FLOWERS

It’s been a long while since I dropped into The Last Mile Lounge on that stretch out of Boston (where my imagination put it), roughly the East Boston/Revere line. I dropped in recently.

There had been weather, there was a lull now. It was Friday, mid-afternoon. A few folks, men and women, have dropped in after work, probably the end of their work week. There would be more later, after five. Deano, the night bartender is already on duty.

I’d forgotten about an occasional patron named Jerry Krause; don’t know him well –not as well as I feel I know Sticky Sammartino who’d dropped in at this odd hour for a single draft. Jerry Krause, the same. These guys, believe it or not, have a book club at a place around the corner where some of the regulars live, an old apartment complex. I think they meet in Pete Garafola’s place. Occasionally they’d meet in the branch public library; occasional out on Revere Beach when the weather’s real nice. They’ve invited women to join, but so far, no takers. And they were spending about a month reading From Here to Eternity. They like military-related stuff, some of them being veterans. They surprised me when one of them told me they’d read Anna Karenina and plan to tackle War and Peace this summer. But the weather — chilly but clear — had lately pushed the Club back indoors and they meet on Wednesday nights, if I recall, probably after some of them grab a bite at a place they like over in Lynn. Pete G. provides beer, soft drinks and nuts for the actual club. What a bunch. I swear I’m going to drop by some night.

Anyway, Stickey nodded a greeting to me, Jerry (they call him Jerry K, I understand) also nodded, though I’m pretty much I’m a stranger to him.

Jerry was obviously kind of in the dumps, from what I could observe. I don’t drink, just come around The Mile, as they call it, because (inexplicably) I like the place — and I can tell you about all I hear and behold there. Deano knows me well and sets me up a tonic and a splash of cranberry. I don’t even have to ask. I’m personally thinking about how a grand nephew of mine was laid to rest last summer after overdosing on his depression medication. An absolutely terrible event in the lives of everybody who knew him. I told Stickey about this. I believe Stickey had told his Friday night drinking buddy Jackie the Crow (who’s been in the hospital for something). Jackie must have told Jerry (though I didn’t know Jerry knew Jackie, but, then I remember — they’re both in book club.)

I wasn’t sitting at a table very long when Jerry came over –made a special point of it — to express his condolences about my grand nephew. “Really sorry to hear about that,” he said. “Jesus, that’s heartbreaking.”

“It was months ago now,” I said, ” but the hurt remains — in the family, especially the parents, the grandparents… very bad.”

“It’ll never go away,” he said. And he seemed like he knew what he was talking about. He looked like a man, as the poet says, acqainted with the night. I invite him to sit for a minute. Stickie was busy talking to Deano at the bar. “You know,” said Jerry, ” I wonder when we’ll figure out what the pandemic did to us, the isolation and stuff, to the kids especially. I mean there are probably other things, other factors, but I know it got to me, the isolation. It’s why I came here more often, because Jake, the owner, kept bucking the state health people. ” He looked at me intently. “Stickie told me you’re a writer and used to be a reporter around here.”

“That’s right,” I said.

He said, “Like I say, I was coming in here a lot during the lockdown, at least when this place was fighting the lockdown– I’d come off hours, like early in the morning when the place opened up and I could get an egg sandwich from Jenny, the Sunday bartender. I liked talking to her. I’m single, you know.”

“So’s Jenny,” I said. I must have done something like wink, because Jerry proceeded to say, “I’m single but I’m a confirmed bachelor. I just like talking to people and I wouldn’t be talking to a woman who was married and I wanted Jenny to know I wasn’t flirting with her and that I hoped she had a boyfriend.”

“She’s got a few,” is said, and thought how unhappy Jenny, knowing Jenny, must have been when a guy told her he wasn’t flirting with her, because I was guarantee she was flirtiing with him — though he was obviously older than thirty-something Jenny. Men and women like to flirt. I do, anyway. But Jenny’s a tough girl, don’t get me wrong. She just likes men, which isn’t a crime yet.

“Good,” Jerry said. “I’m glad to hear she has a boyfriend.”

“Probably several,” I said.

He finally sat down at that point, but didn’t act like he intended to stay, just to get off his feet. But he also seemed especially eager to engage another human being who might, I suspected, be a little more receptive to his tender observations than old Stickey.

“I don’t know what going to happen to the world when somebody so young can be so down in the dumps,” Jerry said. (And wasn’t it interesting that he used the same adjective that had floated into my mind when I beheld him and his somewhat sorrowing countnance on the bar stool.) All at once his whole complexion went dark. Really down to the dumps, which he, plainly, intended to sift. He had reddish blond-to-gray hair, with a scumble of wiry gray hair at the brow, blue eyes and freckles and some wrinkles you might see on a guy in his late forties who’s putting on hard years. I didn’t ask, but I learned later from Sticky that Jerry works overnights at the post office and always seemed to like the isolation that overnight work can afford a person. Sticky wondered if he slept hanging upside down like a bat during the day and laughed as he said it (this was a month ago, after Christmas, when Sticky was talking about Jerry and he told me more about him in this day after Jerry left.

