Little Words


I thank God for little words
which, when strung together by brave souls,
can bring tears over the brim of my eyes
and waves over my flesh where no ocean lives.


Once to my ears, and only for a moment,
they are quakes in the core of my heart
and music to the dead of my bones.

The Imposition of Ashes and The Hope for A Little Hope…


Today is Ash Wednesday. I could get all technical on you about what that means in the Catholic Church, but I think I’ll stick to what it means to me. It’s the beginning of Lent, the 40 days before Easter, the day after Mardi Gras, a time which serves to remind me of my faults and shortcomings as a parent, a wife, a friend, a human being. It causes me to take stock of my life, be mindful and, in short, do something for 40 days to keep me mindful. Ideally, however, it causes me to place my focus back on the hope brimming at the horizon.


Today also happens to be the day that, after mass, Esther is to be awarded as Student of the Month. I knew this was coming, but she did not, and I was very excited for her. I wanted this day to be happy, special, and joyful, from the moment she opened her eyes. This, to me, would be a little Easter for my Esther, a little bit of life and hope in the midst of an ongoing struggle, too many days where I know she has felt hopeless. She has been working very hard in school to overcome some minor learning, vision, and sensory issues. She’s made a lot of progress and I am terribly proud of her. Esther is also terribly hard on herself and more often than not expresses with a grief no child should know at such a young age a sense of failure about her inability to do what the other kids seem to do so easily.


I woke her up, stroked her little face and snuggled in bed with her as I do every morning. I told her how much I love her and how today is going to be such a good day if we can all stay focused and work together to get ourselves ready. She smiled at me, as she does every morning, and said how much she loves me.


With a bit of prodding, she got dressed in good time and sat down to her breakfast of choice – waffles with an ice cold glass of milk. While at the table she found a piece of her religion homework that should’ve been done last night, but could easily be done while eating breakfast. No cause for alarm. No morning derailment. It was about the meaning of Lent, of course, and why we give something up or choose to do something nice for the period of time before Easter arrives. This led to us talking about the meaning of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Here’s her interpretation: On Ash Wednesday, people who were fat on Tuesday give up eating for 40 days. Clearly, we’ve got some work to do. She then rather suddenly announced with fear and welling tears that she didn’t want to get ashes on her forehead because they would never come off. I tried to explain that they come right off, but the ship had already left the dock. In an instant the time was gone. I was not dressed, her lunch was not made, and my husband was irritated that I told him he needs to put more peanut butter on the bread for her sandwich. I am now irritated with him for being sensitive about peanut butter sandwiches. But we are silent. We are always silent. And the tension grows. The blissful morning I had hoped for is now done for. Is it really too much to ask for a school-day of sunshine for my girl? The makings of a good memory, something to get her through the next few months until her carefree summer arrives? I guess it is. Her teeth are not brushed and her hair is not combed and now she is crying because she has been prodded and rushed and scurried out of her comfort zone. And we are late.


By the time I was able to attend to myself I, too, had been prodded and rushed and scurried out of my comfort zone. Now there is no time for a shower, no time for makeup, and barely enough time to brush my teeth. My own hopelessness sets in. Nothing will ever go as planned, no good memory will ever be made. Nothing I do is right. Why should I bother? Doesn’t anyone see how hard I am trying to make my daughter’s childhood better than my own? Doesn’t anyone give a shit?


We are silent in the car until Esther speaks up to say that she feels like she ruined every thing because she is a crybaby. Now, how do I respond honestly here? Do I tell her, ya, you did ruin it by being a whiny-ass 8 year old who is totally ungrateful for everything you have? Or do I placate her, hope for an in to a happy moment and tell her no, you are not a crybaby, everyone has bad mornings and you are as good a little girl as they come? I opt for something else entirely. “Esther” I say with resolve. “We all have a choice to make when we wake up in the morning. We choose to be happy or we choose to be grumpy. We choose to see what good there is or we choose to see the bad. You can’t ruin my day. Only I can ruin my day. And you are the only one who can ruin yours. It’s your choice.” Hmmm… perhaps this is a bit too heady for a second grader. I know it’s too heady for me at the moment, since in my head I am blaming a litany of people on the planet for my existential misery. “Yes, mommy. I understand,” she says. I think she says it just to get me to shut up. I think I’ve scarred her for life.



We arrive at church and Esther runs to sit with her class. Tim and I hesitate about where to land, and wind up sitting ourselves on the sidelines with The Blessed Virgin and an insanely loud child I would very much like to discipline seeing as his mother is not interested in doing so. I settle and stare into space, lamenting that this day is not what I had hoped for. My heart sinks a mite further and I feel the sting and water rise behind my eyes. Here they are. Finally. My hopeless tears. My husband is right next to me but feels a million light years away. Why doesn’t he say something? Put his hand on my arm. Comfort me. Something. A thought flashes through my head – why don’t I comfort him? Why don’t I reach out to him? Maybe he’s crying too but doesn’t show his tears…


I stand to see Esther receive her ashes. She sees me, points at her forehead and gives me a big smiling thumbs up. She did it. I hope she is not ruined for doing so, given her fear that they’ll never come off. I think twice about receiving the Eucharist. “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” the Mass says. Truer words have not rumbled through my bones. If there’s one thing I’ve learned you DON’T do in a moment of darkness, it’s deny the light. And so I get in line behind the 4th graders to receive the Host.





After mass, the principal stands at the lectern to announce this month’s honored students. This is the moment. “Second Grade: Esther Klassen.” Applause. Applause. Applause. I watch her face break into an incredulous grin and she bounds for the altar. There it is. There’s the joy, however fleeting… Sweet, sparkling, bubbling over… She stands with the other kids holding high her certificate and beams at her daddy and me. She puts the certificate in her mouth and gives me an “I love you” in American Sign Language. I sign back to her “I love you too.” Tim turns and smiles at me and puts his hand on my knee.


Well, whaddya know… Perhaps there is a little mercy in that Host we just received, and in our willingness to muddle through the morning. Perhaps this will be a good memory for Esther. Perhaps a day that started out badly, will turn out well. There is the hope brimming on the horizon, and the day has just begun…



A Clown To Entertain You…


I am crude among the artists
Petal fallen from the bloom
Neo-con amongst the Libs
The elephant in the room


With the skeptics I am Jesus
A thorn in both their sides
I am the whore among the Fundies
The beldam with the bride


I am stained among the sainted
On a cross of my own making
A believer with the atheist
A martyr at the staking


I doubt among the certain
My finger’s in the wound
My stammer’s in the speaking
I’m a lyric with no tune


I am the black sheep in the barn
I know where I belong
A clown to entertain you
With a poem and a song


photo/artwork by Vanessa Lemen