ON SERIOUS EARTH

What do the times seem to require? A resort to permanent, essential things and a retreat from dirty, miserable politics. This would be an important heart and soul realignment at a time when politics has become a religion for so many people. Why else would the world of politics have become so desperate, especially on the left. On the right, where the most traditionally religious peoples in America tend to gather for mutual support, they are seeing their most cherish, deeply traditional religious and spiritual principles threatened — along with their religious practices and observances as legitimate pandemic-related health concerns get catapulted into extreme quasi-religious concerns and church-going and religion are viewed as less essential than commerce, entertainment and supermarket-going. Body vs. soul. Body wins in an increasingly, radically secular culture. A post-Christian culture, we were calling it — well before the pandemic. Religion is no longer viewed as something that keeps body and soul together.

This has led me to a decidedly secular, even probably atheistic or, at best, agnostic late British poet of some renown named Philip Larkin (1922-1985), an Oxford-educated librarian and scribe regarded to be among the spokesmen for the “angry young men” of Britain’s post-WWII generation. He wrote, among many other things, a poem called, “Church Going.”

From the beginning, as you read, you know church is not a natural place for Larkin to find himself. It was 1955. He was 33. England was still reeling economically and socially in the aftermath of war’s bombardment, privations and civilization-rattling concussions. There was the usual fevered political activity in the public square.

Larkin writes of being in church…

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on

I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

Another church: matting, seats, and stone,

And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut

For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff

Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;

A tense, musty, unignorable silence,

Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off

My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.

And so it goes on, for eight stanzas, as the poet explores this church. But I have to wonder what brought this “angry young man” into this particular space in the first place. I must read the poem again — and again — for a sense of that. It is an ruminative and enjoyable poem. It is far better sometimes to read what the non-religious, world-weary, agitated-in-mind and the cynical have to say about a church than what the pious and religiously convicted might spew. You can discern where the non-religious are hiding those natural spiritual impulses.

And Larkin asks,

I wonder who

Will be the last, the very last, to seek

This place for what it was…

Some ruin-bibber*, randy for antique,

Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff

Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?

*bibber in this context means addictand Larkin does make “antique” singular.

This might be called, far from a profession of faith, a cold profession of anti-faith. Larkin also asks, “for whom was built this special shell?” And though he wonders what it all might be worth in dollars ( or pounds), he adds, “it pleases me to stand in silence here…” in “a serious house on serious earth.”

We are standing, pre-and-soon-to-be-post-inauguration, mid-turmoil “on serious earth” in America. I, for one, plan to stop into a church, though feeling more like Philip Larkin than any regular church-goer (which I am). I’ll be in a place, as Larkin choruses,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

TRUMPOCALYPSE

It was ugly. Our nation’s Capitol under assault as historians tell us it has not been under seige since 1812….but this time by our fellow citizens.

Things like this happen in banana republic civil wars. But, softly, as comity and unity have eluded us, we have long been descending into a “soft” civil war in our nation.

Why, to mention just one point of vexation, must the president who thoroughly, unyieldingly, even if perhaps disingenuously, defended conscience rights for medical workers, merchants and religious citizens and the rights of the unborn and who also boldly addressed the conundrum of illegal immigration (though taking harsh measures that backfired and affronted millions) and who seemed prepared to address what Republican neo-cons have tragically fudged — namely, the national dissipation caused by foreign wars and unbalanced foreign trade and other engagements– why didn’t we see the apocalypse coming in which this rude beast revealed himself — and not for the first time — to be, among many other dark and terrible things, a philosophically unmoored narcissist? A man so absurdly and disturbingly self-deluded as to believe he won a national election “by a landslide” when, in fact, as the whole world knows and any sane person can see (despite some obvious, serious but ultimately minor polling irregularities or fraud) that he had lost soundly — and if not by a landslide, certainly by an indisputable margin. Surely his repudiation would have been overwhelmingly obvious to any human in their right mind; to any mortal with a particle of humility or the temperament of a statesman. Richard Nixon, after all — way back in 1960 — plainly realized his narrow defeat by John F. Kennedy might have been achieved through voter irregularities in Lyndon Johnson’s Texas and Richard Daley’s Chicago. But he went away quietly to fight another day.

