Journals and Letters week 5: The measure of the woman
No surprise here. Ten pages of Journals and Letters and way too much material to consider.
Should I highlight her humor — especially those times I don’t think she meant to be funny?
After attending Mass in a church in New York, Mother Theodore wrote: “The speaker seemed talented, though we really understood nothing of his sermon.”
What about the times our Mother Theodore intended to amuse? On visiting a beautiful park in Philadelphia, she commented on the number of statues — “statues of women, of children, of old soldiers, but all are very modest — they did not forget to clothe them.”
Height, width, speed
No. Her humor is well known and often quoted. Let’s move on to something less obvious. Never mentioned (that I know of) is her ability to judge height, width, speed. It seems she had a keen eye for units of measurement.
Having never set foot in either city, she stated unequivocally that New York’s “streets are 30 feet wide, with fine brick sidewalks… At certain distances there are crossings … the Americans never cross a street except at these places, which are at right angles.” The streets in Philadelphia “are three miles long and fifteen meters wide.”
A walk from Philadelphia’s train station to the Bishop’s residence is “half a league.”
Philadelphia’s Cathedral “would be very fine if it were higher, but it is about 20 feet too low.”
The Sisters traveled on a “splendid steamer. Its length must have measured 100 meters.”
Mother Theodore related the astonishing news that in a one hour train ride, they had traveled “20 miles – more than 8 French leagues.”
At Philadelphia’s Water Works, Mother Theodore marveled at the power of the mechanisms. “By force pumps, through subterranean pipes, the water from the river is forced to the height of 120 feet.”
Did the woman carry a yard stick? A surveyor’s measure? A folded up paper chart that converts leagues to miles, meters to inches or feet?
Who’s to know how and/or why she developed this astounding skill? And why make this skill the centerpiece of this reflection.
For me, Mother Theodore’s skill is not only mathematical prowess or precision.
Her written words demonstrate the importance of noticing things around us — old familiar things and new things. She helps us understand words, spoken or written, convey not only the measurable aspects of the objects noticed but our feeling about what we notice.
I’ve been to New York City once or twice. To Philadelphia — never. Mother Theodore’s noticing give me both an idea of what both cities looked like and how both cities felt for her.
Rereading these pages, I’ve noticed new aspects of an old friend. I’ve noticed that I don’t notice – truly notice – things around me. I’ve noticed that, by not noticing, I’m passing up a chance to notice, describe and wonder at what I see.
What about you? Why not notice an object, a thing in your everyday life? Describe its measurable aspects and its feeling (for you) aspects. I’ll do it too, I promise. I choose our back porch at Corbe House. You?
What stood out for you in this week’s reading?
Please leave your comments so we can keep the discussion going.
Next week > Nov. 14 week 6: page 39 to page 45 On the Ohio River
Download the complete reading schedule: