A PARIS FRAGMENT

June 17, 1966 I arrived in Paris. That was fifty-six years ago today. I was 19. I had traveled by train from Brussels to Paris’s Gare du Nord with a couple I’d met on the Norwegian freighter Black Hawk which had carried us and six other passengers across the Atlantic and docked that same day in Antwerp. It was approaching dusk when we arrived in Paris. It was my first and, so far, my only visit to the City of Light. My first recognizeable Parisian sighting was the famous Church of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur) atop Monmartre as the train passed below it. Minutes later, we were under the cover of station’s rail siding. I bid my traveling companions farewell amid the bright, echoing turmoil of the terminal. I don’t recall where they were headed from there, but I knew it was time to part. The man’s name was Les Rabkin, 31-years-old. He and his wife Karen were headed on to immediate points elsewhere, unremembered by me. If they planned to stay in Paris, which, I suppose at that hour, was more than likely, I think I understood that I was excess baggage on their personal journey at that point and I think Les, when he vigorously grasped my hand for goodbye, welcomed my discrete acknowledgement of that reality, though it was probably obvious to them that I was overwhelmed, disoriented and, for the moment, afraid of my surroundings. But it was time for me to set out on my own.

It seems not that long ago — though, in fact, it might already be ten years ago — that I managed to locate and reconnect with Les. He was Jewish, living, I believe, in Seattle, his long-time home, though his prematurely gray-flecked beard and slightly brash manner made him seem less a creature of the Northwest than of the New York burroughs. I say that with affection. I do believe he was a New Yorker, though I may be misremembering.

Les had a long-standing relationship with an international agency that resettled Jews in Israel. That’s how I found him after plugging his name into the Internet. He and his gentile wife Karen, on that day in Paris, had a visa for travel through the Soviet Union. Their adventerous itinerary called for them ultimately to keep on traveling and wind up in Israel and spend several months in a Kibbutz until June 1967. It is for this reason that they were very much on my mind, once back in the States, when the Six Day War broke out in that very month and year. I long wondered about their fate. But I’d taken no contact information from Les and Karen at our parting, as became my subsequent habit with other people I met during that summer of Contental travel. I guess I assumed our train station goodbye was final.

All I really knew about Les and Karen’s marriage is that it was joined at a Manhattan party on the same night they met. They were, in that sense and others, two pure creatures of the epicurian spirit of the 1960s. And Les, jokingly but not without a degree of serious conviction, thought of himself as a “citizen of the world.”

Karen was not a great deal older than me. (I’ve written about Les and Karen in my “essential” post elswhere in this blog called, Continental Summer.) To both her and Les, I seemed a likeable but very conventional late teenager bound for a conventional life — wife, job, children, home in the suburbs. Perhaps it might have been better for me had that been my actual destiny. I suspect I became more of a wanderer than either Les or Karen. But I know both of them very soon wandered away from that impulsive marriage. Les told me that much when we reconnected.

When I found Les, I introduced myself to him and seemed to stir up vague memories of that voyage and subsquent land journey . He seemed delighted to hear from me. First and foremost, upon my inquiry, he told me they were, indeed, in Israel for the Six Day War but had weathered it without incident, though on one occasion, with planes overhead, Less worried whether they were Egyptian or Israeli, and he reported seeing many abandoned tanks in the desert. If I wondered about both their political pedigree of the time, Les shared the fact that their kibbutz was of a very unorthodox, liberal variety and had even assigned a place of honor to a portrait of “Uncle Joe” — meaning Josef Stalin. Small wonder they were eager for their visit to the Soviet Union, though I can’t imagine Karen was all that comforatable in Israel. I could not, during our too-brief exchange, really get a sense whether Les’s liberal politics had modified at all. But he was certainly, given his vocation, remained devoted to Israel and assuring its future.

We had only about three email exchanges, none of which I can locate. But I told him of my memory of sailing away from New York and seeing in the misty distance the famous Ambrose Light Ship that now sits dockside at South Seaport in Manhattan — and that, with my only son, born to me out of wedlock, I had, a few years before, eaten lunch together with the Light Ship just yards away from us. (I recall, with my son, feeling most unconventional and, looking out to sea, thinking of Karen’s assessment of my 19-year-old self.)

