A TENNYSON CHRISTMAS

From “In Memoriam” in which, the poet, deep in mourning, over hundreds of stanzas, gropes for the light over three Christmases, as time slowly closes over the loss of a dear friend and faith slowly covers over his mourning. Christmas and a new year were the milepost at every painful turning. November is the month in which we especially remember the dead. December, and Christmas, are when we miss them the most.

FROM STANZA XXVIII

The time draws near the birth of Christ.

The moon is hid, the night is still;

The Christmas bells from hill to hill

Answer each other in the mist.

FROM STANZA LXXVIII

Again at Christmas did we weave

The holly round the Christmas hearth;

The silent snow possess’d the earth

And calmly fell our Christmas-eve.

The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,

No wing of wind the region swept,

But over all things brooding slept

The quiet sense of something lost.

FROM STANZA CIV

The time draws near the birth of Christ;

The moon is hid, the night is still;

A single church below the hill

Is pealing, folded in he mists.

A single peal of bells below,

That awakens in this hour of rest

A single murmur in the breast

That these are not the bells I know.

Like stranger’s voices here they sound,

In lands where not a memory strays,

Nor landmark breaths of other days,

But all is new unhallow’d ground.

FROM STANZA CV

Tonight ungather’d let us leave

This laurel, let this holly stand:

We live within the stranger’s land,

And strangely falls our Christmas-eve.

FROM STANZA CVI

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying clouds, the frosty light:

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

FROM STANZA CXXXI (CONCLUDING)

That God, which ever lives and loves,

One God, one law, one element,

And one far-off divine event,

To which the whole creation moves.

1850

Just fragments in which earth and mortals regenerate, mid-way in a century that was struggling to retain the “old” faith. Tennyson, nonetheless moves from despair to hope. Tennyson is not my poetic soul-mate in many particulars, out of sorts — along with the likes of Charles Kingsley — with the important Oxford Movement, in which Saint John Henry Newman was about to remove himself, and lead other churchmen, out of the slowly sinking barque of Anglicanism.

But he knew Christmas for what it was and must always be for us, however great the darkness.

2021

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

THE CULTURE OF REPUDIATION

It was the late scholar Roger Scruton who identified the cultural upheaval through which we are suffering as the “culture of repudiation”. We must resist it with all our cultural might. It originated, as did — and does –so much that is poisoning our national life, among that ever expanding multitude who profess an evermore aggressive leftist-to-socialist ideology. Theirs is the spirit of revolution that throws out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. And that’s an overly gentle metaphor for what’s happening here.

Roger Kimball, editor of the journal, The New Criterion, writing in the November, 2021 issue, observes that “the curious, even hypocritical nature of this (culture of) repudiation is especially patent in the most privileged and affluent precincts of our culture, in the Ivy League writ large — all those institutions that, once upon a time, were devoted to perpetuating our civilization but which now, marinated it too much money, spend their time and seemingly bottomless animus deploring everything about America and the civilization that fed it.”

And, of course, to their mind, what fed this civilization was essentially racist. Their answer is — more racism, in the guise of anti-racism.

Columbus, Cortez and other Europeans were, upon occasion, guilty of savagery and racism. I don’t doubt that. Of course, I don’t know this for a fact, but I have been instructed thus by historians I trust. Those historians are honest about that. The leftist historians, of course, make a point of ignoring the occasional savagery and barbarism that reigned among the natives the Europeans encountered. To do otherwise, Kimball and others have noted, would render the Left’s moral outrage ludicrous. Rousseau’s Noble Savage was never entirely noble.

But Kimball suggests that those savages who suffered at European hands are mere props for the writers and activists. “The real focus of their energy,” he submits,” is against America and the European civilization that embodies it.”

Fed it, embodied it….

Kimball goes on to point out the irony — and hypocrisy — feeding and embodied in the Left’s position. To do so, he cites historian Keith Windschuttle who in his book, The Killing of History, says of the Leftist ideologues, “they themselves…bear all the characteristics of the Eurocentrism they condemn in Columbus (and) Cortez.”

How so?

