Enigma Variations

This week, just the ending of a story. Edgar is in possession of a pen that can draw in three dimensions. His friend, the inventor, died in a fiery crash but had left it with him after drawing a large X in which some felt they could see all of human history with Christ’s Atonement at the center, at the nexus. The story tells about the progress from that point through public viewings and media discussion. Edgar finally demonstrates a different perspective by drawing a large circle in front of an audience, with some seeing that shape which is the opposite of an X, a circle. Eternity ensues. The story has neither been read at a conference nor published. Maybe later…The title comes from the piece by Edward Elgar. A personal favorite within them is “Nimrod” which you can hear for orchestra here piano solo here. Brings me to tears every time. (The music, not the story.)

“Again Edgar interrupted but only with a gesture that indicated Kellerby should remain quiet. As the world watched, he moved the table toward him and brought the pen from his pocket. He studied the blank paper and chose a spot at which to begin. Although it had been thought impossible, Edgar drew a perfect circle, freehand, on the paper.

As the pen worked its technical magic, the crowd didn’t seem to breathe. Eternity began to unfold on the table as a circle found its expression not as a deep well into which an imaginary line dropped on and on for a very, very long time but as a vital roundness of being, robust and beautiful, renewing at every turn. On viewing the circle, those present could understand something of both the infinite and the minute, of glory and the mundane. With the first shape came repentance as the weight of the nexus honed into the hearts of those who sensed its meaning. With the second came confidence in the promises made through all the parenting ages weighing upon the future of the human family. Edgar knew that it was good. He looked up and smiled at Pamela. It was done. Tears could once again flow. And so it ended.”

Time Capsule: Dear Me

Strictly speaking, I already live in a time capsule, just not a buried one. Moving house eighteen years ago, I picked up a yellowed envelope from the garage floor and opened it to find the birthday card I’d made for my grandmother when I was five. Where had it been in the decades previous? No idea. How did it come to be at that spot at that minute? Clueless. Oh, for an organized life. Cleaning any closet results in such discoveries. A few weeks ago, I came across a rather dear Dear Santa letter my youngest “sent.” He asks for special gifts for others when he was about seven, reflecting an admirable quality at any age.

What I seek now is a way to remind my future self (tomorrow, next week, next year) to remember what I know now but will have forgotten by then. About yearly, I get a series of three shots in my right knee. (Another issue: right vs. left. My husband’s doctor came in to ask which eye he was about to repair. “The left?” I replied, “Right.” His response: “Don’t do that to me.” Then I got it.) When I was in for the procedure, first the nurse asks me to hop up on the examining table. There is no hopping. Lug, heft, even elevated crawl might be more appropriate. She puts the 6-inch-long needle assembly on the counter. I exaggerate slightly. Then the doctor cheerily enters and asks if I am ready. I am not ready. I am in full dread mode. But here’s the truth: It’s not at all bad, perhaps two seconds of a mild pinch. By the third one, with relief in walking already beginning, I may not be looking forward to the shot, but my fear has faded. I ask the doctor to remind me next year. He laughs. There will still be no hopping, but maybe I can be more ready.

Fear aside, I also wish I could learn from prior mistakes by reading some sort of warning before I embark on certain projects. “Don’t skip steps,” a motto that has carried much success, obviously was based on the times when I did skip steps. Of all the things people say to us, I wonder if we would listen if someone began, “You know, the last time you did ___, there was that terrible outcome.” But no. It’s not so much that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it; it’s as if somehow we suppose that having moved through some time, results will differ. Second clichéd response: The definition of insanity, same action expecting different outcome.

The phrase “time capsule” is rather new, from 1938. (Sorry for the lack of transition.) While humans have long preserved caches of relics, apparently the actual practice of preserving in containers began in the 18th century. World Fairs are a phenomenon now called expos. Dating myself, I was taken as a child to the 1964 World’s Fair by my great-aunt, a travel agent. The theme was “Peace Through Understanding.” Occasionally, some picture or memento will float to the surface of my home capsule.  In Texas, we have the Don Harrington Discovery Center with four time capsules in place at its Helium Centennial Time Columns Monument. Apparently, helium was discovered in 1868, so the monument celebrates that anniversary. I’ve always thought it odd that elements are “discovered,” since they have been there all along, but that’s another topic. There is also an organization dedicated to tracking time capsules. My garage is not included, though time capsule William Jarvis notes that most capsules are “useless junk” which does include said garage.

The year 2020 offers so many possibilities for items as to venture into self-parody. Toilet paper memes abounded for weeks. Sourdough starter wouldn’t live, of course, but recipes could go in. Masks, obviously. Unused wedding invitations, cruise tickets, movie passes. CNN has this handy-dandy piece on where to buy your capsule and what to put in it. (Binged media like Tiger King! not)

In my mind, the mack daddy of all time capsules are the golden records sent in the Voyager space crafts in 1977. Unlike missions to Mars or Jupiter, neither has a destination, as they were sent out in a hopeful exploratory gesture. Each record contains music, pictures, greetings in dozens of Earth languages, and illustrations, all carefully curated. I remember someone saying that Bach is there, but that’s bragging. You can get an overview here and listen here. If beings ever find and access these 12-inch treasure troves, I wonder if we will be but a memory. No, wait, I remember—that’s too grim a way to end. I’m reading Animal Farm for next week. History and truth and cycles—no need to be reminded about that, or is there? Dear Me: Think.


Notes on the Location of Eden

Business is booming for the home upkeep and remodeling people. One person I talked to said he was booking in September. As the country remains confined, if not locked down, we are spending more time looking at four walls that need painting, and more.