Other politicians — maybe even many, if not most in our time — have displayed a measure of narcissism, egoism, self-delusion — Nixon among them. But here it was so nakedly obvious from the outset and so markedly extreme… but, what choice did we have if we were worried about the aforementioned issues? Republican primary voters winnowed the field of candidates and chose Donald J. Trump, leaving only two dubious choices, if, like me, you regarded Hillary Rodham Clinton to fairly drip with dubiety.

Yes, we knew Trump was all those bad things and none of those good things, didn’t we? And we knew he was woefully inarticulate and, therefore, unable to make a strong, coherent case even for the best things he championed. He exaggerated everything, too often invoked the adjective “incredible”, therefore rendering all that he said UN-credible.

How desperate was nearly half the nation that voted for him to avoid the fate of Hillary Clinton? Yet Trumps’s behavior in office has convinced half the nation to risk the fate that awaits us under a hollow-out, borderline senescent Democratic shill who will likely stumble his way through only one term, if that, leaving us thereafter to the vicious machinations of the jackals of the far Left and their allies, the wolves of the liberal media.

Yes, we will continue at war.

We could not help but see at every turn that Trump was a reality show star, a creature of the oversized malignant mass media his most fervid supporters disdain and resist and that he was likely to confuse reality with fantasy?

But then, the intersection of the electronic media and reality in every aspect of our lives might be on display at its purest in the NFL, where the camera-eye view determines so many outcomes. (Okay, not a good example. But, I submit, a good entry-level point of inquiry into just how the rules of every game, including the political game, and all that we call “reality” have been penetrated by the dragon-eyed media. In the case of professional football, at least, it helps us make hair-splitting distinctions between, for instance, a fumble and a non-fumble. Millions in wagers and attendant legitimate financial outcomes ride on the interpretation of multiple camera angles. I guess that’s progress for you. )

Oh, how very dangerous seems this moment in our history! Oh, how the political polarities have widened and, it seems, “the center cannot hold”– and the ghost of William Butler Yeats looms over us, reminding us of another ravaged time in history — European history in that case — when, as Yeats sang at that moment in 1920, ” the best lack all conviction while the worse are full of passionate intensity.”

But some of the best citizens I know are full of “passionate intensity” and voted for Trump. Those of us — the legions of us — who were witnessing the radicalization of the political party our families had embraced in our childhood and that we ourselves embraced when we were old enough to vote — we long ago felt forced into the arms of that other so-called Grand Old Party that had so long been demonized by our working class, blue-collar, immigrant parents and forebears. And how many of us periodically longed to be joined to a Third Way; to follow a Third Path, wishing such a path would be opened up for us — perhaps a third political party. Trump seemed a third alternative and precipitated a phenomenal third wave of enthusiasm among earnest, hard-working Americans. Now they hear masses of their opposite-minded fellow citizens — souls arguably in the grip of an extant and daemonic cultural and political Third Way — a decadent, superficial, desacralized miasma — insisting, not entirely without some good reason, that what millions of us opted for amounts to some semblance of The Third Reich?

And, let’s face it: Donald Trump is a product of that very same unmoored, secular-decadent, utterly superficial, desacralized culture so many of us have reviled — and rejected.

Another fact played into our choices. Congress was in deadlock and much of the nation was weary of traditional politicians and their slippery, disingenuous ways. They longed for a fixer, a manager — a non-politician. One good by-product of this debacle may be to restore us to a sense of what temporizing qualities come with the professional politician, as opposed to the CEO jump-when-I-say-jump manager. Perhaps we should learn to like politicians again.

But, in trying to come to terms with how we got here, I recall what Ben Domenech, publisher of the Federalist, said in February of 2016 — He said, “Trump’s rise bespeaks the utter failure of (the Left’s) program”, i.e., Barrack Obama’s and the Left’s likely faith that “once working and middle class voters received the government’s redistributive largesse, they would be invested in maintaining the Left in power.”

Uh-uh. No, they wouldn’t. Not that time around, anyway.