Well, for them, Kimball opines, ” repudiating Columbus( et, al.) is merely a pretext for a larger repudiation of the culture that supports and flatters them. It is as disingenuous as it is repulsive. But it seems quite clear that the attacks will not end until their plump sources of support begin to be loaded onto the hecatombs of their juvenile and malicious fury.”

Ole Roger, for my tastes, is being a bit too oblique here, especially in his resort to that most obscure of words (plural form), “hecatombs”. It refers to the large-scale sacrifices to the gods favored by the ancient Greeks, such as the propitiatory slaughter of 100 cattle at one time. Is he suggesting that the now universally liberal-to-woke institutions of higher education, i.e. the Ivy League, Stanford, the Seven Sisters, etc.,etc., that currently feed (and embody) all this political correctness and “wokeness” will themselves be sacrificed –ruined, slaughtered, burned, destroyed, devoured – to propitiate those gods who demand, among many other destructive things, selective, revisionists readings of history?

And is he suggesting that only when all our valued cultural institutions– universities, libraries, museums, churches — lie in ashes or been transformed to resemble the dreary, repressed, state-controlled institutions of a socialist dystopia will the activists be satisfied?

Sounds about right to me. And that will give us much to mourn. For soon thereafter, all of American civilization and our liberties will lie in ashes as well.

And let’s face it — those false gods worshiped by the hordes of rampaging cultural hedgehogs among us will never be satisfied.

Perhaps this is the true global warming, the fire that will never be consumed, hell on earth.

Deliver us, O Lord!

CONRAD’S MANIFESTO

This is found in the writer’s preface to a work whose title, perhaps even whose content — in the manner in which it makes of a West Indian sailor aboard a Bombay to London merchant ship a sometimes odious and undeniably complex metaphor — poses problems for modern shibboleths and sensibilities. And, though I aspire always to challenge “political correctness” I deem it unfortunate that Conrad didn’t stay with either of the original titles, i.e., A Tale of the Sea, or Children of the Sea.

The work ultimately became kn0wn as , The N****r of the Narcissus. It is a profound work, and a great “tale of the sea.”

What follows, as noted, are the introductory paragraphs of the novel’s preface, Conrad’s famous artistic manifesto of what some have characterized as “literary impressionism.”

I’m fond of it. It follows here:

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe ( emphasis added), by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential — their one illuminating and convincing quality — the very truth of their existence. The artists then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts — whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritively to our common sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom it our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism — but always to credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment with the attainment of our ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.

It is otherwise with the artist.

Confronted with the same enigmatical spectacle the artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate,he finds the terms of his appeal. His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities: to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities — like the vulnerable body within a steel armor. His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring — and sooner forgotten. Yet its effect endures forever….

He (the artist) speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation – and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hopes, in fears, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity — the dead to the living and the living to the unborn….

Conrad refers to music as “the art of arts.” But in striving to achieve the musicality of which language is capable, or the visual properties and qualities of painting or sculpture, he writes…

…it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to color,and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

I find myself wondering, given these sentiments and convictions of Conrad, if he ever tried his hand a poetry, for it is in that genre more than any other, arguably, that words are supreme. Flannery O’Connor, a great fan of Conrad’s, though, like him never a poet, and a very different writer stylistically, told a correspondent that when she spoke of the moral basis of poetry being ” the accurate naming of the things of God,” she meant ” about the same that Conrad meant when he said that his aim as an artist was to render the highest possible justice to the visible universe. For me the visible universe is a reflection of the invisible universe.

Here’s to Joseph and Flannery — who with their words try to make us see what is most worthy of seeing.

THE FLIGHT FROM “RELIGIOUS POLITICS” TOWARD “SOURCES OF LIGHT.”

The following are small excerpts from a provocative essay called, “Sources of Life”, by a writer named Greg Jackson, which appeared in the August, 2021 issue of Harper’s Magazine. It originally appeared in the Spring, 2021 issue of another magazine called, The Point.

(Note: for some reason, wordpress working annoyingly in ways I can’t yet figure out, I’ve so far been unable to correct some typos and mistaken elision of words in this copied text. Sorry.)

