Looking for My Claw

If, like my family, you’re a fan of the Toy Story movies, you probably made a point of going to the theater last summer to see what Buzz and Woody’s third adventure would be.  To think, perhaps, about what your own next adventure might be.  For we have met these toys before, and they are us.

In this episode, Woody and the gang must escape from the evil daycare center where they have been donated as their owner, Andy, is getting ready to go off to college.  After a number of perilous maneuvers, they find themselves headed into a furnace that will burn them to ashes.  As each toy realizes their collective fate, riding down the river of trash toward those flames, they look with fear and sadness at each other and slowly join hands.  If they are to go down, they are going down together.

I was so engrossed in the movie that this moment brought me to tears.  No, it couldn’t be. This couldn’t really be the end of those valiant and spunky toys.  And how silly, I thought as I stared at the screen, that I should be so moved by their situation.  This was essentially a cartoon (albeit a masterfully animated one), and these were just toys.  But as they joined hands, I had to look away.  And in doing so, I missed the important moment, the moment we all look for in our own lives when we face our own version of the fiery furnace.

The Claw.

Of course.  The Claw!  It’s the claw, operated by the three green aliens, that saves the day.  My astute daughter noticed that the aliens had disappeared from the group as it headed toward the flames. They had seen The Claw, the machine in the sky, and used it to lift the others out of danger.

Now, imagine Buzz Lightyear in a toga, head wreathed in laurel.  “To infinity and beyond,” he cries in ancient Greek.  For the convention used to save the toys in Toy Story 3 is a convention that has been with us for centuries.  In the movie, it is the claw.  In ancient Greek drama, it is known as “Deus ex machina,” God from a machine. And it worked for the Greeks then as it works for the toys now.  When the characters are in peril and there seems no way out, a great power arrives to save them.  The story ends, and the good people are safe.

I’ve had my Simeon announcement (see the previous post).
I’ve been through the triple flames of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Now, I want to know that I am safe.

I am looking for my claw.

After Simeon Comes to Call

So Simeon has come and gone (see previous post) and now there is the aftermath.  The Bible doesn’t say much about how Mary comes to terms with Simeon’s announcement, except that she “pondered these things in her heart.”  Pondering is important, but ponder too long and you become paralyzed.  Action is good, but only if it’s appropriate action.

When it comes to facing challenges, I’ve always been fond of this saying:  Pray to God, but row toward shore. In other words, call on God, the universe or whatever forces can act in your favor, but do your own part to solve the problem. Don’t expect to be saved without having to sweat. If it’s taking the medicine, swallow the tablet. If it’s asking for help, pick up the phone. If it’s outrunning the current, row as hard as your arms can manage.  But do your part.

Certainly, my Simeon Announcement brought physical changes through the various treatments for the cancer.  But mostly, the announcement initiated internal changes, some of which I’ve described in earlier posts.

First comes a tendency toward hypochondria, when every new twinge or passing pain starts up the machinery of fear.

With that comes a certain measure of superstition. St. Anthony’s medallion fell off my neck chain a few weeks ago, the loop on the pendant having worn through with rubbing on the chain. (St. Anthony is the patron saint of miracles. He’s also reputed to help in finding lost things.) So is St. Anthony no longer looking out for me? If not, can I drink one extra cup of green tea to make up for that? How about doing a few extra yoga poses…

You begin to see the cycle, yes?

One key change is a new view of my ephemeral place in the world and the actions of those around me.  (Those of you who have passed through the aftermath of your own Simeon Announcement might corroborate this point.)  In particular, I no longer have patience for these types of people:

  • The narcissists, who blame but don’t take responsibility
  • Those who grandstand to call attention to themselves
  • People who lack compassion, believing their flesh wound equals the gaping hole (literal or figurative)  in someone else’s heart
  • Those who control to convince themselves they’re important. (These people fool no one except others like themselves. The world is nobody’s oyster.)
  • Those who don’t know their limits and so bring pain to others
  • People who abandon ethical behavior to be among the popular
  • The petty ones who can’t tolerate someone else more successful than they
  • Those who seek to take advantage
  • Those who lack gratitude.

Now you might say the recent election has shown us plenty of examples of people like this, but it’s more likely you notice these people every day. Though my Simeon Announcement has made me notice the darkness in people, it has also made me more acutely aware of the many who don’t appear in this list — the gracious and thankful ones, the ethical ones, the honest ones.

I’ve also become more aware of beauty, and light.

Spirit.

And stillness.

I savor even more the fleeting but significant moments.  Which brings me to the photo in this post, the concrete evidence of an exquisite evening spent among dear friends, gathered by my family as a surprise to celebrate my recent birthday. In these increasingly dark days of November, that evening lights my smile.

The Simeon Announcement

Guido Reni's Joseph with the Infant Jesus, abo...

Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve ever read the New Testament of the Christian Bible, perhaps you’ve come across the story of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35).  It goes like this:

After Jesus is born, his parents, Mary and Joseph, take him to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated, as was the custom of their faith. They had become parents that dark night in the stable not long before, when the shepherds came to see and the wise men followed the star in the East to offer gifts.

The timeline of the next two events is somewhat confusing, but at some point, Mary and Joseph fled down the road to Egypt, a path traveled in both directions by their ancestors, to protect their child from Herod’s vengeance. King Herod had heard about Jesus from the wise men and decided that, to protect his own power, all firstborn male children age 2 years and younger should be killed.

In the second event, Mary and Joseph go to the temple to have Jesus consecrated.  Mary is perhaps only 17 years old; Joseph is not much older.

While at the temple, they encounter an elderly man who seeks them out to see Jesus and give Mary and Joseph a message. This man is Simeon, and what he tells Mary has been called The Simeon Announcement (I can’t claim rights to this term.  I read it in Joyce Rupp’s book, Your Sorrow is My Sorrow). He tells Mary that her son will be the cause of the rise and fall of many in Israel. Then he says to her: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

At the time, Mary isn’t sure what this proclamation means. She does not yet know that Simeon’s announcement will one day lead her to the foot of the cross on which her son is dying, but perhaps she understands enough to know that this announcement will change the way she views her life.  From that moment on, she can no longer be innocent but must bear the weight of whatever is to come.

The diagnosis of breast cancer was my Simeon Announcement.

What’s yours?