Thursday, December 19, 2013

Observations While Walking the Path of Grief

This was their home

The holidays which came in a steady flow this fall repeatedly brought me back to the fall of  2012, the season which marked the beginning of the  end of my parents' lives as they had known them together for 69 years. It is still shocking to think of all that has happened in this last year both in the family of my birth and in the family to which I committed myself 13 years ago. I will leave the list of occasions which brought me to both the heights and the depths of human experience to another reflection.  I will focus on recent    observation of a feature of human grieving.

alabaster vase
with carved stone flowers
5 inches high - Italy
I am thinking again of my parents and how their lives, as they knew them came to a screeching halt in October of last year when my mother, age 88 and experiencing dementia, was hospitalized for a week. This was followed by a month of recuperation and rehabilitation in a nursing home and then arranging for her to live in an assisted living facility in their town. My father was a devoted husband in every way. The quality of their relationship was recently described by a psychiatrist friend as a 'zipper marriage' - devotion to each other that had a shadow side of shutting others out. It was only my father's realization that he could no longer cope with the day to day reality of my mother's dementia as he experienced his own diminishment in strength and spoke of fully expecting his own death within the year. He died on April 17 at the age of 91 following two and half months of in-home Hospice care and one week in a Hospice residential facility.
I am thinking of how their way of life just seemed to explode in a manner of seconds. All of their carefully arranged routines, relationships, obligations, support systems could no longer suffice to maintain things as they had always been. This was crushing to my father.

upper frame - my sister and I
ages 7 and five
lower frame my sons and
my parents 1984

In what followed my father's death the beautiful objects, so lovingly, artistically arranged and maintained were propelled from their set order or place; off into the unknown universe; a diaspora of all that was their life. What had been an enduringly cohesive whole atomized, exploded, fractured into shards.
Before it all went beyond reach I grabbed at some of the shards, little precious objects that were fixtures in their home and present to me my whole life. A few appear here. There are others: my Dad's slide rules in their leather cases so often seen on his drafting table, the little leather bound boxed chess set no bigger than a small paperback book which he carried with him to the Pacific in WWII and brought back in a duffle crammed with every letter he had received from my mother, a pocket knife, a watercolor painted by my mother. Each item of little value except to me and perhaps, this is my hope, to my children and grandchildren after me.

silver sewing kit box from Italy - 3x4 inches
However I find that when I look upon them I mourn the loss of the whole. Each object in their home was placed in artful relationship to others, a grand collection in reflection of their lives. These objects, in isolation from the whole, seem to have lost something. It does come to me that the loss represented in these objects seemingly removed from the ground of their being is only a reflection of my sense of loss, of my having been propelled into a new way of being, a new stage of life. No longer in this world is there anyone who came before me. who remembers before me, who can tell the old stories. I am now the elder and that has been a bit of a shock. I feel the burden of holding the stories and the need to keep sharing them, especially with the little ones so that when they receive the gift of these precious objects they will know something of their meaning to those who loved them so dearly.

Helmut Eric Nimke with family
March, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Novena Begins Today

Novena Prayer
Adore, O my soul,
in the bosom of Mary
the only begotten
Son of God
who was made man
for love of you.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Reflection for All Souls

On Mourning Those Whose Faith was Weak
Reflection offered at the annual
All Souls Concert at St. Joseph's Church,
Kingston , NY - November 10, 2013

Many of us have been consoled in our grief by remembering the deep faith of the person no longer with us. We may have observed firsthand how the one we loved and respected was carried through the dying process by faith in a loving God. Or perhaps the sadness of the day of their departure or the day of their burial was eased by our imagining their joy as they entered into the embrace of the God whom they knew and loved.
But my words now are for those who grieve the loss of someone whose faith was not strong; whose faith was underdeveloped; whose faith was long ago jettisoned in the face of great pain, misfortune or disillusionment. Preparing their funerals and burial rites may have seemed a bit off kilter because we never really knew how they were with God.

It was this way with me when my father died last April. True to his utterly in control character and while he was in Hospice care at home, he planned everything. At his request he met with the funeral director and pastor of the Episcopal Church where he would be buried. He wrote his own obituary, wanted no church service, requested military honors and allowed for only a few words at the burial.

While not a member of Gereration X, he could have declared like some of them, “I am not religious but I am spiritual.” I believe my father was a deeply spiritual man. Were he not, how could he have been such a loving and faithful husband for almost 70 years, such a lover and connoisseur of music and art, such a steady reliable friend, or such a faithful citizen of the country of his adoption? He often asked me to pray for him. But he was a pragmatic man wary of all illusion.
Where did I find my consolation if I could not find it in the sure knowledge of his faith? Where can we find some peace when we lose someone whose faith had not matured, who seemed to have no faith, or who chose a spiritual path unlike our own?  I found my peace in a passage of Scripture frequently read at funerals but little meditated upon:

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble…
I read this passage and no longer wondered about the quality of the grand reunion of my father’s soul with his creator.  In that reunion all has been revealed to him. Now he knows all about God, all those things he missed or questioned or puzzled about all his life. Now he knows utterly unconditional love.

