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I read a definition of hospitality today I like, Making room inside ourselves for another person. Hospitality is often referred to in Benedictine monasticism. It’s the main objective for monks and nuns but has nothing to do with crystal wineglasses and lace napkins. It means a deep openness and graciousness toward others.

Yesterday at work, I was anything but open and gracious. This is the busiest time of year for me at the newspaper. We have two special pubs to finish before the end of the year, and I’ve been working nights and weekends trying to keep up with that and the seventy 3,000-word essays I must grade before the end of November. When I was asked at work to do one more thing, I kept my temper but left work early, too angry to accomplish anything else.

On my way home, I ran errands. The first stop was Macy’s to pick up pants being hemmed, then the grocery then Target. In each parking lot, I sat venting my anger and frustration at God. It was a cold, November day, and we’d just had our first snow in Colorado. Target was my last stop. I went inside and found myself wandering through aisles looking at things I normally don’t look at. I shop at Target only to buy bulk items.

I read books and listened to cds, tried on pajama bottoms and looked at kitchen appliances. At one point, I came across these Nick and Nora slipper socks. They remind me of sock monkeys my grandmother used to make. She was a seamstress and sold sock monkeys and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls at department stores in Memphis.

My mother was also a seamstress, and I’m sure they both turned over in their graves when I had my pants hemmed at Macy’s. This must have been on my mind when I looked up and saw the slipper socks.

Nick and Nora Charles are characters in the Dashiell Hammett novel, The Thin Man. The novel was turned into a series of five movies with Myrna Loy and Dick Powell between 1936 and 1947. I love the movies and own the collection.

When I turned the slippers over and saw Nick and Nora, I placed them into my basket — which now included a red blender, two sets of pajama bottoms, some cds, a new book by Fannie Flagg, a Justin Bieber calendar for my nephew and a few other assorted odds and ends.

William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles,
with dog Asta.

I went to the cashier, added the items up in my mind and thought, What am I doing. There must be $100 worth of stuff in this basket. I turned the cart around and weeded my way back through the store aisles to replace everything. The first thing that had to go were the Nick & Nora slipper socks. I could justify everything in the basket except those.

When I arrived at the sock section, I couldn’t hang them up and stood wondering what to do. By this time, it was 8:30. I’d been in the store for more than an hour and a half. I wheeled my cart back around and went to the cashier again.

Someone ahead of me was having trouble with a gift card, and this gave me another chance to decide whether I was going to buy the items in the basket. As I put them on the conveyor belt, I realized for the first time they were all things my mother would have bought me for Christmas (including the hemmed pants hanging in my car). I looked up and saw the words Merry Christmas.

The cashier rang up the items, and I looked back and saw an older, Asian woman standing in the back of the line. She startled for a moment when I noticed her then smiled. A look came into her eyes I can only describe as soft and understanding and accepting. She looked at me as if she knew me and had a presence full of light and of pain — as if she had come from a place of light but found it painful to be standing there looking at me.

I paid the cashier and as she bagged the items, I turned back to look at the Asian woman and saw she was gone. The line was still there, but the Asian woman had disappeared. Perhaps it was only a trick of my mind caused by the strong emotions of the day mixed with the realization about the items in my basket, but I believe my mother was standing in the back of the line in disguise.

Parking lots are strange places. We sit in between two lines outside buildings in transit between the other places in our lives. As I sat in the Target parking lot afterward, all the anger and frustration came flooding out of me. I realized I wasn’t alone and that something out there watched over and cared for me. I felt more gracious and open to my own life again.

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Someone asked me to perform this with them recently, and we had our first rehearsal today. It is one of my favorite pieces. In the movie The Hunger, the duet is used as background music for the love scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.

Flower Duet
Under the thick dome where the white jasmine
With the roses entwined together
On the river bank covered with flowers laughing in the morning
Let us descend together!
Gently floating on its charming risings,
On the river’s current
On the shining waves,
One hand reaches,
Reaches for the bank,
Where the spring sleeps,
And the bird, the bird sings.
Under the thick dome where the white jasmine
Ah! calling us
Together!
Under the thick dome where white jasmine
With the roses entwined together
On the river bank covered with flowers laughing in the morning
Let us descend together!
Gently floating on its charming risings,
On the river’s current
On the shining waves,
One hand reaches,
Reaches for the bank,
Where the spring sleeps,
And the bird, the bird sings.
Under the thick dome where the white jasmine
Ah! calling us
Together!

Sous le dôme épais
Où le blanc jasmin
À la rose s’assemble
Sur la rive en fleurs,
Riant au matin
Viens, descendons ensemble.
Doucement glissons de son flot charmant
Suivons le courant fuyant
Dans l’onde frémissante
D’une main nonchalante
Viens, gagnons le bord,
Où la source dort et
L’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.
Sous le dôme épais
Où le blanc jasmin,
Ah! descendons
Ensemble!
Sous le dôme épais
Où le blanc jasmin
À la rose s’assemble
Sur la rive en fleurs,
Riant au matin
Viens, descendons ensemble.
Doucement glissons de son flot charmant
Suivons le courant fuyant
Dans l’onde frémissante
D’une main nonchalante
Viens, gagnons le bord,
Où la source dort et
L’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.
Sous le dôme épais
Où le blanc jasmin,
Ah! descendons
Ensemble!
………………
Léo Delibes (1836-1891)

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The Egg and I

Clark Gable’s performance in It Happened One Night
was the inspiration for the cartoon character Bugs Bunny.

Since I was a child, I’ve loved old movies. Claudette Colbert is one of my favorite big screen movie actresses. Her comedic performances are still studied by actresses today. She is best known for the 1934 comedy It Happened One Night and the 1944 drama Since You Went Away. The Egg and I is based on a book by the same name, published in 1945 by Betty MacDonald. The movie was the precursor to the 1960s T.V. series Green Acres.

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Follow Your Bliss

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This aria by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) is from La Rondine (the swallow), which premiered in Monte Carlo in 1917. The opera is about a Parisian woman named Magda, who is kept by Rambaldo. She trades places with her maid and has an affair with a sweet, earnest tenor named Ruggero. But when he asks her to marry him, she turns him down. She knows she can never marry him because of her past. In this aria, she recalls receiving her first kiss in her youth and discovering what passion is.

The opera has alternate endings. In one version she flies like a swallow back to Rambaldo, leaving Ruggero heart-broken. In another version, Ruggero finds out about Rambaldo and wants to know why she lied to him. She tells Ruggero she thought his love could save her from the life she was leading. He leaves her, and she flies like a swallow to the sea to drown herself.

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