Saturday, April 18, 2020

Beating the Coronavirus Blues (through Art!)

I am aware that I am luckier than many during this difficult stay-at-home period, and for that I feel extremely grateful.  I am an incurable homebody, never happier than when I'm hanging out with my hubby in our home, which has always felt like a sanctuary to me during every stage of our almost 40-year marriage—from the first tiny, humble apartment we lived in as newlyweds to the sweet cookie cutter Colonial we inhabit now, in our empty-nesting golden years.  We’d almost always rather cook our own meals than eat out, so restaurant closings aren’t stressing us out much at all (other than the worry that so many of them will probably be put out of business if this goes on much longer).   I have a plethora of hobbies and interests to keep me occupied inside the cozy and comforting walls of my own house—reading novels, sewing, drawing and painting, blogging, working on DIY projects, Netflix binge-watching with my guy—and even cleaning (yes, I admit it: I actually like to clean my house!).   And I don’t need to constantly interact with lots of people—in fact, having “nothing” on my social schedule is usually right in my wheelhouse.  To quote my introverted youngest son and what he said of himself and his bride of less than a year, I, too am "eerily well-equipped for quarantine life."  

But it’s one thing to choose to stay at home, and quite another to be forced to—especially when you’re not sure when things will ever return to normal.  The stress caused by fear and uncertainty about the future can be oppressive at times.  When I need to “get away from it all” and chase the coronavirus blues away, nothing does the trick better than spending a few hours messing around with a blank piece of paper and some colored pencils.

During Holy Week, talented and well-known botanical artist Katrina Harrington (of @roseharringtonart) hosted a #prayandpaintwithRH challenge, with a different bloom for each day, chosen specifically for its timely and meaningful religious symbolism.  I didn't participate every day of that week; but I was able to get two drawings finished and posted to the Instagram hashtag link-up.

Here was Wednesday's offering, featuring a yellow flower called St. Johnswort:

Along with the above image, I wrote this: "I cannot feel anything but happy and peaceful when I break out my colored pencils and get the creative juices flowing.  I spent the last few hours in a state of near euphoria, forgetting all about the world's problems and focusing on creating this picture.  @katrinaharrington is a gifted botanical artist.  I am not!  (Obviously!)  But my first love has always been drawing and painting faces.  So along with this weak rendition of St. Johnswort, named after St. John the Baptist, is the face of one of my wee granddaughters (also a weak rendition, because her perfection cannot be duplicated by an amateur artist like her Grammy!).  St. Johnswort is also called Christ's Bloody Sweat, because the red ends of the many stamens of this flower resemble drops of blood."  (You learn so much about flowers, and all the beautiful religious symbolism attached to them, if you follow Katrina!)

On Easter, the chosen flower was--what else?--a Resurrection Lily, or an Easter Lily.  I was not able to complete my artwork in time for the link-up on Sunday, so I posted it on Easter Monday:

Here's part of what I wrote to go along with this colored pencil drawing: "Here is my best effort at a Resurrection Lily, a beautiful bloom that symbolizes Our Lord's triumphant victory over death (alleluia!); and because I can't seem to create any piece of artwork that does not include a face, it is paired with a drawing of a baby that was inspired by one of my precious grandsons on the day of his Baptism.  It seemed fitting to show a tiny Christian on the day he was reborn through the sacrament and made a member of Christ's mystical Body alongside a flower that is  symbol of Christ's glorious Resurrection from the dead, by which we were saved and given the hope of eternal life with Him in Heaven."  Then I thanked Katrina for her #prayandpaintwithRH challenge, which in my case turned out to be "a true balm for the soul."

Holy Week is over, but I still feel like drawing babies and flowers, two of God's most glorious perhaps this will continue to be my way of finding peace and joy, until the worst of this current crisis is past, our churches are reopened, and life starts to make sense again.  

I hope you have a lot of babies, and a lot of flowers in your life...because they can both really help beat the coronavirus blues, can't they?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Easter 2020: Mass at Home (Plus a Special Blessing)

Easter was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

In so many ways, the whole lockdown, or quarantine, or stay-at-home order (whichever you prefer to call this strange situation that is life in America these days) under which we've all been living has given families the opportunity for a kind of togetherness that they were never able to enjoy before.  Many parents are tele-working from home rather than leaving in the morning to drive or commute to their offices, and while this can create challenges as far as work productivity, I'm sure, it also means a lot more time spent at home with their offspring.  And children whose schools have been closed--possibly, in many states, even for the rest of the academic year--are being homeschooled by their parents or are participating in some sort of distance learning on their computers, or a combination of the two; I'll bet there are many parents who used to declare "I am not the type who can homeschool!" who have learned that in an emergency, they can, and they are better at it than they thought they were.