Les wrote back that he thought this was a very nice memory. He had re-married, at least once, was currently married to a woman young enough to have a mother still living whom he was going to visit. She might have been living in Florida.

I promised Les I’d go to a friends house and have her scan the pictures I’d taken of us aboard the Black Hawk– for old time’s sake. I think he was anxious to see them. But it happened that on the only day I arranged for the trip to that friends house, she informed me, with the pictures in hand, that the scanner wasn’t working that day. That was galling. I never got around to trying again.

Then, much time passed and there was no further contact with Les — my fault. He’d even mentioned he might get to Boston on other business some day (I was still living near my native Boston at that point) and that we might get together.

At some point a few years ago, I went looking for Less again — may have written, without getting a response. Then I learned that he had died. His picture, quite recognizable to me, was posted with an obituary and tributes from lifelong friends, of which I was not one. If his ex-wife Karen is still alive, I have no way to find her, her last name doubtless having changed, possibly many times. She’s probably long forgotten me.

So — remembering that first day in Paris, June 17, 1966 on this June 17, 2022. May you rest in peace, Les. I so much wish we’d had a chance to share more shipboard memories, share those pictures.

It’s 4:41 p.m. in Paris. Trains are pulling in and out of the Gare du Nord. Many greetings and departures. New memories for summer travelers in a complex and dangerous world far different from the post-WWII hour in which I said goodbye to two practical strangers with whom I’d spent nine tender days at sea.

The light, the days change. Sea changes, all changes….

It is 10:45 a.m….10:46 am….11 a.m…..

LITERARY TURNS

The literary movement of the (eighteen) nineties had, at the turn of the century, brought the American face to face with the age of science. As industry herded him from the farms where he was responsible to the weather and the earth into the cities where he took his orders from steam and electric power, wheels and cogs, even the average unthinking man was forced to some sort of revaluation of his basic concepts and values.

Robert Spiller, The Cycle of American Literature

To which I’d add…

The literary movement of the (nineteen) nineties, at the turn of the century, brough Americans face to face with, among many other things, terror — including terror over the placement of — pronouns.

BELIEF

And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life.

American philosoper Charles Sanders Peirce, from How to Make Our Ideas Clear

The word “God,” so “capitalised” (as we Americans say), is the definable proper name, signifying Ens necessarium*; in my belief, really creator of all three Universes of Experience.

*Necessary Being

Charles Sanders Peirce, A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God, 1908

MAY’S BEGINNING, POEM’S BEGINNING, NO SPECIAL RELEVANCE

Between me and the sunset, like a dome

Against the glory of a world on fire,

Now burned a sudden hill,

Bleak, round, and high, by flame-lit height made higher,

With nothing on it for the flame to kill

Save one who moved and was alone up there

To loom before the chaos and the glare

As if he were the last god going home

Unto his last desire.

-“Man Against The Sky”

-Edward Arlington Robinson

APRIL

The end of April, actually. 2022. Every kind of feeling, every memory, fear, regret, maybe hope.

There was a lilac behind our house on Neponset Avenue. It bloomed about now. Someone pulled it up, gone. Also the swamp maple my brother Doug decided to plant, supported by a broom stick when it was new and fragile. It grew and grew. It’s gone.

April, the cruellest month. So said the poet. Months, every month can be cruel.

Those gone, not forgotten. Missed. The wind chime jangles gently. It is cold up north. I took Diane to the airport before dawn. She texted, “cold, Wry very cold.” She probably meant, “Very, very….” But wry. That says it, too.

Someone posted an old Ch 12 WPRI, Providence newscast on FB — Monday, March 30, 1987. That was four months before I arrived there after my time at Channel 7/ Boston. I was noon anchor. It was a good two years, though I’d expected to be at Channel 7 for the rest of my career. It did not work out that way.

I am missing a reunion of broadcast people in my old neighborhood this Saturday night. I am sad at that. But my solitude here — maybe at last I can sort out some things. Aren’t we always trying to sort out things?