Hillary was beaten, however narrowly, by Trump — and Trump voters — not the insurrectionists or bedazzled cultic Trumpets leavening the center of the pie, but those millions at the edges –souls Domenech characterizes as “moderate, disaffected (and) with patriotic instincts” who ” feel disconnected from the GOP and other broken public institutions (and) left behind by a national political elite that no longer believes (they) matter.”

Hillary Clinton called the “a basket of deplorable.” The Left will call them racists. And race-hustling frauds with wide influence now abound.

As for those fervid Trump voters, I’ve seen such souls at huge park rallies and miles-long boat rallies here in Florida. They are middle class, mostly but not all white and full of a passion I have not heretofore witnessed during an American political campaign.

Meanwhile, the likely damage to their cause and every cause I and others hold dear may be lasting. Or — maybe not. The “average” person knows that the Capitol insurrection was an aberration, albeit a serious one, not the whole story of this new and probably unstoppable national resistance movement — resisting the Left. After all, the Left has repeatedly insisted that last summer’s massively destructive MLP riots were not the whole story of their movement. We currently, it seems, have many cases in the media of selective indignation.

But before, during and now after Trump’s reign, yes, collateral damage has mounted for those of a certain conservative mind. Traditional conservatives warned us against Trump for this very reason.

Michael Medved, conservative film critic and commentator said ( again, way back in 2016), “Trump’s brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes that liberals have for decades attached to their opponents on the right.”

But Medved also predicted at the time that, “if Trump won the nomination, the GOP is sure to lose the election.”(February 15, 2016).

No. To the astonishment of millions, he won, first, the nomination and then the general election.

But the Grand Old Party DID lose at that moment — not the election, but so much more in the way of multiple political and cultural imponderables. You can imagine them — trust, credibility, a clear future, etc.. The same sort of stuff the Democrats began jettisoning in the minds of much of the nation when it started its trek leftward.

So — we are divided. And a house divided cannot stand. (Where have I heard that?) This big old Republic will keep plowing forward through troubled waters.. The fate of uncomprehending and hapless Captain Trump will become manifest and should include temporary or permanent political exile, if not — as so many wish — consignment to the brig. Perhaps he’ll come to his senses and belatedly acknowledge his sins. Perhaps he’ll repent and reform in a rare instance of a leopard changing its spots. One can only hope so, because so many are disappointed in him and how he trashed any semblance of a legacy. Jokes about what will constitute his Presidential Library will be making the rounds. (I hear the Smithsonian has been collecting rubble from the trashed Capitol building.)

The fact that, for the first time in our history, a defeated Presidential candidate will not attend the inauguration will set a dark precedent. But that’s alright. I don’t intend to attend (or watch) the inauguration, either. (I know; that’s different. Who cares if I watch? )

Finally….

David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth — as market-oriented a lobbying entity as one could imagine and not really my cup of tea — displayed a great deal of insight (again way back in February 2016) when he wrote, “both parties have failed to lead. Obama and congressional Democrats manipulate the levers of power to push America farther toward European socialism; Republicans promise free-market alternatives but end up caving in to pressure or carrying water for the GOP’s own big-government special interests.”

And so, here we are. Which way now, America?

ETERNITY’S CHILD

So we advance slowly and, to me, sadly and reluctantly out of the Christmas season. I dislike January for the letdown that always feels cold and bare, even in warm, florid Florida ( I apologize if it’s your birth month, because only a backward-looking nostalgic fool like me resists the biting cold reality of time marching on.)

I should paste the image of the magazine cover here, but I’ve reminded people on Facebook that in January, 1967, I — and everyone in the United States under the age of 25 — was TIME Magazine “Man of the Year.” (This was before the early wave of PC ruled the noun “man” exclusive and sexist.) We, the under 25 baby-boomer generation were, at that tender moment in American history, the majority of the country, hence worthy of note for our potential to change the world. We didn’t. Not really. And time and war quickly began depleting our ranks.

The magazine cover image shows a young, handsome white male — sort of an imagined composite of EVERYBOY — with a similarly generic girl (young woman), African-American male and Asian male arrayed sort of like a deck of cards. But the white guy is out front. This time period — 1966 into 1967 — would be the last time a white Caucasian male would be seen as representative of all of American youth .No white male is entirely representative of anything in America now — and that is as it should be. We aren’t that representative, and our generational and wholesale numbers are shrinking. (Put gray on all four of those TIME Magazine heads now.)