Jerry would leave in a while, as a matter of fact, but not before he told me he prays for the world, especially for young people. “I grew up in Lynn,” he said, on Chatham Street. I’ve seen the city change. I love it just the same.”

“Where do you live now?,” I asked him.

“I’ve had an apartment in Saugus for about a year but I’m not going to renew the lease. I used to come here to this place after I finished my rounds — I used to deliver mail to and the streets around here and delivered mail here when I was first working for the the P.O. I got to know the owner. He used to serve more food then. I heard he was going to start serving more food.

“The license says he has to,” I said. “Jenny, some of those people, they can make sandwiches, cook burgers. out back. They’ve got a kitchen,” as you know. Deano and the owner just had it remodeled, fireproofed, all that. They had to put sprinklers in here, too,.”

“I know that,” said Jerry. But he was clearly pondering his life now. “I guess I’m thinkingI could retire pretty soon with a little pension at some point in time. Stickey tells me you’re retired. Your name is Greg, right?”

“Right.”

“My brother’s name was Greg.”

“Not living?”

“Died like your grandnephew, an overdose.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh, it was years ago, way back in the eighties when we were young. Same stuff going round and round,. I’ll bet your grandnephew wasn’t even born.”

He had me thinking now, pondering this tragic episode in my family as I said, “He was only twenty — just exactly twenty. He was born in this century.”

Jerry sat back. I said, “Can I buy you a drink of something?”

“No, I’ve still got my beer at the bar. I don’t drink much, really.” He’d grown noticably morose with the information that my grandnephew’s entire life was enclosed in this still-young century.

“I’m thinking about just how sad things can get,” he said. ” I work in this big, big noisy, bright room overnight with a lot of good guys and I’m making people’s loveletters and bills and packages go on their merry way like life going on its merry way and sometimes I think I can see these people who are sending this stuff. I mean people don’t write love letters or anything like that anymore, they just send emails.” He fold his hands, like a kid at school. He was looking up toward the TV where there was no sound but images of a fire, the storm destruction. I know this, because I’d swung myself around a bit when Deano arrived with my tonic ( he didn’t have to bring it out to the table, but Deano’s good to me) and I kind of wanted to see what Jerry was looking at so intently. But disaster just seemed to be a backdrop for everything that was pouring out of him. Something to prime the pump of sentiment and fond reflection.

“It’s really a good place to work, the Post Office. I just wish there was more handwriting and not labels, more handwrapped packages, not plain gray stuff….and, y ou know, the Fedex and UPS guys, they get to do a lot of the delivering of good stuff. I almost envy them.” He smiled. Something came rushing into that forty-something — actually now I realized it had to be fifty-something — face, if he had a brother who died of an overdose in the eighties.

“Christmas, I love Christmas in the Post Office.,”Jerry said. “It makes me sad that it’s January, that it’s over.”

So that was it. That was what was making him sad.

“I mean they bring in extra people at the P.O., so you get to meet them and get extra help, but you can see all these packages coming down the conveyers that you know are gifts trying to get to somebody across the country someplace. And then all the cards — people still send cards, not as many as when I started at the post office. But they send them — and they are in these colorful envelops sometimes. You see them coming down the conveyers. It makes me happy.

I decided to ask him something that was at the back of my mind. “Jerry, how old was your brother when he died?”

“My age,” he said. “We were twins. Identical twins. We were eighteen.”

So — this Jerry was older than he looked. Weren’t we all, I thought. No, I thought, again. Some look positively whipped and ancient at fifty. But I took in the news that Jerry Krause had a twin…..I took it in, knowing now that I was looking at the face of another man who never made it to this century or this year of 2023, except in the identical face of the sanquine, pensive twin soul across the table from me.

“He was a very beautiful person,” Jerry said of his brother.

“What was his name?”

He looked at me a little quizzically. In fact, a lot quizzically. “I told you,” he said. “Greg, like you.”

Boy, did I feel stupid. “Yeah, sorry, I said, and then wondered how I could forget my own name. My folks told me he was named for a Church. I was named for a prophet. ” He smiled broadly at that.

“Jeremiah,” I said.

“That’s me,” he said.

Stickey was suddenly standing over us and putting Jerry — that is, Jeremiah’s– half-drunk pilzner of beer in front of him. ” It’s getting worm, my friend.”

“Join us, Stickey,” I said.

“After I go to the boy’s room, and I gotta make a phone call.” He had his cellphone in hand as he walked off toward the hallway leading to the bathrooms. “You know, please apologize to Stickey when he comes back,” Jerry said, and took another drink of his beer, leaving a full finger of amber. “I’ve got to get home and get ready for work. Plus I’m at a meter. ” He got out a dollar, stood, walked over to the bar, slapped the dollar down as a tip for Deano who smiled at him and picked it up. He came back to the table and said, “You know, I’m planning on moving back to Lynn. It’s got problems, but it’s home for me.” He sat and, it became clear, had one more piece of information for me. But it came like a bolt of lightning.

“It was like demons came down upon him, darkness,” he said. He was talking about his brother — Greg. ” It was the drugs, but it was life, too. No pandemic to bring it on back then in ’85. . Just that big darkness. “He looked around the bar that had only two other patrons at a table nearby. I hadn’t noticed that about four people had walked out while we were talking. I was looking over toward what must have been one of the last phone booths in the country that Deano told me got used regularly once a month by a well-known bookmaker.

“It’s nice meeting you and it’s been nice talking to you,” Jeremiah (after the prophet) Krause said to me. “I’m going to pray for your grandnephew. Is he laid to rest near here?”

“Not far . In Winthrop.”

“Someday maybe you and me can go pay a visit, drop some flowers and a few prayers. And you know what?”

“What?” Since I wasn’t going to be seeing him in a few moments, I took note for the first time of his clothes — his blue pull over v-neck sweater, a gold chain and some kind of medal around his neck. His coat still hung on the back of his stool at the bar. It was maroon and had some kind of a patch on it. It looked well worn.

“Now, Greg, I’ll tell you what I was telling Stickey and that is that I’ve decided I actually WILL be retiring soon. I’ll have a pretty good pension. And you know what I’m going to do?”

“What’s that?”

” I’m going to get a job delivering flowers. That would make me very happy – flowers for wedding, flowers for funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, flowers from lovers, delivering them to other lovers. That’s how I’m going to spend a rest of my life, as long as I can drive or walk. I’ll deliver flowers. What do you think?”

“I think it’s a great idea.”

“Brighten up the darkness,” he said. He stood up. “See ‘ya again sometime, ” he said, and offered his hand, which I took and which he shook warmly. Then he grabbed his jacket off the back of the stool and was out the door. Stickey was behind me, under the TV, talking to somebody on his cell phone. He had loads of people in his life. I was hoping he’d tell me more about this Jerry when he was done.

But I already knew all I needed to know to make my January afternoon a little brighter, as if somebody had just delivered flowers to my table.

JANUARY, AGAIN…

It is January 4, 2023. I have that January feeling. It’s not a great feeling. Forgive me if it’s your birthday or anniversary month, but anxiety and a creeping sense of the blahs always overtake me on the morning of January 1. It’s the feeling you get when you get in your old car (mine is a 2015 and I’m reminded that 2015 once felt new) and you prepare to crank the ignition, and hope the old bag of bolts starts up. ( It starts, but the air conditioning has failed. In Florida, no air conditioning in the car amounts to a grand a sweaty case of blahs-on-stilts — i.e., the malaise.

Now for my metaphor: As with my car, it’s that time of year when you turn the key and hope the new year starts. You hope it take you where you want to go. Pretty good, eh? Yeah, just pretty good.

I just read last January’s posts. Very depressing. I hoped for change. It all depended on me. Nothing really changed. But, on the deeply sad end of things, a beloved nephew died suddenly July 13. Then, very, very far down the scale of concern and sadness from that catastrophe was that one of my dogs had to be put down (May 15). This year, some of those I love are very ill and very old. I’m praying.

So, on this early January day… I pray, pray, pray….

I just went out to Lowe’s to buy a new filter for the refrigerator. My Veteran’s discount didn’t apply. It cost me $64. But a new filter was long overdue. There was a little red light giving me that message. Red lights tell us things. And loud buzzes and whining alarms. I’m supposed to change the filter every six months. The packaging for the filter says I am now reducing twenty-eight contaminants and, potentially, they include Atenolol, Carbamazepine, Estrone, Neproxen, Phenytoin, Timethoprim….

And those are just the pharmaceuticals. Funny things — I looked up carbamazepine and it’s used in treating seizures and bipolar disorder. I guess the chemical hasn’t been concocted in the world’s labs that doesn’t start out having great uses before it becomes a poison. It’s like the worst things we ever did when we were young — they all started out as fun. (What kind of fun were they having when they cooked up COVID?)

Back to my filter. Waterborne stuff being filtered out might include assorted micro-organisms, or metals, including, of course, lead. The sort of things that have given me kidney stones. Then, the pesticides. Oh, my! By now, reading the packaging for that filter, I’m feeling resigned, as I take my first long sip of water, to let grace and nature take their course. I’m hearing Doris Day singing, C’est sera, sera….whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see…. ( that’s from a very old Hitchcock movie called, The Man who Knew Too Much. Never in my life have I felt I knew too much.)…

What I feel about the water is what I feel about the year. But if I’ve got ickies in my water, well, the pesticides I’ve allegedly filtered out include Atazine, Carbofuran, Endrin, Lindane……and on and on….

I’ve gone my whole life never having heard of any of these things, much less knowing I might be drinking them. We live immersed in dangerous science. We are hypostatic organic systems, in the mind of a future Harvard moral philosopher I once dated. We were in our twenties. I took her for Chinese food ( I believe she was eating vegitarian). I’d been happily, luckily “fixed up” with her by old, distant friends met during a summer working in the Sierra Nevada while a college student. (Ah, times lost, memories….etc.) Speaking of luck, the future philosopher and I dined at a place in Cambridge called, The Lucky Garden.