Let our consolation be found in the image of God taking such souls to himself and transforming them into brilliant light. Where once their intellect or ignorance, their pride or their lack of self-worth, their self-centeredness or their frenzied busy-ness kept God at a distance or out of their realm altogether; now they have bridged the gap. All distance has been erased by union with God who knew their hearts as only God can know them. With this image before us we can say with comforting certainty, “Now they know.”



Tuesday, November 05, 2013

New Option for Your Holiday Shopping

RedNuns Open
On-line Shop
RedNuns Roberie and Scriptorium
Traditionally the roberie (French) is a very special room in a monastery;
the place where vestments are created and stored.
 Today it is the sewing room; a place where creative ideas come to life.
Etsy Pics Oct13 (34)About Our Shop

“We are contemplative monastic nuns creating handmade original needlework and graphic arts to support senior sisters in community. Featuring natural fibers; handspun yarn; traditional methods in quilting and writing sacred icons; recycled papers and attention to ethical manufacturing.” Specializing in knitted lace, hand quilting, traditional icons, original greeting cards.

Redemptoristine Nuns are members of a contemplative monastic international order. We recently went through a long period of dislocation and then relocation to our current home in Beacon, NY. Three of our senior sisters have come to need special care. This Etsy Shop endeavor is an effort to help in covering the considerable cost of their care. These sisters have been dedicated to prayer for the world for a combined 175 years. They deserve the best we can provide for them. Thank you for helping us in that effort buy patronizing our Etsy Shop – RedNuns Roberie.

The nuns creating items for RedNuns Roberie have been making beautiful things by hand since childhood. Our skills, styles and materials have changed over time. Our aim today is to feature handmade items with high quality natural fibers while giving attention to environmental issues and justice in manufacturing practices.

Thank you for visiting RedNuns Roberie. Be sure to click on any item of interest. A whole page of information will appear.

Purchases may be made with a major credit card or PayPal.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Receiving Eucharist at the Carmel of the Incarnation

Approaching the Table of the Lord

We recently received a reminder from our prioress to plan for our annual personal long retreat by the end of this calendar year. We have been much distracted for most of this year and such plans put aside. As I considered possibilities for a retreat of ten days outside the monastery I realized how much daily Eucharist meant to me and how I would be missing that privilege at all the locations which I considered.

These considerations brought me to meditation about my experience of Eucharist and how it has been affected by our experience in this monastery. I feel the warm Divine Embrace most keenly at the table of God’s love. And I have been feeling it even more keenly here at Carmel where both the architecture of the chapel and the choreography of liturgy seem designed to concentrate attention at the heart of the Eucharistic celebration.
The chapel, formerly very dark and hard at the edges, was recently reconfigured within the existing wall and roof structure to assume it the shape of an eye on the horizontal axis of the space. The current design places the entrance to the space at the middle of the curving bottom. The Eucharist is reserved in a silver cube-like tabernacle atop a wooden pillar opposite the entrance as if on the curve of the eye’s upper lid.
The shape is echoed most dramatically by an eye-shaped flying dropped ceiling. This pure white eye above contains a dome illuminated by indirect lighting and most dramatically by an ocular skylight at its apex. This opening to the sky brings a variety of lighting effects into the space as the sun travels across the sky through each day and each season. This ocular mandala illuminates the altar below, the entire eye-shape being mirrored in the tile pattern of the lustrous chapel floor.

The altar of Eucharist directly beneath the dome is perfectly round; a thick beige marble slab resting upon a matching platform of hardwood supported by four stout rectangular legs cross braced near the floor. Simple pewter candle stands seem anchored to holy ground in guard at the altar. Regardless of the location the viewer in any seat in the chapel seems to be directly facing the altar. The presider’s chair is the first seat of the first row of an in-the-round arrangement. He proclaims the Word from an ambo placed between the entrance and the altar.

When one makes a visit to the chapel during the day lighting is minimal. The beautiful setting behind the tabernacle immediately draws the eye and attention to the reserved Sacrament.  But when we gather for Mass the lighting is magnified, promoting a natural shift of eye and body toward the center of attention, the altar of the sacred banquet. In my own case, I am blessed to be assigned to a seat only twelve feet away from the altar at an angle which allows for a clear view of the vessels, the hands of the priest, the elements he consecrates and the expression on his face as he does so.
This arrangement alone fosters a unique intimacy in the experience of Eucharist. The priest so easily becomes Jesus himself beckoning, sharing, gifting; his movements imploring us to enter his life. The moment of remembering, the anamnesis of the Mass seems in this setting to be a progressive flowing into the Paschal Mystery. The flow of this shared moment of intimacy is extended by the manner in which all who celebrate here may partake of the Body and Blood of Christ made present on the altar by the very act of our remembering.

