Measured Extravagance

09 May 2003 - 11:02 p.m.

A pleasant, low-key, interesting birthday: it started out very well indeed, with the Beautiful Young Man arriving home from Little Rock a bit after midnight and demonstrating his appreciation of the clingy black dress I was wearing.

Then, this morning, I watched a friend and several acquaintances receive degrees and honors from Vanderbilt Divinity School. The program termed the ceremony "an act of worship and celebration" and it was indeed both - with the organ playing Selby's "Prelude and fugue in A Major" and "Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above" as the faculty and graduates proceeded in, the Masters' candidates bedecked with gold-lined hoods and maroon tassels; with unbridled whooping and sustained cheering for the graduates after the degrees were presented; with prayers such as:

We know, O God, that a degree program is but the willing and planning of many men and women, each sought by your great love. Grant that we who would earnestly serve you may depart from this commencement to witness in the world to the reality of your saving truth.


May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world. May God fill us with an outrageous hope that we might do what others claim cannot be done.

In his "Charge to the Graduates," Dean Hudnut-Beumler told the story of what happened at his own church a Sunday or so after Easter, where a minister asked of the children how they would recognize Jesus if he were to appear among us. One child said, "His long hair?" to which it was pointed out, no, the disciples probably had long hair too.

Another child said, "The holes in his palms?" The minister beamed.

The Dean's own eight-year-old son leaned over to his father and asked, "How would they know it wasn't one of the thieves?"

Also from the Dean: ". . .faith is deepened, not cheapened, by critical thinking."

. . .

The day was bright and hot and humid: Walking to Benton Chapel, I passed scores of other graduation-goers carrying and waving bright yellow cardboard fans embossed with the Vanderbilt "V." At the university-wide ceremony, Chancellor Gee apparently cracked that he had never seen so many fans in Memorial Stadium.

. . .

I made for myself a nice lunch: broiled salmon with mystery chutney (something my mother-in-law canned back in 1999 and finally opened today - it worked well with the fish, at any rate), a boiled artichoke with garlic butter, iced tea and several cups of frozen raspberries. There was some reading, invoicing and practicing.

For dinner, we visited a Somalian restaurant called Mecca. It's located in a dingy, stripped-down storefront with few frills - some mismatched plastic flowers and a fish tank underneath the TV playing "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" in Arabic. I ordered angero ("Somalian pancakes" - an equivalent of Ethiopian injeera) with goat; the BYM had beef tips cooked with tomatoes, onion and potatoes over rice - served on plastic oval plates with Chinese designs and characters. The complimentary tea was very hot and very sweet and flavored with ginger. The service wasn't much to speak of, but it was friendly, and the portions were enormous and inexpensive. As the review we'd read had noted, the cafe caters primarily to Muslim men; as it happened, the only other woman I saw there spoke Spanish to her companion and into her cell phone.

The BYM's verdict: "Good food, no atmosphere. And I ate too much. . ." I think we'll see if there's somewhere with a bit more ambience the next time I'm craving African food (there are a couple of Ethiopian places in Nashville I've yet to try), but as I told the BYM on the drive home, I love that we live in a city large enough to support little restaurants like this.

As has become customary, I have quite a bit more birthday to anticipate, too - Dichroic's lovely books are on my piano, as are a couple of amusing cards (and there have also been several emails, a phone call, and a red velvet cake), my mother-in-law murmured something about restocking the planter, and the tributes from the other usual suspects will appear on my doorstep anywhere between tomorrow and Boxing Day. And I'm expecting some checks and contributor's copies to arrive in the nearish future, and something that smells wonderful just burst into bloom next door. I've been in a peculiarly unproductive headspace for the past fortnight or so about turning 33 - succinctly summarized by "Oh, God, how I've wasted a lot of time. . ." - but today was very much about feeling utterly thrilled to be alive and able to live this life.

And, that said, the plan for what remains of the evening is a bit more lettering and a sip of bessenjenever. The plan for the weekend is to attend the last two sessions of the Textura workshop; the plan for the next week is to wrap up several ancient items on the to-do list (and some of the newer ones, too); the plan for the year is to waste less time, have more fun, and take better care of both myself and mine. "Mine" including husband, pets, possessions, friendships, avocations. . . It's going to be an intense, busy, splendid year.

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