For much of our lives, we dream of living in a Lucky Garden. We don’t necessarily think much about heaven, and sure as hell don’t think much about hell. We just hope we’re lucky. (I believe the current MegaMillions jackpot is at $940 Million. Imagine a couple of folks in a little woodframed bungalo on Main Street coming into that kind of dough? Or you? Or me? The total budget for the city of Largo, Florida (where I currently reside) is $309.7 million, up 18% from last year. The population (last year, anyway) was 82, 381. I’ll bet that will rise, too, especially after this winter. But just think, I’m just a digit and still feeling very much like an alien in the subtropics. Like a roaming hypostatic organic system. A white Anglo-x. Three years ago, I reduced the population of Lancaster, Mass by one. (Did they miss me?) But I’m a restless digit, a restless hypostatic organic system. I’d like to re-increase Lancaster’s population — and Largo’s population only in the cool months.

Now, if I could only kill off the January mosquito that has somehow managed to spawn and commenced to whine about my ears. Where’s a little Atazine or Carbofuran when I need it? It would be ironic, right?, if pesticides in my water got me and the mosquito went on happily whining about. But my bug guy tells me mosquitos only live twelve hours. It seems like, in the eleventh hour, they always manage to bite me, then, like Simeon, go happily to their death with a load of my Type O blood in their tank. And every night, a barely visible little — I mean little — cohort of sugar ants can be found floating in the tank to my Keurig. Not in the sugar bowl, mind you, but in the Keurig. Go figure. Water again. Where’s the filter in my Keuric?! Or, here’s where a little poison in the water might help. The average cup of coffee probably brings us micro-chemicals out of Brazil, just for taste. Who knows?

My next purchase must be an evapcore for my failed car air conditioner. Even in January, you don’t want to be without air air conditioning in Florida. (Temperature today, 82 degrees, and, damn it, a trifle muggy.)

I’ve been quoted a price of $1230 to fix the A/C. Now, if I could just win the lottery….It might ease the blahs. Or maybe they’ll invent a filter to filter out the blahs.

But I’m guess I’m bound to confound all this snarky January ruminating and say the only times I succeed in filtering out the blahs is by praying. And the only lottery I really want to win is the one that brings me –and the world — peace. True peace. In January, and the whole year through.

I’ll end on that preposition. (Or, is it an adverb?)

CHRISTMAS MORNING, 2022

I woke at 2 .a.m..Silent night, Holy night….a cold breeze is gently playing the wind chime in the carport.

Darkness. A cossetting darkness one could welcome for the grace and the memories at the heart of it; an easier time to remember that “Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day (I’m singing it within, that traditional carol, so seemingly politically incorrect and exclusive in our divided time, “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen…” Rest us all).

It might, in fact, have been April that He was born, the same season in which He died, and this merely the solticial period when the sun was at it nadir and the pagan’s brightened with their torches and their ceremonies to penetrate and enliven that darkness before He came, and so the feast of our deliverance seemed a light-giving substitution in human hearts and minds. Traditionals will give you meterological and other reasons to believe December 25 is, in fact the day. But it does not matter. He is born everyday — and dies for us everyday. But there needs to be THIS day of our joy and remembance.

Of course, the other kind of darkness is always with us, that “heart of darkness” — and it was with me even as my sleep was interrupted and I rose in the heart of Christmas darkness. It was time to fight off that darkness and recall that He came “to save us all from Satan’s pow’r when we were gone astray….O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…. ”

It is colder than it’s been in decades on this morning in Florida, the thirties, freezing. But I welcomed it, freedom from the sultry, endlessly sunny and sticky months.

Did I pray? I go soon on a Christmas Day journey, (having attended the holy sacrifice of the mass last afternoon). It will be, God willing, an easy five hour journey in a country that is tortured by severe, paralyzing, dangerous weather. Thank you, my Blessed Lord, for sparing me that challenge. Protect and comfort my family. May we never forget you, the whole day long, or ever. And I do, so often.

I did go back to bed for that “long, winter’s nap…”

Merry Christmas! To young and old, the living and the dead, to all God’s children, as we seek and so easily forget, “the wonders of his love….”

Another carol, that. Let us sing.

ADVENT: THE PURPLE JOURNEY, WITH MINTS….

….and suddenly, joy on that journey. The night of the Third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the color goes from penetential purple to rose, for joy. Joy on the journey.

That journey to Bethlehem: After so many barren and desolate places, where only a few clumps of purple anemones or cyclamen showed life and color among the scrub, it must have been comforting to see the little white town perched on its twin hills. Beyond it, the land descended, a pitted gray expanse like boiling lead suddenly frozen in the bubbling state, plunging down toward the Dead Sea. But surrounding the town were orchardds, blooming fields and olive groves…

Henri Daniel-Rops (translated from the French by Ruby Millar), 1954.

Why does no one read this great writer anymore? Or perhaps they do. I do. I share, above, his vivid evocation of the Holy Family’s journey to that birth that changed the world. Sunday night.

