are, when we strive to love others as Jesus loves us. The Good News is that we’re not doing it alone.

When my father said “Don’t forget whose kid you are.” the other thing he meant was this: “Don’t forget that you belong, that you are loved, and that love is like an armor you wear everyday, even when I am not with you.”

That is also what Jesus said to his disciples. “I will not leave you orphaned. . . I will ask the Father and He will give you another advocate.”  The word we translate as advocate is the Greek “Parakletos” sometimes also translated as “Counselor” or “Comforter.”  In the Greek legal system a defendant had to plead his own case, but could call to his side a paraklete, a person to provide a character witness and moral support.  That is the Holy Spirit that we are promised, a God with us, beside us, reminding us that we belong to God.

There is work to do. The world does not fully understand that we belong to each other. Loving others as Jesus loves us is hard, and it can be risky. But we have our Advocate with us, and we belong to each other. Let’s not forget whose kids we are.

09 April 2014

The Rope Swing

I haven't written anything worth sharing recently, or cooked anything worth writing about. It's been full speed treading water for a while here. I have a novel I'm supposed to be writing, a writing class I'm not keeping up with, and a letter I should have written months ago that I haven't started. 

It's an important letter, and I hope it will be a good and helpful letter, but it will also be a hard letter to write, and a sad one, so I keep putting it off because I am a much better person in theory than I am in practice. But as long as I haven't written that letter I don't feel that I can sit down and write anything else.

And so here I am, with something someone else wrote, because maybe you want to read something wonderful. I've read Charlotte's Web to my boys several times now. E.B. White's prose is magical. I could put almost any of his descriptive passages here to show you what I mean, but the rope swing is my favorite. His phrases swing you in and out of the barn. It makes me feel the wind on my face, the weightlessness at the top of the swing, the lurch as you come back down, and the joy of the flight. It makes me wish I could go to Zuckerman's barn and try it. See if it doesn't do the same for you.

Mr. Zuckerman had the best swing in the county. It was a single long piece of heavy rope tied over the north doorway. At the bottom end of the rope was a fat knot to sit on. It was arranged so that you could swing without being pushed. You climbed a ladder into the hayloft. Then, holding the rope, you stood at the edge and looked down, and were scared and dizzy. Then you straddled the knot, so that it served as a seat. Then you got up all your nerve, took a deep breath, and jumped. For a second you seemed to be falling to the barn floor far below, but then suddenly the rope would begin to catch you, and you would sail through the barn door going a mile a minute, with the wind whistling in your eyes and ears and hair. Then you would zoom upward into the sky, and look up at the clouds, and the rope would twist and you would twist and turn with the rope. Then you would drop down, down, down out of the sky and come sailing back into the barn almost into the hayloft, then sail out again (not quite so far this time), then in again (not quite so high), then out again, then in again, then out, then in; and then you'd jump off and fall down let somebody else try it. 
Mothers for miles around worried about Zuckerman's swing. They feared some child would fall off. But no chlid ever did. Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.
~ E. B. White, Charlotte's Web 

15 January 2014

The Way It Ends - A Lunch in the Park Short Story

Kate woke to the winter sun on her face and the sound of the baby chatting away in her crib. No, Kate reminded herself, not baby, almost two years old. With a sigh, Kate pulled herself away from the warm, sleeping body next to her, undisturbed by the sunshine and the not-a-baby. Kate was always grateful when he slept through the night wakings, but  she wished he would take a morning every now and then, maybe a Sunday morning like this one, so she could sleep late, maybe read a book in bed. 

Kate put her bare feet on the worn rug, rough under her feet, and slipped on her bathrobe, then padded down the hall to a bedroom crowded with bed and desk and dresser and crib and the over-sized personality of a dark-haired not-a-baby who seemed to fill everything.  “Good morning, my girl.”

“Up! Get up! Breakfast!”  That was every morning. Sunday mornings meant a slower start. Kate scattered handfuls of Cheerios, apple slices and chickpeas on the tray of the high chair, mixed muffins, brewed a cup of tea and readied a pot of coffee. 

“Pretty! Booful Flowers!”

Kate smiled at the girl and at the vase of roses on the coffee table. “Those are roses, Priscilla. Uncle Alan bought them for me for Valentine’s Day.”

“Alan here?”

“Yes, he is. And I think I heard him get up.” Kate tipped the muffins out onto the cooling rack and righted them carefully. “I bet blueberry muffins will get him to come out.” Back down the hall she tapped at the bedroom door.  “Breakfast is ready. I made muffins and there’s coffee. Do you want an egg?”

“No eggs. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Okay, I thought we might go to the American History Museum. It’s supposed to be nice today.”  

“Yeah, just . . . I’ll be out soon.”

In the kitchen, Kate sipped her tea with her eyes closed, listening. Priscilla crunched through apple slices. The bathroom tap turned on and then off again. A drawer opened in the bedroom. In the hallway a door opened and clicked shut. There was a knock at the door.

It was Liza, the teenaged babysitter from down the hall. “Hey, Liza. Did you forget something last night?”

“No, Alan asked me to come over this morning and take Priscilla for an hour or so?”

Kate frowned and turned, past Priscilla in her high chair, past the vase of red roses, to Alan who stood in the living room, fully dressed, holding his backpack at his side. “I wanted to talk to you alone this morning,” he said, not fully meeting her eyes.  He put down the backpack and walked over to the high chair. “Priscilla, do you want to play with Liza this morning?” 

Priscilla nodded and reached for Liza. Liza looked at Kate and back at Alan again, uncomfortable, wishing one of them would smile at her.  

