surprised by a smile: a commute made better

This morning I was caught in that nasty rainy-ish weather that makes everybody forget how to drive. I grumbled for miles, put out by the misery of red lights reminding me that my 25 minute commute was going to be more like 45 minutes.

And then, this at a red light:


I didn’t even care that the truck’s owner was looking at me in the rear view mirror while I took picture after picture — trying to get a good shot. He probably thought I was trying to get his tag instead of the best bumper sticker ever.

The message changed my mood immediately.

I’ve been working on a brief talk for my parish this week, and I’ve been reading Mother Teresa’s writings in preparation for delivering a 5-minute reflection. It’s all there, in the smile, and the message. I love that pop culture swipes its copy from the Saints.

Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.
Mother Teresa

3 down, 22 to go

I just finished the third book in my ambitious plan to read 25 books this year (for pleasure — I have other reading to do, too). I think it might have fit into several categories, but I’m going to go with music. For obvious reasons.


I haven’t felt so personally drawn into a book in a long time, and I regret that it has taken me over a decade to discover The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany. Martin Goldsmith’s account of his parents’ love story, intertwined as it was with the increasing dangers of the Nazi regime in Germany, and the beautiful expression of joy through music captured my heart.

Goldsmith tells his family’s story — a love story. A story of betrayal. Of sacrifice. Of humanity — with the inhumane backdrop of the Holocaust. The looming specter of death is ever-present, except in those places touched by music.

The title, the Inextinguishable Symphony, captures the heart of the story, and the heart of the lovers whose lives are unquestionably, a symphony.


1 down, 24 to go

I just finished the first book in my ambitious plan to read 25 books this year (for pleasure — I have other reading to do, too).

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Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card grabbed my attention and held it throughout the story. And now, I’m stuck, because it’s a series with two other books available, and it’s going to get in my way of getting through the rest of my list. I must stay focused. I must get the next book.

You may know Card from Ender’s Game, which I read years ago, but my favorite of his novels is Enchantment. I loved the premise of Sleeping Beauty’s story being bridged with reality/modern times. The hipster gene that runs through me was pleased to know I was familiar with this book long before Disney’s knock-off Enchanted, and the subsequent hit, Once Upon a Time.

Card is a terrific storyteller, but he really nails characters and their relationships.

The sci-fi in Pathfinder is not too over-the-top — once you get past the colonization of the human species and time travel. It’s good. And plausible, which is what makes any story, sci-fi or not, compelling.

But I go back to the characters and their relationships. This is my favorite quote from the novel, a piece I highlighted early, and drives the characters’ motivation throughout:

Children wait to learn if their love is true by seeing how long it lasts; adults make their love true by never wavering from their commitment.

I give it two thumbs up!

Love or Money?

That question threw me a little at lunch.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that technically, we were out discussing business, and had, in fact, been discussing some rather technical things.

Or maybe it threw me because my relationship with my companion is in that early period where a friendship is starting to blossom but it’s not getting too personal, and perhaps this is too intimate a question.

I don’t think so….I think what threw me is that I answered love immediately, without thinking about it or even trying to formulate an explanation. It’s plain and simple. Love wins every time.

My friend was surprised. I think she was expecting me to dance around the question a bit, but my response was so immediate and uttered with such conviction that we both just sat looking at each other until she asked for clarification.

I didn’t think it needed clarification, but she seemed intent on wanting to have the conversation, and posed a follow up question about the need for money to take care of loved ones. Ah, well, yes, that’s a necessity, but not really the same as the first question, now is it?

I discovered that her question had less to do with priorities in a hypothetical discussion and more to do with figuring out how to balance our physical needs (and, yes, our desires) to make things good for those we love…whatever that good is, whether it is a nutritious meal or clothes or some spontaneous or frivolous expense to bring a moment of joy.

We don’t need a lot of money for that, but it sure helps.

Our conversation didn’t change my response. And frankly, I never got the sense that she thought money was more important. In fact, it broadened my understanding of it because of something else she said in the course of our conversation. She recognized that there wasn’t going to be a nice neat answer to her question, but that she found a great sense of relief in knowing that I didn’t have any answers either.

Ha. Wait a minute….

If you know me, you know I have plenty of questions and generally, few answers, so I can’t say I was offended, but she was onto something. Something I think I know quite naturally because of my faith and upbringing and that she was appreciating in the moment: namely, that we are social creatures and we need each other, not just for the obvious tribal needs such as protection or hunting or whatever some dead anthropologists said, but because we belong in community.

She took comfort in knowing she wasn’t alone in her fears. None of us should feel that way, but I know we sometimes do, at least I do. I was wracking my brain for some appropriately well-known scripture commonly quoted in the Bible Belt, but I kept coming back to Church teachings on community and our interdependence as members of the human family. If I’d had the Catechism of the Catholic Church in my car I would have pulled it out to quote directly from it (um…yes, I’m sure there’s an app for that). Still, I’m fairly certain I got the gist of it okay. She seemed content.

And I’m certain the message was meant as much for me, as it was for her.