Monica E. Smith

Monica E. Smith

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As I enter the autumn of (my) life I tend to focus on the coming winter rather than allowing myself to enjoy and participate fully in the beauty of autumn. And what a shame it is when I yield to that darker side, for autumn has always been my fondest season, even as a child!
Yet I believe that each moment in our lives is a gift; the good, the bad and especially the ugly. We can make of them what we will. Take them for granted, disconnect them from our lives as just "things" that happen, discount them as unimportant; fear them, hate them for the discomfort and inconvenience they cause, mindlessly plod through them, blame them on “Someone” simply being mean or cruel or uncaring, or even wish them away. I have done most of these things at one time or another. I'm certain everyone has. It is human nature, but is it wise? I, myself, have become more concerned, at times, about the state of the world and, more intimately, the state of my life. I seem more anxious at times, wanting things to be just so, wanting and needing to make amends, to live life to the fullest, to “fight the good fight”. It is only natural to feel concern and sadness in one's life, but it can sometimes be difficult not to let everything build into a full blown weltschmerz!
I don't think we live life to the fullest, add clarity or glean the importance of a moment in time (thereby discovering how awesome life is) and reap its benefits by just tossing it aside because we don't understand it or find it distasteful. If we try to hide from the bad and the ugly, we end up not recognizing what is good (you can't have one without the other, because all of these moments are part of a whole, and each is relative to the other). We don't appreciate the value of life and lose enjoyment in even the smallest of pleasures; we become bitter and resentful and sad; Our lives are made up of the amalgamation of all three. Each of these moments, our moods, experiences and cherished—or not so cherished—memories helps us to grow into the people we are meant to be.
There is comfort in knowing that each of us has a purpose, that we are not designed to go through life alone, mucking our way through the bad and ugly to realize that purpose and find the good. ("Therefore encourage one another and build each other up..." 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We have others with whom we are connected in so many ways we do not always recognize, and who are there to help us, sometimes in ways they do not even realize. To me, life is no accident. We have a watchful Guide, leading us on the paths we have chosen to travel. What better encouragement for embracing all the facets of our extraordinary human nature. So, perhaps a proverbial word to the wise?
It is no mere adage that time (seemingly) passes more quickly as we age. It has become so precious, and while there are days less perfect than others, I will never wish away any day, no matter how bad or ugly it may seem. All of my life I have heard “with age comes wisdom”. It could be that it is more accurate to say that as we age we become more aware, thereby learning the value of time. Perhaps therein lies the wisdom.


Autumn has come quickly
It both startles and assures me
Hence I shall not be afraid,
For the path I have chosen remains
In perfect harmony with the seasons—
Unified, though each a part unto its own
Bursting forth in fluctuating hues,
From brilliant, coolest argentine
To the fiery red heat of vermilion

This mélange of moods and colors,
Experiences, memories and remnants
Of an earlier time varies from day to day,
Molding, reshaping who I am,
Enhancing my simple existence—
As a wild pumpkin might adorn
A quiet woodland patch of green

*(Along with this entry, I have made the decision to change the name of this blog from "Rantings of a Mad Poet" to "Menagerie". Since it is a collection of writings, poetry, thoughts and emotions, questions and, hopefully, some answers, I felt it should be aptly named. A complete collection of this blog may be found in book form in the bookstore at Blurb. Volumes I and II are available for purchase, and Volume III is in production now. I hope you like the name and enjoy the new setup)

*(Thank you to Connie Marcum-Wong, moderator of the PFT [Poetry for Thought] poetry group, for her poetry challenge suggestion to use the words mélange, remnant, argentine, vermilion, path, harmony, adorn, woodland, pumpkin, unified in a poem. These lovely and inspirational words led me to write "Synthesis", which, in turn, led me to deeper thinking, which led me to this blog entry. All of these actions together became, for me, another illustration that we are all somehow (and, at times, unknowingly) connected.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hello, Nature Calling

Being born a Jack-A-Bee (Beagle/Jack Russell mix), Bernie is not lacking in quirks. If laughter is the best medicine, my husband and I are quite healthy, as not a day goes by that we have not chuckled at something she has done.

Going outside for nature's call has produced a series of very funny behaviors. When it's a simple matter of watering the grass, Bernie will usually stand at the door staring at it, nose pointed upwards, willing it to open; or she just stares at me "loudly" like Eddie on Frasier—that "Jack Russell stare"—making a hoarse whispering sound (her "inside voice", which I am now sorry I taught her) until I let her out. It's a comical, albeit annoying sound and always yields the desired result.