Monday, March 30, 1987. The edge of a lost April. “Boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The past in which that was written is far, far past.

I walked alone in the nature preserve, exotic birds near me, hot, breezy.

I try to call my brother Bill in his confinement, aging, infirm yet, my sister-in-law tells me, in good spirits, having come back from the hospital , recovering –thank God — from a bout with a mild strain of the Covid virus.

Thank you, God, for everything.

I must make spring feel better than this, even if no roses are blooming in Ukraine.

April this year is on the edge of sorrow. Sadness.

MARRIAGE

There are words signifying human arrangements or states of life which should never be emptied of their true meaning. Marriage and all that it signifies is such a word.

This remains true even if every soul in our culture succumbs to the temptation to treat marriage merely as a fungible civic “institution” or solely as means to a beneficial personal financial end. It becomes a mere human contract, and, compared to a contract to buy or sell land, is perhaps not nearly as serious or consequential.

The word marriage in our culture still implies love, intimacy, total, “ideally” unbreakable commitment between human beings. I think many would agree that it should be “sacred,” however one wishes to interpret that word. In the religious culture I embrace, it is one of seven Sacraments. It is prohibited to regard it merely as a civic, possibly temporary and reversible arrangement. It is eternal. It must be borne through all human trials of sickness or poverty. The universal evidence reveals it to be a source of enormous joy and fulfillment for multitudes and a natural and desireable state of being for all humanity in all times.

The Catholic Church and much of the secular culture still regards marriage, of necessity, to be between a man and a woman. And religious and non-religious peoples alike probably never expected that fundamental fact to be upended.

But that’s where we are in our culture. There is no telling where it will lead us.

Marriage is also fundamentally supposed to be about new life — children, family. This comes about through an intimacy that God-oriented people regard to be special and sacred and, in Catholic teaching, reserved only for the sacramentally married. The culture at large flaunts this shibolith in a spirit of indifference, even mockery, and in the name of “progress”. Like all the most special and sacred things that exist, the powerful human drive for intercourse can be grandly abused, but remains an infinitely serious form of human expression. No one, even the most unreligious and secular-minded, denies that, though many deny that abstinence is possible or desirable, sometimes regarding it to be “unnatural” in the wake of the so-called “sexual revolution”. (Whenever I hear that line urging us to “crown our soul with self-control” from “America the Beautiful”, I believe I’m hearing lyricist Katharine Lee Bates propounding the pre-modern understanding of how we should deal with everything from anger and hunger to sex. I guess that was the “old” America, “from sea to shining sea.”)

But in the new, still beautiful America, we have gradually embraced polymorphous means of being intimate, and unnatural means of conceiving children. No telling where this will lead us, either.

Sex, seen as merely a primal impulse or appetite, has largely been “divorced” — another troubling word — by much of the whole world’s culture from marriage. So has the necessity of procreation as a unific, inseperable aspect of sex.

So many, like me, are either guilty bystanders or active, sinful collaborators in this cultural unraveling –which millions define as “progress”.

Random sexual, temporary parings between the male and the female of the species are, based on scientific evidence, premordial. They are common in the animal kingdom. But the arrangment called marriage is for humans and involves a number of human norms and understandings. Sometimes people, regardless of their age, come together in this bond out of shortsighted immaturity and emotional infirmity. ( I ain’t preaching. I’m as frail and shortsighted as the next person.) We all know about those early, ill-considered, half-forgotten marriages. Those who engaged in them failed to grasp the seriousness or nature of the journey upon which they were about to embark – or didn’t know their future spouse as well as they thought they did. The list of problems goes on.

But, as it happens, the most thoroughly secular marriage I ever attended took place in a grand stone castle above a beautiful, mist-shrouded Massachusetts beach between two atheists, at least one of whom (the male) I know to have –to this day — an utter, insistently reasoned disdain for religion. He is a professor of philosphy.