The Christmas golf cart parade went by my place tonight. All part of the journey.

Someone threw me a bunch of peppermint mints. I appreciated that.

ADVENT AGAIN

The endless beginnings: “the ways deep and the weather sharp… (“Journey of the Magi”), or, for me for the last three years: the way flat (because I dwell in Florida), and the weather soggy (because it is the sub-tropics). It is still a hard journey. There, now and then, comes a chill, a deep cold, a wind, a soul-scouring inner storm and turmoil. In Advent, we pray for sun and calm and we hope….

I was glad when they said to me: ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ So, accordng to Psalm 121, did the pilgrims of old chant as they approached the holy city of Jerusalem.

Those journeys, to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem, were always hard.

I’ve just had another birthday. I’ve gone far in this journey. I’ve been lazy, strayed from the path, only to find the way harder than it most certainly would have been had I stayed the course, stuck to the pilgrim path. The Way……

On 12/1/14 at 10:09 p.m.. I wrote of a “crisis of will.” On 12/13, hour unknown, probably night, I d bright-yellow highlighted in a book the need to be “attentive to our personal prayers.” In 2013, hour unknown, I’d noted the danger of ” the dwindling and cooling of our desire for sanctity.”

Saintliness? Must I? Me? Get real!

Yeah. And that’s the point: Reality. Life on life’s terms and God’s terms…

The reality of our situation in this vale of tears, this valley of darkness. (“You better watch out. You better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why…..”)

Love saves us. Love and mercy. Advent. He is coming….

Year after year, season after season, I fail to vault over big, abiding obstacles in my life. I thought it would be last year. Last year, I thought it would be the year before. And so on and on, that mountain an infinite regression in my rearview mirror….and the years have passed….

In this season, since childhood, into adulthood, the culture’s inflatable images of Santa, Old Saint Nick, are, of course, a kind of a subliminal stand-in for the true Deliverer, That babe of humble estate. For millions, both the babe in the manger and the Big Fellow in the Red Suit coming down the chimney are myths of equal incredulity. In England, and probably here, non-Christians now greatly outnumber believers. Don’t we know it. The evidence of our faithlessness is all around us. Well hidden is that One encountered in prayer and crisis, forever King, forever merciful, but expecting much of us, Our Father, full of love and mercy., so we are told, so we must believe, and begin to believe when we consider all the bitter, empty other possibilities.

Now, to my ears and written down before my eyes, all the above reads and sounds like vapid, prayerbook pretend-piety. Small wonder no one is listening. At my church, much as I love much that I see and hear and all whom I meet there, I cringe when we sing the “modern” Gloria. It’s in 3/4 time, like a waltz, and accompanied by the pipe organ in up-and-down herdy-gerdy carnival style. The herdy-gloria Gloria. (Don’t mean to be such a critic, but, in my experience, the deepest piety is inspired by solemn, polyphonic, decidedly serious but no less joyous and ancient chords, either sung or merely heard. But — I must be humble, charitable and open. That just my preference. In a way, it might be best to encounter God in silence. It’s all about grace….and a soul-healthy ‘fear of the Lord…’

Fear of the Lord. Advent. You better watch out….

And love, of course. God is love. So we are told and so I believe. For many years, as a late teenager, I doubted it all. Then I was told that a thousand difficulties do not constitute one single doubt. (accoding to St. John Henry Newman). We have only to keep chipping away at the difficulties, as we might at a rock or any other obstacle in our path. I know I made this point to my late sister, who always seemed to insist she could not delve far into the faith, “because I question” I think she feared her probing would somehow confirm her doubts, that there was no possibility it might, instead, affirm or give birth to her faith. I told her much of St. Augustine’s Confessions was written in the form of questions. She never seemed to be convinced — not in this life. Now, unlike me, she knows the answer to every question. Her earthly birthday was at the outset of Advent: December 1. I pray for her and, throughout November, prayed for all the faithful departed.

But back to that prayerbook of mine….

I would read, paragraphs later in that prayer book, “for he is to come, he will not delay” among the Advent Antaphons. In 2012, I read that the growth of our Christian life is obstructed and hindered by the rocky obstacles that are “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” I John 2:16.

I’ll say!

Believe. Look at us, helpless, pitiable… Waiting. For centuries, waiting.

What I recall, year to year, is everydayness, things unchanged in all those centuries. I just took out the garbage again. I stay mired in…Situations. In sin. In cowardice and damnable life habits of thought and action. In garbage.

On a bookmark dated Christmas, 1987, from friend and mentor, Rev. J.L. Donovan wrote: “St. Paul tells the Ephesians 2:14 “He” is our peace. He reconciles our unconsious and conscious. He speaks to us from within ourselves. I hope this book becomes a “vade mecum” of your own quest for Peace.”

The book for which this was the bookmark was a collection of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ( a 19th Century Jesuit whose works are celebrated by poets of every era since, be they secular or religious). In Hopkins’s poems we find examples of the depth-charging syntax he used over and over to write, for instance, of “God’s Grandeur”, “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil/ It gathers to greatness, like the ooze of oil. Crushed.”

