Saturday, March 16, 2013

Our Annual Letter to Family and Friends (A Little Late This Year!)

St. Patrick’s Day, 2013

Dear Family and Friends:

Yeah, we know, first it was a Christmas letter, then it slipped back to Valentine’s Day and we pretended we had made the switch on purpose, and now we’re only getting around to writing in the middle of March.  But it’s actually fitting that we should write at St. Patrick’s Day because the high point of 2012 for us was the week we spent in the west of Ireland.  For seven days in July we enjoyed poetry, myth and music for the soul with the poet David Whyte and 35 fellow pilgrims.  Our days blended David’s inspired talks and poetry on the theme of pilgrimage, rugged hikes in the limestone hills of the Burren region, and music ranging from Gregorian chant to traditional Irish to hip-hop. 

Our Irish adventure got off to a comic start when Doug’s suitcase was claimed off the luggage carousel in Shannon Airport by another passenger.  Delta Airlines assured us the other passenger would realize the error as soon as he arrived at his destination and would be responsible for delivering the misappropriated bag to our cottage in Ballyvaughan.  Twenty-four hours later there was still no report from our errant fellow traveler, and Delta was having no luck tracking down his relatives back in the States.  Doug had resorted to borrowing Mary’s spare clothes to keep warm in the 60-degree Irish summer, and eventually walked into town to buy an Irish sweater.  Then the mystery was solved and the bag returned.  The other passenger, an elderly Irish-American, had been flying back to Ireland with the ashes of his recently-deceased sister, hoping to lay her remains to rest in the land of her birth.  Between fatigue and grief he managed to claim the wrong bag at Shannon.  When he reached his Irish sister’s home he went straight to bed.  She helpfully unpacked “his” suitcase.  It was only the next day that he realized his error.  Most impressively, she managed to repack everything into Doug’s severely overloaded suitcase and arrange a rendezvous with one of the drivers of our tour.  So Doug’s clothes have now visited a real Irish home, he enjoyed (?) a brief period of cross-dressing, and an Irish woman’s cremains made several extra turns around the luggage carousel before resting among their ancestors in peace.

Visiting Ireland not only fulfilled Mary’s long-held dream of seeing the country of her Brennan forebears, it also celebrated both our 15th anniversary and Mary’s MAJOR MILESTONE birthday.  We’ll leave you to guess which one, with one hint – she was born in the last days of the Truman administration, when “I Like Ike” was just beginning to gain electoral traction on the campaign trail. 

Other than visiting Ireland, Mary only wanted one thing for her birthday: to have her kids cook for her.  And cook they did.  After considerable backing-and-forthing on email, and a fair amount of trash talking about each other’s recipes and culinary prowess, the five of them put their creativity together and came up with a menu worthy of the woman who first taught them the difference between a soupcon and a soup spoon.  An afternoon of competitive cooking produced a feast that would have pleased Julia Child (had she cooked American-Italian-Asian fusion cuisine in Virginia). 

Earlier in the spring Doug finished his term as president (plus two years as VP) of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.  He’s glad he took on the job and glad to be done. The pastoral counseling movement, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014, is thriving.  His four years took him to every region of the country and introduced him to wonderful people stretching to the limits of their creativity to find new avenues for helping others.  And even though air travel has lost most of its glamour, there’s something about the early-morning sun on the walls of the Grand Canyon or the sight of Chicago from seven miles overhead that makes up for the 3 a.m. stopover on the redeye home from Seattle another day.

Lest she grow bored with pastoring a church, serving as dean of her region, and chairing the diocese’s Committee on the Diaconate, in September Mary began a Doctor of Ministry program at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.  In less than two semesters she has already picked up valuable tools for assessing congregations and understanding their life.  She hopes ultimately to improve the process of matching clergy with congregations.

Finally, a sad farewell.  No, not a beloved relative, or even a pet.  Just a few weeks ago Doug’s trusty 1999 Specialized Allez bike, the one he rode in the Race Across America in 2008, logged its last mile.  The frame broke near the back axle, an fatal fracture in an aluminum frame.  After 25,000 miles he can’t really complain, but he was sad to see the bike go.  He now rolls on a bright orange 2011 Motobecane 30-speed.  Maybe the new ride will motivate him to cut back on the ice cream and get back into his skinny jeans.  (More likely it will give him a new excuse for more Cookie Dough ice cream.)

Here’s wishing each of you a St. Patrick’s Day filled with joy and a 2013 (what’s left of it, anyway) of peace and good health.

Mary and Doug

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