Showing 201 - 210 of 273 annotations tagged with the keyword "Spirituality"

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

One April day, a middle-aged writer, who was raised a Protestant but is not religious, is surprised to find a stranger, wearing a plain raincoat, in her home. The intruder says that she is Mary, mother of God, and something in her direct simplicity announces the truth of her claim. May will be the busiest of Mary's year, and she is tired; she asks to stay for a week to rest. Over lunch of soup and sandwiches, the two women establish an arrangement that Mary will stay and that if her host chooses to write about the visit, she will call it a work of fiction.

As Mary quietly goes about a banal existence--shopping, napping, doing laundry, using the toilet--the writer embarks on an investigation of Marian history--contrasting the relatively few biblical references to the mother of Jesus with her enormous fame and heavy responsibilities over two thousand years. Why has Mary been venerated? How can she cope with the thousands of prayers sent to her each day? Can transcendence reside in the mundane tasks of female life?

By the time her guest leaves, the writer is not converted but she comes to the conclusion that faith includes the acceptance of uncertainty, and that writing is an act of faith.

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Every Second Counts

Armstrong, Lance

Last Updated: Feb-11-2004
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This book, a sequel to It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, chronicles five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's personal and professional triumphs and agonies from late 1999 (after he won his first Tour and after the birth of his son Luke) to mid-2003, the 100th anniversary of the Tour. Armstrong defines himself by his cancer experience and survival; he devotes himself to both one-on-one connections with fellow cancer patients as well as his public persona to raise awareness and funds for cancer programs and survivors' needs.

There are many medically related themes in the book. Descriptions of cycling sports injuries and illnesses include a severe concussion, a broken cervical vertebra, dehydration, road rash, tendonitis and exhaustion. Armstrong experiences the loss of friends and acquaintances to cancer and trauma. He is the subject of an intense investigation into the possible use of recombinant erythropoietin and finally cleared of suspicion after nearly two years. As a world class athlete, he is subject to frequent, random drug testing.

His wife experiences a failed in vitro fertilization cycle, though a subsequent successful treatment leads to the birth of healthy twin girls. The Red Cross invites Armstrong to visit NYC firefighters soon after the devastation of September 11, 2001 in a successful effort to boost morale. Armstrong, though, describes encounters with some cancer patients in which he felt he did not succeed in providing the desired inspiration.

Despite reaching his five-year cancer-free milestone, Armstrong, like many other cancer survivors, wonders if the cancer will return. He is hyper-vigilant of his body not only because of his elite athlete status, but also because of his cancer history. Nonetheless, he is reckless and jumps from a steep cliff to sense the rush of fear and freedom.

Armstrong trusts and believes in modern medicine and technology, as well as the physicians, nurses and other health care practitioners dedicated to cancer treatments and health care. He also lauds complementary practices, particularly the team chiropractor who uses a variety of techniques to support the riders during the grueling Tour.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art

Summary:

This book represents collaboration between neurologist-poet Jerome Freeman and potter Richard Bresnahan. Thirty-seven black-and-white photographs of ceramic pieces by Bresnahan from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts are interspersed with 56 of Freeman’s short poems. In his introduction Freeman writes, "Richard’s pottery (champions) both our environment and the need to nourish our humanity through cooperation and caring." Likewise, Freeman notes that much of his own poetry "attempts to focus upon caring." As he also points out, "the economy and simplicity of pottery can resemble the spare verbiage and subtlety of successful poetry."

Indeed, Freeman’s poems are simple, direct, and evocative. Many of them, such as "Carrying On" (p. 3), "Ten Year Old with Rheumatoid Arthritis" (p. 17), and "DTs" (p. 49), create images of patients. (However, the 88-year-old arthritis sufferer in "Carrying On" by no means considers himself a patient!) Others evoke more general human responses to severe illness ("Apocalypse," pp. 6-7), or to the threat of illness ("In Defense of the Hypochondriac," p. 15). In the former, Freeman writes of a comatose ICU patient, "All about keep mostly / thinking there’s a mistake / here somewhere." In the latter poem, Freeman concludes, "The worst might / happen. Keep crossing / bridges before you come / to them."

These poems also evoke the landscape and flora and fauna of the Great Plains: "Lake Superior in February" (p. 29), "The Prairie Gentian" (p. 79), and "When Wild Turkeys Come Out of the Woods" (p. 87). But the outside and inside worlds are closely connected. In "Coma Vigil" (p. 59), a poem about a woman in a persistent vegetative state, he begins, "Dawn’s bounty spills over / the rim of sky to spread / across darkened / prairie." Does the woman want to be kept alive in her "coma vigil"? The poem ends, "The time has / come. / Shadows still conceal / easy ways of letting / go."