With everyone stuck at home--goodbye movie theaters, sporting events, concerts, and even play dates at the local park!--thank goodness there are all sorts of video streaming services available to us in our high-tech age to help fight off the homebound boredom!  There's always Netflix or Disney Plus to keep the troops entertained...but one cannot live by screen alone, and I've heard that giant jigsaw puzzles and good old-fashioned board games are being employed by families more than ever before in the past month or so, as the weeks stretch on and there doesn't appear to be a definite end in sight (although, God willing, there will be soon).

So there is some good to be found in these times.   There is always some good, however small, if you really look for it.

But there's also much bad.  No one wants to be forced to homeschool; that should be a choice parents make after much research and discernment.  No senior should have to miss out on prom, graduation, and a host of other social activities that are part and parcel of every high school kid's regular life in these United States (or at least were).  Working from home isn't always easy, and for some (maybe most), it isn't even an option.  Many Americans are currently jobless, and countless businesses will probably not survive the shutdown.

And the right to assemble, so long taken for granted by us all, has been stripped away because of an invisible enemy with the power to take life--but about which even the scientific experts cannot come to a unanimous agreement.  While they decide the best way to fight it, we stay locked in our houses...

Yes, there is also much bad.  And you don't even have to look that hard for it.

But I was going to talk about Easter, before I went off on that tangent.  Easter 2020, the best and the worst of it.

The worst, of course, was not being able to attend Mass or to receive Our Lord's precious Body and Blood.  And that was a uniquely painful experience for those of us Catholics who have never been denied the freedom to practice our Faith openly and regularly, without a care in the world.  Yes, it was painful.  But it was also an opportunity to embrace Christ's Cross in an intimate way during the season of Lent, and to grow closer to Him through prayer.  It seems we are always closest to God during the times in our life when we suffer most.

A dear friend from high school emailed me after my last post (when she found herself unable to leave a comment here at the blog).  Her mother was one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met, a devout Catholic woman whom I always considered to be a living saint.  It's obvious that when it comes to her daughter, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  My friend wrote the most touching letter, first remarking that when she read that post, she sensed "a feeling of sadness and maybe some powerlessness" on my part, regarding the closure of our VA churches.  (I misspoke in that post, by the way; our bishop did actually tell the churches in the diocese to stop having public Masses before the governor's mandated closures of all "nonessential" businesses and meeting places were announced.  So I'm sorry for giving a false impression there.)  She then proceeded to tell me about some of the positive things that had happened in her faith life, in spite of the disappointments caused by all the closures and cancellations.  "For the veneration of the cross on Good Friday," she wrote, "I chose to use a small comfort cross that belonged to my late mother.  Instead of kneeling before it as I would have in church and probably should have done here at home, I held it to my heart with both hands and felt closer to the crucified Christ than I ever have before."  She also related how she'd begun new daily prayer devotions, even though "sitting quietly and clearing the thoughts racing through my brain" is not her strength.  "I'm sure I'll struggle with that again, but, at least for now, I will work hard to continue this practice in my home church."  Her home church.

I can absolutely relate to this friend's experience.  Never before have I felt as deeply and surely that the home my husband and I have created is truly a "domestic church."  And as sad and strange as this time of quarantine has been, in some ways it has made me grow in my Faith in ways I never could have imagined.  Because of the fact that I have to try so much harder to be intentional about living sacramentally these days, when the Sacraments are not available to me, I sometimes feel closer to Our Lord than ever.

Has this happened to you?  If so, leave me a comment below.  I would love to know if you also feel that when this whole scary episode is behind us, you believe you will love the Lord, and the Mass, with a renewed zeal--a zeal so intense that it feels as if your heart will burst.

I did post a picture on Instagram on Easter Sunday, with my husband and me all decked out in our Sunday Best attire for our at-home Mass (live-streamed from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, which has been the "home parish" where we've chosen to "attend" 10:00 a.m. Sunday Masses during most of the lockdown).