G.M. Hopkins died in 1899 and is buried in Dublin. J.L. Donovan died in 2019 and is buried in the hill above the grave of parents, sister and brother-in-law in Boston. Both the poet and the priest told us we will live forever. It is what Christ told us.

But for now — we are’ ‘on a darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night.” Old Matthew Arnold amid his prolong doubt and despair could not fathom the isolated piety of the monks sequestered far up in the Alps at the Carthusian monastery of the Grand Chartrreuse (yes, where the monks make the yellow liqueur). Arnold went on wandering between two worlds, the one dead/The other powerless to be born. The year was 1855.

We’ve gone on wandering between those two worlds, through two World Wars, living in fear of a Third.

Advent. When Frosty and Santa appear on lawns, sometimes in illuminated plastic, hard or inflatable; sometimes (especially or Frosty) in great white balls of Styrofoam.

Joy. Sin all around. We are children forever; forever williing to be awed by the delightfully kitchy. And that’s good.

About this time last year, a young girl cut me off in traffic and responded to my gentle toot with an obscene gesture which she kept displaying for about a block. She’s a year older now. I wonder if any wiser. Am I? Do such things still bother me? Do I do such things myself?

It was Advent. I wanted to break her finger. I silently wished her a Merry Christmas she could not hear.

All civilizaton, all history is Advent. He Is Coming, sometime. Coming always.

Sin and evil abide, like traffic. Like surly, obscene, embittered teenagers.

Abides in me. Am I wrong that some of the worst crimes I remember were committed in Advent? Again, all time is Advent. The Evil One is always busy, and busiest in holy seasons. So my mentors Hopkins and Donovan would remind me.

He is coming….

Enough. Pray like crazy. Get ready. Again. Change. Above all change. Pray I change. I’ve already had one sinful argument this morning.

Yes, I’m talking to myself. I was talking to myself as I took out the garbage — again.

But it’s Advent again.

I go on talking to myself, but I must make that talk into prayer.

Pray. Pray….without ceasing. Persevere to the end.

It’s Advent again.

THOSE ROUGH BEASTS…

…..I speak, in this case, of political attack ads, so grim and unforgiving, never sublime, always ridiculous… they have finally skulked off our TV flatscreens and vanished from our parlors and our hearing. But, oh, the animus is out there, lurking, waiting for their hour to come round again….

They were a sign, and a tedious one, of the times. Now, that First Tuesday is gone. The controversies, especially over elections and ballots, will take longer to subside. Let’s forget about it for a while just the same. At least for this peaceful Sunday.

Let’s sing of November, the month in which we are called upon to remember and pray for the faithful departed. Always, perhaps except in sunny Florida, this month does pierce the heart with its sharp shadows and memories, as they begin to swarm as the year draws to a close. “Time is the fire in which we burn” – Delmore Schwartz.

It is the month, at the end of which –about fourteen months after the second Great War ended and the troops came home and the lights came on again, all over the world,” (as the song goes.) — that I was born.

In Florida, heat and humidity persist and disorient. But with that northern soul Melville, I allow it to be “a damp, drizzly November in (MY) soul,”too. and why not? There have been spells of rain here in the sub-tropics, and the storm called Nicole that ravaged the eastern coast of Florida, sent torrents of rain to Tampa Bay. I welcomed the rain for the peaceful way it made me feel on a Saturday morning. I mourn the horrible losses of fellow Americans along the coast. The sea and the wind, like death, came like a thief in the night, killing property; thankfully not, for the most part, killing any people.

The sun and humidity should never linger this long — not into November. There should be no hurricanes in November. But, as they say, it is what it is. Or was.

Let me forget about politics and storms for the moment. The gospel for this day, and the priest at mass this morning reminded us that we cannot forget about death; and November, in which I was born, is, nonetheless, the month of the dead.

John Donne, preaching at Whitehall in 1631, offered a consolation to the soul “against the dying life and living death of the body.” And this, some thirty odd years before The Great Plague of London and centuries of catastrophes.” (Maybe he saw it coming. You’re never going to be wrong seeing plagues and all things resmbling plagues coming your way, it seems.)

“There we leave you,” the Dean of St. Paul’s wrote, ” in that blessed dependency to hang upon him who hangs upon the cross.” (Ole John D. sure sounds Catholic and was Roman until 2015, I believe. He should have stayed the course., a guy who could write so fervidly and hopefully of “an ascension into that kingdom, which he (meaning Christ) has purchased for us with the inestimable price of his uncorruptible blood….”

Amen

And so, like you, John, I’ll “never send to know for whom the bell tolls.”

And, in this month of prayer and remembering, I will go on remembering, and praying for, among many others, my grand nephew Thomas Bailey of Winthrop, Mass., only 19, dead four months tomorrow.

“Death Be Not Proud,” wrote John Dunne after a crushing loss.

To think I began this writing of, of all things, political TV ads. Gone with the (November) wind.

And good riddance, your sour screen gremlins.

THAT NIGHT, THE MUSIC, MY FATHER….REGRETS….

