Porch Talk

a Southern Momma speaks


Pope Francis and Mercy

I have been reading Pope Francis’ book, THE NAME OF GOD IS MERCY.   It is, in my view, an extraordinary book.   Its voice is humble, wise, and compassionate, and the thoughts the voice conveys are the kind that stay with you, and lead you down paths of discovery. The book is a series of questions asked by a veteran Vatican journalist, Andrea Tornielli, with Pope Francis providing the answers.

In one section, Tornielli  asks the Pope if there can be mercy without the acknowledgement of one’s sins.  The Pope answers thus:  “Mercy exists, but if you don’t want to receive it. . .if you don’t recognize yourself as a sinner, it means you don’t want to receive it, it means you don’t feel the need for it. . . .This is a narcissistic illness that makes people bitter.”

This made me think about two words that most of us say many times in our lifetime: “I’m sorry.”   These words convey a message that we realize we’ve hurt someone, and accept responsibility for our words or acts.  When these words are truly meant, something quite wonderful happens.  Regardless whether the person we harmed accepts our apology, we feel inner peace, because our weakness has been overcome by the strength of honesty. We have faced the fact that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes, but that we can learn from them, and begin to find ways not to commit that mistake again.

I have known people who cannot say “I’m sorry,” as I’m sure you have.   And I think that old devil pride might be the reason.  By admitting they did something hurtful, they may feel that they have given the person they harmed power over them.   When actually, when we say we’re sorry, we are gaining power over ourselves.


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Gardens and BIrds

This morning I saw two male Cardinals trying to chase each other away while a female watched them, much the same way a woman watches two men fighting over her.

It reminded me of a New Yorker cartoon of God sitting on a cloud in a pose that echoed Rodin’s “Thinker.”   The caption?   “What was I thinking?”  I smiled, but it was a rueful smile, because all too often I have thought that evolution should have stopped with the apes.

Had that happened, forests would not be over-cut; lakes, rivers and oceans not polluted;  no homelessness; no wars, no greed, no exploitation of the powerless.  Animals prey on each other for food, and in defense of their turf.   Humans prey on others because they can.

It is human beings who destroy the planet; who pursue their never satisfied ambition no matter how many others are hurt.  No wonder I surround myself with as much of Mother Nature’s gifts as I can, and try to give back by having shrubs that provide shelter for birds year round; birdbaths in several locations, and bird feeders that are never left empty.  My garden also has plants with nectar that attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies, and plants that produce pollen so necessary for bees.   Last summer I learned that butterflies also  feed on zinnia pollen, something I’d never known before.

Not everyone has room for a garden, or the desire to have one.   But one bird feeder and one humming bird feeder are not much trouble: as for water, a birdbath need not be expensive.  Because cats are the worst predators of birds, do have the birdbath out of their reach.

The rewards are well worth the effort. The past two summers I have had both Indigo and Painted Buntings, as well as Summer Tanagers, a variety of warblers, and the Black-capped Chicadees; Titmice; Carolina Wrens; Cardinals; Redwing Blackbirds; Mourning Doves; Mockingbirds; and Blue Jays that live here year-round.

A pair of Barred Owls live in the woods behind mine, and every winter when I see them hunting in daytime, I know they have babies, who, like human babies, must be nurtured until they can hunt on their own.  And that’s another way in which the animla kingdom has it all over humans–animal parents instinctively know how to care for their young.  Too bad that quality didn’t make it past the apes!



When spring arrives, and doors and windows are opened to let balmy fresh air in, I use my screen porches again.   Protected against mosquitoes and other flying insects, I take a book to my chaise lounge, but more often than not, the activity outside is more interesting.  Each morning something else is in bloom: today it’s the Chinese Snowball bush, daffodils and grape hyacinths.

Roses are leafing out from their winter pruning, and the new arrivals have had time to settle into the rose garden, and give promise of abundant blooms.  I have long thought that if corporations built gardens on their rooftops–as some have, attracting birds and butterflies–and if employees visited those gardens during breaks, they would find their stress levels dropping,  far more than if they used the time to text messages, send Instagrams, and posts on Twitter.

And in the quiet of nature, they might find time to talk to the person we should all talk to the most: ourselves.   Without such inner conversations, it is difficult to know who we really are.   And without knowing that, we are going through life like a chameleon, adapting to our environment, changing into the person we think that environment wants.