Almost immediately Kate did smile, at least around her mouth. “Here, let me send some of these muffins with you,” she said, piling half of them on a  plate. “We wouldn't eat all of them anyway and Priscilla hasn't had any yet.” She handed Liza the plate, and then the diaper bag from it’s hook by the door. “So, I’ll come get her in an hour, I guess.”

Liza nodded mutely and led Priscilla out by the hand. Kate closed the door gently and turned to Alan, pulling the lapels of her robe closed. “What’s going on?”

“Maybe we should sit down.”

“I don’t want to sit down, Alan. I want to know what’s going on.”

“Please sit down.” Alan sat on the couch and when Kate came and sat next to him he took her hand. “Do you remember all the plans we had, all the traveling we were going to do?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I still want to do that.”

“So do I. Priscilla’s bigger now, and my dad is feeling better. He could take her for a week or so this summer and we could go somewhere.”

“I don’t want to go somewhere for a week or two. I want to go far away for a long time.” He paused for a moment as Kate pulled her hand away, and then forged on. “I want to stay someplace long enough to meet interesting people and find a favorite cafe and know the shortcuts home at night. And then I want to get on a train and go somewhere else and do it all again. You used to want that, too, remember?”

“I did, I still do. But my mom, and Theresa, and Priscilla. Everything got turned upside down and I got stuck.”

“You didn't get stuck, Kate. You chose this.”

“I chose it? What did I choose?  For my mother to get cancer? Or my sister to get pregnant? Or did I choose for her to have a breakdown and run away and leave me with the baby? I didn’t choose any of this.”

“Yes, you did. You could have kept the original plan and made Theresa move back with your parents. You could have given Priscilla to your father when he offered to take her. We could be in Prague or Sydney or Madagascar right now.” 

“Priscilla was tiny and my father was worn out from taking care of my mother. You know how much work that was. I didn't have a choice.”

“You always think you’re the only person who can do things the right way. Maybe if Theresa had moved home she could have helped with your mom more. And maybe your dad wouldn’t have been so worn out and Theresa wouldn't have run off. You don’t know how things would have been. You just assumed Theresa would screw everything up so you took over. You chose for her, and you chose for me, too. You never asked me what I wanted.”

“It’s my sister. I know how she is. She would have run off no matter what. And what was I supposed to do with my niece? Just leave her?  What if it had been your niece?”

“Well then I would have dealt with it. But I wouldn't have expected you to deal with it. I wouldn't have just assumed that you’d deal with it. I would have told you to go without me. I wouldn't have held you back.”

“Did I hold you back?” Kate’s eyes began to fill and she blinked back tears. “I thought you wanted to be with me.”

“I did.” Alan reached for Kate’s hand again, but she pulled away. “I still do. I just . . . I can’t right now. My twenties are slipping away. I’m supposed to be traveling and instead I’m here, playing house with you half the time and living with my parents half the time. I have all this money saved for traveling I'll never do if I stay with you.”


“I bought a plane ticket. I quit my job. My flight is on Tuesday.”

“Tuesday? Like the day after tomorrow Tuesday? Don’t you need to think about this some more?”

“I have been thinking about it. I bought the plane ticket on New Year’s Day, and I gave notice at work two weeks ago.”

“And you’re just telling me now? What the hell was last night? Why the flowers and the dinner and the stupid violinist?”

“I wanted one more great memory with you, Kate. I didn't want to ruin our last weeks together. I still love you. I think I’ll always love you. You were the first real love of my life.” Alan reached into the front pocket of his backpack and pulled out an envelope. “I wrote you a letter. I knew I wasn't going to be able to say this the way I wanted to.  I hope . . . I don’t want to lose your friendship, Kate. You've been the most important person in my life since Freshman year.”

Kate stared at the envelope for a moment before she stood up, walked to the front door and opened it. “Get out,” she said, her voice low and unsteady. “Take your letter and your flowers and get out.”

“Kate . . .”

“I said get out!”

Alan stood. “Kate the neighbors will hear you.”

“The neighbors? The neighbors? You mean like the babysitter? You might as well have told her you were breaking up with me. Or do you mean her mother who is probably standing at the door right now?” Kate turned out toward the hall. “Are you getting this, Lena? His plane leaves on Tuesday and he’s only telling me now because he loves me. And I’m telling him to take his bullshit and go.”  She turned back to Alan. “Does that about cover it?”

“Kate, please don’t be this way.”

“I will be any way I want to be. You don’t get a say anymore. Now go. Get out while I am still this way.” Kate stopped and took a breath, staring at the floor. “If you don’t leave before I start crying I will never forgive you.”

Alan put the letter on the table, pulled out his wallet and put a twenty dollar bill next to it. “That’s for Liza.”  He picked up his backpack and started to leave. At the doorway he paused and brushed his fingers across Kate’s cheek. “I’m really sorry.”

Kate kept her head down, her eyes focused on a single nail in the coppery strip of metal that marked the threshold. Alan left, taking the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Kate did not move until she heard the fire door shut behind him. She looked up and saw the letter and the flowers on the table. In a flash she pounced on them and was back at the door before it could swing closed. Across the hall she dumped the letter, the flowers, and the vase into the garbage chute, holding the flap open until she heard the glass breaking in the basement.  Back in her apartment she slammed the door shut, and then stood in the quiet emptiness.

There was no one to call. Her mother was dead. Her sister was missing. Her best friend has just walked out the door. Kate sat down on the couch and stared at the spot where the flowers had been.  

There was gentle knock at the door, then the handle turned and the door opened. “Kate?”

“I don’t really want to talk right now, Lena.”

“Oh, I know, honey,” Lena said softly as she came and put her arms around Kate. “I didn't come to talk.”

Kate leaned her head against Lena’s shoulder and sobbed.

(Read more about Kate and Priscilla in Lunch in the Park.)


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