It has become the practice of this community to receive the Bread of Eucharist from the hands of the priest by approaching in two lines beginning from the rear of the chapel. Afterward each communicant is free to return to
their place for post-communion meditation or to proceed around the altar and face the chalices of the Wine of Eucharist waiting there. The altar is approached with evident but simple reverence, each person picking up a chalice and slowly savoring the Precious Blood of Jesus, cleansing the rim with a purificator and returning it to the corporal for the next communicant.

Some remark that this way of receiving Communion at Mass takes too much time. Some exacting liturgist may say it does not conform to the prescribed norms. Certainly it would not be practical in the parish setting. But here, where there are rarely more than 40 people present, it serves to provide time for a few contemplative moments at the heart of the Mass.

This manner of approaching the altar has provided for me a very sacred moment of intimacy; a very physical way of participating in Jesus’ last supper which we call into memory and into the present moment at every Eucharist. I come to the altar as if it is the table on which Jesus himself prepared this last gift, blessed it and invited all to partake of it; the bread and wine transformed by his power and by the community gathered together to listen to His Word. The altar table has been so carefully prepared; linens laundered white and crisply pressed, bearing a glowing chalice of precious metal containing rich wine. How many tables have I prepared with all the best in my own home? I remember the loving care I poured into banquet occasions so that they would be gift to the guest. In knowing that desire within myself I feel that same desire in the gift of Jesus’ table. My thirsty heart is watered by the sight of the lavish banquet prepared for me at this altar bathed in the light of God’s loving gaze. A heart thus watered blossoms into gratitude as I step to the altar and see all that awaits me there, all of it seeming to glow in the light that bathes what is received and those who receive it. I stand in the place where He stood; where He issued the invitation; where He made a place for me at His table. I raise the cup and drink at the banquet table of God’s love eager again to be transformed into what has been received. I am drawn into the anamnesis of the Mass, the act of remembering, in such a way that what is being remembered becomes present in our space, in our time. 



Saturday, October 05, 2013

Old Voice for New Times

Thomas Merton in his cinderblock
hermitage at the Cisterican Monastery
of Gethsemane, Kentucky
The Trappist monk Father Louis, or Thomas Merton as he is commonly known, died 45 years ago. One would think that now in these fast paced times, in  a period considered by some as 'post-institutional religion', he would be 'done and over'. He could just be a little remembered phenom; the writing hermit whose literary voice helped to usher eager Catholics into the long awaited reforms of the Second Vatican Council and invited them to plumb the spiritual depths of the God relationship so that the renewal could take root. Then he died too young, only age 53, victim of accidental electrocution in Thailand during his exceptional Asian journey.
But Thomas Merton is still speaking to us and it is the very technological blessings of these fast-paced times that is making him available to us in surprisingly intimate ways. He has spoken to me these days with the force of a therapeutic jolting, a seismic jolt out of dysfunctional malaise.
Seeking spiritual guidance and intellectual enrichment I let my eyes wander through our community collection of recorded courses and lectures now in CD format. Through the years I had listened to poor quality audio tapes of Merton's lectures to his Novices. He was Novice Master for 15 years. Before cassette tapes became available, reel to reel tapes of his talks were informally circulated among contemplatives and laity eager to share his wisdom. As I looked at our current collection I sought titles of things I had not previously heard.
All of Merton's literary output and his recorded lectures are held by the Merton Legacy Trust and the Merton Center of Bellarmine University. (A lesson to us all - he died so young but had the wisdom to prepare his Literary Will some years before.) Now the gifts of technology are serving to make every recorded word Merton uttered available to anyone who wants to hear them today. CDs are available from NowYouKnowMedia.
These days I have been listening to a series of lectures Merton recorded alone in the natural surroundings of his own hermitage. These rather spontaneous talks were intended for the Sisters of Loretto whose motherhouse was nearby. They requested that Merton record his responses to written questions submitted by them. His tapes (reel to reel) would then be shared among the members of the Loretto community as part of their preparation for a General Chapter in 1967, a Chapter which would deal with the call to renewal of religious life.
He speaks in such a relaxed manner, in a tone suggesting that he considers the sisters to be an audience of his peers with whom he can be frank and to whom he has no need to condescend. Indeed, it was very touching to hear at the end of one lecture, " I will pray for you. I love you."
Merton's words in these lectures were so relevant to his times but it is striking to me that they have so much relevance for the situation in which we find ourselves today. His words have been gift to me and so appropriate for our current time as the Church, under the significant leadership of Pope Francis, seems to be emerging from a long period of self-absorption; denial of its own grievous faults; and its failure to preserve the value and significance of its spiritual voice for all people.
And Merton is so real. There is no Pollyanna here. He calls a spade a spade; warns of the pitfalls; acknowledges his own weakness; and acknowledges the price to be paid in taking the higher road. But he urges always that we must remain rooted in Jesus Christ and seeking the freedom of the children of God.
Why not revisit Merton? Why not visit him for the first time?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Soldier Reports on Jim Crow

