Tag Archives: religion

ichthyic


ichthyic adj. fishlike

Image

I was recently in Lisbon, Portugal which is by all accounts the world capital of the sardine. Every souvenir shop I happened upon peddled hoards of fish emblazoned tchotchkes. Most every menu at every restaurant prominently featured many fish dishes and there were art exhibits entirely devoted to celebrating fin-kind. When I found this word, it made me think about how the fish is an archaic, yet very modern symbol and how I have experienced it in my life.

An ichthys is the actual “Jesus fish” symbol which is much bastardized on car bumpers the world over. The word itself actually means “Jesus Christ, Savior.” It’s a symbol I see quite frequently, mostly in the form of bumper adornment. It is rarely in its pure, innocent, religiously proud form. Most of the time it has small feet and the word DARWIN scrawled within its body. Other times it has devil horns and a tail. Rarely, I see one that is tagged GEFILTE – although I believe the popularity of this particular one is increasing. Sometimes people stencil their own sayings next to the DARWIN variety (I live in a very liberal town…). I find it surprising how passionate people get about this symbol. They get so worked up they have to defile it on the back of something they drive around. There aren’t many differentiating features when it comes to cars, so the stickers and marks you choose to put on your own make it your mobile statement to the world…and so many choose this particular symbol as one of their “pieces of flair.”

I just don’t know why it’s important that I know your stance on creationism while I’m on my way to the Whole Foods. If I met that person would they immediately engage me in a deep debate about evolution while we squeeze avocados in the produce aisle? Yet sometimes it’s the one thing they choose to differentiate themselves amongst the other Hondas and Volkswagons on the road. I can’t talk to other people driving while on the road so the only thing I will know about the green minivan in front of me is that the driver is Jewish (GEFILTE), has a wife, a cat and 2 kids (back window sticker family), vacations / has been to the Outer Banks (OBX in an oval), attended Keane State (obvious back window sticker decal), and has a country club membership (parking decals on the side window). The ichthys seems a bit out of place, no? Or maybe not, now that I think about it…

Ichthyic also makes me think about swimming and my personal relationship with the water. Back when I was in college, it was a life dream of mine to go all Baywatch and become a lifeguard. There was just something so cool about having the ability to be so comfortable and free in the water that you could save another human being at the spur of a moment.( Plus, the work study gigs at college paid really well.) At the time, an opportunity arose for me to become a lifeguard through the summer camp that I worked at – so I jumped at the chance – not entirely realizing that I wasn’t a swimming natural. When I was a kid, my parent’s idea of swim lessons was letting me try to teach myself in the shallow end of my grandmother’s built in pool. I eventually succeeded, but had no technique and knew nothing about breathing or stroke. Over the years I got better, but I wasn’t prepared to rub elbows with Australian Bronze Medallion lifeguards – whom I trained with for a week at Red Cross Certification. For a week of my life, I pushed myself to feats of aquatic agony  until finally I had passed everything but the final coup de gras – the deep water rescue. I remember sobbing on the phone to my mother on the very last day before this final certification exercise – sure of my impending and miserable failure . I am a floater. I don’t sink…so surface diving to the 18 foot bottom of a pool is difficult…and my rescue subject also weighed about 250. Somehow, as I look back on this important life event, the moment I remember is being under water after mastering a splashless jump from the diving board.  At about 10 feet down with 8 feet to go…looking down at that 250 pound Speedo spandex- wrapped- sunk- like- a- rock body thinking, you’re through – you’re going to fail this….and just not accepting it. Somehow, I got down a few more feet and managed to wrap my hands around the spandex Speedo X strap on that wide swatch of freckled fat and sling- shotted all 250 pounds of that glorious flesh up into my arms and scissor kicked to surface next to my rescue tube. When I broke the water, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I could tell that the instructor that I saved, Barb, couldn’t believe it either.  In that moment of deciding to break through the failure and accomplish something that I probably wasn’t meant to do – an average swimmer saving a 250 pound woman in 18 feet of water – I was at my most ichthyic.

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anticipate


anticipate v. regard as probable; expect or predict

Rake

The OED gives neither a positive or negative connotation to this word, but in my mind and life, this word takes on a negative feeling. It’s most likely due to the combination of Catholic guilt, Italian superstition and past catastrophic health events, but I don’t like to anticipate anything – good or bad. I think of anticipation as similar to those cartoonic situations where Bugs Bunny or some other character is running elatedly about, celebrating something with glee and rapture – and then suddenly steps on a rake and gets knocked to the ground. Or the ever joyous pile of leaves on the sidewalk awaiting a young jumper – who jumps only to find large boulders hidden underneath, creating hurt and harm so suddenly. I suppose you could say I don’t like to count my chickens before they hatch, or, to finish off the bad cliche – put all of my eggs in one emotional basket.

Being this way takes the fun out of a lot of things. And you can bet that having a child makes it even worse. What was once just a fear of not having enough fun or perhaps something being more disappointing than expected turns into an anal retentive, overly cautious, daily, mental shit show that I silently grapple with from minute to minute. I don’t want to anticipate anything being wonderful because it could, possibly, be not so wonderful. Or I don’t want to anticipate something being awful, because life surprises me quite often (at least it goes both ways, right?) I am like some perverted fortune teller in my own life trying to predict how I can prepare to feel before I even get to the place in time where I have to feel it. I always prepare for the worst and hope for the best…which is another way of saying that the fun is never as fun as it could be or I have prolonged “the bad” by bringing it on earlier through worry and negative anticipation.

As a child I didn’t have this problem – until catastrophic things happened in my life (ie. brother with leukemia, dad with a brain tumor, etc. etc.). When I think about all of the bad that happened, I remember the sadness and questioning why, but I also remember that proverbial rake hitting me in the face because I didn’t anticipate anything. When it first happened, I was around 8 years old. I was living an idyllic 8 year old life filled with Cabbage Patch Kids and Jem & The Hologram birthday parties. My scope of pain and anguish spanned about as far as not getting dessert because I didn’t eat my peas or losing one of my best friends to the new girl at school… and then WHAM – brother sick, rake in the face, go to live with family – friends, Sundays as a healthy kid spent reading The Babysitters Club on a pediatric oncology ward while my brother gets chemo, closed doors because another child has passed away –  kinda WHAM. Sort of blows the shit out of anticipating comfy Saturday morning cartoons and trips to the Dairy Queen.

So I probably learned this fear of anticipating the good that might be coming down the road way back when I was 8. I know by the time I was around 17, I was still able to anticipate positive things without fear – until my dad got sick and I couldn’t go away to school. That was what really caused the fear of positive anticipation –  or fear of enjoying the present – I have today. I suppose it isn’t all that bad though. I have an incredible work ethic because of it. Somehow in my brain, being prepared and working really, really hard counteracts the fear with a sense of accomplishment and keeping busy keeps me in the here and now. But in the back of my mind I know that you can give it all you have for years and years, nearing your goal, seeing the finish line and in your final moment…even a split second of celebration, you can step on that rake again. As a mom, this manifests itself into worrisome thoughts about my son. If his poop is a little to soft, I worry he is getting sick. If he’s not saying a hundred words like the doctor wants him to, is he developmentally delayed. All of a sudden the rake in the yard is a physical being in my life and some days I am afraid to enjoy him because it could all go wrong at any time and this time it will hurt the worst of all.

I have found one vein of wisdom that runs through all of the religion, philosophy and self help I have sought over the years – and that is to live and be concerned with the present. From Buddha to the bible, it is the only solution the universe offers me. Do more down dogs, pray more often, breathe deeper, run farther, hug harder, laugh louder – all of the things that keep me solidly in the present and out of my mischievous, anticipating thoughts. Even if it was bad before and there is more bad headed straight for me, there is always a minute, a moment of peace before it where it isn’t so bad – perhaps a single split second of wonderful. Because even with all the bad that has happened, there are still all of those comfy Saturday mornings, trips to the Dairy Queen and warm hugs from my son. They are quieter and smaller, but they are indelibly there. I couldn’t have planned those moments or prepared for them. I can only surrender to what will be the story of me and string together the moments where I am present and happy like a charm bracelet for my brain. I can measure my fears and heartbreaks in rakes and stones if I am constantly searching backwards and forwards in anticipation. I might collect a handful or two before I die. But if I strive to be here in the present, the millions of peaceful moments and split seconds of wonderful will far outnumber them.

Pick the day. Enjoy it – to the hilt. The day as it comes.

People as they come… The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present

– and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future.

– Audrey Hepburn

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cordate


cordate adj. heart-shaped

The first thought that came to mind with this word was Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” and how goofy it would be to sing a song called the “Cordate Box.” But anyway, the figural heart that we associate in love, affection, Valentine’s Day and religion looks nothing like our own internal organ heart at all. Our hearts have a vaguely similar shape if you turn it sideways, but otherwise it more closely resembles a steak. So I was curious and I looked up where the figural heart shape originates and it turns out there is quite a lot of debate about this subject. Apparently, it can be traced back to the silphium plant – which served as a form of contraceptive in Africa. I was going to post a photo of a silphium seed pod but it turns out that I cannot find one that actually looks anything like a heart – just a bunch of photos of coins with something that looks like a heart that is supposed to be the seed pod…so I don’t really buy this theory…and I don’t understand how NOT creating a baby means love…that would be the antithesis in my mind, but to each his own.

Other theories hold that the heart shape comes from Christianity, ie. the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sacred Heart of Jesus. However, nothing I have found dates the depiction of this symbol back to an actual figural origin. Now, I have looked for all of 10 minutes so it might exist, but I still find it interesting how it is not very clear.

The third origin of the figural heart that I found in my brief searchings was its similarity in shape to the female vulva or buttocks. But then I also found reference to testicles…which in my opinion more closely resembles the heart shape than female naughty bits. Men have asses too so I don’t buy the female tie to the heart shape that is so often referenced.

The cordate symbol of love that we have come to know is arguably one of the most important shapes in our society. We come across it everywhere…and we don’t know exactly where it came from. Interesting…

Music

…and in lots and lots of logos….

The heart shape has it’s own holiday and is most likely one of the first drawings most of us make as children (well, girls anyway) and yet there is no clear idea of its origin. We know where the circle came from and can read hyrogliphics but something we see everyday remains a mystery. It symbolizes all of these warm, fuzzy cozy sentiments yet we don’t know who to thank for it.

Maybe just being something purely good makes us forget it is essentially a stranger as far as symbols go. It is a universal symbol of goodness, of joy, and in my opinion, there are too few of those in our world so perhaps it’s best to just cherish it and smile when we see it.

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mansuetude


mansuetude n. meekness; gentleness

Mary, the mother of God, has always had a special, quiet existence in my life. She is a constant, graceful reminder to me of meekness and gentleness and has marked my life from childhood to this day.

I remember going to my grandmother’s house while my mother was ill and my father working. Being an Italian immigrant, she had several religious statues around the house, including a fully dressed infant of Prague who had it’s own wardrobe. Next to the prized infant was a stark painted statue of Mary as well as Saint Theresa. I remember having to sleep in my grandmother’s bed when I stayed over. She snored so loudly and I was up for most of the night imagining that her wheezing and snorting had a rhythmic beat. During those nights I would stare at Mary and she would stare back at me until I feel asleep.

In school, we would prepare for the crowning of Mary with flowers each May. All of the names of the little girls in class would go into a hat to see who would be chosen to walk up the aisle and crown the church statue during our First Friday mass. There was even a song we would sing – “Oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today…” that I still remember fondly. I never was chosen to crown Mary, but it was always my favorite mass. Mary was my icon of quiet strength and mansuetude as she held up her hands, looked up to heaven and stepped on the snake with such beauty and gentleness.

As I grew older, Mary took on more profound meaning in my life. During one of my sleepless nights when caring for my dying father I remember seeing a water stain on the ceiling above his bed that had a shape like the silhouette of the Virgin Mary. I hadn’t noticed it before and it comforted me to think that she was watching over my father. As he progressed through the final stages of dying, he would speak to invisible people and one of them was named Mary. He could have been seeing his mother who was named Mary and had died when he was just a child. Nevertheless, in my memories it is was Mary who watched over and protected him; who held him in her arms as he died. It was her song – Ave Maria – that was played at his funeral that I cannot hear without crying and remembering the loss of my father.

Mary is who I pray to when I am most scared and alone. When the plane is taking off or I am in fear of losing someone I love. She is the saint that I imagine quietly standing in my corner through out my life. She watches over me without pomp or circumstance, never asking for anything but my faith in return. As Mother’s Day approaches and I watch my son grow and thrive each day, I pray to become an example of gentleness and meekness in his life…the eyes he can stare into as he drifts to sleep, the arms that will hold him in times of pain and sorrow. Always silently, gently in his corner as his mother.

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