My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Anniversary Blessings and All That Jazz

A bit grainy, taken off our cell phone, but proof of a
great "date night!"

My husband and I lived in different parts of Chicago the four years we dated. My little efficiency apartments featured a cast iron "Murphy bed" that threatened to squash me every time I lowered it from its closet, views of brick walls across alleys, cantankerous scraping of elevator cables sounding through the night and, yes, jumbo-sized cockroaches.
From the official Murphy Bed Co.
website. Folding away my cast iron
bed each morning was a feat of
strength and willpower!

On the upside, these cubbyholes granted me access to St. Clement's Church and singing in its choir, Lincoln Park brownstones, lakefront strolls, forays to the zoo and conservatory, cheap diners, classic movies at the Music Box Theater, coffee house sessions at the Old Town School of Folk Music

Ed and I were in our early 20's, had student loan payments, and were working for non-profits, but we didn't need much cash to have fun. He would hop a bus to meet me and we would walk and talk for hours -- rain, snow or shine. Some of the world's best sight-seeing was at our disposal, and we never carried a scrap of extra weight during those years! celebrate our 23rd Anniversary Saturday night, Ed took me to Girl and the Goat in Chicago's West Loop area (owned and run by Iron Chef America contender Stephanie Izard). Chickpea fritters; pork, beef and goat stew with homemade noodles; fresh-baked bread with bacon, butter, and diced pear. Outstanding and surprising  dishes! Dim, artsy interior with rustic tables and floor, wood-fed brick oven, chefs in tall, cylindrical hats, and a soaring bar area with iron grill work salvaged from some architectural treasure house.
Chicago's Field Museum, just a bus ride away when we
lived in the city. Photo by Bartholomew

After a week of our family fighting a respiratory bug, it was so delightful and unexpected to escape for the evening. After-dinner espresso and latte at La Colombe Coffeehouse on Randolph Street, then on to the Jazz Showcase to hear Benny Green and his trio. We sipped Bailey's Irish Cream in front row seats, positioned perfectly to see the pianist's flying hands. 

After the first set, Benny autographed a CD for us: "Marianna and Ed, Happy 23 Years! Many, many more and on and on..." When he saw us still there after the second set, he greeted us by name. He was upset, saying if he had known we stayed, he would have dedicated a song to us. He leapt back on the stage, grabbed the mike, but by then the lights were up and house music playing. The thought was there!

Funny how jazz has been a recurring theme in my life this year. I wrote about another powerful jazz encounter here: Monsignor Reilly, Great Jazz and an Amazing Week.

But back to Jazz Showcase. We watched the pianist (Benny Green), bassist (Ben Wolfe) and drummer (Kenny Washington) in awe as they moved in and out of improvisation seamlessly. Distinct voices, yet one stunningly unified team. Sounds like a metaphor for marriage at its best, although I didn't think of that at the time. During intermission, Benny told Ed and I that when he composed, he expressed things in music he couldn't put into words. I told him his music and performance reminded me of prayer. It seemed so fundamental, spiritual and free. He seemed touched when we said we couldn't think of a nicer way to spend our anniversary. He looks so edgy on his CD cover, but in person, seemed gentle and receptive, thanked us for our encouragement, and said "bless you," several times, for our comments.

In Father Robert Barron's youtube video about Seven Great Qualities of a New Evangelist, he talks about how we must be plugged into culture, and find God's truths and beauty shining forth through even the secular arts. I definitely felt God's goodness pouring through this trio's music. At times, the sounds were so delicate and probing, they seemed to express qualities like love, loneliness and pondering. At other times, these three men in suits rocked with exuberance, laying all their energies into themes they explored with deepening intensity.
Before we married, Ed read Jane Eyre to
please me. Pictured here is author
Charlote Bronte, painted by
J.H. Thompson. Image is in public
domain due to age.