When she really means business it is quite another scenario and, frankly, an odd routine. Because of the coyotes which frequent our rural area, we do not let her out at night alone. In the winter it can be an especially long and uncomfortable experience.

When Bernie feels the urge, she wanders into my office and remains for approximately 30 seconds. We have no idea what actually happens in there, and have never been able to catch her in time to discover that. She suddenly runs through the beads hanging at the office door, full speed ahead, their wooden clacking startling all, and stares at us with that "IT'S COMING!" look of horror on her face—the same look that used to be on my children's faces when they were newly potty-trained toddlers.

Once outside one would think that, being such an emergency, she would get to it. But Bernie must slowly—walk—the—grounds sniffing every blade of grass to see who might have recently used her bathroom. She stands still as a statue, listening, smelling the air. When she finally gets around to the job at hand, of course she must find the perfect spot. She sniffs, scratches, circles around, then, finally the stance. But is that spot good enough? Off she goes again, sniffing and scratching. Just when I think it's all about to happen she gets in position and then decides that's not the right spot after all. So, in mid-squat, she scoots across the grass looking like a hunchbacked kangaroo, sniffing, resting, scratching, hopping on her two back legs to the next patch of grass and finally takes care of the business at hand. Then, with the same urgency as before, she begins barking like a mad dog, as if I had left her out too long: Hey! I'm done here and I'm cold! Let's go inside and get my good dog treat!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

What if we took just one moment from our busy days to recall Him Who, thousands of years later, the world has all but forgotten? He and His story have been reduced to a children’s fairy tale. Nor is He given a serious thought. After all, we are masters of our own lives and we have the free will to do whatever we please. Do we even give a thought about Who gave us that free will?

The world has become bored with His story, uninterested and numb to the pain, the excruciating torture, which was not forced upon Him but which He endured willingly for us. Do you want love? Here it is, but it has no place in our world today. We have neither the time nor the desire. And each time we brush Him aside, we scourge Him again.

Let contemplation of a moment which changed life forever saturate our souls. Let us give that moment its proper place in our world. Let us, with full intention and attention, take the time to sit quietly today or Saturday and think only of Christ. Do we have five free minutes? Perhaps today will be the day we take down that little dusty box, where we keep God neatly in His place until we really need Him, and behold the treasure inside. Let us prepare our hearts and our very lives for Christ’s entrance on Easter morning, when He breaks through the stone cold tomb of sin and into our lives, and we can truly proclaim “Christ is Risen!” without shame, without embarrassment, in Truth and in all joy! Do you want a reality story, something more inspiring and remarkable than any “reality” we can see on TV? Here it is. Do you want something relevant? Here it is. Do you wonder where the "good" is in Good Friday? Here it is. Do you want Truth? Here it is:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn't produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who parts from me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted! My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father. I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

John 15: 1-11

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Easter in the Byzantine Catholic Church


We normally go through our day-to-day lives without much thought about what we are doing. But lent provides direction and meaning; it is not just "having to give up" something. There are actually three elements which work together. Prayer, the first, is simply communication with God. We cannot get to know people without first talking with them, trying to understand "where they are coming from". We can't even begin to understand the Church without first knowing its Founder. Prayer brings tradition and meaning to the things we do. It gives us the strength to fast. And through our fasting, we are led to share our abundance with others (almsgiving).

Fasting is a very ancient tradition of the Church. There isn't much point in fasting just for the sake of fasting, to see how much food we can go without. A true fast should bring about the desire to change, and actually acting on it. When we feel hunger from fasting from food, it should remind us of our hunger for God and all that is Truth.

When we pray and fast, we should normally come to the desire to give, almsgiving. It was Christ's way of life and if we are Christians, it should be ours. Through prayer, we "contact" and listen to God. Through our fasting, or an emptying of ourselves to fill it with God, we come to a deeper conversion. And through both prayer and fasting, we come to the realization that the needs of others are the responsibility of all. In that same context, I have long loved this quote by author, George Eliot: What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?

The Tradition of Easter Basket Blessing

The blessing of food at Easter has been passed down from the Carpatho-Rusyn people, my ancestors of the Byzantine Catholic Church (and other Slavic groups). Originally, people kept a strict fast, not eating any meat or dairy products for the entire season of Lent (today the fast and abstinence rules are much more relaxed). At Easter, as we do today, the people took the food items that they had not eaten during Lent to church to be blessed. These Easter, or "paschal foods", hold great significance in that they are the foods God had prescribed for the ancient Passover meal—lamb, bread, wine and bitter herbs, and represent the spiritual feast awaiting us after our deaths, at Christ’s table.