A false theory of culture is worse than a false theory of the heavens. The planets stick to their orbits no matter what we think, but culture becomes what we believe it to be….It is extremely difficult to make conscious choices amid systems and technologies that tax our forbearance and reward our worst impulses….half an hour on Twitter or YouTube may…reduce us to an exposed nerve, pulsing with rage born of fear, a sense of vagrant and ubiquitous threats….

Today, media and social media organize our conformity. Calculated self-preservation dominates.

(Here, Jackson makes the case for art.)

By awakening people to the legitimacy of their feelings, art gives them confidence that their experience is not an anomalous, lonely event, but something others share in, and that it may be reasonable, therefore, to question the tyranny of public opinion.

Politics’ colonization of culture in contemporary America has greatly damaged this public lifeline to the private psyche….(W)e may each measure for ourselves the toleration of our beliefs by judging how often we wonder in our hearts whether stating them in public is perilous. Where, when public opinion rules, does private truth find an outlet?

The vacant secular despair that sends us searching for a religious politics (emphasis added)…is precisely what culture of this category is meant to address….our emptiness is an emptiness that comes from continuing to consume something that resembles nourishment but consists of nothing but fat-burning calories.

Unless we claw back some sphere of cultural and civic activity from the totalizing force of religious politics (again, emphasis added), we are unlikely to find venues where we can get outside the rigid struggle of political combat to explore and expand who we are, what we want, and how we relate to one another.

END OF EXCERPTS.

BEGINNING OF A BRIEF ANALYSIS:

I don’t know this writer, nor do I know much about the magazine from which his essay was re-published by Harpers. But I regard much or most of his diagnosis of contemporary culture hearteningly accurate.

I emphasized his phrase “religious politics” and must note that he never defines it. One could say that it’s obvious, self-explanatory. But, is it?

I would suggest that the seeming obsession of seemingly millions with modern politics suggests that politics has rushed into the vacuum created by the decline of supernatural religious belief.

I know many will reject this notion.

But it is telling, at least to me, that the last sentence copied above, asserting the need for all of us to move away from this disordered “sphere” created by politics-as-religion is followed by the sentence: “In midieval Europe, there was no such thing as nonreligious art or nonreligious politics. We are backsliding.”

I happen to adhere to the religious faith that dominated medieval Europe, i.e., Catholicism. What the Church taught then, it teaches now. The spirit and letter of that core faith was not obliterated by the Renaissance, but, rather, slipped into it at the tip of Michelangelo’s brush and chisel and grew and developed, as did Catholic religious dogma along with political and economic principles such as “subsidiarity” which calls for solutions to be generated upward from the smallest, most local governmental or political bodies that are also closest to the people they affect. Many of these principles and certainly much of the dogma was destined, in our time, to be largely discarded, ignored or, to the extent that it has survived, vilified — or, in the case of purported Catholics such as power-brokers Joe Biden and Nancy Pilosi, donned as a cultural shroud over their rabidly secular ideology. (It has been said that a person either adjusts their life choices to their principles and inherited dogmatic beliefs, or else adjusts (i.e., bends) their principles and dogma to fit their life choices. The more powerful the person, the more distorted the social outcomes for the rest of their co-religionists.)

True, culture did over time secularized and we should not wish for the return of a theocratic domination of society and culture. But I, for one, believe the product of the medieval scribes and artists were informed by a culturally and spiritually redemptive force superior to the “totalizing” force of contemporary politics –which, again, has become our religion, propagated and zealously imposed by secular media, social and mainstream.

Author Jackson probably has another idea — that art for art sake is where true and self-knowledge lies. I can live with that, if only as an anodyne balm for the “totalizing” effects on our inner lives of modern politics.

I guess we’re talking about for art’s sake, or, more accurately, art as “religion”. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the path James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus is last seen embarking upon at the close of Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, as he flees the intense religiosity of his native Ireland. (He needn’t have worried about contemporary Ireland, which, with the rest of the western nations, has radically secularized. Is this what Stephen meant when he said he was off to forge “in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”?

Take a look at where that’s gotten the Irish –and human — race.

O what a paradise it (only at times) seems.

