Because neurotic is the new black....

Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols
East Lansing, Michigan,
December 31
I write, I read, I clean up after people and I worry about things. I have a chronic insufficiency of ironic detachment. My birthday isn't really December 31; it's March 22 but it won't let me change it.


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APRIL 5, 2012 9:57AM

Maundy Thursday and The Real Housewives of New York

Rate: 34 Flag
Yesterday was a day of thick, dark solemnity at the church where I sling Shepard’s Pie and order linens. There was a funeral first, the final celebration for a man only ten years older than I am. He was busy, active, healthy, a father of two young adults, lost to a sudden heart attack. I am used to these things now, or rather, as used to them as a person can be. I smile at the black-coated men from the local funeral home, offer them coffee and conversation, and bustle around making a nice spread. I have built a wall of necessity between my personal response to death and the fact that it is not about me at all. I have moved from a time when I dreaded making the phone call to the bereaved to discuss arrangements to a place where it is sad, and hard, but oddly affirming. They need something, they have been hurt, and I am able to offer calm, kindness, and the solution to at least one small problem. 

I moved through yesterday’s crowd silent as a ghost, refilling coffee carafes and collecting used cups for recycling, and felt keen, black pangs. I looked at the picture montage placed on an easel, thinking that I rarely allow my picture to be taken and wondering if there would be an easel’s worth when the party was for me. I could not, as I usually do, moderate the grief in the room by focusing on the work at hand and offering the comfort of helpful, practical normality in an apron. 

Yesterday it was not just work, and there was a resonance as black and sticky as tar. It stayed on my shoes as I prepared for the next event of the day, a light supper before Maundy Thursday service. You may be a stone atheist, a lapsed something-or-other, a Hindu, a Jew or a Zoroastrian, but the story of Maundy Thursday is still moving. Even if you don’t believe, even if Jesus was just some nice Jewish guy, the night he spent alone in the Garden of Gethsemane is a night we have all lived through. He was alone, he was in trouble, and no one would stay awake with him, stand by him, or love him. He faced death the next day, a terrible, painful, solitary death. In a long night of anxiety and dread he was utterly alone. We all know that night. 

Serving up mashed potatoes and corn before the service, I felt the weight of that lost father, the solitary anguish in the Garden, and that space between searing pain and the inevitable green shoots of healing. By the time I got home, I was leaden, my mind a dark, hard mass. Flailing wildly for distraction, I lay on the couch and watched “The Real Housewives of New York City.” There would be no darkness, no suffering, just cat fights among the rich and self absorbed. The impossibly smooth, high-gloss surface would be the perfect antidote to my mordant, matte black thoughts.

On the show, a blonde housewife named Sonja was asked to serve as Grand Marshall for a Marriage Equality march in Manhattan. Cheekbones sharp as glass, burbling about what campy fun it was to wear a wedding dress to symbolize marriage, she repeated her mantra: “It’s my day, thank you for coming to support me on my day, this is a big day for me.“ She addressed the crowd of people (who were mostly actually gay, and couldn’t actually get married legally) in a spirit of campy “Sassy Gay Friends” fun. She failed to mention, even once, that the goal of the event was to promote the legalization of same-sex marriage. Beneath that high gloss surface there was no acknowledgement of the deeper issue; clearly the real importance of “the gays” was that they were great companions for shoe shopping and Liza Minnelli concerts.

It should have swept me away in a torrent of distracted indignation. Instead, last night, that Real Housewife made me grateful for depth, pain, and all that is not shiny and superficial. It was a long, hard, black, bleak day and I had to use all my reserves so that I could, as my father says, “do the needful.” Seeing Sonja skate across the surface of so much suffering and injustice reminded me that pain is universal, eternal, and as much a part of life deeply lived as the profoundest joy. It’s why funerals are sad, and why Maundy Thursday is sad; it is among the invisible ties that bind us all in humanity.

Except for Sonja, who remains a mystery.

