A lot of crazy, difficult things have happened to me in the past year. At the same time, a lot of incredibly good things have, too. It is a crazy world out there right now with the novel Corona virus pandemic in this unprecedented and uncharted territory. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, to paraphrase Dickens. I got to see and be with my father and brother and girlfriend yesterday. We had Orthodox Easter (Pascha) dinner together. I cooked my first lamb, something my mother usually did before she died. Last year I attempted to help her cook it and "learn" how to do it. This entailed me following her around her kitchen making sure she did not fall, as her mobility was increasingly declining at that point in the cancer's progression. She would take things out of my hands and insist that she do this part. The parts she did ended up being most of all of the parts, while I kept vigil making sure she didn't plummet to the ground.
This year I was not alone in the kitchen. My girlfriend was with me, eagerly and lovingly looking up recipes for other trays to supplement the lamb. (She made a delectable stuffed shells dish with goat cheese, walnuts, mushrooms, and peas that would make a fine meal on its own any day.) The lamb cooking was left entirely to me. I racked my brains to remember how mom had "taught" me to do it, and then tried to combine it with a recipe I perused online to put my own spin on the old Smith classic. My mom cooked a mean lamb. I daresay, (and I mean no offense to my Greek friends when I say this,) that her Pascha lamb was better than any of that which we would have after services at the local Greek parish. I didn't do too bad myself. I think it turned out very well. (Olive oil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and Dijon mustard go quite well with lamb!)
The night before Pascha (Saturday) I stayed up and watched what I could of the Paschal midnight Divine Liturgy live-streaming on YouTube from Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, WV, where my brother, Brother Andrew, is a novice monk. My other half and I sat outside in my backyard with a campfire. Like the monks, we waited quietly in the dark, listening to the hymns and readings stream from my phone, and awaiting the midnight hour with a light burning brightly before us, ours being campfire rather than candlelight.
At midnight, when the lights came on at the Monastery, we went inside and watched the service on the television where it was warm. I turned on every light the property I live on has, back porch, shed, and outside garage nighttime floodlight included, flooding the grounds with light the same way the Church does. I was privileged to see my brother Andrew streaming through YouTube wearing his golden Easter robe and carrying the golden cross at the head of the procession the monks led around the exterior of the grounds surrounding their small chapel. He was grinning from ear to ear in delight. I smiled too, and felt for a short while like I was standing there with him. I found myself whispering to him like I would have long ago when we served as altar boys together, forgetting for a brief moment the physical distance and separation. Shortly prior to 1:00 AM, just when the monks were re-entering the chapel to finish their liturgy and commune, the ISP at Monastery gave out, and the stream froze, cutting short. I think too many people were viewing it at once. I went to bed for the night shortly after that, tired, weary, but happy and with joy in my heart.
Then the darkness came.
Oddly, I could not sleep. I thought of my mom. I missed her, badly. I couldn't cry yet I felt like I needed to. I tossed and turned. I wondered if Dad was doing okay tonight, if he missed her as badly tonight as I did. I got up a couple of times. One time I had my phone in hand and almost tapped the words "Peter Smith" on the screen that would have initiated a FaceTime call. I did the same for "Gray Smith." Dad had plans to rise early to do prayers for Easter. Peter had online college assignments and was either currently still working or enjoying a hard-earned, well deserved slumber. I turned my phone back off. Like Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-dum I decided to face the night and its demons alone, sparing my loved ones of having to join in the battle and aid me. Sleep finally took me for 2 or 3 hours, killing the demon when I could not, and I awoke for the final time at 5AM. I let Hermione outside, and was surprised it was 37 degrees out, for I felt so warm.
Later that evening as Dad and Peter arrived, we set the table and sang the hymn and ate and drank and laughed together. Peter made the Smith family Mac and Cheese recipe, and did a good job with it for his first time, from the kitchen of his first apartment living on his own for the first time. We conversed and when Dad brought mom up, I looked down at my plate. It was the set of family China mom had given me, with one plate that has a chip. She would always give me the chipped one for some reason. Maybe she knew I would not mind or complain. Somehow I always got the chipped plate, whenever she used that set of China. And tonight, when Dad brought her up, I looked down and sure enough, I had the chipped plate, somehow, completely by accident. I confided in Dad then that the night prior, while joyous, I spent sleepless and missing Mom. He said he had barely slept too, and had had a rough night as well. Peter, too. I regretted not calling them then. But, we all smiled and I told them about the chipped plate and as we ate the Paschal lamb, I think we could all feel her there.
Dad bid me and my girlfriend farewell for the night and drove home a little while later. We watched a movie that I passed out asleep halfway through, then went to bed. I had to teach early this morning remotely.
I was surprised to find myself unable to sleep again. I played cards on my phone through my favorite time wasting, yet still brain-engaging app, to no avail. So I pulled up my notes app again. The Muse came to me then and sang inspiration to me in my ear, fighting off the Balrog of the night with her song. I thought of Star Wars, one of my favorite things ever, as I often try to think of things, stories, franchises, etc. that I love when I find myself sleepless. I got an idea. A song, a poem, something that organized what many fans of Star Wars think of Disney's trilogy of films.
I tapped, typed, and I wrote, doing my best to follow some kind of meter, which is difficult for me; I usually work in free verse when I do poetry. I chuckled at some of the lines, and took some unabashed poetic license. I finished with a poem voicing complaints from the perspective of vexed Star Wars fans and fears and conundrums on the part of the Disney studio writers/producers. I woke up this morning to teach tired and groggy, but happy that I'd made something again.
And here it is! I decided to polish it up and post it here. My little poem from one of the nights I couldn't sleep, about one of my favorite things. I hope you enjoy it. I hope it makes you laugh.
It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. There is an awful virus killing hundreds of thousands. Times are uncertain. We are out of work, out of our ordinary routines, thrown for a loop, and some of us who have lost loved ones this year cannot sleep. Despite all this, "Make Good Art" as Gaiman says, always. This is an example of my art that has come out of this dire situation, born out of anxiety and sleeplessness. It isn't much, but it is something. I hope it will entertain you. And even though many things have all gone wrong, I will continue to stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah, as an old song goes.
Don't stop being positive, don't stop doing what you do best, and don't let the world change your smile, let your smile change the world.
ENJOY THE POEM,
May the Force Be With You Always,
T. D. Smith
* Disclaimer: the opinions in the poem aren't necessarily my own. I love all the Star Wars films, good and bad. Like I said, it is one of my favorite franchises ever. I just got inspiration/an idea to write a poem that embodies and encompasses the contemporary complaints of the fans, capturing their zeitgeist, so to speak. *
The rest of the story, "March the 33rd: A Quarantine Story," is complete! The story is available in its entirety RIGHT HERE.
I honestly never intended this to be an Easter release, and it isn't an Easter story (per se,) but I am happy to give it to you to read as a gift for Easter, anyway.
Enjoy it, may it bring you joy and something productive and meaningful to do during these troubled times, and Happy Easter from my family to yours!
Stay healthy and safe.
Easter Sunday 2020
A bunch of crazy stuff has happened in life. I will likely blog about it after a long hiatus, soon. In the meantime, you can read Part I of a story I have been working on below. It is inspired by all the craziness that has come along before and during the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of these details in the story are true! Can you guess which ones? Enjoy, stay home, and stay safe, my friends!