Don’t recall my age, don’t know where I and my parents were coming from, or how it happened that we were listening to classical music, but something came on the radio that enthralled me. It was after dark, that I recall.

I was, perhaps, ten years old. I asked to stay in the car in the driveway listening to the piece — and, no, I don’t recall what piece of music it was. But I lay across the seat listening. Then my father came out to say he’d found the radio station on which the piece was playing, but I said, no, Dad, I’d like to stay here, listening to it. (Was the engine on? Was I wearing down the battery?) Dad said, okay. It must have mystified but perhaps delighted him that I should love a piece of classical music so much — he who’s taste in music ran almost exclusively to Lawrence Welk and who liked only “nice, smooth music…” but who loved the “Warsaw Concerto” and owned it on a red, translucent .45 disc and listened to it repeatedly and hated it that, in the Hitchcock movie, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”(one of the very few movies we saw together) the attempted assassination inside the opera house interrupted the beautiful music in progress….

No, I don’t recall the title of the music or anything about it. But I can see my father, in his kind tolerance, walking out of our house and coming out to the driveway to the youngest son who came seven years after the other children and who mystified him and with whom he had an overly formal and perhaps distant relationship. I see him before that, inside our house, going to the trouble to find that radio station, only to have me say I’d rather stay in the car, of all places, and keep listening.

Thank you, Dad. For that moment, Forgive me for not loving and appareciating you more during your too short life. And how I wish I had gone on developing, truly developing that love of the greatest music, not the pop idyles of the pedestrian hours over all the years, and stayed with the piano, sunk down into life’s riches where all things truly worthy of loving and learning live.

DEATH COMES FOR THE CATHEDRAL

Or, La mort des cathedrales…

None other than Marcel Proust, writing in Le Figaro in 1904, worried about the future fate of the beautiful cathedrals that dot the French landscape. He wrote (translated from the French, obviously):

“Suppose for a moment that Catholicism had been dead for centuries, that the traditions of its worship had been lost. Only the unspeaking and forlorn cathedrals remain; they have become unintelligible yet remain admirable.”

There was, at the time, a raging political and religious debate over “the Briand bill,” a parliamentary proposal which imperiled the fate of French Cathedrals — those “first and perfect masterpieces” of Gothic architecture.

The author of Recherche Le Temp Perdu (In Search of Lost Time, or Remembrance of Things Past) was fearful that “France would be transformed into a shore where giant chiseled conches seemed to have run around, empied of the life that inhabited them and no longer bring an attentive ear to the distant murmer of the past, simply museum objects themselves frozen.”

The frozen future is here. It’s coming to America.

THE WOMAN ON THE TOKYO TRAIN

This is about the woman, a young woman, that I saw on the Tokyo commuter rail taking me from busy Tokyo station to the station where I would catch a taxi back to Tachikawa Air Base. That’s where I was staying in a pleasant little, single-person dwelling on the base during a two-week temporary duty leave. In truth, “temporary duty leave” was merely the technical designation for the trip a military member might make from their base in Korea to Japan for, essentially, a vacation. For some it might be for duty. For me and others, it was just a two-week vacation, a break.

As I recall it was rush hour. I’d gone into Tokyo just to look around. I could not begin to recall just where I went or what I did on that particular day. It was September, 1970. I was a standing strap-hanger in a nearly full, though not jam-packed car. Japanese trains were clean, in my memory, and commuters polite, perhaps especially to a non-Japanese visitor. But I did not interact with anyone on this particular trip. I was glad it wasn’t more crowded.

Meanwhile, the train sped through the sprawling miles of densely packed fringes of metropolitan Tokyo, all fascinatingly terraced or stacked to accommodate one of the most populous cities in the world. I don’t recall, on that particular trip –standing in the middle as I was — much of what we passed. None of it, really. My eyes were fixed on the people and I only recall that young woman

She was sitting right before me. She was wearing a light top coat. She was somewhat heavy set, had long black hair. Her eyes were downcast. Never once did I see her look up. She was pressed in between other commuters and they would rise to get off, others would sit down — at least I seem to remember that. That would be the likely flow of traffic on a commuteer train.

The point is that she never once looked up, paid no attention to the movement around her — not at every stop where her body and the bodies of those beside her might sway barely perceptibly with the inertia of the train slowing, stopping, then starting up again. She was unmoving; she just stared down. There might have been a purse on her lap, her hands folded around it.

Then I noticed a tear streaming down her cheek. Then another…and another…. She did not wipe them away. She was immersed in a private sorrow and did not wish it to be known or to be observed. But, of course, I was observing this and wondered, why — why was she crying? I didn’t get the sense anyone on either side of her noticed that she was crying. (Perhaps they did and, in polite Japanese fashion, ignored the fact.) What was laying on the mind and heart of this young woman, perhaps a little older than me, perhaps headed home from work in Tokyo, for whom this commute might have been a daily routine while for me it was part of a joyous, solitary, exotic adventure in a strange land? I would not pass this way again, not likely. I haven’t been back to Japan….I recall and certainly have forgotten many details about those two weeks, visiting monuments and famous streets. I have not forgotten this small moment.