Nonetheless, the Introductory Address at that wedding by the “celebrant” in the presence of a Justice of the Peace read as follows:

“In all cultures and at all times, people have entered into matrimonial union in recognition of the mystery of love, the power of moral commitment and the enlightening force of communication which connect them and give meaning to their lives. “

Further, that address went on to speak of “(L)ove, the fundamental bond which ties the human family together and which gives us hope for a world in which peace and community reign….”

Beautiful! And very serious, and true. This was well over thirty years ago. That couple is still married.

But I would submit that this atheistically-oriented address ( which, in my book, qualifies as a “prayer”), recited in the presence of the bride and groom, though they were never referred to as “bride” or “groom”, nonetheless invoked a number of theological concepts, e.g., “the mystery of love” and “hope” which Catholic Christians regard to be a theological virtue along with charity, often rendered as “love”. And “family”, too, is a bond that Christians or other religions see as of divine origin.

If there is no God, why should love be a “mystery”?

I have attended Christian marriages that did not seem so steeped in the beauty of things I, for once, see as of divine origin. In everything good thing we mortals do, if it is worth doing, there is an echo of eternal truth.

But then there is cohabitation — or marriages that are mere cohabitations. Here is where two humans can experience endless, deep, psychological and spiritual lacerations, live in a state of mendacity and illusion, anger, recrimination, sexual and emotional objectification, financial ruination, trapped like addicts in one another’s emotional grip, aware, however subconsciously, that they are merely hostages to one another. It is a nightmare, a horror. True love is obscenely mocked and strangled.

Then someone comes along and says to the unmarried, “you two should be married.” They cite Social Security benefits, scold a person who would deny the other party both the SS benefits and tax benefit. If the “mystery of love” is baffling, so, too, is the mystery of modern cohabitation among those we might diagnose as “codependant.”

It is understandable that those well-meaning kibitzers should be baffled– not realizing that they are urging those two souls to make a horror permanent; seal the bonds made of fear and emotional infirmity, born of what we have come to call, again, co-dependancy.

God help us. God help them. God help me, as a matter of fact.

To be single, alone, living and responsibly maintaining our own orderly, charitable lives, possibly experiencing lonliness, but bonded to all those we love and even find it necessary, through circumstances of our own making, to support financially — even to our own detriment and for as long as we live — this is truth, integrity and reality.

A decision to do so is every bit as essential as the decision to marry. Like true marriage, it is a state of life that can bestow true peace, engender true love. I, for one, believe this.

I pray for it.

God hear my prayer. God care for those I love and with whom I hope to escape all illusions, all disorder. Let me be an instrument of your peace, your love and your truth. And of divine and human — reality!

Amen.

HOW TO MAKE A BAD DEAL WORSE

Moscow wants written guarantees from our secretary of state that western sanctions for its brutal invasion of Ukraine will not prevent it from trading with Iran.

That’s a joke, right?

This is all about the notorious Iran nuclear deal. The Biden Administration wants it back in place. Ukraine is burning, but everybody’s back at the table. Happily, our side has balked at the request for Russia/Iran trade. It’s bad enough that Bejing and Moscow have sidled up with one another. Add Tehran at this tender point in history and you complete the dark triangle.

There are reports that Robert Malley, U.S. envoy to the nuclear talks, has already pledged to lift a number of anti-terrorism sanctions currently targeting the Iranian regime. The old campaign of maximum pressure appears to have been minimized.

Is the Biden Administraton perchance looking for a badly need foreign policy feather in its cap, and doing so in a “whatever it takes” frame of mind?

This one “takes” common sense.

EASTER MORNING

The two Marys kept their vigil, the men had fled. In their mind, they’d endured a tragic, shocking defeat and their savior a tortured, humiliating betrayal and death. It was all over. All was death. Life would go on, empty. It had all seemed so — possible, that this was not all there was, and as good as it gets. Back to the fishing boats and the drudgery.

None of these thoughts or expressions are very original on my part. There must be a way to jolt us to greater — awareness. Cold, hard truth. The truth that liberates. I want it. I need it.

Yes, he was dead.

But He had come to die, and he had died. He foretold it all. No one was listening or believing Him.

