THURSDAYS

Thursdays sit at the edge of things hoped for, even if it be merely a weekend.

Thursdays are the eve of things, dreadful or wonderful, that happen on Fridays. The Last Supper. Holy Thursday.

Oh, that every Thursday could be holy.

Here I sit on a Thursday. 58 degrees. High of 81 expected. Florida’s enigma variations of climate, mood, Gulf waters beyond the traffic, promising so much. But not superior to the world’s or the region’s anxiety. Or mine, however blue-green.

Domestic dilemmas. Without end. Palm fronds waving beyond the venetian blinds. God give me the courage to change the things I can.

The dogs are asleep. I wonder if they dream.

Novel. I write.

I falter on the steps, always sharing too much. People get too mixed up in my — domestic dilemmas. That’s my doing, or undoing.

None of this will make much sense to the chance visitor to this blog.

But I welcome you. And ask you to consider what Thursdays mean to you.

I will go out shortly, on errands, up and down the swarming roads.

Anxiety.

ORDINARY TIME

Snow up north. Chilly here

Cold, really

January 30

I twirl the stem of the venetian blind

Reveal the russet day, the vinyl neigborhood

The metaphysics of daylight

Interfusion of sensory elements

My struggle, repeated

Fears repeated

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Quarto domingo del

Tiempo ordinario

The old dog, sweet and confused

Deficates randomly

Kitchen and bedroom

Saint Francis deSales:

O God, I am in trouble

And all is not well with me

I let the poor dog out

36 degrees in Florida

The starlings scatter to the looping

Utility lines

The empty

feeders sway. The dogs wander

Listen, too,

How every pause is filled with under-notes,

Clear, silver, icy, keen, awakening tones,

Which pierce the senses, and live within the soul,

As the sharp stars pierce winter’s crystal air

And gaze upon themselves within the sea.

Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

It is not so here

It is nearly 8 a.m. Sunday

Fourth Sunday

In Ordinary Time

EPIPHANY MOMENT

Before I and everyone else packs up our creches for another year, some thoughts on the Magi — and that Star.

It’s nearly little Christmas.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the the Star, and the Magi who followed it. How many were there? It’s not known, but legend has it they bore three gifts and they may represent, among other things, the three stages of life, or the three branches of the human race, semitic, white, black (which, of course, omits the Asian and therefore is beyond imperfect). The Magi were a once-powerful priestly caste of the Medes and the Persians, as recorded by Herodotus and others. They studied astrology and the divination of dreams.

How did they know about the blessed event? How far did they have to travel to Bethlehem?

They could have met with a very harsh fate had the brutal and crazed dictator Herod known they had ignored his request to report back to him the birthplace of savior. They could not have known, initially, of his terrifying and murderous reputation.

They were also said to be descendants of the great soothsayer Balaam. Nothing indicates that they enjoyed any great power at the time of the birth of Christ.

What about the star?

Identifying the star — that Star — is a thorny issue. How could these men, working with only the naked eye or the most rudimentary scientific instruments, have made astronomical observations of any precision? This is pretty much, word for word, the observation of that renowned and now mostly forgotten late French Catholic scholar Henri Daniel-Rops, writing in his marvelous book, Jesus and His Time.

It could have been a “nova” similar to the new star that appeared in the Consetllation Aquila in 1918 or that was noticed in 1572 after the massacre of St. Bartholeomew’s Day. But no writers on those times in question recorded such an appearance.

Halley’s Comet, when it appeared on January 10, 1910, was visible in Jerusalem, its light observed to pass rapidly from east to west, becoming difused in the east and reapparring in full visibility to the west, as indicated in the Gospel Story. But Halley’s Comet could only have passed over the sky of the countries in question during the year 12 B.C. and not the year 6 B.C., when it is most often speculated that Christ was born. Other comments recorded by Chinese astronomers in the years 4 and 3 B.C. tell us it would not have been visible in Western Asia. Also, a comet, being subject to their diurnal orbit like other stars, could not indicate a precise location, much less a particlar house in a particular town.

Kepler thought that this celestial pheonmenon might be a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn as occurred again recently. His calculations suggest this could have occurred in the year 6 B.C., even though this date was not yet considered the most probable date for the birth of Christ. Interesting.

And the word “star” as used in scripture does not mean the stars ordinarly visible, but indicates some astronomical phomenon.