But the radical politics Jackson identifies in the essay is more of the rightist variety, e.g., extreme nationalism and conspiracy theories as generated by the poisonous likes of QAnon. So be it. It is toxic, I acknowledge, though, I also submit, no less toxic than the “religious politics” of the left, which I also submit, is far more ascendant and dominant in our culture. Either way, Jackson posits this as the basis for his argument that, as a consequence of all this, we find ourselves escaping into the endless diversion of entertainment, narcotics, video games and social media…all that “false nourishment.”

So, Greg Jackson, obviously a thoughtful man but obviously skeptical about the influence of formal religion says, further down in this essay, “Art, unlike religion, does not ask us to be better than we are; it asks instead only that we understand ourselves, and then, from the evidence of this understanding, it points us “toward sources of light” — hence, the title of his essay, and he attributes this phrase –“sources of light” – to Saul Bellow, another very thoughtful fellow.

I guess Jackson does not see religion as a “source of light”. Much religion in our time has given his good cause to feel that way.

But, with Saul Bellow, writing in his novel, Mr. Sammler’s Planet, I might say, “The earth is literally a mirror of thoughts. Objects themselves are embodied thoughts. Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are to see anything.”

Does not thoughts of our ultimate end (i.e. death) often bring us to — religion? It sure as hell shouldn’t bring us to reliance on the transitory banalities of politics.

And, with Saint Augustine – an undeniably religious figure who once heartily attempted to embrace all the lusty emoluments of the world — I would call for self-knowledge amid the storm of contemporary diversions and politics. Bellow’s Mr. Sammler would add that it might bring us to “(t)he terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As all know. For that is the truth of it — that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.”

Do we? I hope so. I pray so.

Amen.

HOME

“To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor.” – Samuel Johnson.

+ + +

“Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom. The night is dark and I am far from home.” – Saint John Henry Newman

+ + +

“Didn’t see her go out?”

There was only a trace of Rivera’s Hispanic accent. He was the youngest officer, new to the island. They stood together in the rain.

“No, sir,” said Clayton. “I was asleep.”

“She ever do this before?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Often?”

“Four or five times, sir. After the snows melted.”

“You’ve known her that long?”

“Yes, sir.”

Rivera paused, glanced back toward the body lying rain-soaked by the farmer’s shed.

“Ever say where she was going?”

Clayton paused as well, reached for words, settled on one word.

“Home, sir.” he said.

Rivera, hands on his hips, dropped his stare to the brown mud coating his polished black boots.

“So she’s the one,” he said, to the mud.

-From “Satin Doll”, a short story by Gregory Wayland

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.

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A MIDSUMMER AFTERNOON

It is July 9th.

There are no woods, really. This is a little ramble through a forest of words.

Words don’t work all the time. They can’t hide you like trees.

Mid-summer. We’re here already. Am I lost in the woods?

I was going to walk but it’s very hot and humid. So, for now, I’ll sit and think. And write a little. Make words. Try not to hide among them.

I need to keep occupied. I need to plan.

I don’t know what I’m thinking. I’m not sure what I’m going to plan. But I’ll have to figure it out. I should pray, too.

Sometimes you’re afraid to think where you are in life’s woodlands, and where you aren’t. You sit at our desk or in your easy chair, hoping you find your way back into life. Alone, you don’t have to fake congeniality.

The hall clock just struck one o’clock. The iPhone says it’s actually 1:02. Now it’s 1:03. On and on it goes — time, that is. It is a sin not to grab life and work free of the things that imprison you. There are bad habits, there are people. We must love them, but we aren’t always good for them, or them for us. You know that old story, I suspect.

And there is always that failure to love. It is the worst failure of all.

But what is love? Well, it’s there. I feel it — for life, even for the people I thought I didn’t love.

There is fear, always. Don’t ask me why. Ask God.

And the difficulties. We balk at the difficulties. I’ve been taught to recall the words of Saint John Henry Newman:’ a thousand difficulties do not constitute one single doubt.’ Or words to that effect.

Words still aren’t working well here. They aren’t killing off the doubt. But what’s a stupid blog without words?

I’ll stand up and start moving again. And I’ll be grateful for life and for limb. We must always be grateful. And that’s regardless of who or what you believe to be the author of all this. It’s easy to believe there’s nothing.

Back in 1983, I wound up in a Lanham, Maryland hospital with my first kidney stone. ( I’ve had more episodes, very physically painful.) I was traveling and found myself stopped in mid-travel.