My father died only five months ago and it remains difficult for me to live in acceptance; to believe that his formidable personality, intellect and influence are no longer present in my life. Yet in memory; in the way I think; in what I appreciate; in the faithfulness of my life he is surely present.  Many treasured objects also conjure his presence. These days it is this trove of letters that make him so very alive in my thoughts. Enthusiastic response to previous mention of these letters here and their historical significance  prompt me to revisit them. The letters were exchanged between my parents from mid-1943 to November 1945 and cover the period just before his draft into the US Army Air Corps; his stateside service largely in Meridian, Mississippi, one semester of study at Georgia Tech, Atlanta; their marriage in August 1943; two periods of living together near the base; and his overseas assignment to an air weather reconnaissance squadron on Guam in the Pacific. In the spring of 1944, the period discussed here, my father was a few months short of his 23rd birthday. He graduated from a New York city public high school in the Bronx and completed about three semesters of City College of the City University of New York. When he received his draft notice he was working as a machinist apprentice.

Demonstration for Voting Rights Act of 1965
We have recently celebrated the history-making, soul uplifting event of the 1963 March on Washington, a plea for the civil rights of all citizens of the nation. We have also marked the 50th anniversary of the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church which killed four young girls just weeks after the March. It is with these events in mind that I have been reading my father's letters and appreciating his witness to a time some have forgotten, to atrocities hard to comprehend. His reflections provide such valuable context to our acts of remembering; the context of full appreciation of the situation that existed in our country at that time and long before.

Many comments about the sad plight of the of the Negroes are sprinkled through Dad's letters. By March, 1944 my father had spent over a year in Mississippi and my mother had joined him there for about six weeks. Each had become all too familiar with the Jim Crow south. With his letter of March 22 begins a brisk exchange concerning events of the kind caused him to write on March19, "No Sweetheart, there is nothing in this damn South, not even the joy of Spring - nothing but hatred and discrimination."

Many have said to me, "You should write a book." I resist because I know what research would be required. I've had to do some here to get the full import of this episode. Turns out that a Senator from Mississippi, Theodore Bilbo, a Democrat, had risen through the ranks to become head of the Senate's District of Columbia Committee. It has been said that he ruled the city like a plantation owner. He called Clare Booth Luce a "nigger lover"; praised Hitler; and declared  that whites were "justified in going to any extreme to keep the nigger from voting." For years he blocked anti-lynching laws."  In his book Washington Goes to War journalist David Brinkley wrote:

Bilbo seemed to hate everyone: communists, Jews, union leaders, union members, anyone who could, by any definition, be called a foreigner, and above all, of course, blacks. And Bilbo never hesitated to make his hatreds known.
When he ran for the Senate in 1934, he denounced an opponent as "a cross between a hyena and a mongrel...begotten in the nigger graveyard at midnight, suckled by a sow, and educated by a fool."

When he received a hostile letter from a woman named Josephine Piccolo in New York City, he wrote back and addressed her: "Dear Dago."

As one of the nation's most outspoken racists, Bilbo hated the fact that nearly half the residents of the city he helped administer were black. "If you go through the government departments," he once said, "there are so many niggers it's like a black cloud around you." He repeatedly introudced a bill to deport all Negroes to Africa and once suggested that Eleanor Roosevelt be sent with them and made their "queen." Throughout his tenure on the district committee, Bilbo judged almost every proposal on the basis of its effect on race relations. Anything that might benefit blacks -- and in a city whose black population was growing rapidly, that was most things -- he opposed. Nothing outraged him more than the effort in 1941, by blacks themselves, to confront racial discrimination in employment.

That sets the stage for my father's reportage on March 22

Mia Dia,

As always, the radio in Tech Supply was babbling to itself this afternoon - being peacefully ignored in talk and in the hard rain outside. It continued to be ignored until it drew attention to itself with the outbursts that made all of us, there in the building, keep quiet and lend our ears to the most criminal and flagrant contribution to [the] Negro problem I ever heard.

Darling, you've never heard anything like this. You've seen it, being here, but to have heard this is to gain insight into problem as the South sees it - or should I say refuses to see it.

I am only sorry that a printed copy of the speech is not available...but the best I can do now is to as you to accept these quotations. We were all so moved that Kuspeil said, "That man is starting the next war right now." I can't write what I said.

The issue was the Mississippi (?) broadcast of a speech by Senator Bilbo made from the state capital - Jackson where he addressed the legislative bodies of this fair state in joint session. The subject, which must keep these warped people awake at night, was the Negro and social equality.

From the start you could see the vicious farce the whole thing was with half an eye. For the benefit of the untrained audience he seemed to adopt a benevolent attitude, but he gave himself away with some of the worst hateful and bared faced statements I ever heard. Remember they came from a Senator for State consumption.