I could only surmise at the cause of her sorrow: trouble at work, trouble at home, broken romance, a death in the family, or of a friend, a bad medical diagnosis….

Of course, for some, a nameless but intense melancholy can come unexpectedly and overwhelm every other emotion unexpectedly. Like a tsunami…

In overly idle moments before this same laptop, I have recently watched on Youtube wobbly, terrifying cell phone video of a tsunami overwhelming Japanese seafront neighborhoods, people in shock, shouting and running for their lives, boats, cars and houses being swept away. Massive catastrophe, massive terror and sorrow. It is not, please God, likely that most of us in America will experience that particular character of catastrope in our lifetime. Such hazards are most often a potential reality for people living in South Asian regions where many of us Americans could only imagine living. But then — earthquakes that trigger tsunamie could strike either coast, especially the California coast….

And here in America, this summer– and even in the last couple of days — there have been sudden, extraordinary, deadly wild fires to the west, cutting through neighborhoods, consuming houses in minuters, trapping and killing people. And the floods! Horrible flooding in Kentucky. Shocking, unexpected, life destroying and mind-altering misfortunes that change lives forever. …

But I feel this was no grand sorrow I was witnessing on that Tokyo train. Just one of life penetrating small sorrows. But enough to make this young woman sit quietly crying on a public conveyance.

On that Tokyo train, where east was meeting west in that moment, everything, including the way people interact or register joy or sorrow, might well have been conditions by culturally distinct conventions and therefore be different from anything I might have recognized or expected. But here I felt sure I was seeing a quietly crying woman who could have been any one of us.

Should I have tapped her shoulder, given a wordless, trans-cultural expression of sympathy? No, that plainly would have been wrong. She clearly did not want that attention — would have been embarrassed.

When the train reached my stop, she was, if I recall accurately, more alone on that long train seat, eyes still cast downward, unmoving. Wherever she was going, it was farther out in the suburbs than where I was going. What if I’d had a sprig of flowers! (Ridiculous notion!) What if I could have dropped it in her lap before I moved to the door? Seen her glance up at my departing form, smiling…? This is almost vanity to think such things!

But again…

What if I had spoke Japanese –many westerners in Japan do — and could have leaned over and uttered some consoling word in her ear?

For all I know, this normally laudable American entiment might have violated some Asian shibbolith — who knows? Whatever…

This was fifty-two years ago this month. I didn’t mean to write so much about it. A simple sorrow, simply observed would have been better.

But I hope that was the most transitory of sorrows for that young woman. Who knows? Perhaps it had lifted and vanished by the time she reached her destination. A good little cry, and it was over. I hope so. I hope, if she’s still alive, she has had a happy, fulfilling life.

Living or dead, I’m thinking of her, obviouly. And praying for her. And while I remember the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, The Ginza…I will also always remember the young woman on the Tokyo train.

1 SEPTEMBER, 1970

Dear Mom,

It is Tuesday night and it’s raining like crazy. I’m typing in the orderly room and I hear rain beating down on the roof. Our switchboard operator is listening to the radio. The televison blew up the other night. All this sounds dull I know but I’m quite content.

Peggy wrote me a nice letter, says, what is all this stuff about danger? If it’s actually worring you, mom, let me say that I’m hardly in any danger out here. This is not a vital military area, was never contested in the war and, while there are lots of Korean Marines here , there are no American fighing units within several miles. (Don’t worry — if we needed anything, there’s always the Air Force and these R.O.K. Marines are rough and tought and a wild bunch — good fighters. Our nearest American units are a 7-man U.S. Marine Advisory detatchment just across the bridge on the mainland, a Hawk Missile batterey about twenty miles down that miserable dirt road, then there is the whole General Support complex in the Seoul area, the Second and Seventh Infantry Divisions (the actual fighting units) are located on the central part of the DMZ (inland). This is where things sometimes get hot and dangerous and where incidents occur….oh, yes, we have infiltrators comong on the island. But I’m as unaware of that as you are that someone right now is being murdered in Neponset Circle. I’m far safer here than I’d probably be at Time Square and 42nd Street, or walking across Boston Common at night looking like I have a few dollars in my wallet….We all have our hiding places picked….This is an interesting and fairly attractive area — not the treeless, barbed wire DMZ. This is about as close as you can get to the enemy without having much motive to feel endangered…The only way it’s dangerous is because the road is rough and you might land in a rice paddy if y ou’re not careful and there are women and chidren and dogs and oxen ad ducks and chicken every inch of the way. I make it an adventure. I’m looking for the smoothest possible ride on the worst possible road.

You mentioned typhoon season. We caught the tail of one last night that came in off the Yellow Sea. I’m afraid I caught it worst of all riding back from Seoul in an open jeep. This rain tonight might be a hangover from the big storm which is gone farther out to sea now as far as I know.

End of September 1. I’m tired and I’m going to brave the rain down to the barracks and to my warm bunk. The rain’s really beating down now.

More about typhoons, etc., tomorrow.

Love, Greg