That was so long ago now! So much has happened in my life — and not happened that should have happened. You don’t get time back. But you DO move forward. (Stop this kind of thinking in its tracks.)

Anyway….

While in my hospital bed, I was reading a thin little book called (believe it or not) The Experience of Nothingness by the Catholic theologian Michael Novak. A male nurse who’d come to bring me pills or something saw the book with its wild black scribble cover art and asked me about it. I don’t remember what I told him. I guess I was feeling all kinds of intellectual reading that book. But this male nurse, who in his rounds among people in pain and despair and perhaps now and then feeling some pain and despair of his own, seemed intrigued by the book’s title. I wonder if he ever went out and bought it. I wonder if it helped him — because the book is ultimately (I believe) about identifying, understanding and overcoming the existential blahs that can beset a human life in God’s universe. It’s philosophy, not psychology, but it nonetheless might help one through the “experience of nothingness.”

It’s also possible the nurse was thinking, “what the hell is this young guy doing reading that damn thing? Maybe I should fetch him a good thriller out of the hospital library.”

But, no.

I sensed that his sense was that this might be a book that addressed the problem of having those dark holes open up before us every so often. He might have known — or might himself have been — a person trying to climb out of such a hole. In that case, I do hope that that chance bedside encounter thirty-nine years ago was a bridge across a dark chasm (which is worse and deeper than mere “troubled waters”), or, at least, that it gave birth to a salutary intellectual curiosity of the kind that makes life interesting and wards off the nothingness.

Sometimes, let’s face it, you feel tested to think it’s all just sound and fury, or whatever you want to call pointlessness. Or, you fail to take the action that would temporarily plunge you into darkness, even a kind of mourning, but all the while knowing brighter days are ahead.

I’ve been at that crossroads. Unfortunately, I’ve pitched a tent there.

The terror I feel is that time will run out before I get the gumption to push past that crossroads, get beyond those barriers, or, finally pushing past them, find very little life left to live. I must not let that happen.

And I must NEVER think like that. You shouldn’t, either. No one should. Life every minute (what time is it now?) counts.

You feel like life is good but that you’re wasting it. So — stop wasting it.

It’s simple, really. “Take arms against the sea of troubles…” Or a little pond of troubles in my case. All of my own making. ( Funny how often Shakespeare pops up in the phrases one uses to describe life’s passages. And yet he was the author of the phrase “chronicles of wasted time…” )

The poet stopped by woods on a snowy evening. I’m stopping by the same woods on a hot, midsummer, noontime. They aren’t lovely, dark and deep. They are green, full and sunlit. But the mystery is still there. Those woods will deepen as it gets darker as night comes on….

Thank God for the crickets!

It’s 1:44 p.m.. Must get moving.

But thought is movement. I need to think….

But I must move on, too. It’s the old “promises to keep” thing.

But I’m still stopped by those woods.

It’s 1:46 p.m….

WITH THE HUNTER GRACCHUS IN AN UNKNOWN PLACE….

First I come upon The Hall of Mirrors. I am able to go wandering among the mirrors, the walls the the ticket-taker’s kiosk and the doors all collapsed, shattered, only the mirrors in tact. Animals have been here, and vandals. I smell their urine. I see their graffiti.

I wander among more abandoned seaside pavilions past pools of dark black water, some like mirrors. It might rain again.

What is this place? Where am I?

Then, before long, I am walking with the famous eternally itinerant Hunter Gracchus who has come ashore again, this time to this strange place where I find myself….I was delighted to meet him as I rounded a corner near a rusting, broken carrousel, its colorful horses long ago ripped off their pedestals and carried off. Those who had borne Gracchus ashore wait by his bark near the water. He had obviously risen up and decided to walk in this strange, disturbingly anonymous place where I find myself. He wishes to explore it a little. I guess it’s his kind of place.

But then, his fate and direction in this life is — rudderless. I know that from my previous encounter with him. He goes where he goes. Simple as that. Simple and strange.

I recall reading of his previous landing in a seaside place called Riva, an unknown place in an unknown time, but long ago. The account of that episode begins:

Two boys were sitting on the harbor wall playing dice. A man was reading a newspaper on the steps of the monument, resting in the shadow of a hero who was flourishing his sward on high. A girl was filling her bucket at the fountain….A bark was making silently for the harbor as if borne by invisible means over the water….

That was old Gracchus’s bark. The Hunter Gracchus came ashore to that place not unlike this place, though there are no monuments here, none that I’ve encountered yet, anyway. He obviously had been hoisted off his bark by two men bearing a bier on which he had rested, as if dead– the same men who wait for him now like pallbearers; tall and sturdy fellow, and patient, for they do not know how long they must wait for their charge. They sit on the edge of the bark. ( Do I see one of them smoking? Can’t blame him. It’s been a long, tedious — and endless — voyage.) And Gracchus, seemingly dead, is walking, as if somnambulant. We’ve got to talk.

Now, please, do not see him as a zombie, not the walking dead of b-movie legend. He is walking as you or I might slowly, inquisitively walk, eyes brightly, but serenely open, if we were on such a mystical journey. Yes, it might seem like sleepwalking. But it is wide awake-walking. That’s what I’ll call it. His demeanor, his stride, commands attention among the few who might witness it. He brings peace by his demeanor, but mystery as well. He IS mystery itself. Walking mystery.

The town’s burgomaster in that former long-ago place of debarkation named Riva, upon meeting Gracchus, asked:

Is it true, Hunter Gracchus, that you have been cruising about in this old boat for hundreds of years?

And I ask, this century or more later, the same question. I get a simple nod of affirmation.

I speak, seeking help with memories:

“Gracchus,” I say, getting his attention as we walk in a light breeze in which he regards all the ruins before him but most impassively as if nothing interests him or perhaps everything interests him. It is hard to tell. “I have found a cyber memory that enfolds a paper memory,” I tell him. “And it has sent me into an infinite, mirrored regression of memories of lost correspondences, flimsier than paper, and it has introduced me to even more lost memories — all on this twenty-fourth day of this sixth month two days after the longest day of the year, in this twenty-first years into this twenty-first century in which I am making new memories all the time; thin and soiled like candy wrapper litter discarded by the former merrymakers in this once-cheery abandoned venue we are exploring, collecting at my feet and about my head, as if blown about in a gale.

“Some are pleasant, many are disturbing or unwanted. But I want time to stop much as it seems to have stopped for you — only can we, you and I, cease to wander? For though you endure your fate without agitation, I, among the living and hungry for more life, wish otherwise for myself. I want time past and time present to all be present in time future. Help me with this. Will these memories keep surfacing, blowing and circling about in a vortex, only to be lost, found, then blown about, lost again, then carried off in a sea breeze such as buffets us now? Then lost forever? Or must I always be proceeding backwards in search of them, like a man running across that vast, cracked and empty parking lot over there, chasing scraps of memory? Won’t those memories ultimately be blown out across some nameless sea such as the one we see here from this unknown seaside place of lost diversions? And without memories, be they pleasant or unpleasant, what are we, any of us?

“But we all long for what seems to elude both of us at this moment, the trumpet sounding as the great happy choruses of joyous trumpets and hurdy-gurdies and children’s laughter and squeals of joy and celebration once rose up from this place, only we seek, indeed, we long for the the dead to rise incorruptible, all those who are now only memories that once joined us in this life, and for us to be changed, no longer in need of memories, eternally situated in God’s presence, the God Who loves us….”

So I spoke to Gracchus. I should tell you, as I told Gracchus, that my multilayered, conch-shell-like memory — that being memory wrapped within a memory within a memory — was a paltry thing evoking memories of people far from those central to my life over many decades. Not my father, mother, sister — no, just average but fond acquaintances in average times. But isn’t memory like that? We are pleased to recall those we’ve known in this life, then, suddenly, our memories are primed and the water flow and we go on thinking, as in a reverie, about those we could never have lived without. Was there not once a story of a man who bit into a madeleine cake and, under the spell of the memories that then flowed forth, written three long volumes in search of lost time?

Here is what primed my memories pump, Gracchus. A letter from a specific, not long-ago time….

July 29, 2012

Dr. Clark(former college professor),

From out of the musty, depressingly cluttered depths of my basement comes a yellowing sheet of memory — Oct. 22, 1969 edition, Suffolk Journal( a student newspaper).

You’re there. Who’s the blond? I recognize the beguiling Harriet Allebach(another professor) .

It was all about war, those old newspapers. Everything seemed to be about war in those days. I’d already graduated and had driven to California the month before. I would be inducted into the Army in Boston on Oct. 29, so I might have returned to Boston by this time. Don’t know how I happened to have this edition of the paper. Not at all sure why I saved it and am convinced I must slay the packrat in me. But I’m sadly incapable of simply hoisting and tossing wads of probably useless paper — for fear it might have something like this in it, for whatever it is worth.

I specifically recall how, in 1969, the FUTURE was this dark road ahead. Now, it’s the dark road behind. I went swimming on a secluded rocky beach in Rhode Island today and, up to my neck in the ocean under gray skies — I swear my mind was doing a “Dover Beach” number. I was melancholy. As usual.

Back to the basement — I found a few old editions of the Journal from ‘69 and discarded them after being depressed by the puerile writing, the callow preoccupations of that moment, such as a new Beatles album, Abbey Road, reviewed in this edition by my late friend and Suffolk ( and Woodstock) alumnus Bob Jahn who deemed it to be so good as to “staggers the imagination”. Oh, my!

Troving about, sorting and digging through papery mounds, I felt the need somehow to find and embrace permanent, enduring things.

“That is how it ends, Gracchus. It trails off. Can you believe that I don’t know that I ever even mailed this? That no one but I and now you ever knew of it? Doctor Clark is dead these three years. Bob Jahn, an old friend, ( the newspaper reviewer) is dead these twelve years. Beguiling Harriet Allebach, who knows where she is, dead or alive? The house with that basement, is long gone to other owners, occupied by them now with their memories. Those old newspapers? Buried again somewhere. So fragile.

“And just today, while I’m thinking about things lost or surrendered, I let a table and some chairs go to strangers for forty dollars from this place where I live now. They had carried with them, memories, however recent and brief. The room where they stood is horribly empty. But there are memories in it. Don’t we, as we vacate a place we live, wander through the empty rooms recovering — memories? And I so regret leaving the last place I abandoned on a street named for a blue heron. What is it, what restlessness, drives us forth from places where we ought to stay and find our peace; find, as Pascal suggested, the strength and wisdom that comes from staying in once place in our one little room?

“But we mortals are known to let things go for various reasons, wise or unwise, of space and time — and money. But then, that emptiness….

“So, I am sharing this with you, Gracchus. I’ll walk you to your bark, for you seem anxious to depart again. Take this compound memory of mine with you, please.

“Will I see you again? If I can get back there, might I see you off the coast from that Rhode Island rocky beach on your bier aboard this bark? Or might I see you out on the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico where it approaches land near where I once spent time writing? Can you help me get back there?

“I don’t know the name of this place where we are walking, or how I got here, but — can you reconsider and stay? Help me get oriented? Or perhaps I might come aboard your bark with you in the hope that it might help me get back to where I came from?

“Can we have coffee somewhere, search for another soul with whom to share — our memories?

But he answered….

I think not. I am here, more than that I do not know, further than that I cannot go. My ship has no rudder, and it is driven by the wind that blows in the undermost regions of death.

“Well, that’s pretty heavy. But do as you must. “

So, reader, I’ll just see him off, then search alone for that coffee in these “regions of death.” There must be a place here, a pleasant cafe with pleasant faces. A Burger King, a Seven/Eleven with coffee, good or bad, and maybe those little pods of International Creamers, though I like my coffee — black.

There must be Regions of Life, however tawdry, but might they all, at their hearts, like this squalid, broken, abandoned once-happy place, be empty? Perhaps a friendly clerk might alter my mood of forlorn disorientation. Perhaps there are the beginnings of memories here, wherever I am, if I can hold on to them….if they are worth anything.

Gracchus, for his part, insisted he was going. He lay back down on his bier, the bark drew away, the two silent men with him, clearly not any kind of company for either of us, casting off in that rudderless vessel, being borne far, far off toward the horizon until I could see that old boat no more.

I waved. What else could I do?