Last week, we spent a lot of time improving my property, outside: a new motion-activated light, new Talavera house numbers, serious hedge trimming and English ivy removal. In the midst of all this, we encountered (Choose all) tarantulas, wasps, mosquitoes, carpenter ants, fire ants, a rat, thorny vines, and poison ivy. Currently, I have what looks like the state of Texas in red welts on my neck and a nickel-sized streak bubbling up on my face. Hydrocortisone helps a little.

All of this put me in mind of Eden. When we left, we entered a world of noxious weeds. Here is a Scottish thistle in Australia “with a person for scale.” Thorns and snares, poisonous and nettlesome, the plants surround us, as do the insects, arachnids, the viruses and bacteria. No snakes yet, but I’m watching vigilantly.

I know what poison ivy looks like, but when I spotted it too late, I was already afflicted. Recently, I assisted a friend who is terrified of the stuff, assuring her she had none, and I, with my “knowledge,” hadn’t been inflicted in years. Smugness is often rewarded or punished, depending on your point of view. I didn’t even knock on wood.

Eden, however, isn’t outside; it’s inside. We brought enough with us to carry through, if we will. The scene in The Wizard of Oz reminds us of this. Dorothy has had the power to get where she’s going all along. She just didn’t know. And when she closes her eyes and repeats “There’s no place like home,” she finally understands—and believes—what she had forgotten. Randy Travis has a song with the title, a traditional Western lyric with regret. He uses an image of a cleaned out closet as he asks for a second chance. A divorce lawyer uses the question “Need more closet space?” in an ad down on I-20. Seems kind of cold, but now I see its origins.

I once dreamed of seeing a lion in my back yard, trying to get inside. The person I told about it said perhaps it was all the threatening things about the world, trying to get in. Lions have many symbolic meanings, of course, and are often noble. But they eat us, too. Read about man-eaters here. I’m not including videos of maulings, although I watched a few. Most recently, a zookeeper died in a tiger attack in Zurich.

While it might seem so, this isn’t a long admonishment for staying home during a pandemic. Rather, it’s a reflection on the sacred qualities of home. We can paint it or patch it, and it’s best if we clean it and order it. We must protect it. We must prepare it. We must treasure it.  Our lives are lived mostly within these four walls, newly painted or not. Keep out the bad. Keep in the good. Even Motley Crue has a song “Home Sweet Home,” which I don’t get, and the old one from the 19th century (here with sheet music or here by Diana Durbin, who appeared with Judy Garland in Every Sunday, also not a fan), but we do get the phrase “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” from it. But if it’s us against the world, home is where we’ll make our stand.


Memories. Literarily speaking, we have Remembrance of Things Past, a novel in seven volumes by Marcel Proust. I’ve not read it. If you have, I’d like to have a conversation. All I know is that he was eating a cookie (a madeleine, specifically) and the experience triggered memories of his childhood. I have eaten madeleines, but not many.

Musically, we have the song “Memory” from Cats, sung here by the British star Elaine Page and here by Barbra Streisand, my preference. Andrew Lloyd Webber has a gift for melody, and his first wife was named Madeleine, thereby a quinky dink.

Although I’m working on some other weightier topics, today I seem to be on memory. Saturday, I made a batch of pickled peaches (though I did not pick them, Peter) and was pleased to find they did, indeed, remind me of a childhood flavor. My mother didn’t can, but we had backyard peaches, and our neighbor canned them on halves for us. Among the offering were pickled peaches, rich in syrup, cinnamon, and cloves. I don’t know anyone named Nana, but here is her recipe.

All this brings me to the first poem below. Here’s the truth: Not only do I not remember writing it in 2011, I don’t remember ever seeing it before this morning. I don’t know whose death it mourns (someone with initials LS). Send help.

The second poem is another oddity. It wasn’t a dedication. It was a future memory, a term I’ve just invented. When I wrote it, I imagined my elderly self, alone and blind. Lovely, right? But it seems to have been a defensive position into which a certain amount of holy light came. I later dedicated it to Dr. Louise Cowan, about whom I’ve written elsewhere.

Each day brings its own memories for the next day, and it’s understandable we can’t retain all of them. Perhaps that’s why we have joy in the journey. Both poems speak of our heart’s rhythm. Enjoy your peaches.

How It Goes

The NO! first, no, no

Not you—yes—

That’s first

We knew your fragility—

Heart— parts—

But no, not yet—

That sick in us—gut, eyes—collapse

Then the memorials at your door—

In the lobby—

On a stage—

Carefully written and lit, folded—


Not like life—

Ragged, funny, fished—

So—our hearts keep beating, hurting, beating—

Find again a rhythm

Forge again a smile—

We, left, remember too

The greatness, shyly, slyly

Shown and shared—

Hurray! for you—



For L.S.


©Mary Ann Taylor 2011



I remember my

Blue eyes:


When I thought I knew

of pain, of loss,

It was just a cold,

an old gray cat–

Not my heart’s darling

Not its urging rhythm.


My eyes searched for


Shine and shadow, bloom and autumn gold

Skies colors bursting joy,

And faces, the dear beautiful


which now I see no more.


Shallow breaths taken as feet inch

Forward afraid to fall

Unable to rise

Move my heart along

But falter




Now I am surprised

By the cement that holds my hand

Still as the shining steel

That holds my hip.


I doubt my blue eyes

Would remember me.


And yet and yet and yet

Quietly, quietly


Into my darkness the Holy Spirit whispers bliss:

“Sweet child, there is more to thee than this.”