He covered his subject, beating the drum of White Supremacy, the Negroes Place and the Color Line in the well worn language of the Baiter, he finally came to the climax of his comparison between the North and the South. Stating this climax as if the North had the worst disease known to mankind - rather than seeing it for the southern problem that it is.

He hit his nail on the head like this. In bringing up the "dreadful progress" the negro is making toward equality he mentioned the equality extended the Negro at the Washington [DC] C.I.O. canteen. Here, he said, an equal number of whites and negroes were served in the same place by an equal number of white and Negro waitresses - all eating together. With this he illustrated his point, kept quiet a moment to let it sink in, and the brought up the artillery. "Can we conceive of such a thing, such unheard of social equality?"

That Honey, is unheard of for this man of the stone-age - twice the Governor of this beautiful State.

But the real dynamite came later when continuing to analyze what trouble the North is creating by extending equality - get that Sweet - we create the problem, not they. He said, "If the North thinks we want to live like that, we will tell them, our nigger lovin' Yankee Friends, to go straight to Hell." And that is a quotation.

So this is how they solve a problem. No, in reality he's not trying to do that, only to maintain the whites here on the backs of the Negroes. By the way, he couldn't say that word - he said "Nigger".

But he belied his false benevolent attitude by saying, "White Negro lovers should be treated like we treat the niggers." This swept away all he said about negro benefits here, bringing into focus the fact that much treatment is considered the worst punishment. Then how are the Negroes treated with benevolence?

The shabbiness of his argument also appeared when enumerating the rights of equality a negro has here, he drew laughter from the audience by saying they have equal space rights on public conveyances. Yes, its a joke to them. But I'd hate to be in their shoes when the negro turns the worm here. These people can't see the problem for what it is, they refuse to recognize it as their Frankenstein - rather, they feed it. He pointed to our difficulty with the riots, but didn't mention that these were caused whenever color lines were drawn - to the just resentment of the negro. Those lines are dirty rags these southerners drag up with them and see them stimulated by the enemy to create conflict. Actually we have much less resentment and strife than they do here, where they are sitting on a volcano they've built themselves.

Honey, I am pretty sore tonight.

In his next letter my father enclosed a newspaper clipping from the editorial page of the Jackson, Mississippi Daily News of March 20, 1944.  Bilbo was not a lone racist mad man in a position of power. The editorial reads:
An (sic) United Press dispatch from Washington says:"The United States office of education
 today called on white educational institutions in the South to open their doors to negro scholars."
And here's telling the responsible head of the United States department of education, whoever
 he may be, to go straight to hell.
The South won't do it - not in this generation and never in the future while Anglo-Saxon blood
continues to flow in our veins.
Nobody but an ignorant, fat-headed ass would propose such an unthinkable and impossible action.
The speech and the editorial appeared in 1944, 19 years before the March on Washington in 1963 and 21 years before the Voting Rights Bill was enacted as the law of the land.
The story will continue in the next post.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Baby on the Way

Does not include all that was delivered at home by Amazon
But did I tell you that a month after the wedding a new grandchild will arrive? No, the bride is not pregnant. The baby will be born to my already married youngest son Andrew and his wife Teresa.
So this is how it goes: June move to new monastery; July Mom goes from assisted living to hospital, to nursing home; August Mom is returned to assisted living; September baby shower; October middle son marries; November new grandchild arrives. Whew! Makes me tired just to write all of that.

Teresa and friend both very pregnant
Shower was lovely and so generously presented by two of Teresa's friends and attended by many more. It was an at-home shower which  allowed for meeting everybody including the three dear darling newborns who came along with their moms. I got my baby fix complete with breast milk spit up but who cares. Babies smell sooo good.
No not cupcakes - baby washcloths
Best of all was that the setting offered an opportunity to chat with my two daughters-in-law and the one-to-be without the usual interruptions; the four of us talking about the guys they love who happen to be my sons. I heard some very nice things.
Oh, did I mention that I am excited about this baby? Hope its a girl.
Kim, Jonathan's wife and Heidi, Matthew's wife-to-be
Everyone busy adding their designs to new little onesies

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Another Boomer Challenge

Invitation envelope seal

Invitation cover - Senate House, Kingston - Wedding location

All art the creation of Matthew Pleva
So, as it turns out we Baby Boomers are also, on occasion, referred to as "the sandwich generation"; the generation living well beyond middle age with the generation before them and their own 'begats' simultaneously calling for attention. The lives of many of my friends are bracketed by elderly parents on one side and on the other by young adult children who, even if independent and making their way through the world, require attention, if only to keep those wonderful relationships going.
Sometimes it is all a bit much and the tugs from opposite poles a bit uncomfortable. I continue to ride out a demanding time as I look after my 89 year old mother who is in an assisted living facility. But in my case, at this time the tug from the other end is just to share in the joy of lives moving on. Next month my middle son Matthew, will wed Heidi with whom he has lived for about five years. They've resisted the idea of legal marriage for so long and admit that they have finally surrendered, will put aside their resistance and take the plunge.