Too bad that , at this point in time, “identity politics” has commenced to divide that multi-cultural TIME image with every American of every race who came after 1967, being turned against one another.

But back to my main subject here — the passage of time.

(I’m reminded of a fellow television reporter who, in doing a story down here about homeless guys congregated with their beer coolers under a Tampa Bay bridge, offered the memorable — or slightly memorable — line, “they’re just passing their time, until their time passes.”

The other memorable thing about that story was the voice and image of a homeless guy lifting the lid of a cooler and proclaiming, “you just reach in and get ya a nice cold beer.”

I confess, at that moment, that guy’s life — a this was fleeting thought on my part, and a shameful one at that — didn’t seem like a bad way to pass the time or pass a whole life — as long as the supply of cold beer held out.

That was about 38 years ago. I’ll bet the beer’s gone. And I’ll bet that guy’s time passed.

Anyway, here we go again — into January, named somewhere back there for Janus, the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, the rising and the setting of the sun. We are going through that door again. Beginning a new year — still stalked by a pandemic, as by the grim reaper.

“The things of time are toys,” wrote Rev. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O. , which, in French, stands for Cistersien de la Stricte Observance. The English translation is easy — Cistercians of the Strict Observance. It refers to a cloistered order of Catholic monks known as the Trappists, named after La Trappe Abbey, one of their ancient spiritual redoubts.

Fr. Raymond goes on, “You are eternity’s child and your eternity has already begun! There is a compelling urgency to every day and every hour of the day. In it we are to witness to the truth — that God greeted and gifted us at Christmas.”

I tend to forget that.

This year, I pray I remember. And that my time goes on — and on….into a Baby Boomer’s bright morning. I’m not ready for sunset, much less the night.

And hold the beer.

REMEMBERING DORA

She died years ago – on New Year’s Eve. That’s probably why I’m thinking of Dora Ronca today (New Year’s Eve, 2020 as I write). She was the Gypsy Violinist, Vaudeville legend, “last rose of summer.” I believe I interviewed her in ‘76. The nation had turned 200. Dora, at 97, was nearly half as old – but slender, be-rouged, be-jeweled in flowing skirt, her aquiline face bordered by witchy strands of black-dyed hair. I was Norwood Bureau reporter for the Daily Transcript. A local merchant told me of the old lady with the great story who regularly wheeled her shopping cart up Dean Street, and lived in a modest Cape with her widowed niece.

She was an outrageous flirt, patting the narrow sofa space next to her by way of invitation. “I’ve had many beaus,” this nonagenarian told this twenty-something reporter, “but I never cared for any of them – until you.” Charmed , amused, adhering to future pandemic-era social distancing protocols, I smiled, reached over and accepted from her long tapered fingers a plastic sack of jumbled memories – news clips, photographs, reviews by hyperventilating early 20th Century show biz scribes describing “the handsomest girl in the extravaganza, a “stunning brunette with a wealth of black hair, large brown eyes and a fine figure” decked out in faux Gypsy regalia – head scarf, sleeves of red velvet edged with ball trimming, dress embroidered in white chrysanthemums as she performed “a crashing Hungerian melody” with “fire, abandon and verve” on her exquisite 1645 Stainer violin.

The gypsy persona was Vaudeville shtick. Dora was French Canadian, if anything (Roncoeur) One reviewer-wag thought her name, Dora Ronca, made her a cigar, but added, “her name is the worst that can be said about her.” The clips revealed that she’d shared the footlights with better known legends – Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields, then just a “droll juggler.” Asked about them, she said, “yes I know them.” No past tense. To Dora they were still out there , still performing.

She’d played Boston, New York, Paterson, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver, Paris…Newspapers ran obituary for her Boston Terrier. A Syracuse musical instrument dealer named violin strings in her honor. The plastic sack contained, among other mementos, a receipt for a meal in Monte Carlo.

