Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum.

Like as the hart. . .

Like as the hart. . .

On a clear day in June, 2008, on a highway between the Sea of Galilee and the city of Nazareth the driver of the bus carrying the small group I was with slowed and told us to look left up the hill to see a Gazella gazelle, a Palestinian Gazelle. I saw a tan streak of motion a bit darker than the dry hillside and a couple of tiny patches of white. The Palestinian Gazelle disappeared up the hill faster than I could look.

Our driver said we were lucky—hardly anyone sees Palestinian Gazelles because they are a declining and endangered species. Since that day I have been fascinated by the Palestinian gazelle.

I’m also fascinated by the romanticizing of the demographics of The Galilee. Nazareth is west of the Sea of Galilee. About 150,000 people (mostly Arabs) live there. It’s not simply the mythical place where Jesus walked. Nazareth is a metropolitan area that was ceded to Israel in 1948 even though the population was over 60% Arab—60% of those people Muslim and 40% Christian.

Across the Sea to the east is the Golan Heights, until 1967 a part of Syria. While we are horrified at ISIS taking swaths of Syria in the name of religion, we accept uncritically Israel’s 1967 annexation of the Golan Heights in the name of religion. Fascinating.

A melody that often sneaks from my unconscious to my conscious mind to sing repeatedly is the opening of the anthem by Herbert Howells, “Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks.” The King James “hart” is the Palestinian gazelle.

כְּאַיָּל, תַּעֲרֹג עַל-אֲפִיקֵי-מָיִם– כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹהִים.
ὃν τρόπον ἐπιποθεῖ ἡ ἔλαφος ἐπὶ τὰς πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων οὕτως ἐπιποθεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου πρὸς σέ ὁ θεός
Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum.
Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

I used to think I remembered the words of this anthem because the uncommonly beautiful music, once learned, is impossible

Like as the hart

Like as the hart

to forget. It may be the other way ’round.

Jill A. Fisher proposes that there are

. . . four primary overlapping functions of the tattoo. First, the tattoo functions as ritual. . . the tattoo can serve . . . as a physical mark of a life event. . . interpreted as significant by the bearer . . . The tattoo also functions as identification. . . as part of a given group . . . A third function of tattooing is protective . . . a talisman to protect its bearer from general or specific harm. . . the fourth function of tattoos is decorative . . . modifying the body with tattoos, the individual has chosen to add permanent decoration to his/her body. (Fisher, Jill A. “Tattooing the Body, Marking Culture.” Body and Society 8.4 (December 2002): 91-107.)

About ten days ago I had the image of the face of a Palestinian Gazelle tattooed on my right forearm with the Latin Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum (“As a deer longs for flowing streams”) circling my arm below it.

This was not my first tattoo. I had a stylized version of the Arabic words for “peace” and “love” intertwined tattooed on that arm about five months ago.

Since I last wrote about this phenomenon of late-in-life tattooing, I have been thinking about and (frankly, having difficulty) explaining to myself why I’ve had them done. I don’t much care (my sister says we are of a generation that makes one of two assumptions about men with tattoos, neither of which apply to me; she has not told me what those assumptions are) what anyone else thinks of them, but I would like a bit of self-understanding around this permanent modification of my body, especially in such obvious places. Why not on my upper arms or some other place on my body that I can easily cover?

As I have written about before, I had my first tattoo about six months ago—on my left arm, a rather startling image taken from a 15th-century Gregorian chant manuscript, the incipit of the funeral hymn, Dies irae (“Day of wrath, O day of mourning”).

The only other tattoo I plan to have is already prepared for by the illuminated “H” on my left shoulder. It will be the beginning of another Gregorian Chant, Haec díes quam fécit Dóminus (“This is the day the Lord has made”). I decided on the Haec díes because I wanted a chant that begins with “H” and has lots of complicated notation for Joe, the artist at Tigger’s on Main Street in Dallas, to copy. It will stretch from my shoulder half-way around my back.

Ritual. Identification. Protection. Decoration.

I’m fascinated by my own motives. My first tattooing was one week after my final semester on the faculty of SMU ended. The “H” came at the time I made a decision about how I want to spend the first period of my retirement. The Arabic “peace and love” came during the Israeli devastation of Gaza. And the gazelle came at a moment of change and redefinition of my life.
My first awareness of—and secret desire for—tattoos was in 4th grade when the older brother of one of my friends came home on leave from the Navy. I wanted a tattoo like the anchor he had on his arm. My getting tattoos is arrested development?

Perhaps.

. . . that day Will dissolve the world in ashes . . .

. . . that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes . . .

Or perhaps my mind is finding rest somehow that I can’t predict, control, or understand. And these tattoos are either a part of that process or keeping track of it.

An indelible reminder that the end is coming. An acknowledgement that I long for—for what?—I do not know. A declaration that this is the day. An abiding desire for peace and love. In ancient languages. In images of ancient languages?

I did not have a grand plan for these tattoos. I’ve taken each without much thought about how it fit with the previous ones. But “Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks . . .” Palestine is desert-like. It’s easy to understand why a Palestinian Gazelle desireth the waterbrooks. Does the gazelle know why, or understand the nature of the water?

Dies irae
The day of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes
As foretold by David and the Sibyl!
How much tremor there will be,
when the Judge will come,
investigating everything strictly!

Quemadmodum desiderat cervus
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Haec díes
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.

Peace and love.

It has my back.
Haec Dies banner

“Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. . .” (Naomi Shihab Nye)

For only the few.

For only the few.

Cookies! COOKIES! COOKIES!

I’ll admit it. I’m addicted to cookies. Store-bought, purportedly home-made cookies, preferably from Kroger. Albertson’s will do in a pinch, but Kroger’s are better. I don’t know about fancy cookies. Some um tut sut bakery (how did that phrase pop into my brain?) probably sells fancy cookies I’d like, but I doubt it. Middle-class-not-very-good-for-you cookies are what cookies are all about.

I know what fancy over-the-top cupcakes are all about and where to get them. (Fluellen’s on Elm Street in downtown Dallas, if you must know.) But I don’t want any hoity-toity cookies. I want your basic fattening and addictive cookies.

Every day.

This is quite strange. Except for chocolate (the very best chocolate—Mast Brothers or Harbor Sweets or some such), I have never been much addicted to sweets—my extra 30 pounds are the direct result of too much cheese and too many salty crackers (nuts, chips—well, you know).

So one day awhile back, I was walking through Kroger, and a table of cookies got in my way and I had to take some. “Private Selection,” the nice little brown box said. How could I pass that up? I took one of the boxes (assuming that was all there were in the entire world—“private,” don’t you know?) feeling very smug that I was in on something almost no one else would get to share.

The box had four cookies, four different kinds. The macadamia nut with white chocolate chunks were the best, followed closely by the chewy brownies with chocolate chips.

I know I would never have been tempted if I were not an old retired man living alone and never being invited to parties or movies and feeling sorry for myself. If I could get used to watching Netflix movies alone or binge-watching “Orange Is the New Black,” the time might pass faster in the evening without my having to eat cookies to make bedtime come sooner. Or be afraid.

There are some elegant cookies I’d like to have more of. A friend brought a plate of “sugar cookies” to my retirement party, but they were not Kroger quality. High-brow cookies these were, and he had had them inscribed with my retirement mantra, “Find your bliss.” I do know an elegant cookie when I taste one. (Of all the “pot luck” contributions at the party, only the cookies inspired questions about their source.)

More elegant than my usual fare.

More elegant than my usual fare.

My taste for cookies (and most foods) that are simple and common, not elegant or gourmet, is matched somewhat by my taste in music. But there is an enormous difference. The simple music I love is elegant, not common. For many people (most people?) it is music that exists in an atmosphere so rarefied that it has never caught on as “popular.” I realized many years ago that when I am singing a tune as if on a tape loop in my mind, it is quite often Gregorian Chant.

For about the last week, for example, I have had Victimae paschali laudes, the Roman Rite Sequence hymn for Easter in mind. I’ve sung it probably 1,000 times this week. It should come as no surprise that I know, without looking them up, the hymn’s numbers in the Hymnal 1940, The Hymnal 1982, and the Lutheran Book of Worship are 97, 187, and 137 respectively.

I wrote a few days ago to explain why I have had the incipit of the Gregorian Sequence hymn (Dies irae) for the burial office tattooed on my left arm. “Day of wrath, O day of warning! See fulfilled the prophets’ warning.” Grim. Or not.

Yesterday I had the letter “h” in a sort of Gothic style tattooed on my left shoulder. That will become (when it is healed and more can be added) not only my initial, but the beginning of the Gregorian Gradual hymn for Easter, Haec dies quam fecit Dominus (“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”).

I’ve given in to my new addiction to cookies. I hope I’m not also developing an addiction to tattoos. If I have, I hope I will be as careful in selecting them as I have been so far. Is it not (or am I simply thinking myself too clever) at least interesting to contemplate that, in my 70th year, I have had indelibly inscribed on my body Christian symbols for death and, conversely, for life? I’m somewhat puzzled by it because I cannot (would not) say I any longer believe in that theology.

But a loss of belief does not mean a loss of rooted meaning. Those two Latin phrases incorporating “day”—Dies irae, and Haec dies, wrath and rejoicing—have meaning for me that is so deep it almost feels part of my genetic makeup. Perhaps it is.

My conscious tension between the two gives the rest of my life possibility if not meaning. At least it helps me stay rooted—“always stay rooted to somewhere”—and not fear being a retired old man living alone—or any other possibility.

Naomi Shihab Nye, a Palestinian-American poet who lives in San Antonio, TX, embodied the tension between fear and rejoicing in her poem “Gate A-4.” Lucky for me—so I don’t have to try to explain any further—it’s also about cookies.

“Gate A-4,” by Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952)

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed for four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. “Help,”
said the flight service person. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to
her–Southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—out of her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free beverages from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend
—by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other
women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Strangely - "staying rooted to somewhere"

Strangely – “staying rooted to somewhere”