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Cane

Toomer, Jean

Last Updated: Jan-19-2004
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This is a collection of related stories, sketches, poems, and a one-act play by Jean Toomer, a little-known writer of the Harlem Renaissance. The book is divided into three sections. The first part of the book is a series of stories that portray the lives of poor black women in rural Georgia. They deal with such subjects as infanticide ("Karintha"), miscegenation ("Becky"), hysteria ("Carma"), lynching ("Blood-Burning Moon"), and religious mysticism ("Fern" and "Esther"). Taken together, these stories portray an intuitive, violent, spontaneous, and pre-rational culture.

The second part of Cane takes place in Washington, DC, where Toomer depicts the life of urban black Americans in the early 1920's. Here we encounter the conflict between rationalism, as represented by the well-educated "intellectuals," and traditional lifestyle and morality. The best stories in this section include, "Avey," "Theater," and "Box Seat."

The last section is a one-act play ("Kabnis") about two urban black writers attempting to establish a contemporary "Negro identity" in light of the repression and suffering of their people. One is overwhelmed by negativity and a sense of victimization, while the other man believes that the past can be transcended, especially through the power of art.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Fabric and Thread

Summary:

Surrounded by Family and Friends is a collection of six life-sized fabric and thread wall hangings that explore the relationships between dying persons and those human or animal companions they are about to leave behind. Scherer’s drawing tools are her scissors and sewing machine; she sculpts in fabric--a warm, tactile and inviting medium.

In "At Night," a dying man, though weak, is alert, conscious, and comfortable. His direct eye contact with the viewer draws us into the family grouping of standing daughter or wife with eyes downcast on one side of the bed, and a seated elderly woman and middle aged man on the other side looking at her. The artist met and did a pencil sketch study of her protagonist 21 days after he had rejected further dialysis and other treatments. Scherer documents in her notes, "He wanted his doctor to see the drawing--proof that he was still here, doing it right, dying his way. He told his wife, ’The doctor should see this! I did it MY way!’ We agreed to write those words on the drawing." (Project on Death in America newsletter, 2002: (10) p. 7)

"Open Window" shows an elderly woman in bed with a window open to a breeze that gently stirs her long gray hair splayed out around her head like a crown. Although the woman is fragile and bedridden, the hair is striking, gray with age, but thick and vital. Her cat stands sentry beside her, greeting the viewer with a steady gaze.

In "Child" a seated mother is kissing the head of the dying child on her lap. The supportive medical technology is barely visible. A teddy bear, colorful patterned quilt, and a clean gauze-like curtain communicate the essence of palliative care.

Two standing figures tenderly touch and comfort themselves and a third who is dying in bed. "Three Men" is exceptional for its unselfconscious display of the loving relationship between the subjects. They might be brothers or friends, lovers, or professional caregivers. Intergenerational and non-traditional families from culturally diverse groups apply to all six of these works.

"In Her Room" appears to be a husband and wife, though the actual relationship doesn’t really matter. Directly gazing at the viewer, the calm subjects invite us into the comfort and intimacy of this moment. The "husband" might well be the caregiver. He sits close to the woman’s bed, his hand wrapped firmly around her outstretched arm.

"Bigger than Each Other" is a composition of a couple seated on a couch holding hands, fingers entwined. The woman--with tubing supplying nasal air/oxygen--is enveloped in the body of her husband (partner? Physician?). Although physically present to each other in an embrace, they appear to be lost in their separate thoughts.

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The Tragedy

Picasso, Pablo

Last Updated: Nov-21-2003
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on wood

Summary:

In a bleak setting, at an ocean's edge, a family grouping of three poor people, barefoot, huddled and shivering, are lost in contemplation. The figures' proportions are elongated. Imposing in their size, they take up the entire canvas. Rendered entirely in shades of blue, all other details are eliminated from the composition adding to the mood of blue empty coldness of sand, sky, and sea.

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A Cracked River

Hirshhorn, Norbert

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is the second collection of poems by international health physician Norbert Hirschhorn. The first poem, "Number Our Days," is a meditation based on a verse from Psalm 90, "Let us number our days / That we may get us a heart of wisdom." The poet reflects on his mother's escaping the Holocaust ("my blond head sucking her breast"), her subsequent depressions, and eventually the day when the adult son was faced with the decision whether to dialyze his dying mother.