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Touching and thoughtful. Thank you for posting this during this week.
a very well writen piece, full of insight.
"Eli Eli lama sabachthani, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" appears in Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 22:1, only twice in the King James Version of the Holy Bible... King David in desolation and Jesus on the cross, a thousand years apart asking the same question. These are the invisible ties that bind us together, forever in time.
I like what your Dad says, Ann, "do the needful." Fine post.
The shallowness of Real Housewives is spiritual death.
Your ghostly presense means more to that family than you can imagine.
This was beautifully written and really resonated with me. My latest blog is how I've decided to stop watching the Real Housewives ("QUITTING RHOBH, CAMILLE GRAMMER AND ME"). You obviously are filling the Martha role with depth, and it is in glaring contrast to the Housewives. Sonja, in fact, published a book about how to cook everything in a microwave! As for Maundy Thursday, the experience of washing the feet of another, or in allowing another to wash one's feet, is for me the way to experience the Holy Spirit. I remember washing my mother-in-law's feet after she had Alzheimer's. Before that we were not close. After, we were united by love. Thank you for this remarkable post.
Ann~an incredible post. Thank you! It really is amazing how superficial stuff doesn't satisfy our souls, isn't it?
Not a Christian, but I love Maundy Thursday. Speaking from the perspective of someone who stared into the abyss for a Maundy year, stepped back, maybe, for awhile, the reality of my own death is carried with me everywhere, pretty much all the time. I can easily imagine the world without me, a pebble tossed into the water, leaving rings, then a smooth surface. Rather than casting a pall over life, knowing death is certain, accepting the brevity, fragility, and inevitable cessation makes being alive so very sweet, and every moment, something to savor.

Given the nearly infinite number of eggs and sperms belonging to so many people, it seems irreverent and dishonorable and deluded to ignore the miracle that we got to arrive at all. Sonja gets to use her minutes as she chooses, you and me, differently. We’re all here together though, enjoying our frail gift.
This is such a profound and beautifully executed piece of writing.
Ann: You have such a way with words. I'm one of the lapsed something-or-others, so this post gave me a lot of food for thought. Thanks.

This is beautifully written.

I think it really does help to step back, gain perspective and recalibrate your own equilibrium.
Though I am in the lapsed category, at this time of year more than any other, I find myself thinking about exactly this. Thanks for saying it so beautifully. (Btw, my Mumbai colleagues often use that phrase "do the needful". Lovely.)
Fine observations, even though I am a lapsed Catholic, the high Holy days still effect me in strange ways, as you noted.
I admire your ability to self analyze and then write it all in a compelling way.
This is very moving. I resonate with the idea that altho we long to escape sometimes, for many of us, that escape offers nothing compared to coming out on the other end of the 'dark night of the soul'.
I loved the rich tones of this entry. Thank you. r
Beautiful. And I love the word, maundy. I don't think it occurs anywhere else.
Rich and insightfully layered, beautifully conveyed impressions, Ann. And now I finally know that Maundy Tuesday isn't some kind of oxymoronic Southernly pronounced thang.
Very appropriate thought matter for this. Now that we don't attend church I hadn't even thought about it being Maundy Thursday - this is a thoughtful way to be reminded.
It's good that she remains a mystery, don't you think? What would it mean to inhabit that level of thinking? Although on an sociological level, I'd like to know, on a personal level, no. I like your version of humanity better, even if it is deeply felt and painful.
Did I say Maundy Tuesday? No wonder Father Duffy's always giving me the stink eye.
"...wondering if there would be an easel’s worth when the party was for me" - I know you, like me, avoid the camera like the demon it is, which is why I will always remember the post in which you took a photo of yourself in your kitchen and then told your story. If I hadn't already added you as a favorite, I would have done it that day. The placement of each word here is perfection Ann. Several of the comments are beautifully stated also. I don't recall reading this before and as reposts go, this is one I definitely want/need to read more than once. Thanks for sending it back out.

(As for me, no, there will be no montage. One photo taken at 35, a portrait actually, done because I knew that #1- I would never look any better and #2- it was all downhill from there. I'm so glad I did it. I was totally right on both counts).
Were I Catholic I would have offered enhanced gratitude yesterday that Maundy Thursday didn't come on Monday - despite my being a devoted fan of Cass Elliot .

I should add that this is one of the strictly limited handful of posts I have read carefully more than twice since joining OS so long ago it frightens me to imagine counting the months. Wondering why this should be, I carefully read all of the comments except Paust's and have concluded with Gabby Abby that "The placement of each word here is perfection." As an inveterate practitioner of second thoughts it would give me insomnia worrying that something I wrote with an eye toward perfection might be a beat, nuance or tonality off. This is why I always deliberately add something a tad sour to every composition. This is why also I read seemingly perfect compositions again and again, in the interest of catching some hideous blemish and noting it, to myself, if only to keep it from bubbling out of my subconscious and pricking me awake before the rooster's ruthless crow on an otherwise splendid Good Friday morn. You might be pleased to know I have thus far failed with this magnificent piece.
Congrats on the EP!
This was very well written.
You have an amazing voice and are always a pleasure to read.
Have a wonderful Good Friday.
Though I haven't been in a church as a participant in years and don't believe in gods, the feelings I remember from Maundy Thursday and the midnight Easter Vigil are strong and nearly transportive. This piece writes that experience beautifully. Even now, I savor the pain.
I hadn't read this before. It certainly still resonates. Sonja remains a mystery and you find meaning in both death and loneliness. Excellent post.