Thus the wedding invitation pictured here. And this is another feature of the sandwich generation; adjustment to an entirely different way of doing things so different that one can wonder, "Didn't I raise this child?" Well I raised one creative child who found a beautiful kindred soul. They love each other and I love them.
Upon full opening - one hears the military theme music from "South Park",
a take-off of the march from "Les Mis"
(Note that the Senate House was burned by the British in 1776)

Below are the theme related invitation inserts.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Art of Letter Writing

Letter from Sgt. Helmut "Eric" Nimke, June 1943, to Matilda "Pat" Milazzo
Eric is 21 years old and Pat is 18 years old
My father lived into his 92nd year and Mom is plugging away as she approaches 90. Last August 3rd would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. So even though my birth places me just in advance of the official "Baby Boomer" cohort their long lives have brought me late to grieving the death of a parent. Many of my fellow 'boomers" have already experienced this as yet another rite of passage, an experience that brings deep reflection and arrival at a new place in life. I have already experienced the realization that I, wonder of wonders, am now an elder.

This experience also brings many tasks with it. One that has occupied my sister and I for months is that of sifting through all their treasures; all that they saved so they wouldn't forget; all they gathered and kept around for the sheer beauty and preciousness of each item.

My current project is that of organizing and preserving a cache of over 1,000 letters exchanged by my parents from the fall of 1942 to the fall of 1945; from my father's induction into the Army Air Corps and his return from overseas service in Guam (Pacific Theater).

As a student of history, a professional librarian and now archivist, I believe this collection will be a valuable addition to any collection of WW II materials. They will eventually go to a research institution. But now I am reading them, putting them in protective sleeves and then binders. I know the rest of the family will want to see them. But there are so many - eventually perhaps 15 binders - that no one will really have the time to read them all. So I flag the interesting or touching ones, the ones that offer valuable commentary on the way of the military, conditions on the home front, conduct of the war, national and international politics and especially some new insight or revelation concerning family events and persons.

This telegram dated July 2, 1943, four days before scheduled wedding in Brooklyn, NY reads:
 "Darling - Furlough cancelled before my eyes 4pm - Crying as I write this - Am proceeding to
 Key Field Meridian 11:15pm as per orders Adjutant General Washington -
 Even Colonel does not know why - Call everything off - Be a soldiers wife -
Will buck like hell for furlough at Field - Nothing definite - Another wire will follow -
Yours forever - Eric"

This letter is really three pages with writing on both sides of each sheet in my father's very small
handwriting. Written in pencil these are particularly difficult to decipher. But plainly seen is the USO
emblem at the top and the admonition "Idle Gossip Sinks Ships" at the bottom of each sheet.

The love that my mother and father found in each other at such a young age is quite incredible. Their story deserves retelling. More to come.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Most Recent Challenge

Many years ago Dad told me there was a box of them in the attic; a box of all the letters he and my mother exchanged while he was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He told me because I was amazed that he came up with the letters they exchanged at Easter in 1945 just before I was born. He had dutifully climbed the pull down stairs, uncovered the box and searched through his collection and hers for the Easter time letters. The effort was in response to my request that year to each family member attending our Easter dinner at Mom and Dad's to come prepared to share a memory of Easter from the past. Little did I know how far back Dad would go.

So as we disturbed my parents' home, a home so carefully and loving decorated and arranged in the work of two lifetimes, I knew what the attic had in store for us. A box measuring 18x15x15 inches was packed with letters meticulously bundled and organized so that Mom's letters to Dad were on the bottom and his letters to her on the top. There are easily over a thousand letters, the vast majority two or more pages in length. Interspersed in the collection are letters from others - family and friends and men in the service.
I have opened and read letters from the fall of 1942 to the fall of 1943 and filled five large loose leaf binders with archival plastic sheet protectors each containing one letter and its envelope. All the letters (newspaper clippings, magazine articles, concert programs, etc.) are in wonderful condition but envelopes a bit ragged.