As I shared over on the 'gram, my husband's Sunday Best included one of his iconic ties with pictures of his grandchildren on them.  For me, it included a fascinator hat that I purchased about seven years ago on a shopping trip with one girl who I knew would soon be my daughter-in-law (and another who ended up being one of them, too--although none of us could have predicted that at the time!).  I have chickened out of wearing this fancy little headpiece for four different sons' weddings in the intervening years...but I finally found a congregation small enough (just the two of us!) that I could wear it to "church" without feeling self-conscious.  I figured that since this was about the most unusual Easter Sunday I'd ever experienced in my lifetime, sporting a special Easter bonnet was in order.

In our family room, we've set up an "altar" on the mantle, with my first-class relics of  St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Catherine Laboure (both precious heirlooms inherited from my maternal grandmother), a small pair of crucifixes, a small reproduction of the Pieta, two lit pillar candles, and some saint prayer cards on display.  Even when all the Catholic church doors are opened wide once again, I don't know if I'm going to be able to dismantle that mantle.

It was a very different sort of Easter for the faithful this year, no doubt about it.  But as the Notre Dame priest reminded us in his homily that day, the Cross and the Resurrection are unbreakably intertwined; without one, there would not be the other.  So we just need to keep bearing the weight of this suffering that we didn't choose but have been forced to carry as best we can, knowing that there will one day be a glorious reward unlike anything we can imagine.  So in spite of all the reasons to be sad, given the current situation, I felt a real joy in my heart on Easter morning.  I felt keenly and humbly aware of my many blessings.  And I wanted my Easter finery to show on the outside all that I was feeling on the inside--thus the famous long-hidden-away fascinator!

At 2:00 p.m., our local VA parish had a drive-through blessing, so we headed over to join the line-up of cars in the church parking lot.  One by one we drove by our wonderful pastor, an extremely holy priest who must be missing ministering to his flock in person terribly, and he sprinkled us with holy water through our open windows as we drove past him.  He shouted the most enthusiastic Easter blessings, with a beaming smile on his face.  He tends to be a relatively shy priest, whose usual demeanor might be called "serious"; so his utterly joy-filled expression as he greeted his parishioners was both touching and inspiring and made me think, "Yes, that's right!  We ARE an Easter people, and alleluia IS our song!"  There is really no room for sadness, is there?  No matter what may come in the wake of this pandemic.  Jesus died for our sins, and now He is risen; and if we put our trust in Him, all will be well in the end.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Faith!  Thank you for a husband who has been the perfect partner for me and the best father for our boys!  Thank you for all my undeserved blessings, too many to count!  Thank you for my life, dear Lord, and thank you for giving yours for me, a poor sinner, so that I have the hope of spending eternal life with you in Heaven!

Easter 2020: it was the worst of times.  But as always, it was also the best.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

From Our House to Yours (From a Safe Social Distance, of Course!)

I feel a coughing fit coming on, but rest assured it isn't being caused by the coronavirus; I'm just choking on the dust here at the old blog, which has been sitting on the shelf, utterly neglected, since March 7.  When I first decided to dip my toes into the then-overcrowded pool of daily bloggers back in March of 2011, I woke up itching to write every morning and could not have conceived of a time when I could go over a month without posting. But nine years later...well, things have changed.

Now there's an understatement for you!

So. Much. Has. Changed.

My last post on March 7 was about something so frivolous, in light of current events: it was about setting my table with my beloved blue-and-white transferware dishes.  (And about how much I love setting said table for big, extended family dinners--remember those?)  At the time, I was meal planning for a Pearl family St. Patrick's Day party at Papa and Grammy's house, with our four grown sons who live nearby and their growing broods.  But then we were told to begin the process of social distancing and were advised to gather in groups of no more than 10.

So a get-together that was going to include 10 adults and 16 young children did not happen; and our St. Patty's extravaganza ended up looking like this (as in corned beef and cabbage for two).

Luckily, that Irishman up there is my favorite human; so if I have to be quarantined inside my home with anyone, at least it's with him.  (He is an essential worker; but since he flies exclusively internationally, all of his flights have been cancelled for over a month now and he's been hanging out with yours truly.)   Things could most definitely be worse.