On the borderland of science and legend, as Daniel-Rops puts it, is Russian poet Dmitry Merezhkovsky’s theory that the “star” of the Gospel was a rare celestial phenomenon, an equinocrtial passage of Aries through Pisces which would signify to the Babylonian Magi, haunted by the idea of a recurring deluge, the an announcment of the end of the world and a new age in the history of the human race.

St. John Chrystosom, though pre-scientific, knew that stars don’t do what the star of Bethlehem was said to do — that according to Catholic convert and scripture scholar Scott Hahn.

Stars in the sky were often identified with angels in heaven. The philosopher Philo of Alexandria speculated that the stars “are living cratures, but a kind composed entirely of mind.”

Thus John Chrystosom concluded that this was an appearnace of a Christmas angel. Those celestial messengers are forever being caught up in the cosmic drama, from the creation of the world. Good and bad angels are, to the devout mind, what accounts daily for all that is communicated to us in our universe. They are everywhere in the Christmas story.

My patron saint, Gregory the Great, according to Scott Hahn, accepted the angelic interepretation. He also observed the great difference beween the way God dealt with the shepherds and how he dealt with the Magi. The shepherds, though uneducated members of the lowest rank, were still members of the chosen people. They’d been hearing all their lives the prophesies of liberation destined for the Jews. So it was, says Gregory, that God announced Christ to them with angels.

“But a sign, not a voice, guided the gentiles,” writes Scott Hahn. He quotes Gregory’s homily on the Ephiphany, asserting that the Magi ” they were not prepared to make full use of reason to know the Lord.”

In other words, as Scott Hahn notes, when it came to understand the meaning of Christmas, “the simplest of pious field hands were better equipped than the most erudite scholars.”

But those scholars, to their eternal credit, came in an ardent search for the truth. “That’s something the angels could see — and work with,” writes Hahn.

And, it should be noted, they ultimately got their share of important angelic knowledge: an angel apperared to them in one of their dreams in time to steer them clear of Herod who might (God help us!) have tortured them to extract the knowedge they now posessed of the Infant Jesus’s whereabouts.

Thank you, angels.

And so, like those truth-seeking foreign gentile travelers, we must let the angels work with us and guide us now and to the end of our own desert journeys.

.…This Birth was/ Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death…

T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi

Yet the poet has his lone Magi, reflecting long after that journey and the witnessing of that birth, proclaim that he and his fellow travelers were afterwards no longer at home or at peace in their native lands (w)ith an alien people clutching their gods.

I know how he feels.

And so I say a wistful goodbye for another anxious year to those fellow travelers.

God willing, I’ll see them — we’ll all see them — again next year, in peace and joy.

DECEMBER STILLNESS

That is the name of a Siegried Sassoon poem — “December Stillness” — written the year my parents were married, 1934.

Puts me in mind of “Silent Night.” Silent night, holy night….

My parents have been gone for years.

Siegfried Sassoon was one of the World War I poets, along with Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen. He was the only one of the three to survive the war, Brooke dying from war-related blood poisoning, Owen from the guns a week before the Armistice. Sassoon also knew and was among those “soldiers…of death’s grey land…in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats…in ruined trenches, lashed with rain….” Yet he could manage to write, barely two decades after the universal cataclysm of that World War, of “December stillness, crossed by twilight roads” and tell us that he asked that stillness ( yes, he talked to the stillness) to “(T)each me to travel far and bear my loads.”

Religion, or a higher power, were largely swept out of Sassoon’s personal universe by the experience of the trenches, so far as I know. Or, raised by a Jewish father and Anglo-Catholic mother, he saw what, to his mind, were the “limitations” of religious faith.

Not all who saw war ceased to see hope, and see it in an Infinite Being.

But….

December, with its “grave diminishings of green and brown”( Siegried’s words). It is upon us now. I love December, because Christmas comes at the end of its Advent season.

I looked out early one Massachusetts December at the green surviving amid the bare brown of earth and bramble and, perhaps, traces of early snow behind what was my house then, a pleasant place in a pleasant town, more pleasant by far than what I call home now. I’ve escaped to the sub-tropics, an economic migrant.

(Why have I moved so often in recent years? What is this restless search for the “geographic cure”?)

There have been so many houses, so many homes in what still seems such a short time — but, really, so much time has passed, actually. There have been whole wars fought since that “brown and green” moment in Carlisle, Massachusetts. There has been, these days before Christmas in 2021, an unspeakable natural horror — a massively powerful, long-lasting tornado — that stripped away lives and structures in the dead of a Kentucky night — and the Illinois and Tennesee nights. Miles and miles of America’s heartland lies bare and ruined, plunged into “death’s grey land” and silence and darkness days before Christmas.

But in 1934, the year my parents found joy in marriage, followed by years of struggle, that stillness, that December stillness, spoke to the surviving war poet who would live to see another World War consume civilization. He lived, in fact, until the first day of September, 1967.

It was, he wrote back in that same year of 1934, the “love of life, when I was young/ Which led me out in summer to explore/ The daybreak world.”

A “daybreak world” that would be darkened, so deeply darkened by the most brutal of wars, civil and worldwide, all during a most bloody century.

But now, as those summer days of 2021 lead into these dark December nights, a welcomed stillness deepens here and there. Sometimes we have to be in a sanctuary to be mindful of it. A church, or chapel or our own little room.

True, there was little stillness in the long, violent, politically fraught summer of 2021. I cannot forget or cease praying for an end of that unwelcomed stillness in Kentucky that stretches for miles around now, through three states,in which structures and memories have been ravaged by the great violence of nature.

Still, in our current stillness, wherever we can find it, Siegried Sassoon would tell us, “The Daybreak World” abides. It awaits us, here, or hereafter, if we choose to believe it.

We call it hope. Many call it God. The words, the prayers, do not always come easily. God’s stillness, or what seems like His silence, vexes many in their strenuous groping after hope and peace.

Faith is the flame. It can be put out. Symbolically , really.

Meanwhile, we must travel far and bear our loads.

Oh, my!!

At the end of this long, sober,(even embarrassing) very lugubrious rumination, I must laugh a little. Even laugh out loud.

Mere trite meanderings. Siegfried must be chuckling along with me somewhere. I choose to believe so.

Time to head to the mall….praying as I go. Ho! Ho! Ho!

ADVENT IS UPON US

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of year for a journey:

The way steep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

T.S. Eliot

Journey of the Magi

Our journey begins again today, this 28th day of November, 2021.

Everybody knows, even those of us who have lived most unadventurously what it is to plod on for miles, it seems, eagerly straining your eyes towards the lights that, somehow, mean home. How difficult it is, when you are doing that to judge distances! In pitch darkness, it might be a couple of miles to your destination, it might be a few hundred yards. So it was, I think with the Hebrew prophets, as they looked forward to the redemption of their people. They could not have told you, within a hundred years, within five hundred years, when it was the deliverance would come.

Msgr. Ronald Knox

Sermon on Advent

OUTERMOST MOMENT

I put seed in the feeders out back. They hang at various heights. There were no birds up on the wire. Up high there is a cell tower, an osprey nest on top on a little platform that that large bird shares with all the electronic equipment. I can see the osprey up there, probably the mother, queen of all she surveys. That’s why I say “she”…She’ll go fishing in the eight little ponds in this complex. Maybe there are babies up there.

The mowers have come by, but there is no scent from the grass. During much of the day, I heard their mowers.

There is nothing. It is mid-July in Florida, hot and sultry. The clouds pile up massively. They are mountains. You can hear the traffic out on the main road. There is always a late afternoon chance of thundershowers. Yesterday, they were heavy, with sharp, frightening cracks of thunder, then lightening.

I kind of like the drama of Florida summers.

The weathered stockade fence along the back sags in places, has open slits. The Brazilian pepper is growing up again on the other side; thick branches pushing against the fence. Some day they’ll have to be cut back again. An old fellow did it for me last year, charged me only $100. It was a great deal of work. I was busy with other maintenance. He saved me the extra trouble. God bless him.

The birds will come, maybe at evening as it’s darkening. It’s summer, July. The days are long. I’m not in a great state of mind. But that’s because I need to plan a future.

That was earlier– all that talk, all that ruminating. Now I am at my desk.

I live here with a woman and two dogs.

I was thinking for just a moment, I need to be away, alone. Well, here I am. Alone, for the moment. People shouldn’t be alone, and I’m not. I am grateful. I need to pray. My late mentor J.L. Donovan said, “If I leave you with anything, it’s that you must pray.” Words to that effect. I pray he’s in heaven — with all the other folks we’ve lost. Nobody’s lost. That’s the hope. Heaven. Purgatory, Hell. The brain doesn’t process what an Army buddy, in an email this year, called “all that supernatural stuff.” We were on an island in Korea once, fifty years ago. There was a Maryknoll Missionary out there. We became close. I’ve lot track of him.

I think I will read about the Outermost House in the famous book by the same name — by the man named Henry Beston, born in 1888 in Quincy, Massachusetts, a World War I veteran who went out to a little house on Cape Cod, alone. Two rooms. He wrote about everything he saw and felt as he responded to nature. I didn’t know until just now that his given name was Henry Sheahan (Irish). He was a fine writer. He died in 1968, the year everybody’s life and everything else in America seemed to be up for grabs.

He wrote, “Majestic and mutilated, the great glacial scarp of Cape Cod’s outer beach rises from the open Atlantic….”

Henry Beston’s little outermost house was washed into the sea during the catastrophic Blizzard of ’78. I remember that storm. I’ve seen a still picture of the roof of the house sinking below the water in the aftermath. They built a replica. But replicas…well, I guess they have to do.

Fr. Eugene Boylan, monk, linguist, confessor, wrote:

“For there is no moment, no depth of sin or of failure, no loss or no disaster, in which we cannot still find all that we might have been, all that we would like to have been, all that God wants us to be….”

Boylan died in 1963, another year we recall for trauma and transition.

I’ll stop here. I have a great deal of writing to do. I must get busy.

I hear thunder. It is 4:40 p.m..Tuesday, July 13, Largo, Florida.

More thunder. Perhaps a storm is coming….

4:57 p.m. It is raining hard. There was just a startling crack of thunder close by.

It is mid-summer, 2021. I need to plan for a time beyond the storms. I must write. I must remember.

5:05 p.m.

ONE DAY IN STOCKBRIDGE

Moments. They flock to mind, come and go. There is no reason on this late June Night (have I said “time flies” lately?) that I should be thinking of this particular moment. It’s worth only a few words; or maybe a paragraph or two.

It’ll get far more than that.

In the Seventies, I worked at a little daily suburban Boston newspaper with a guy named Bill Greville. I liked him. We were both reporters. We joined up for a couple of excursions — one time to the Cape (Cape Cod), another time to head out west. He was a Williams College grad. On this westward trip, we stopped into a dark little backstreet bar in downtown Stockbridge, Mass. It was afternoon. There wasn’t another soul in the place besides the bartender and us. The bartender was a Korean War vet, a solemn but genial sort of guy, if that makes any sense. Just friendly enough to be sincere, no fake charm. Since I’d served in Korea (twenty years after the war), I seem to remember that gave us something to talk about — him and me, at least.

But both of Bill and I were talking to this bartender — name long forgotten, if, indeed, we ever asked it — about the rambling, famous Arlo Guthrie ballad, “Alice’s Restaurant” which is set in Stockbridge. In fact that’s exactly what we’d been talking about for some time when another guy walked into the bar and sat down next to Bill and me — whereupon the bartender said, “gentlemen, meet Ray Brock….”

Ray Brock was the husband of Alice Brock — of “Alice’s Restaurant” fame. The song became an Arthur Penn-directed movie of the same name, released in April, 1969 at the ragged end of the decade it more or less celebrates and to which it tries to lend another measure of pop cultural heft, as if any was needed. It was, in a sense — or the movie was — a Sixties culture time capsule making much out of little material — there was the rambling ballad and its crazy narrative fact about a trip by Arlo Guthrie to Western Mass some years before. Arlo plays himself, rather badly, in the movie and serves as narrator. At the core of the story is a trip to see Arlo’s friend Alice Brock at Thanksgiving time. The song/movie is, more than anything, about, post-dinner illegally-dumpingof garbage, leading to Arlo’s comical arrest, etc., his subsequent, somewhat unrelated trip to the draft board which gets woven into the narrative, because, if I recall, the dumping arrest helps save him from the draft. (Contemporary environmentalists, and probably not a few of them back in 1969, were probably not happy about the denigration of the environment, i.e., the illegal dumping of unsorted garbage down a Berkshire roadside embankment that is at the core of both Arlo’s ballad and Arthur Penn’s movie — not to mention the failure to recycle. I actually think it underscores the wanton carelessness of the counter-culture. You may recall images of the rubbish-strewn aftermath of the sprawling Woodstock concert venue of that same year.)

All in all, the movie is a so-so counter-culture/anti-Vietnam War/ anti-regimentation, anti-military celebration of communal hedonism — in my distant, square & sober adult hindsight estimate. I did go see it upon its release, though before my own military draft. ( I’ll always recall the day I was being pushed unhappily through training, possibly bayonet training, at Fort Dix after my October, 1969 induction and seeing, close by, the big marquee on the base movie theater. It was advertising, in huge letters, the current feature film — Alice’s Restaurant. I’ll bet a lot of trainees, on their rare, unregimented free time, found some deliverance in the dark at that theatre before moping back to their barracks to resume their basic training nightmare. For my part, I saw no reason to see it twice. )

The people Arlo sang about were real and the incidents were real — though significant liberties were taken and serious dramatic augmentation was necessary to achieve a script for a feature-length film, with Alice and Ray Brock at the center of it all , played well, it must be said, by B-list actors Patricia Quinn and James Broderick.

So — that day in Stockbridge, all of a sudden, as BillGreville and I were on our second beers, we found ourselves sitting in the presence of the real Ray Brock ( I have no reason, based on our conversation, to doubt for a minute that that was exactly who he was). I recall he had an earring and short hair. He struck me as a blue collar working guy, which in fact he was — he taught “shop” for a while at a local high school. I recall he was a ambiable, open, and, I sensed, no stranger to barstools. Neither was I in those days. I recall him saying a publisher had approached him — or he had approached them — about writing a book about his “thoughts.” This would have followed on questions about how he felt about being portrayed in a movie. I can’t for the life of me recall whether he liked the movie but suspect he did, since it gave his ordinary life a soupcon of respectability and fame — although it was not an entirely positive portrayal of a man who’s wife was on the promiscuous side — which, by the way, is why the real Alice Brock reportedly had serious objections to the movie. But the soul next to us on the barstool a soul, this otherwise anonymous and ordinary denizen of Stockbridge might have found the trade-offs acceptable, as did the local cop known as Officer Opie who also gained a little immortality from the movie by playing himself. (The story goes that when he heard they were making a movie, based on the song, based on his “illegal dumping” arrest of Arlo, he insisted he play the part himself. “If anybody’s going to make a fool of me,” he reportedly said, “it might as well be me.”

Thereafter, young movie-goers were known to cruise by and greet him as he directed traffic in the center of town.

Too bad Bill and I didn’t meet Officer Opie that day.

Anyway, I Googled ole Ray tonight and found out that he died in 1979, cause of death unstated. That would have been only a few years after this encounter. He looked perfectly healthy when we met him.

Rest in Peace, Ray.

Bill and I, after a decent, garrulous interval of fellowship, drained off our beers that day, rose from our stools and went on our way, leaving Ray with that anonymous friendly, war veteran bartender for whom I suspect Ray was apparently something of a regular. If I recall, we were bound for Lenox and Tanglewood. High culture. I forget what we heard — or even if we made it into the concert.

I hoped I’d remember that, having remembered the barroom.

POSTSCRIPT I:

It often seems as if, throughout the Seventies, one was encountering the flotsam and jetsam of Sixties culture — consisting of quirky people, places and things — before they sank out of sight and and into memory. This was such an encounter. Sometime these are barely-worth-remembering memories and “moments”.

In retrospect, I think there was something tragic about Ray Brock. I believe he and Alice were long divorced. They were –based on semi-reliable sources — married in Greenwich Village and first lived in a desacralized little white Stockbridge church. How delightfully counter-cultural! How Sixties!

Alice owned a series of restaurants after the one where Arlo visited her. She was, according to Wickepedia, born in 1941. I find no record of her death. She’d be 90.

File this ramble under one man’s (meaning my) life’s trivia.

For purposes of this blog, I’ll file this memory under — “moments.”

POSTSCRIPT II:

I’ve tried to find Bill Greville recently. A long, deep internet search suggests he left public relations (which came after newspapering) and did some acting around New York City. I think the very last time I saw him was at the Williams College Alumni Club in Manhattan — many years ago. I’ve made phone calls and sent emails trying to reach him. No luck.

If you read this, Bill (unlikely), know I’m looking for you. We can talk about some of those “moments.” Or maybe you’d just as soon forget them — and have forgotten me.

Life moves on.