Learning to appreciate jazz has been a labor of love. When I first met my husband, I thought jazz ran in circles with nowhere to go. But living 23 years with a trumpet player has led me to lay down prejudices. I've been blessed by an enjoyment of jazz that might never have developed if I hadn't determined to like it for Ed's sake.

The great thing, is that my husband also gives my preferences a try, which led him to read my favorite book of all time before we married (Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre), buy a second-hand canoe this summer, and take me to such an out of the box restaurant featuring goat cheese and locally-grown veggies for our anniversary!

That great meal and music was soporific, because next morning, the whole family stayed in bed until noon -- an unheard-of luxury. We arose to Ed and my actual anniversary day, which mimicked the glorious, sunshiny weather of our wedding day. I remember my parents driving me and my boxed wedding dress and veil along Lake Shore Drive toward St. Clement's Church, Lake Michigan glistening at our side and sun smiling overhead -- and us belting out the show tune from "My Fair Lady" -- "I'm getting married in the morning. Ding-dong the bells are going to chime..."

We had relatives fly in from as far away as Ireland and England. We never guessed that within a week, Ed's father would be stricken by a brain embolism. How blessed we were to have both sets of our parents at the wedding.

The now-Bishop of Tulsa (then, President of the Catholic Church Extension Society) Father Edward Slattery, sang the "Creation Mass," and our St. Clement's Church Choir sang, finishing with part of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. After Ed and I were named husband and wife we turned to face the congregation, and the 30-some members of the choir waved to us from the loft of the newly-refurbished, historic, Romanesque-style church! Ahhh, memories.

Memories filtered pleasantly through my brain all weekend, as our leisurely celebration of life together extended through Sunday. We had two coupons for a nearby coffeehouse, so walked there in the afternoon to exchange gifts. I bet we looked silly walking down the street, each carrying a large, brown shopping bag. Ed got me an ingenious bird feeder that attaches to the kitchen window so we can watch birds while doing dishes. I got him a quintet's worth of Canadian Brass sheet music so he can play with the kids on their trombone, trumpet and clarinet, along with a Canadian Brass CD. Also, Handel's Messiah sheet music and CD so he can play along on his trumpet. I love how our gifts benefit the whole family.

Later, at 5:00 PM Mass, our family was asked to bring up the gifts. The entire theme of the Mass happened to revolve around the one-flesh, sacramental union of husband and wife. A great Indian priest gave a homily full of scriptural references and rich insights as to God's plan for marriage. In one of the lighter moments, he told of an English couple who held a world record for being married for eighty-something years! The wife advised forgiving each other and always going to bed good friends. The husband summed up his approach in two words: "Yes, Dear!"
The Battle of Lepanto, 1571, painted by acclaimed,
19th-century Filipino master Juan Luna. Image is in public
domain, due to age.

After dinner, I read this article from Soul Magazine to Ed and the kids, to remind us about what an amazing anniversary date Ed and I have. October 7th is the Feast of the Holy Rosary. On this day in 1571, the last oared, naval battle in history took place. An outnumbered, ragtag fleet of Christians turned back a powerful invading force of Turks threatening to overrun Europe. (The Muslim fleet was powered by Christian slaves at the oars.) The Christian victory is credited to the fact that Europe united in praying the rosary, since defeat seemed certain. You have to read the story of this incredible battle. The prolific writer G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem about the event, called LepantoThe language and imagery are breathtaking. 

Well, for Ed and I it's been twenty-three years (not counting the four we dated) -- six pregnancies (three miscarriages), various catastrophes (job loss, illness, disputes) -- but above all, shared faith, sacramental blessings, companionship, family, and the sense of adventure as new opportunities unfold.
Looking out to a bright future,
with Edward J. Slattery, now
Bishop of Tulsa, OK.

Has it all played out as I envisioned as a 16-year-old? Hardly. In many ways it has surpassed my hopes and dreams. It's a lot like jazz. We improvise as we go, helping the other each sound his or her own unique tune, yet begging God to blend us in pleasing harmony, forging something beautiful in our hearts, home and the world.