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In the early 1900s, the world also experienced upheaval: World War I and its aftermath, the Spanish flu pandemic, the Bolshevik and Russian revolutions, and the Easter Uprising in Ireland. A witness to those atrocities was the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, in response to which he composed “Second Coming”(1919).

Yeats’s imagination limped before the wanton destruction of life as he knew it and could not conceive of a pre-war world in which life would continue. The nub of what remained in his psyche was the Second Coming of the Anti-Christ as depicted in the Book of Revelation, called the rough beast in his poem.

Other chilling metaphors shadow our present upheaval and afford critical insight into its darkness. The falcon’s ever widening gyre speaks to breakaways from established values: untrammeled freedom is all that matters. The blood-dimmed tide describes the wholesale slaughter of combatants locked in conflict: no matter the aftermath of deals struck by superpowers.

Yeats views such lawlessness as the antecedent for The Second Coming—An epiphany of sickening depth: a Sphinx-like creature, its gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, moves its slow thighs across the desert, certain of its destination: Bethlehem.

Until now, the beast has not arrived, but our world seems ripe for it. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold—says Yeats of his world. The same holds true for ours. Mushiness countermands foundations, changes yes to no at dizzying rates, lets slide the obvious. It’s too costly to stand for anything. Of more comfort is mindlessness.

A stark scenario, to be sure, only countered by prayer and meditation. Aside from spin-doctors’ manipulations, there is a Power still at work in creation: within our very hearts, always a safe refuge in the storm.

“Oh! No way are we gonna let you go,” said Cayce, the nurse practitioner, again come to evaluate my continued participation in hospice, a requirement by Medicare. “Even though there’s been no change in the measurement of your upper arm,” she added. She had already noted the new symptoms of my lung disease and taken my vital signs—all normal.

“Can we talk about my hands?” I asked as I showed them to her. “More crippling in my fingers since your last visit. Do you know if this symptom is worsening my Interstitial Lung Disease, since it’s associated with it?”

“That, I don’t know, Liz, but I’ll find out and get back to you.”

Cat Scans taken of my lungs during my last six hospital admissions indicated its slow progress, but since I’m receiving hospice, now in my tenth month, Medicare denies payment for such tests.

Cheerfulness softened her eyes as she admired the arrangement of white tulips on the dining room table. “So lovely!” she said, her words somewhat muffled by her protective mask. “I always love seeing them when I come here.” Three days old, each tulip had bowed its petalled cup in a concentric circle as if paying homage to Creator God. Their transient beauty reminded me of my own mortality, with its daily dying.

As Cayce zipped shut her case and prepared to leave, she said, “And great that you continue your exercises, especially the deep breathing ones. They’re keeping you going—No matter that you’re slowing down. This is working out.”

Her encouragement was balm to my soul and a reminder to let go of the outcome, another opportunity for accepting life on life’s terms as practiced in CPA. I’ve much to learn…

 

 

Fluff! was my initial reaction to the opening chapters of Helen Simonson’s comedy of manners, The Summer Before the War (2016). It is 1914, set in the coastal village of Rye, East Sussex, England.

Slowly unfolds a view of waning Edwardian society, with its opulent mores defining attitudes and behaviors of its residents. Comic touches abound, exposing their eccentricities and gossip and prejudices. Detailed descriptions of feathered hats and gowns, the annual Hops Festival, the Fete Parade, the society funeral for the only son of the Earl North, trench warfare, the grimy feel of railway stations, and so much more, afford texture of place. Like other comedies of errors, dialogue is precise, stilted, disguised, but at times compelling.

Only when the voices of matron Agatha Kent and the village’s new Latin teacher, Beatrice Nash, lay bare the gamey shenanigans around them was I compelled to read on; and of the later voices of the servant Abigail and the gypsies, as well. And I’m glad I did. Also affording context to this novel is the suffragette movement, the changing role of women in society, and homosexuality. I grew to care for Agatha and Beatrice, both venturing into vital experiences that deepen their sense of woman and quicken the worlds of others.

What follows is the rude interruption of the village’s predictable world with the onset of the Great War—Their summer of balmy channel breezes was not supposed to be like this.

I pray that this is not the summer before the war. Given rains that freshen greening leaves and lawns, I hope such waterings will l dampen fires of global discord and enhance critical changes confronting us—with God’s help. No one needs another war…

 

 

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