So, what happened?  (I realize, dear readers, that you know very well what happened; I'm just asking that rhetorical question so I can get the answer written down for my future self with my future old age memory loss, and for posterity.)  In a nutshell: a virus was globally unleashed, the world reacted with unprecedented fear, and one by one, the freedoms granted to Americans in the United States Constitution began to disappear with breakneck speed.  Worst of all: no gathering in churches.  No Mass.  No Eucharist. Lent 2020: it was the Lentiest Lent we ever Lented.  (I can't take credit for that line; I saw it somewhere in my online travels--over on Instagram, I think.)

I am not going to tell you my innermost thoughts on all of this, because that's one surefire way to draw the ire of some.  Lines have been drawn, people are taking sides, neighbors have turned against one another.  I won't get into it except to say that I do believe with all my heart that God can make good come out of bad, and I am holding on to the hope that before too long, life will look normal again.  Maybe God knew we were getting too complacent...I doubt that I will ever take the Mass or the Eucharist for granted again, once this is all over, I can tell you that.

I have not been able to make myself blog about this terrifying and soul-aching era of the coronavirus pandemic, though; at a time when so many people are writing very deep and moving pieces about how this difficult situation has strengthened them in their Faith and reminded them to lean on God and trust in His endless love and mercy, I find I have the most monumental writer's block.  I think this is the reason I've stayed away from my blog throughout this crisis.  I can't really write about it.  I can't.  I've put together a few brief Instagram posts, but just haven't had the heart to go into it too much.  My mind and heart are so full right now, I would find it overwhelming to try to figure out how to put my thoughts into words.

But pictures--they're worth a thousand words.  (Or so I've heard.)  So I thought I'd do a little Lent 2020 photo dump.  Because someday, this crazy season filled with so many crosses that we could have never imagined we'd have to carry will be a faded memory that seems like a bad dream (I hope so anyway!), and I want to remember that it really happened.

So without further ado--

Who will ever be able to forget the great toilet paper shortage of 2020?

(Really?  Toilet paper?  When intestinal distress is not even a symptom of the virus?)

Or how about Mass at home, live-streamed on the television?

We "attended" the 10:00 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the University of Notre Dame campus every Sunday, after our local parish church had to close its doors by order of the governor of VA.  We set up our mantle like an altar, dressed in our Sunday best, and tried to make it as holy an experience as possible.  But it made me tear up each and every week.

And aside from the churches, who could forget all the other closings...

so many closings!

Schools closed for the remainder of the year!  No going to the movies, to sporting events, to restaurants!  In some states, even, no visiting from house to house, even amongst family members... [Insert a shocked face emoji, here, followed by a crying face emoji.]

At least we can still shop for groceries and other essentials.  Masks are encouraged when you're out and about--but of course, like toilet paper, they are a precious and hard-to-find commodity.  To help out until more can be manufactured and distributed, seamstresses are encouraged to make them at home (but good luck finding elastic anywhere!  In a pinch, hairbands will do the trick!).

So here's another Lent 2020/coronavirus memory of mine...

making masks
(to donate to local EMT's and nurses, as well as family members who need them for work).

I suppose it's fortunate that we live in the Internet age during this strange era where we are all staying inside our own homes and not able to get together with our loved ones.   I don't think any of us will ever forget

the Zoom happy hours with family!

If you don't laugh, you'll certainly in times of crisis, sometimes you just have to try to see the humor in things.  One thing there hasn't been a shortage of during this strange time (thank you, Iinternet!) is

funny memes! :)

(That should say masks, not mask; yes, I am the typo police--even when it
comes to humorous Internet memes.)

You know, on that positive note, I think I'll end this post.  But I'll be back soon--maybe even tomorrow--to show you how my husband and I managed to make our Easter special, in spite of having to watch the Mass on TV and being denied the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  And I'll also be back to show you what I've been doing lately to help chase away the blues when the weight of the world's problems becomes too oppressive to bear.

Aside from praying, that is!  Because my hubby and I have a busier prayer life than ever these days--the list of prayers we say after our daily Rosary is ever-growing. We have so many perpetual novenas going, among them this one to of all people, St. Corona.

St. Corona--Patron saint of plagues and pandemics.  (!!)

God bless you all with health and peace, until next time (which will hopefully be a lot sooner than a month from now!).