Vaudeville faded, her career ended, the violin disappeared. The rest of her life’s drama was blank. The plastic sack contained an unopened letter returned from WWI-era France informing her that a soldier-correspondent had been killed in action. A lost beau (and I’ll be she did care for him). Her last husband – there had been many – had been military, so she had VA privileges. Months after my story ran, she fell ill and was admitted to the VA hospital in Providence. (New Year’s Eve.)Her niece told me Dora looked up at the hospital building as they wheeled her in and said, “I played here.”

At the funeral home viewing, I saw laid out before me a very old woman with cropped snow white hair – not the fiery, flirtatious rock star of yore.

It was at the Columbia Theater in Cincinnati, November 4, 1906 that she played her violin sweetly as the audience sang sadly, “Tis the last rose of summer, left blooming alone. All her lovely companions are faded and gone.”

Goodnight and Happy New Year, Dora. It was fun.

ONE DUMB ANNIVERSARY

This day, December 30th, is a peculiar “anniversary” for me ( the 47th by my count)– and it’s very peculiar that it sticks in my memory. It’s the day I (accidentally) set the Rubbish Room ablaze at the Elm Farm Supermarket on Morrissey Blvd. Yes, an accident. Dumb accident, though. My punishment was to clean up the mess.

I was a bundle ( or bag) boy at the time at that neighborhood market where my brother Doug had worked before me — and I really enjoyed the uncomplicated business of filling up a customer’s paper bundles (no plastic in those days), loading them into trunks and backseats, cadging the occasional tip. (Maybe I should have made a career of this. I’d been trained as a cashier but wanted no part of handling money and ultimately was granted my request for demotion. I’m not much of a capitalist.)

These were, as it happens, somewhat grim and traumatized times at home and in the world. My father was mortally ill with cancer. And the whole universe was still recovering from the shock of a Presidential assassination a little more than a month before. I guess I was finding a little gleeful escape in my after-school workaday chores — and especially when, periodically, I’d get assigned to burn rubbish in the Rubbish Room off the back loading dock.

Boy, did I love that! Solitary labor in a windowless cell of concrete walls, wildly stuffing collapsed cardboard into a huge furnace. I’d whirl and pivot as I hurled, jammed or otherwise stuffed collapsed shipping boxes and cartons of every dimension into the huge open maw of that raging beast. A supermarket generates tons of empty cardboard boxes, as you can well imagine.

(Just so you don’t think I’m totally weird or suffer from pyromania, I believe all my fellow bundle — or bag — boys enjoyed that occasional assignment of unsupervised work around a warm furnace — especially in winter — away from the cold managers, cranky customers and blustery external elements in which we were compelled to chase down shopping carts left at odd extremities. But they may not have thought of it, as I did, as a kind of ballet or ritual — or perhaps ever gotten as reckless as I did at about 4 p.m. on Dec. 30, 1963.) I’d always love the challenge of cramming as many boxes into the furnace as possible — to the point where you’d see no fire. Then the flames would slowly start gnawing away at everything until fire really raged — and I’d push a button and lower a heavy steel door, ending any danger that hungry beast would breath fire out into the room.

When the fire had died down, I’d push the “open” button. Up would go the heavy steel door, in would go more junk.

It was Christmas time and all the waxed boxes from frozen Christmas turkeys were piled high around me. Boy did they burn! Occasionally, a bit of flaming debris would pop out into the room — and occasionally ignite more debris. No problem. I’d hastily pluck up all the burning matter and pop it into the furnace. Occasionally, more than one little fire got going. Again,no problem. I’d gingerly pick up ALL the burning stuff — I wore heavy gloves — and pop it all into the fire. I guess this added to this rote exercise a minor thrill of danger — the same sense some otherwise sensible citizens might relish at July Fourth backyard fireworks festivities.

But I wasn’t counting on any fireworks. And on this particular December afternoon, one fiery little bit of trash after another got going and my ballet suddenly turned into a fire dance. As the title of a currently popular novel says, there were “little fires everywhere.”

Up to that point, I’d reveled in the sense of “control” I’d always enjoyed while “playing” with that fire. But now, I was introduced to the sensation of facing a fire “out of control” from my own carelessness. And now there was smoke — lots of smoke. And now more fire. Then — everything seemed ablaze, and I was forced out onto the loading dock, looking back in at an inferno. Smoke was now belching out into the open air.