This poem sets the stage for the whole collection: an inquiry into the meaning of family and love and memory. Hirschhorn doesn't take himself too seriously, as in his description of adolescent lust ("Donna, Oh Donna"), the compelling "Self Portrait, "Growing up in New York / with skull caps and spittle, I felt demeaned to be Jewish / and fled to the Ivy league," and the wonderful "New Old Uncle Blues."

There are three major clusters of poems: one that deals with the poet's family and childhood; a second cycle of love, distance, divorce, and renewed love; and, finally, an engaging set of poems that focus on his experience in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. In "On a Guesthouse Veranda in Surakarta, Central Java," Hirschhorn writes, "What matters here? Nothing. / Never has life been / so sweet." And "A Non Believer Wakens to the First Call to Prayer" ends with these beautiful lines, "The men who pray raise up their palms. / Soon the sun will warm the stones."

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Marcella

Ward, Mary Augusta (Mrs. Humphry)

Last Updated: Oct-21-2003
Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The headstrong beauty Marcella Boyce, who has acquired radical political views while at school, returns home and becomes engaged to Aldous Raeburn, the son of her father's neighbor Lord Maxwell and a moderately conservative politician and landowner. Marcella champions Jim Hurd, a local poacher accused of murder (who is prosecuted by Raeburn): she nurses his grieving wife and dying, consumptive son and arranges his legal representation by Edward Wharton, a Socialist politician and Raeburn's romantic rival.

After Hurd's execution, Marcella breaks off her engagement, trains as a nurse, and turns her reformist efforts toward the London poor instead of the rural poor in rural villages. She refuses Wharton's offer of marriage and finally accepts Raeburn's hand.

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The Blood of the Lamb

De Vries, Peter

Last Updated: Jun-04-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Don Wanderhope grows up in a Dutch Calvinist family, but his father is a searcher, always questioning the tenets of his faith and the meaning of life. Don's life progresses through a series of traumas: his older brother dies of pneumonia; Don develops tuberculosis; his girlfriend at the sanitarium dies of tuberculosis; and, later, his wife commits suicide. Despite all this, however, there is one shining ray of hope and love in Don's life--his daughter Carol. By the time she turns 11, father and daughter are inseparable pals.

At this point Carol develops leukemia. At first they think it is strep throat and she responds to antibiotics: "She feels a lot better. Give her another day or two and you can take her home. But, anyhow, we've eliminated everything serious." (p. 165) But shortly thereafter, while father and daughter are on vacation in Bermuda, she becomes severely ill again, and soon the diagnosis of leukemia is confirmed.

This begins many weeks of progressive spiritual suffering for Wanderhope, as his daughter suffers terrible physical symptoms and medical interventions. He is reduced to bargaining with God, and to begging at the shrine of St. Jude: "Give us a year." Initially, his prayers seem to be answered as Carol responds to chemotherapy, but then she develops sepsis and dies, "borne from the dull watchers on a wave that broke and crashed beyond our sight." (p. 236)

After Carol's death, Wanderhope vents his anger at God and becomes overwhelmed with grief. However, months later, when going through Carol's things in preparation for selling the house, he discovers an audiotape that Carol had made during her illness, a message that she had left for her father: "I want you to know that everything is all right, Daddy. I mean you mustn't worry, really . . .

(You've given me) the courage to face whatever there is that's coming . . . " (p. 241) The tale ends with Wanderhope's final reflection: "Again the throb of compassion rather than the breath of consolation: the recognition of how long, how long is the mourner's bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship, all of us, brief links, ourselves, in the eternal pity." (p. 246)

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Happiness

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

It is a summer night on the steppe and two shepherds are lying on the ground as their sheep sleep. A man on a horse stops to ask them for a light for his pipe, but stays to chat. They discuss the recent death of Yefim Zhmenya, an old man who had sold his soul to the Evil One. You could tell he was evil because people walking past his garden could hear his melons whistle. The older shepherd tells another story about Yefim, whom he had seen appear as a bullock one stormy night.

One of the men observes that there are many treasures buried in the local hills. "Yes," says the old shepherd, "but no one knows where to dig for them." But then he tells them about a map to the treasure and indicates that he knows precisely where to dig. However, when the horsemen asks him what he would do with the treasure if he finds it, the old shepherd can't answer.

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