This is not the only process involved here. The other is deciding where this valuable collection should eventually go. And valuable they are. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Steeped in the Past

Matilda Milazzo Nimke 1924

New sidebar photographs come from a growing collection, now swelling with the addition of my father's carefully preserved collection. What does one do with such a collection? Digitization is enabling me to share all of them with everyone in the family and also to use them in unique ways.
But what of the process of discovery, looking, studying, remembering, and re-experiencing the past. Every boomer who has had to sift through, organize and distribute the various treasures of their parents knows the complex current of emotions which can threaten at times to just overwhelm.
In the past various collections and specific objects found in my parents' home have been written about here. More is coming.
BTW - By the way....If you wish to automatically receive these posts in your e-mailbox scroll down the sidebar of this blog and enter your e-mail address in the space provided. Easy as that.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Our Story

Monastery of the Incarnation
Beacon, New York
Carmelite Nuns
Redemptoristine Nuns

Redemptoristines of New York Rejoice in New Home

It has been a long and difficult journey. But now our community (formerly of Esopus) has finally found its way to a proper monastic home in the city of Beacon, New York. We are sharing sacramental and liturgical life, beauty, silence, and spaciousness in the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation.  We are making history in this arrangement; two different canonical religious groups living under the same roof. We have received the blessing of our Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the diocesan Vicar for Religious who view this development as a healthy response to the signs of the times. We would like to share with you how we came to this decision for our community.
In January of 2011, we were informed by the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorists that they would be leasing the property of Mount St. Alphonsus and that we would have to find a new home within 2 to 3 years. Four months later we learned that we would have only one year to relocate. The decision made by the Redemptorists was a wise and prudent one, but not without difficulties all around. In the end the property was sold. A bit of gold in this story is that the buyers invested a great deal of money in restoring the building and are lovingly caring for the property. The seminary building is now a private Christian high school.

We searched long and hard for a new home; a suitable monastery. We visited over 40 sites in five states and researched many others via the Internet. By the spring of 2012 we were ready to purchase a Franciscan friary in an urban New Jersey parish. At the last minute we had to give up that plan due to environmental contamination problems with the property. Having only 5 weeks to find a place to live we were fortunate to arrange rental of space in a building owned by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart only 5 miles south of Mount St. Alphonsus. We moved on June 25, 2012. All of our furniture was stored in a gymnasium in the same building. It was a crowded and very awkward space for our life but it did offer spectacular views of the Hudson River.

In January of this year the Missionary Sisters informed us that we would have to leave the property by the end of June. We had already hired professional consultants who work with religious communities to create relocation plans. Everyone went full speed ahead to find the right place for us in a very short period of time. Through the months of searching we learned that private homes require too much remodeling for monastic use and local laws can sometimes interfere in that process. We also learned that former convents, novitiates, etc., required a great deal of repair and adaptation to accommodate the elderly and handicapped. We also knew that it would be very difficult to have daily Mass wherever we went. As the process went on we saw our personal resources diminish as sisters aged and required more care. We had to ask ourselves, “Is it realistic for us to buy a property and take care of it into the future?” Our consultants found situations for us in a few continuing care retirement communities which offer independent or assisted living as well as nursing home care at the same location. These facilities offered great care for our sisters needing assistance. However, the rest of us would have been separated into various buildings. In such an arrangement our communal contemplative monastic life would have been destroyed. By April of this year, we were disheartened and very discouraged. We had two months to find a new home and move.
From September of 2012 through 2013 the Carmelite community of Beacon was prudently examining their own future and their ability to remain on their lovely property. Our two communities have enjoyed close friendship since the 1960’s as members of the Metropolitan Association of Contemplative Communities (MACC). In 1985, the Carmel of New York City moved to a former Ursuline Novitiate in Beacon. During the 1990’s they merged with two other Carmels, added a new wing to their building to accommodate a total of 30 nuns and redesigned the chapel. By September of last year there were only 15 sisters living in the monastery. They wondered how long they would be able to stay in a half empty building. Their options were to rent space in the building or move to a smaller place. Neither option was an attractive one. During this time they followed with heavy hearts our story of disappointment and displacement. At an April community meeting with their professional facilitator present they spontaneously put the planned agenda aside and began talking about what it would be like if they invited us to come and share the house with them. By the end of the meeting they voted unanimously to issue an invitation. Within two weeks the councils of the communities met and the generous invitation was accepted. We had exactly seven weeks to plan the move and make all arrangements.
Two other big decisions were made. Three of our sisters (Sisters Mary McCaffrey, Mary Anne Reed, and Lydia Lojo) would move to Meadowview, an assisted living facility in Mt. Vernon, New York.  At Meadowview they receive all the care they need and join many Franciscan and Dominican sisters in residence there. The second decision was to retire from our work producing ceremonial capes for the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre. We have done this work since 1985. It was a good monastic work, well organized by Sr. Maria Paz and then passed on to others. But we had to recognize that we no longer had the number of sisters required to produce 200 capes a year.
On June 11 three sisters moved into Meadowview Assisted Living. On June 23-24 six sisters moved to Beacon and received a most loving welcome from Carmelite community. We have lovely bedrooms in their new wing, a community room now called Celeste Hall, and offices for prioress, treasurer and secretary. We are blessed here to have Mass every day provided by a delightful rotation of priest. Only two days after moving in we had a wonderful celebration for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in a Mass concelebrated by the Redemptorist Provincial, Rev. Kevin Moley, and his Council.
In our decision to accept the Carmelite invitation we were acknowledging the signs of the times; fewer vocations, fewer priests, aging sisters. We were also acknowledging our deep desire to preserve our contemplative vocation. We saw that we could do that by joining forces with another contemplative community and sharing the sacramental, liturgical life already established in their horarium.
This is not the ideal that we had in mind when we set out on our journey in search of a new home. But we came to see that given our circumstances, resources and the limited choices before us this arrangement was the most life-giving for us all. We believe the Holy Spirit worked mightily in the hearts and minds of each sister in both communities. We have had to accept losses but we have also embraced new life and welcomed with grateful hearts the opportunity to live out our Redemptoristine vocation. Jesus Christ is the center of everything in this Monastery of the Incarnation. Could we ask for more?
“It is our desire to create together an environment that fosters the growth and well-being
of each Sister’s contemplative life as lived in the Carmelite and Redemptoristine traditions
and that has the potential for creating together opportunities for effective outreach
to the larger community and Church.”