I went (calmly) into the adjacent meat department and (calmly, sheepishly and shamefacedly) announced to the guys in bloody white butcher coats, “ah, fellas, there’s a fire out there.”

What followed had a little air of comedy. The meat men quickly joined up a hose, hooked it to a big running sink and charged for the dock. They jerked up short at the swinging doors.

Time for the real hoses.

Soon the air was full of the sirens. I guess it was BFD Engine 20 responding from down Neponset Avenue. It was, ultimately, a minor fire that took minor effort to extinguish Water was blasted into that little concrete room, leaving a charred sodden mess in its wake.

Lesson learned. Don’t play with fire, master Wayland.

And — don’t forget to recycle. It keeps cardboard away from the likes of me.

SLOW COUNT

Somewhere in The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton writes: “He felt he was in possession of some impossible good news, which made every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality.”

The year 2020, which is creeping to a close, contained very few adorable trivialities and one grand and damnable calamity — the pandemic — which opened like a sinkhole beneath us.

I must, as we slide down toward the socially distanced ceremonial finale in Time Square, get hold of Chesterton’s The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, which, I’m told, contains this prophetic line: “Politicians do not understand much, but they understand politics. I mean they understand the immediate effect of mobs and movements.”

We’ve had mobs in 2020 and, for movements, the disingenuous rabble organized under the ameliorative and deceptive title, Black Lives Matter. Of course they matter! So does the nuclear family which BLM has targeted for disruption. You have to read down pretty far in the group’s manifesto before getting to the alleged reason for its founding, i.e. police violence against blacks. (As for the nuclear family, political commentator David Brooks wrote a protracted argument in favor of re-imagining the nuclear family in Harper’s. I read it. I was not convinced. Far from it.

Which reminds me of another Chestertonian bon mot someone turned up for me in G.K.’s collected essays: “Politicians will not make a land fit for heroes to live in. It is heroes who make a land fit for all the other poor people to live in; even such poor little people as the politicians.”

Touche’

Now, let’s imagine a socially distant mob in Time Square doing a very, very slow countdown….10…..9……8…..7…

Backwards! That was 2020 alright. And it looked so good, so promising last year — so balanced and symmetrical up there in lights and in the headlines. Not long after the lights faded, the ink dried on those headlines (on what few broadsheets remain on what newsstands remain) and the page refreshed on our laptops and iPads, 2020 turned into annus horribilis. We’re still dealing with the hangover.

But our hopes are young, even if we aren’t, in a decade that’s still young.

Happy New Year!

AND SO WE BEAT ON, BOATS AGAINST THE CURRENT….

“Most of the big shore places were closed now and the only light was the shadowy moving glow of a ferry boat across the sound…”

The beginning of the end — of Scott Fitzgerald’s narrator Nick Carroway’s closing meditation on Jay Gastby who’d come a long way to that “blue lawn”of Long Island to pick out “that green light” at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock….”He must have though his dream was so close he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, back there in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic roll on under the night.”

Not every word perfect, all from memory.

It is the day after Christmas. It’s all “falling action” in the story of this fraught year now.

Will this republic be pulled apart as it journeys into a new year and regime change? Can it sustain itself in the face of these atomizing forces? That’s how that keenest of observers, Joan Didion, exploring and writing about the scene in Height Ashbury in 1967 (that putative Summer of Love), diagnosed the entropic forces at work among the baby boomers nesting there – as a process of “atomization.” We are being reduced to our particulate parts as a nation, i.e. ground to fine powder. And it ain’t now, nor was it, really, in ’67, love potion or fairy dust.

I was, in fact, working in the mountains of California as a Department of Interior maintenance man during the summer 0f ’67, at a ranger station and visitor center where the Sequoia seed that could, over centuries, grow up to be the largest living things on earth, i.e., the sequoia redwood, was preserved under a small plexiglass dome that I polished daily. Nature, tall and redolent and mysterious and full of promise, was my companion. I would like to get back out there to my old workplace for nostalgic reasons — see again what I guarded during the Summer of Love as it raged in San Francisco Bay. See that enshrined seed that, under that little dome, won’t grow into anything — just go on, growing our wonder.

