Mary Beth Writes


This photo is by my friend Jennifer Beiriger. (I don’t think Jennifer knows this but I can’t spell her name. My brain will not learn and keep the correct spelling of Beiriger so I have it on a post-it note next to my desk. It’s been there a couple years.)

Ebbing late afternoon light can break your heart.

The first thing a newborn sees is light. The last thing a dying person seems to see is a glorious rosy light opening in their brain as they leave. 

Robert Frost’s “Choose Something Like a Star”

This is the whole poem:  Click here. 

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud –
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.

So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

This poem, set to beautiful music by Randall Thompson: Click here.


Joan Didion died today.

Len and I were beginning to date by which I mean we were beginning to realize there was another person in the world who “got” us.  I was interested in his stories; he was interested in mine.  It’s pretty heady, those early days of finding your person.

Len would stop after work on Thursdays to buy and then bring to me the NYT because on Thursdays they featured their “Hers” columns; essays written by women. Maybe some of you remember it.

One of the first “Hers” columns I read was by Joan Didion. Everything she said was, to me, like someone giving me the words for my own life. She cared about things. She was often depressed. She noticed details. She despised hypocrisy even as she recognized it in herself. She managed the looming grief and overwhelmingness of life by writing about it.

Joan Didion was the first woman to show me that a woman could write about what she thought about. That saying things aloud in an essay gives a person a path into and through their life.

I have not read her "Year of Living Magically." I'm not brave enough yet to read about losing her daughter and her husband. Have you read it?

Quotes by Joan Didion:

“I don't know what I think until I write it down.”

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

“I'm not telling you to make the world better, because I don't think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I'm just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that's what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”

“You have to pick the places you don't walk away from.”

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

Since I wrote yesterday that we are not getting together with our family on Christmas, we've heard from two more families who’ve made the same decision.

One of my daughters works in downtown Chicago. She just sent this photo taken from her office window. “This is why omicron is spreading.”


How are you doing? 


Thanks for sharing the poem and the music. I’d never heard of it and really enjoyed listening to it just now. Merry Christmas anyway!!!
Mary Beth's picture

I learned this song as the quietest alto in the high school choir - but all these years later these words and phrases till come back to me. What inspires us when we are young often inspires us all our lives.

My niece and I made cinnamon rolls today. I told her about the special times that you made and delivered them for a very modest fee. She said she would charge $25. For a pan. After cleaning up the kitchen I didn’t think that would be enough. I read The Year of Magical Thinking. I thought it was hard to believe, but after speaking to my mom and some others that had experienced a sudden death of a love one, I changed my mind. It was worth reading. I think you could handle it.
Mary Beth's picture

If anyone wants a dozen cinnamon rolls for $50 that we will give to refugees, I'm in - in January. Thanks for telling her about them. those were busy days!

Thank you for sharing this poem. I will share it with my family . such a perfect sentiment for these times.
Mary Beth's picture

You could probably get the music on the internet and play it on the piano. It's haunting.

I have not read "The year of Living Magically." I feel I'm ready now. My daughter however, read it, and other of Didion's books as a way to cope with the grief of loosing her dad. Didion is one of her heroes. She was grief stricken yesterday. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Thank you always, Patricia
Mary Beth's picture

Its remark-able how we warn each other of beautiful artworks that might trigger each other. Wishing you a sweet day.

"Ebbing late afternoon light can break your heart." I read that and felt like I've known that in my soul forever but have never formed the thoughts or words to convey it. Thank you.
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you. Len and I were super tempted to buy a house once that was $50,000 more than we wanted to pay, and 30 miles from anything, because the late afternoon light from the upstairs window was that beautiful.

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Quarantine Diary #680 Too Close Covid


Judy suggests a podcast that her daughter-in-law, an infectious disease physician, listens to and recommends. It’s The Osterholm Update: COVID 19. Osterholm is an epidemiologist and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. He’s on President Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board.

The podcast is a little wordy here and there but one can fast-forward. Here is what I learned that makes a difference to me.

Quarantine Diary #674 - MLK Day


It’s Martin Luther King Day.  I read this last week (in Soul Matters for those of you who are UU). 

There is no such state of being that can be called - “I’m not a racist.”

There is only racist and anti-racist.

Quarantine Diary #668 Making an Effort

We hiked on Sunday.


How was your weekend?

Have you noticed that with this omicron iteration of covid isolation – if one is not an employee - it’s tricky to tell what is a weekend and what is not? I think about what my kids might be doing and maybe we call them and that is the main way weekends are different from weeks. By what other people are doing.

Quarantine Diary #664 Whine, whine, whine.


Lincoln gave a speech in January of 1838 to Americans alarmed by mob actions.

He begins: “In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the American People …

Quarantine Diary #662 Janus month.


I can still hear my mom saying, “I don’t know whether I’m coming or going today.” I thought of this, one of her favorite sayings, when I wrote this letter to the Third Graders yesterday.

Dear Kids!

I hope you had a fine winter holiday. Now it is January 2022. Do you know where the word January comes from?

In ancient Roman culture, Jānus was a god of doorways, beginnings, and of the rising and setting of the sun. The Latin word jānus, means doorway. Janus is where you enter or leave a space.

Quarantine Diary #661 Mistakes

This is a lemming. Make mistakes this year, but don’t make the lemming mistake.


This morning, while looking in our under-the-fridge freezer for soup for supper (neither of us want to cook today), we discovered a towel-wrapped lettuce. What can I say? It’s a whole new mistake to make that we have never made before.

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