Easter Basket Contents:

“Pascha” (Easter bread) is an egg-rich bread, baked in the round; represents Christ, the "living bread".

Meat Products (such as ham, veal, pork, lamb): represent the Old Testament sacrificial animals (which were a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ).

Dairy Products (such as butter, cheese, egg cheese [hrutka], cooked and decorative eggs) are symbolic of prosperity and peace. The butter is usually formed into the shape of a lamb and represents Christ, the Lamb of God who was offered on the altar of the Cross for our salvation. Eggs have always been considered a symbol of the resurrection, the emergence of new life, Christ coming forth from the tomb as a chick from the broken egg.

Horseradish (and other bitter foods such as vinegar, sour cream, etc.) represent the bitterness of Christ's passion; and when mixed with sweet, red beets, represent the blood He shed.

Salt Symbolizes the Truth of the message of Christ; as salt preserves food, so the teachings of Christ preserve our eternal life.

Chocolate Eggs/Candy allow children to be a real part of this celebration and share in the resurrection. The Church takes ordinary food and blesses it, making it and us holy as we eat of it. God's blessing changes us from children of natural descent into children of the Kingdom of God.

It has become customary to place a great variety of foods in the basket from which one has fasted during Lent. I have seen bottles of wine or beer, pop, cookies and even bags of McDonald's hamburgers or other fast food in Easter baskets. I think this is a fascinating and wonderful new custom which really brings the ancient tradition of blessing of foods into the modern world! How awesome, to be able to adapt such traditions to our contemporary, everyday lives.

*Side Note (I see this as evidence that the people, while taking part in centuries-old rites, truly can bring the Church into the modern world and make it relevant. We hear so much complaint about the Catholic Church not being "up-to-date". But it is the people who can change this by their attitude, their involvement, their voices, their creativity. We are so privileged to be able to carry on the works and practices and rituals of a Church born directly from the apostles' steadfast adherence to and teaching of the doctrines directly given to them by Christ. We should take pride in this rather than feeling embarrassed or put out or diminishing the value of such ancient customs. Delving into one's ancestry is all the rage these days. Why not go all the way, and see where we truly came from?)
The words “Christos Voskrese” (“Christ is Risen”) are sometimes printed on the cloth which covers the basket. The basket is taken to church where a candle placed in the basket is lighted during the blessing ceremony. After the Resurrection Services, the people greet each other with “Christos Voskrese!” and reply “Voistinnu Voskrese!” (“Christ Is Risen!” / “Indeed He Is Risen!”). The people either share their foods, then, at a breakfast with the other parishioners, or take the blessed food home to be shared with family. The meal begins with the head of the family dividing one blessed egg into enough portions for all family members, and an extra portion to remember all family members who have passed away. He gives a portion of the egg to each family member saying, “Christ is Risen!”, and they answer “Indeed He is Risen!”. What a wonderfully fulfilling and beautiful way to remember Christ in His death and resurrection, and our loved ones, who are all part of Him Who gave all, that we might live forever!

Happy Easter to all! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

 Easter Basket Prepared to Bless
Basket Blessing
St. John's Byzantine Catholic Church
Columbus, Ohio

(some information gleaned from and

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections.

(Author Unknown)

She has lost her luster,
this old movie star
about whom no one speaks anymore.
It's sad, really, how she once sparkled,
eliciting gasps and sighs
upon mere sight of her—
her entrances being quite grand.
Most loved her, but some knew
her true colors lurking deep within,
though whether loved or hated
she was never far out of mind.
Time does take its toll, however,
and if she once commanded respect,
she now is seldom worth a thought.
She is criticized, mocked
kicked and walked upon—even feared,
for we remember—and we do not...