So (as Nick ends his bittersweet rumination sitting on that blue lawn looking off into the Sound of night) he declares that “we beat on ( then, in 1925, and now, as we head into this new year), “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. “

And we debark nevertheless, facing forward….tell me the alternative?

HOPES AND FEARS…

It is pre-dawn, the darkness and silence before the dawn of Christmas Eve, 2020. The silent morning before the Silent Night. How silent, ever, is that night, when, year after year, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee….” ?

There will be some unpeaceful musings in what follows, for which I apologize. It is a time, as Christmas dawns, to love, forgive, pray and unite. But I have these fears…

Fears — and who can doubt it, reality being reality — that as we edge ever closer to the end of this year, our pandemic or political woes are certainly following us like a stalking beast and will stay with us across the New Year meridian. For some of us who care about religious freedom and conscience rights, the intense political fears are just beginning, for we shall see inaugurated the putatively “Catholic” rosery bead-rattling Joe Biden, a visibly border-line senescent past-his-prime pol, pretender and (forgive me) well-known blow-hard , along with his running-mate, our future co-leader of the free world, the latter a culture-bound California liberal who can giggle and charm her way through an on-air interview with hip-hop DJs and sing the joys of pot but who apparently regards membership in one of the worlds largest religious charitable organization, the Knights of Columbus, to disqualify one from public service, especially the federal bench. I’d venture to say that while Kamala Harris is very familiar with Snoop Dog,et al., she’d never formerly heard of the Knights until she learned that a judicial candidate from Nebraska, whom she was in the process of grilling, was a member of the Knights and therefore suspected, by virtue of that membership and his Catholicism, to be oppose to a woman’s sacred right to chose to abort her unborn child. She would never believe any judge could separate their personal beliefs from their judicial obligations to follow the law — simply because her idea of a judge, I suspect, is precisely someone who’s liberal political preferences must override any law. (The right to an abortion is, I acknowledge, the law of the land — but so too is a judicial candidate’s right not to be subjected to a religious test when he or she seeks federal employment.)

Future President and Vice-President Biden and Harris plan to pack the court, if at all possible, until it reflects, not the rule of law, but political preference. If the results of two Georgia election run-offs go the Democrat’s way, they will have the power to do that and ever so much more.

But I digress, bitterly and out of the hopeful spirit of the season and this Christmas moment. Sorry. Yesterday, backing out of my driveway, I looked left as I rolled slowly back, unaware that an unknown neighbor in this basically very friendly community was coming — perhaps a little too fast — from the right. He leaned on his horn and yelled something unpleasant. I don’t know what; just know it wasn’t pleasant. That moment, in my mind, dimmed the coming glow of the Christmas lights that had yet to be switched on and illuminate street after street. I wanted to yell at the vanishing fellow motorist, “Merry Christmas!”

I will drive north to Tallahassee, Florida today — about a five hour drive up long, peaceful stretches of U.S. 19. I will spend Christmas Eve in the pleasant company of friends close enough to be, for all intents and purposes, relatives. I will attend Christmas mass somewhere on Christmas Day.

Hope will conquer fear, I pray, for those hours. We must keep praying, all of us, that hope goes on conquering fear, hour by hour for as many hours as their are in a year or a lifetime. And I must open my heart to the hope that those I see as arrayed against me, politically, socially, culturally, religiously — against me and all those who share my hope and my beliefs — will undergo a conversion of heart and, heart joined to heart, truth and love triumph.

Too much to hope for? Christmas is always about hoping beyond the visible horizon. Just ask any child.

Merry Christmas!!

DARK AND EVEN DEEPER….

I wrote up the December 21st (Winter Solstice) piece for Facebook and wound up revising it and tightening it a bit — and realized, prodded by some fond FB friends, that I’d neglected to include in my little meditation the amplifying incident on Monday night of the night time conjunction (at least to the human eye) of Saturn and Jupiter. How marvelous! And how sad that I only thought of it near midnight and, sadder still, did not go out to search for it. Many said they could not see it, but some did, even at dusk when it truly appeared how we imagine the Star of Bethlehem to appear. Yes, I never should have left out reference to this starry event.

