Through Any Given Door ~ Catherine Sevenau

Catherine Sevenau Catherine Sevenau is a writer and storyteller who is out to capture your skittery mind. She's penned three books, compiled numerous collections of family genealogy, and has been a regular columnist in the SUN since 2016. She can be reached at [email protected].


Bless this mess

Posted on April 6, 2024 by Catherine Sevenau

I’m hard-wired for formal prayer. I find myself reciting the Our Father when an earthquake hits, and oftentimes at night as I go to sleep. “How weird,” I think, stopping in the middle, but then a Hail Mary (a woman about whom I hold equally wobbly beliefs), arises to take its place. I surrender, then move on to blessing my family, my friends, and then the people who irritate me. Some nights I just cut to the chase and bless the ones I seriously want to smack upside the head. So much for being spiritual.

Both of my grandmothers were Catholic, stubborn, and right. I’m very much like them, though I don’t know why I still refer to myself as Catholic. I’m addicted to being right (a first cousin to being perfect), both of which tend to be corrosive in relationships. Resentment is in our DNA, our cellular memory, creeping through generations, across lines, round the corners, and back again, much like my Grandma Nellie (Chamberlin) Chatfield, who, the higher she stood on her moral ground, the lower her family descended. When Grandpa Charlie (who had the propensity to err) died, the only thing she had to say was: “serves the damn fool right,” then she buried him in an unmarked grave in the non-Catholic section of the cemetery. Now that’s mad.

Cathy Clemens 1st Holy Communion
Cathy, 1st Holy Communion

It’s hard to restore family grace if there wasn’t much there to begin with, though it does make for good storytelling. C’mon, who is going to be captivated by the tales of Catholic farmers with a passel of kids, who worked the same land for generations, and who never broke the rules? They lend stability via my Clemens’ side, for which I’m exceedingly grateful, but offer little of interest to write about. Fiction is too complicated for me to create, and really, why bother when my Chatfield, Hoy, and Chamberlin lines teem with an overabundance of characters who supply me with endless material. I’m fascinated by these folks, while at the same time rather appalled at their bad behavior, and couldn’t make some of this stuff up if I tried: I have missing mothers, though they do generally reappear; of note: there are four generations of mothers in my direct line who, with infants or young children in tow, left their husbands; I am the last of that tradition. Actually, my mother didn’t leave with her children, she just took her coat and two suitcases. I’ve stories that make for compelling page-turners: drugs, pills, prison, murder, kidnapping, rape, abortions, child abuse, molestation, neglect, asylums, shock treatments, and suicides. I also have poisonings, cattle thieves, liars, embezzlers, bookies, bettors, bootleggers, moonshiners, and drunks. I have a grandfather who gambled away the ranch (that’s only one of the reasons Grandma Nellie never forgave him). I have gay elopements (in May of 1889, Ora Chatfield (age 15), ran off with her cousin Clara Deitrich (age 28), the postmistress and general storekeeper of Emma, Colorado… you can look it up), multiple marriages, numerous divorces and a boatload of annulments. I have racism (you’d be horrified; I am), a John Bircher, and a Scientologist. I have an Arcturian, flying saucer abductions, a tea leaf reader, spirits, voodoo, and ghosts. And that’s just on my mother’s side—though I notice that several of us have married into similar lines—cementing our proclivity to chaos. I don’t have to ponder what to write about; I have to ponder what NOT to write about.

Most of the hurts siblings nurse against one another stem from when we were little kids. LITTLE KIDS! Little kids who were just being little brats. Those are the wars I wonder about, how things that happened when we were younger than five or six years old can ruin a relationship for life. Really? Like when my sister Liz was dying, she forbade her husband and children to allow Claudia, another sister, to attend the family get-together after her passing. When Claudia found out, do you know what her response was? “It’s okay. Liz never did like me, ever since we were kids.” REALLY??? I boast generations of resentments handed down: siblings suing each other, daughters dancing on graves, parents cutting children out of the will. We like to hang on to things. For whatever reason, there are more than a few of us who don’t speak to one another, or if we do, we tread lightly—but that’s been going on for years. It’s how we keep the home fires burning.

What can I do in the family to counteract our genetic umbrage? Exposing light on it—though writing about certain things tends to irk some when it’s too close to home. I can do my part not to perpetuate conflict. I know how hard it is though: I so often want to slap the other cheek, and I‘m not about to easily turn mine. I can counteract it by not living as if we’re not connected, and by holding the possibility that things can change. I can choose not to take sides. I can keep an eye on what I’m up to. I can make amends to those my shiv has wounded; “I’m sorry” goes a long way.

I believe in the ineffable power of prayer, though it’s presumptuous of me to suppose that I can decipher—in the grand scheme of things—to pray for what I think is best. Some say prayers can move mountains; however, that’s where my critical thinking raises its hairy head, seeking evidence.

“If you pray for rain long enough, it eventually does fall. If you pray for floodwaters to abate, they eventually do. The same happens in the absence of prayers.” —Steve Allen (1921 – 2000).

Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson 8-31-1992
Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson 8-31-1992

The best I can do is to still my rattling mind, to sit in wonder, silence, and gratitude. To continue to silently recite as a reminder and a comfort: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against—the sacred version of let it go, let it go, let it go—sometimes out of habit, other times with intention. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean forgetting what was done, it just means being able to stop pointing fingers and move on. We don’t have to have lunch together.

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ―Meister Eckhart (1260 – 1328)


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