Shapes of a Heart

This evening’s cleaning to beat a self-imposed deadline is leading me to much introspection, especially with good music. How did I, one of Sting’s late ’80’s fangirls, miss his “If on a Winter’s Night” album, and his (unrelated) song,”Shape of my Heart?” Thanks, Kindle! Much better than a Walkman… (Stop laughing, kids.)

OK, eh, some of the lyrics are similar to what he sang 30 years ago, but ahh, the music! Perfect for a purgatorial tub-scrubbing.

My thoughts about “shapes of the heart.” Actually, I’ve been reading a lot about the Heart of Jesus lately, by various authors, and struck by how afraid we, as in “The We across time and space,” have been and are to approach His Heart. Some of us see tight lightning bolts primed to rain down in instant rebuke, or the nails stretching out to penetrate us with suffering, or even to imagine His arms folded tightly across His chest in contempt of what we have done so wrongly, stupidly, over and over, (or perhaps in just one mighty disaster), landing us in the slime of shame.

Some can’t even catch a glimpse because a dark millstone-adorned silhouette from the past so obscures Him that it doesn’t seem possible that He has a heart.

As He predicted, even if our vision of Him is not quite that dire, the hard ground and rambles growing up through rocky soil sometimes distract us mightily from any glimpse of rays of crimson and pure white brightness bursting from His constant and merciful dwelling-with-us.

Argh! How passionately He loves us, and how much we distrust Him! He carries all of it, all of our distress and sorrow and anguish, and His Passion and Death prove his deep distress, sorrow and anguish for us.

When I’m overwhelmed and distracted and have wandered away from Him, I try to recognize the myriad “little” shapes His Heart takes. If I’m recollected enough, then I see Him again:

An ancient, soaring cathedral, built in the heart of a city even older, with warped marble aisles, wakes of thousands of shuffling shoes, now largely empty save for tourists. A tiny basement Oratory holds His Precious Body, though, and a young person prays intensely on his knees.

A middle-aged woman with constant health problems, some having brought her to death’s door, offering up each slow drip of pain and discomfort in gratitude, for poor souls. You wouldn’t know it by her joyful face.

Two women cashiers at our local grocery store particularly take on the mantle of His Heart; they must know Him well. They treat each of us, no matter the time of day, length of lines or the general mood, with kindness and felicity.

Parents who have never, ever given up,  have never quit and thrown in the towel, and are on their knees within His Heart, constantly.

Always, always a quiet handful of individuals live in a parish, and they who are actually mighty Annas and Simeons would be embarrassed if you took notice of them. Their hearts are open to His Heart’s graces and they intercede for us and I’m pretty sure we’ll discover how much good they’ve done us when we enter eternity.

The shapes equal infinity, and I need to go to bed but I’ll add one more.

There’s an elderly woman crossing guard in the midst of a large and broken city who stands at the corner of the entrance of an expensive private school. She stops the restless hordes of suburban SUVs and smartcars each time her students need to walk across to the city elementary school two blocks away. She smiles and chats with her regulars, and I imagine that if anyone troubled her little ones in the least little bit on their journey, she’d wield her plastic stop sign quite effectively. Although her eyes don’t linger on the non-descript forms behind the steering wheels, I imagine they’d be His Heart shape.

Feel free to add your own Heart-shapes!






Forty Years’ Hindsight

I view those first three years in Stuttgart through golden-tinged lenses. Such a strange situation! We settled in a snug four-bedroom row home, complete with two balconies stacked off the back: one opened into the first  floor living room, and the other was accessible through my parents’ second floor bedroom. From such luxurious loftiness, we enjoyed a great view of the opposing slope of the valley in which Hemmingen, our town, was situated. Three formidable granite-slab, open-riser staircases wound tightly from the basement to our wooden-slatted attic room. (My mom must have been frightened those first few months; my youngest brother was a very active two year old and could have easily slipped through the gaps. We were delighted; it was quite heady to gaze down from the attic to very bottom, and small stuffed animals enjoyed the ride, we were sure!)

We had an intercom system, too. I recall awesome sibling-scaring opportunities (your poor uncle T!) but it was not so easy to avoid a clean-up summons.

Our small 1000-year old farming town, about 20 km north-west of Stuttgart, was indescribably awesome. The main road we usually traveled led northwest between the “Funny Buildings,” tall avant-guarde-ish apartments, and the Schlosspark, (castle park – yep, legitimate ruins of “Schloss Nippenburg,” one of the oldest castles in the Stuttgart region, lay scant miles away), and then wound rather steeply through streets of small shops, farmhouses complete with odious cow barns, a kindergarten, town square, the train station, across the tracks which ran through the valley, and then a sharp left onto Schauchertstrasse. Our street ran parallel to the tracks for five long blocks before winding north; our postage-stamp backyard hugged the curve and we could run out from our back basement door and in six or seven level leaps hop right onto the roof of our detached garage. (Rarely, since instant punishment awaited any kid stupid enough to hop the safety railing!)

Our immediate neighbors: ultra-reclusive older German couple to the right, large American family to the left. We saw the former perhaps 10 times in three years; the latter became daily intimates. One or two other American families lived nearby, and we were the youngest children, we four, ranging from 8 to two.

Our life in this delightful farming town was very carefree from our young perspective. Only thirty years beforehand, a devastating war had crushed this land, and my grandparents’ generation had been the victors. The steep embankments sloping down from the major roads and train tracks were deliberately reconstructed from the rubble as natural protection against the potential threat of Soviet tanks. The “Fulda Gap” problem,only 300 clicks from our back door, was the reason for our extended visit!  We were confronted with those past and potential realities quite often, but mainly we rode our bikes to the playgrounds and small trough-fountains and the two penny candy stores, and walked to the small local grocery store to try out our awkward German as we bought milk and carrot bunches for Mom.



Anfang: Beginning

I burst out of my bedroom, raced across the hall, and bounced onto my brothers’ bed; my screech echoed satisfyingly in the almost-emptied upstairs. “You know what Germans call ‘hotdogs?’ ” Dumbfounded silence, music to an in-the-know eldest’s ears.

“Wieners! Hahaha!”

Giggles and much joyful jumping, followed by my Dad’s arrival. I don’t remember a head-palm, but I’m pretty sure it accompanied his brief explanation. Our first course of training to be diplomatic  “overseas brats:” Don’t make fun of the native speech, especially avoid bathroom humor. Wieners = made in Wien (Vienna, Austria. Frankfurters = Frankfurt, West Germany. Oh. Well, that’s less fun. 

After packing out of our Glen Burnie cape cod, we spent a few weeks in da muddah-land, Long Island, with our extensive network of relatives during that summer of ’75. I recall my parents and assorted relatives hauling many suitcases through JFK (back then four little kids and parents could each bring 3 large items, especially with 3- year orders and brown passports), silverware and hot washcloths in-flight (Pan Am!), but not much more.

First stop on our excellent adventure: Heathrow, to visit my Dad’s sister Peg and her British husband, Dave. He was unused to groups of young children. “Keep your chew in your chops, Charlie Brown!” was one memorable phrase, and he may have used it as we swirled crazily down the tall parking garage at breakneck speed, on the wrong side of the road. Even I knew that, by gum! I remember I was in the front seat, flanked by my mom, and probably my youngest bro, Fred, who was two, perhaps on her lap.  (Remember: 1975.)

My fave British memory is my chat with my aunt’s next door neighbor during a July 4th picnic they held in our honor. I asked him if he celebrated 4th of July, too. “Hell no. What for?” I’m sure the elderly curmudgeon was highly amused as he watched my eight year old brain struggle mightily with a Brit refusing to celebrate such an obviously glorious occasion. My learning curve, steeply rising.

Solch -such! ein’Anfang!


Other writings

I’m retrieving these for posterity.

Go forth and retrieve, posterity!

Monsters, Inc: A Door into the Hearts of Post-abortive Fathers

In Thy Wounds, Hide Us

The State of Our Personal Catholic Higher Education Bubble

(Boy, was I heated with that one! A huge dose of hindsight humble pie for me. A lesson in trusting the Lord. The overarching problem remains, though…)

Like a clap of thunder, it hits: So glad she chucked those old journals. Whew! Imagine the disgruntled scribblings regarding  the injustice of the senior football players not being able to wear skirts for the powderpuff football game during spirit week. (Ahead of our time — Gen X !)


Dorothy Joseph.

Gardening haphazardly

A friend of mine asked about how to organize cleaning up a yard and garden neglected for three years. Oy! A totally undeserved vote of confidence! We ourselves resignedly grow chickweed, dandelions, and crabgrass in the lawn-that-is-too-large-to-properly-weed-seed-and-water-during-these-tuition-payment-years (First World Problem!), but my observations this evening, after 4 weeks of neglecting our flowerbeds (in no particular order):

When the tender-hearted and observant seven-year-old comments about the interesting, hairy caterpillars carpeting the newly-laid mulch, pay attention.

Why am I not out here more often? It’s very peaceful. I ponder wearing gloves, but I’ve always loved getting my hands deep in the soil. That came in handy with motherhood, yep. I have 75 songs to accompany me: U2 and Bach (Wachete auf, ruft uns die Stimme), Doobie Brothers and CSNY, Thomas Dolby, Talking Heads, Vaughan Williams. Gemichst. Peaceful. Gemuetlich. ANYWAY…

The rosebushes WERE shrinking! There are drunken caterpillars flopped ALL OVER every single chewed up, pitiful branch. Well, the warning signs were there, and my sort-of-angelic messenger alerted me. My own fault. Gloves. Shake bushes. Remove vermin. Remove gloves because I’m distracted by teeny-bopper weeds and better to get fingers deep in root extraction. Return to caterpillars. Who needs gloves? Being almost 50 is freeing, you know? There’s been a lot of squish in my life… Toss caterpillars in heap on sidewalk. They’re too hung over to notice. Get ’em all at once.

The azaleas, pansies and flox (flocks? flochs?) are spectacularly colored. What’s Latin for “God’s magnanimity?” That should be the genus term of every single flowering plant. How often I walk by and carelessly admire the gorgeous hues peeping or shouting out of the earth and do not acknowledge His handiwork. At weeding height, the chickweed’s tiny blossoms are each uniquely crafted. Definition of a weed from a bygone science textbook: a weed is just a plant that ya don’t want growing in a certain place. (Our lawn, justified! They’re WANTED.)

Crazy that the weeds seem to mimic the plants-I-desire-to-remain, and they grow very closely, quite cosy with the blossomings. The roots of certain varieties are much deeper than their slender crabby shoots. Sometimes I take the time to dig deeply, but often I am rushing off to the large, precariously-clawed plants because it’s ginormously satisfying to haul those out. Look at that empty ground! If I don’t check consistently,though, those darn deep rooted ones that I didn’t excavate properly creep into that blankness.

One last tip: If you forget to chop and quietly dispose of the caterpillars, the tender-hearted youngest will wonder what will happen to them. He weeds out hard-heartedness, yes, he does.

Hope that helps, hon!