But here’s how I wrote of the Solstice in Facebook:

I’m one of those blithering fools who waxes all gooey over the solstice – the sun on its northerly or southerly trek. In June it’s that day when daylight lingers on rooftops and lake surfaces, seemingly never to die away. We hope for such a day without end. Today, December 21st, is about darkness, the shortest day of the year. And this, I submit, is another time of hope. Somewhere, sometime, some ardent English teacher might have graced our ears with some saint’s or famous poet’s thoughts on light and darkness, even as we dozed, dreaming of the closing school bell. Perhaps, if we were lucky, it was Robert Frost’s, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I love that poem – a dead poet’s undying meditation set, we are told, on “the darkness evening of the year.” That would be this evening, therefore, if we are going strictly by science. The solstice. Or perhaps it was just the darkest evening in the poet’s troubled soul. We all have those dark nights. The woods, he tells us, are “lovely, dark and deep.” Robert Frost knew about deep darkness. He was, in the words of another of his poems, “acquainted with the night.” That is bad darkness, where dark thoughts and deep, dark memories fester, where dark deeds hide in dark spaces. But this winter darkness watching a neighbor’s woods fill up with snow “between the woods and frozen lake” seems a good darkness, like the darkness before the movie show or the big concert or when we turn the lights out for the singing of Happy Birthday over the cake and candles or the darkness that enhances the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – or the glow of the Hanukkah candles. The earlier that darkness comes tonight, the sooner we see those multitudes of Christmas lights brightening every country lane and city square. We are a few days from what is, for many of us, a very Big Birthday and the singing of Silent Night, Holy Night. It’s been a rough, noisy, unholy year. Plenty of death, sickness, broken or delayed hopes, dreams and bank accounts – bad darkness. Let’s enjoy, while the solstice lingers, the peaceful darkness of the deep woods, church, synagogue, mosque or home sanctuary. For, the poet had to move on reluctantly from those dark, peaceful woods, as we must ultimately, from that dark, peaceful place within us, realizing, perhaps also very reluctantly, that we have, as the poet reminds us, promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep. Yes, miles to go before we sleep….

DARK AND DEEP….

It is the shortest day of the year. Who has not heard, at least once in their lives, Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”…. The poem indicates that this meditative pause happened on “the darkest evening of the year.” That would be this evening.

There will be abundant darkness after early nightfall tonight all over the land. But no snowy evening where I am (in Florida). though here and there some northerners have scattered about their Christmas decorations some artificial snow — an act of nostalgia for something that was not always pleasant or easy to deal with, but which, in the early going, can be one of Christmas’s gentle visual enhancements (“I’m dreaming of a White Christmas…”)

Wherever we are, even in the depth of the city, there is some wooded arbor, some darkened space we can pause and stare and meditate after nightfall — some place that is “dark and deep.” It might be a chapel. It might be our own little room.

I’ve written of unpleasant darkness, of light deprivation, of the black seal that covers over acts and places of evil-doing. But the good darkness of the theatre before a satisfying play or the room where we have lit the birthday candles on a cake, of that proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” — that darkness before the dawn, that darkness allows us to enhance and appreciate the light. Perhaps the white — or whiteness — we dream of at Christmas or anytime — is light. We are four days from Christmas, where is manifested, in its dark, deep solemn recesses The Light. The Ultimate Light. And in silence we are able to meditate on it — Silent Night. O Holy Night.

It has been a painful year of fear and pandemic and bitter political divides and destruction, absurdly, carried out in the name of “equality”– a dark year in many ways, waiting and hoping for the light and peace of mind, peace over the land. That pain, that negative darkness cannot be dispelled easily or, perhaps, until the end of time, or the end of our individual lives when, if we have faith and have persevered, we hope, along with St. John Henry Newman, for “a safe lodging and peace at the last…” For, as Newman so beautifully put it, “the night is dark, and we are far from home.”

We have been told there will, someday, be an end of time. But the light — the candle, the flame — that Christmas light in our hearts is called Hope. We work in hope of brighter moments, or changes of heart, including our own and, of course, changes — sometime painful changes — in the conditions of our personal and national lives.

That is the hope that can lighten our heart, God’s own light, as we wait for Christmas, stopping by those woods, so “lovely, dark and deep.”