Then, the Resurrection. Without it, the whole story is meaningless. And the churches — or The Church — a big costume show and money pit. A place where teens are abused by their homosexual overseers.

Really?

Secular historians and theologians have examined the matter of the Resurrection exhaustively over centuries. In the early years of the Christian era, Celsus, an anti-Christian polemicists, suggested that the whole story emanated from the disordered imagination of an ecstatic Mary Magdalene. Others theorized a case of mass hallucination. People thinking they’d seen things they didn’t see. I could be wrong, but I think that’s the belief of the ever-popular James Carroll.

The Church has examined all these claims stringently. The precise details of the empty tomb, the encounters in the flesh — for many it is important to deny it all, because if He rose, then absolutely nothing matters except that.

“He thrown everything off balance. If He did what he said, then there’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him.”

So says Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit, a serial murderer. He decided it all must be false. All that could possibly matter to him was pleasure and cruelty and self-seeking – and pleasure in cruelty. But at least he understood what was at stake and made his conscious, perversely reasonable choice. Like all of us, he had difficulty believing such a thing could be true, but if it was, how could anything else be more important than that?

Admittedly, his fictive testimonial is all a little too overt, too credulous for most of our tastes. We can doubt such literal depictions of nihilism.

See, instead, images of Vladimir Putin, reverently touching the cross of Christ (as he did as it was held before him by his bishop), then crossing himself, then ordering an ongoing mechanized slaughter, destruction, horror and cruelty on an industrial, civilization-killing scale. Joe Biden, his forehead smudged with the visible chrism of salvation, a “devout Catholic”, seeing to the slaughter through abortion of millions, insisting on it. A more banal and to many seemingly innocuous, perhaps necessary mass killing — until we’re forced to think about it, hear that Silent Scream….as each soul is “cancelled”. (Yeah, I know. We don’t want to believe such stuff. We do what we do for the “good of humanity.”)

If He didn’t rise, all is folly, says St. Paul.

And if He didn’t, all should be permitted — within “reason”, of course.

Tertullian would ask, a century later, “how many of the crowd standing around us, shall I not prick in your inner conscousness as being the slayers of your own off spring?” He spoke to the mobs who cried for Christian blood while they drowned or exposed to the dogs those unwanted among their newborns. Then there were these tawdry other matters — among the Persians, he claimed, there was word of those who had intercourse with their own mothers.

All is permitted. Our own darkness spreads. “Self-will run riot,” as they say in the recovery community trying to rescue folks from substance addiction. But you don’t have to be drunk or high to be atrocious.

For the record — Mary Magdalene’s reaction at the sight of the empty tomb was not disordered. A disingenuous gospel-writer might have depicted it so, but instead, shows a woman perplexed and assuming the body of her savior has been stolen and proceeding to investigate based on that assumption. She summons the men and Peter and John run to search for the body. They find the burial cloth arranged in an orderly way one would not immediately assume was the work of grave robbers. Slowly, sluggishly, they come around to accepting the seemingly impossible. That would be us, too. And then — they see Christ in the flesh. He stays with him for forty days, and they stay with him for life, even unto their own cruel deaths for his sake.

St. Paul: “If Christ is not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain.” This from a man who had zealously persecuted Christians and overseen their execution. They were a threat and a nuisance to his mind. Then he became one of them. Did he ever! I guess he believed Christ rose. But he had the extra advantage of being struck with a bolt of light and hearing His voice.

For us, it is a matter of faith. Investigate. Think about it. Compare and contrast the stories. Listen to the doubters or deniers. “Test everything,” said that same St. Paul. “Cling to what is true.”

But even believing, the course is hard, the temptations and distractons many. Sin, however you define it, abounds. It’s easier just to not think about it. Unconscious living, in the manner of those anti-Christian mobs who were addressed by Tertullian.

Well, He told us we were weak. He told us we’d need Him.

And, by the way, He promised He’d rise. And that He’d come again.

Meanwhile, I beg You, please come to me….life’s getting a little flaky.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

T.S. Eliot, from “Choruses from ‘The Rock’

Where, indeed.