Once, she had been admired for her beauty,
but now she is simply old and cold
and has worn out her welcome.
People want only to forget
how they were duped by her seeming magic.
She faded over time, as we all must,
but make no mistake, she is only sleeping.
When winter returns again
she will awaken, and cover the earth
with a blanket of jewels as beautiful
and fit for a Tiffany and Co. showcase as any gem.
And we will "Oh" and "Ah" once again,
mesmerized by her facade of beauty.
Fickle, fickle man!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Perfect Day

Be not mindless/Of the mundane moments
While seemingly unimportant/They pass quickly,
Yet command/A lifetime of remembrance

Monica E. Smith

Perfect Day

I remember
when fun was a Saturday bus ride
to downtown with my sister
on a cold winter day
was a Beatles album
surprisingly on sale for $3.99
at Higbee's Department Store,
the coveted place
I could never normally afford
on my teenage salary
was a mid-morning cup of hot coffee
sipped with delight in a booth
at a Euclid Avenue coffee shop
as we reminisced
the still fresh experiences
of the morning, anticipating
the rest of the day to come
was lunch at the Silver Grille
and exercise
was an all-day walk
around downtown Cleveland—
window-shopping, talking,
dreaming and planning
our next Saturday excursion—
But contentment
was the aroma of Morrow's Nut Shop
which lingered on the bus ride home
while we warmed our hands
on hot bags of fragrant, freshly roasted nuts

Each of us treasured
this fitting end to a perfect day—
A memento that would soon evanesce—
as would these precious times spent together

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...

I know you have experienced it, upon waking from a wonderful dream, the feeling that you did not want to wake up yet. And have you kept your eyes tightly closed, willing the dream to continue, willing yourself to remain asleep, willing that life created within your mind to continue? Have you tried with all your might to let it be so?

It is already the twelfth day of Christmas, and the final hours of the spirit of Christmas Present are upon us. I no longer find the winter wind invigorating and tolerable, merely uncomfortable, the once picturesque snowy hillsides simply cold and bleak; and I have spent the last week trying to remain asleep, trying my best to allow the warmth of Christmas to continue, trying not to awaken from the most wonderful Christmas I have experienced in many years—perhaps even since my (now grown) children were little, or maybe even since I was a child myself.

There have been years when Christmas came and went without much ado, when I seemed to simply go through the motions of preparation without much expectation or meaning, and was just as happy to pack away the season with its glittery accoutrement and forget about it for another year. There have been, sadly, Christmases past when I saw only the extra work mounted upon me. Not often, but there were times...

I don't know what changed this year that caused such joy in my heart during the season, and this great sadness that it is now over. Perhaps, as we age and come to a more profound belief of mortality, things we often have taken for granted—or in which we have shown little interest—become ever more consequential. Did I give the season a more spiritual significance? Perhaps. But, for me, honoring God and celebrating His Son's birth (and, thereby, our reclamation) have always been "the reason for the season". Without that, all the little things we do in preparation to make Christmas sparkle with excitement are simply things we do. They have no significance or impact.

I prepared for the holiday and celebrated with family as always. We ate and laughed and played as always, "for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself..." (from "A Christmas Carol"). But perhaps there was one small difference which transformed everything for me this year.

I have always been enamored with, and have always made it a point to watch at least one of the "A Christmas Carol" productions each year. In the few weeks before Christmas, I kept hearing over and over in my head the words of Ebenezer Scrooge, upon his realization of what the gift of life really means, and what our response to, and responsibility in life is:

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. 

So I set out to give life to his pledge, thereby making it my own. There is a saying of St. John of the Cross that I have long loved and which has always resonated within me: "Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love." This is not so different from Scrooge's declaration, is it? And, perhaps, that is how this Christmas was transformed for me, where this Christmas differed for me, where Christmas—or any day of the year—can differ for us all. I approached the season with love from beginning to end, in the decorations, the food I prepared, arranging special "events" and activities to share with others to mark the season, to elevate it from the ordinary. I put so much love into the things I did and experienced that I could hardly contain myself. And so, now that it is over—for this year— I am so filled that it has no place to spill over but in tears, as I think fondly of how we laughed and loved this Christmas.

I am not ready to awaken from the dream, or give up the ghost—of Christmas Past or otherwise—but I must be fully awake and aware of all the gifts of Christmas in order to let the dream live on. To ignore these gifts and lessons of Christmas would be much too costly.  I think this is the way we should—must—approach not only Christmas, but every day on this earth, fully awake and aware,  living (as I was recently reminded) each day truly as if it were our last, in full realization of the magnitude of the gift of life...

Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!...It is required of every man..."that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world -- oh, woe is me! -- and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!

Let it never be said of us that we did not know Christmas or the gifts it brings to us which live through the year. We can then begin to understand each other, who we are, where we are going, who God is. We are here for a purpose. Let us strive, with 'ol Ebenezer, to wake up and find that purpose, with each other...
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more...He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

Peace, Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years!