Wednesday Feb. 17, 2016

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During Lent, season of discipline,
I drag myself early out of bed, ride
to Mass with Mom and Mrs. Crivello,
warm in the front seat between their
woolen coats, soothed by familiar perfume.

Headlights carve the ebony darkness.
The women talk in low tones
about people I don’t know, the thrum
of their voices reassuring. I doze
for seconds that seem like minutes.

In the half-acre lot, we park among
a small band of cars huddled near
the entrance of St. Monica’s. Inside,
stained glass windows, a feast of color
in daylight, are black. The church is barn-cold.

Candles burn, bells ring, prayers are murmured,
songs sung. The church warms slowly. I sit,
stand, kneel between the two women,
rituals washing over me like soft waves
on Lake Michigan in August.

Later, I carry the sacred mood
out on my route, dispensing papers
like Communion to my neighbors.

“Communion” by Lawrence Kessenich from Age of Wonders. © Big Table Publishing, 2016. Reprinted by permission.  (buy now)

It is the birthday of the woman responsible for introducing the theories of Maria Montessori to America, writer Dorothy Canfield (books by this author), also known as Dorothy Canfield Fisher, born in rural Kansas in 1879. Her parents moved to Nebraska when she was very young, but her summers were spent in Arlington, Vermont, with her uncle. She was the author of many best-selling novels. She spent time in Europe and met Maria Montessori in Italy in 1912, and in the same year, wrote a book about her, A Montessori Mother (1912). This was followed by The Montessori Manual (1913) and Mothers and Children (1914). She promoted the Montessori principles of learning for its own sake. Maria Montessori had taught her that children learn best by doing things, not by passively accepting other people's ideas and pre-existing knowledge. The Montessori method teaches that children learn more by touching, seeing, smelling, tasting, and exploring than by just listening. Canfield once said, “Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you've conquered human nature.”

It’s the birthday of economist Thomas Robert Malthus, born in Surrey, England (1766). In 1798, he published a pamphlet called An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he argued that the human population of the Earth was growing at a faster rate than the food supply, and that war, disease, and famine were necessary in order to prevent overpopulation.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Andre Norton, born Alice Mary Norton (books by this author) in Cleveland, Ohio (1912), who changed her name to “Andre” because she thought she'd have better luck selling her books as a man instead of a woman. Until 1951, Norton had written adventure stories, spy novels, and historical fiction, but after being asked to edit a series of sci-fi anthologies, she wrote her first book in that genre, Star Man's Son 2250 A.D. (1951) and primarily stayed with science fiction after that.

Norton wrote more than 130 novels in her 70 years as a writer, as well as nearly 100 short stories.

It’s the birthday of crime novelist Ruth Rendell (books by this author), born in London, England (1930). Her parents had a terrible marriage and her mother was ill with multiple sclerosis that went undiagnosed for years, and so young Ruth began writing about her life as if it were a story happening to someone else.

While working as a reporter for a small, suburban London newspaper, she decided to write a detective novel for fun. It was titled From Doon with Death (1964), and it began an extremely popular series of detective stories starring Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford.

In her first few novels, Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford was overweight, sloppy, slow-moving, and tempted at times to stray; but over the years he’s become thinner, smarter and nicer. Rendell said, “At first I never saw him as a serious character, but if I was going to have to live with him, I had to make him tolerable.” Instead of being solitary and depressed like most detectives in mystery novels, Reginald Wexford is happily married with two children. Wexford last appeared in Rendell’s novel No Man's Nightingale (2013), before her death in 2015.

Rendell said, “The tragedy of growing old is not that one is old but that one is young.”

It’s the birthday of Chaim Potok (books by this author), born in the Bronx (1929). His parents were immigrants from Poland, and he grew up in a strict Orthodox Jewish culture. When he was about 14 years old, he happened to pick up a copy of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and it changed his life. He said, “I lived more deeply inside the world in that book than I lived inside my own world.” And over the years, he read as much as he could, and he moved away from his parents’ strict beliefs. But when he started to write fiction, he went back to his childhood, and he wrote The Chosen (1967), a best-selling novel about two boys growing up together in Brooklyn in the 1940s. Potok continued their story in The Promise (1969), and wrote about similar conflicts between religious and secular communities in many more novels, including My Name Is Asher Lev (1972), The Book of Lights (1981), and a group of three related novellas, Old Men at Midnight (2001).

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