Although my chosen poison is anything lit by gaslight*, every now and then I fall into a memoir and come out blinking on the other side, feeling as if I’ve traveled the length and breadth of another’s experience. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, though, was not that book. Her experience– growing up in a Mennonite family–was the closest equivalent to my childhood in a fundamental Baptist family that I’ve come across.
“Brighten the Corner Where You Are” and “Ship Ahoy” over breakfast? check. (The “Ship Ahoy” video is from the college that I graduated from. Awesome.) Embarrassingly long khaki and denim skirts? check. Absolute terror of the opposite gender (without really knowing anything at all about sex)? check. Prohibitions on co-ed exercise, dance, swimsuits and jeans? check.
Janzen, though, has infinitely more grace about her past than I’ve been able to muster. After a stunningly devastating chain of events, she retreats for a few months to her family home; her observations are a blend of the complete confidence of an insider with the outsider perspective of advanced education and extended absence. She’s somehow overcome–or doesn’t resent–the past (one never gets the impression that she was all that scarred by it, rather, that it was just a somewhat unusual origin story) and is able to be objective about the strengths and foibles of her family and the community.
And it’s funny! Crazy funny. Laugh out-loud at 6am funny. Highly, highly recommended.
*Books about either the era or the syndrome. I’m a sucker for either.
- This SCOTUSblog post summarizes the cases, the issues, the implications, and the stated or assumed positions of the Supreme Court justices, in plain(ish) English. Start here.
- The New York Times shared this chart of the possible decisions available to the Supreme Court and the ensuing ramifications.
- Most informative: this interactive map, also created by The New York Times, which shows how the possible decisions on each case will affect the various states (i.e. if DOMA passes and Prop 8 is struck down, what happens? [answer: the states with same-sex marriage would keep it, those unions would now be recognized by the federal government.])
- PolicyMic‘s examination of the authority invoked by SCOTUS to hear these cases
- CNNMoney‘s analysis of the economic repercussions of passing DOMA.
- And finally, a few reasons why you should support same sex marriage. This one is my favorite:
Fosters True Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion allows a person or group to pursue the practice of their religion without governmental interference. It also protects those who do not follow a religion by shielding them from being forced to live in accordance with religious beliefs and values they do not agree with. The legalization of same-sex marriage is consistent with freedom of religion in that it removes from marriage laws religious notions that may have initially shaped those laws.
There is no hierarchy of religions in a society which truly honors freedom of religion. Accordingly, the religious views of no one particular group should be given preference in the development of marriage laws. While some religions don’t support same-sex marriage, others certainly do support it. The most fair and ethical approach — which treats all people equally regardless of religious affiliation — is to factor out religious points of view when crafting marriage laws within a secular context.
When summer time has come, and all
The world is in the magic thrall
Of perfumed airs that lull each sense
To fits of drowsy indolence;
When skies are deepest blue above,
And flow'rs aflush,—then most I love
To start, while early dews are damp,
And wend my way in woodland tramp
Where forests rustle, tree on tree,
And sing their silent songs to me;
Where pathways meet and pathways part,—
To walk with Nature heart by heart,
Till wearied out at last I lie
Where some sweet stream steals singing by
A mossy bank; where violets vie
In color with the summer sky,—
Or take my rod and line and hook,
And wander to some darkling brook,
Where all day long the willows dream,
And idly droop to kiss the stream,
And there to loll from morn till night—
Unheeding nibble, run, or bite—
Just for the joy of being there
And drinking in the summer air,
The summer sounds, and summer sights,
That set a restless mind to rights
When grief and pain and raging doubt
Of men and creeds have worn it out;
The birds' song and the water's drone,
The humming bee's low monotone,
The murmur of the passing breeze,
And all the sounds akin to these,
That make a man in summer time
Feel only fit for rest and rhyme.
Joy springs all radiant in my breast;
Though pauper poor, than king more blest,
The tide beats in my soul so strong
That happiness breaks forth in song,
And rings aloud the welkin blue
With all the songs I ever knew.
O time of rapture! time of song!
How swiftly glide thy days along
Adown the current of the years,
Above the rocks of grief and tears!
'Tis wealth enough of joy for me
In summer time to simply be.
My favorite part of “In Summer Time” is when the speaker talks about why nature seems so beautiful to him right now–The summer sounds, and summer sights that set a restless mind to rights when grief and pain and raging doubt of men and creeds have worn it out– he retreats from civilization–he just glances off the pain of the memory– because it is too brutal to bear.
Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the author of this poem, was the eldest son of a woman freed from slavery in Kentucky. Although he died when he was just thirty-three, he is remembered as one of the first nationally acclaimed African American poets. The title of Maya Angelou's autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is from Dunbar's poem “Sympathy”: I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, / When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, / When he beats his bars and would be free; / It is not a carol of joy or glee, / But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core, / But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –/ I know why the caged bird sings.
The rest and relaxation of Dunbar's summer is set in unstated contrast to his usual state. The conclusion of the poem invokes the image of time as a stream and the speaker as a compliant passenger–tis wealth enough of joy for me in summer time to simply be. But even as he enjoys the temporary pause in striving in the world–with the “raging doubt of men and creeds”–he suggests his intention to return. The joy he feels is as dependent upon the conclusion of rest, the fact that summertime is a concluding period of time, as upon the rest itself.
There is a sense of extended adolescence that accompanies academia–few adults get months of vacation at a time. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty great. I'm not complaining. But one of the things that makes it wonderful is that I know in two months I'll be getting back to work.
But for the mean time, I'll simply be.