 Redemptoristine Nuns
89 Hiddenbrooke Drive
Beacon, New York 12508
Fax 845-831-5579




Catching Up Again

View of pond and Mt. Beacon
from the front of the monastery
         Seems I spend much too much time   offering apologies on this blog, especially for not having written a post in such a long time. Seeing that my last post has a February date and thinking how I can fill in the gap is very daunting. So much has happened in these few months. The following is just and over view and will be written about in greater detail in posts to come.
April 17 - My father Helmut Eric Nimke died after one week in Kaplan Hospice Residence in Newburgh, New York. Both my sister and I were with him.
April 25 - Carmelite Nuns of Beacon, New York (a contemplative monastic community) extended an invitation for my community to share their monastery.
April 28 - My family begins the arduous work of clearing out my parents' home.

June 11 - Three of the sisters in my community moved to Meadowview Assisted Living at Wartburg continuing care retirement community in Mt. Vernon, NY
June 24 - Six sisters of my community moved lock, stock and barrel into the Monastery of the Incarnation, Beacon, NY.
July 14 - My mother hospitalized with pneumonia. This is followed by 3-week stay in nearby nursing home.
August 18 - Mom is returned to assisted living facility, The Promenade, Tuxedo, NY.
That is a very spare overview which allows lots of room for your imagination to conjure what was involved and required each step of the way.
As a means of providing our community story to all in our international Order I prepared an article detailing the entire saga. That will the next post to this blog.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Remembrance of Things Past - A Night at the Opera

Two tickets for performance of "La Boheme" On February 9, 1944
at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

Terra cotta frieze from the fa├žade of the old Metropolitan Opera House
mounted in fireplace

Since the second week in January I have been living with my father who will be 92 years old on May 25th. My father is many things: husband for almost 70 years, father of two daughters, native of Germany, US Air Corps veteran of WWII, retired professional engineer with credentials both in mechanical and civil engineering, and former member of the governing board of the community where he and my mother have lived in the house he designed since 1968.

But his curriculum vitae would include so much more. I have described him as a Renaissance man: builder of boats and ham radio equipment, lover of history ancient and modern, devotee of the arts especially classical music and opera, patriotic and interested citizen and supporter of the best interests of the country which welcomed him at the age of eight and provided him with the finest of educations at no cost at The City College of New York of CUNY.

My parents' home is filled with collections of material connected with each of my Dad's areas of professional or personal expertise as well as my mother's collections reflecting her interests in needlework, painting and gourmet cooking. Since Mom is living in an assisted living facility receiving care appropriate to her stage of dementia and Dad is receiving my care and the wonderful care of Hospice I am able, at every free moment, to begin the process of going through it all, weeding out, assigning destinations for a great deal and often rewarded by the discovery of a treasure.
One of our family stories is attached to the ticket stubs shown here. I found these stubs resting at the bottom of a small drawer in my mother's bedroom desk. On February 9, 1944 my father was on leave from the Army Air Corps before going to places like Meridian, Mississippi with his young wife. He thought to give my mother and her aunt a treat by taking them to the opera. He was to pick them up at their place of work, the fashion house of Nettie Rosenstine on 7th Avenue. Rosenstine was a famous designer for whom my mother worked as one of a number of sketchers in the design department while my aunt worked with a group of accomplished needlewomen who were sample makers, creators of the first sample of a new design. Upon his arrival at the assigned location my father found himself fairly run over by a bevy of scantily clad models. He said it was a surprise but not hard to take.
Arriving at the opera house Dad went to the box office to buy three tickets. He was told that tickets for that performance had been set aside by season ticket holders for the exclusive use of GIs. The tickets he received were for the center box in the Diamond Horseshoe (first row of boxes) held by the Astor family. My aunt, an opera lover who had sat in the balcony for many Met performances could not have been more delighted or impressed.
Years later, when the Met's old house was being demolished after the company's move to Lincoln Center, my father purchased the frieze which appears above.  The fireplace for their new home would be designed around it. Another treasured item in search of a new home.