A MONDAY NIGHT NOWHERE

Just past midsummer — July 20 — living for however long in a peninsula (Florida) of  most intense  summers, I find myself dreaming of that place where summer is just among the long multi-tonal movements in the six-movement symphony (each state being a movement) that is New England. And I’m thinking of Cape Cod, a storied sand bar in that symphony of places and seasons. We always read more into places than is really there — at least the places we have tried to like or even loved once. Florida is in that category. So is the Cape.

Now, understand that I walked today amid the subtropical beauty of a Pinellas County, Florida public park. They have many beautiful parks here and much savage raw beauty. It was very hot, but there was a breeze and I looked over a lake at a line of slash pine and there were pine and palm all around me and live oak and Spanish moss and tropical and domestic and some migratory birds calling and singing and shade and moving shadows of mountains of clouds so  typical of summers here. Beautiful! I should feel at home — if I were a tropical bird. (Well, that’s a little churlish of me. And ungrateful.)

The landscape, of course, is flat — it is flat on the Cape, too. It is often flat where there is only sand and scrub pine. And it was about 92; has been 92 most days and will be close to 92 until October. One lives in air conditioning down here.

But then, I’m hearing it’s very hot up north — as hot as 98 — so when summer simmers up in extreme ways up there, down here where summer is always consistently a matter of clean 90 plus temperatures, it get’s even hotter.

But — I’m thinking of the Cape Cod of sand dunes, and cedar shingle cottages and lobster pots we hope to find when we go there,  crossing over those bridges  and trying not to think of cluttered, ordinary, traffic-ridden Hyannis, for instance– off we go over the steel at Bourne and Sagamore, and rumbling over the mental bridges that take us into memories. Like all places that we see on postcards, there is always the modern reality — that roadside, utility wired, squalid reality, social and topographical. As a reporter, I’ve covered murders and other terrible crimes on Cape Cod — and here in Florida.

What am I trying to say? I need to get that book called Going Home in a Homeless World.

I guess I’m just thinking many thoughts of home while I’m without a home now — and no, that I don’t have a home, really– home being ultimately more than the state, for better or rose, where I was born — and being, in many ways a state of mind. And I’m feeling lost, meaning away from anything that feels like home — struggling with a swarm of personal regrets and frustrations of the kind for which nostalgia is a temporary antidote. Temporary. But the search for peace, that painful, hopefully gainful search, must begin and may never end. We move through life like turtles, burdened. Hopeful.

I will go feed turtles now in a pond that swarms with turtles  about a half mile away.  A pond that is “home” to turtles. And in the old-man face of the youngest turtle looking for a pellet of food — a small turtle on whom that shell sometimes seems like a freakish misfortune and burden to be carried for life and from which the creature within might long to be freed if they only knew it  — I will try to forget this unhappy moment, this angry moment that I, frankly, am having trouble truly articulating. I’ll go see the turtles…. I’ll feed them.

THE UNENDING QUESTION

If there were no eternal conciousness in man, if at the foundation of all there lay only a wildly seething power which, writhing with obscure passion produces everything that is great and everything that is insignificant…what then would life be but despair?

–Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him?

–Alexander Solzhenitsyn – Harvard Commencement Address, June 8, 1978

What is man that the electron should be mindful of him! Man is but a foundling in the cosmos, abandoned by the forces that created him. Unparented, unassisted and undireced by omniscient or benevolent authority, he must fend for himself, and with the aid of his own limited intelligence find his way about in an indifferent universe.

Carl Becker, describing a radical humanist point of view in The Heavenly City

But what am I?

An infant crying in the night;

An infant crying for the light

And with no language but a cry.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam”

 

 

 

 

 

A POLITICAL GLANCE

…and nothing but a glance, very brief, in which I raise the question, was Barrack Obama a great President? I see ABC News has a poll saying that. Greatest President of the lifetime of those polled. Hmmmm.

Well, his was one of those Presidencies — there have not been that many, really, or perhaps none — in which the elites, Hollywood, those who play hard at identity politics decided this dazzlingly fine and personable liberal young speaker got to walk, boat-to-boat, on water, get the Nobel Peace Prize, t-shirts, Oprah. He was above criticism in their mind from the start, every bit as much as, in their mind, Trump is beneath contempt. An example of what I call the physics of politics — for every action there is an equal and opposite RE-action.

But while I liked President Obama, spoke with him briefly just once before he was elected and can well understand why people would contrast this natural “consoler-in-chief” unfavorably with the blustery, uncouth incumbent, I can’t see that he did anything except saddle us with an unworkable health care plan and push the Democratic Party culturally left — a journey it is continuing. Where are the  guiding, stable principles? For instance — one tender example — on what grounds, other than a glance at the polls, was he ever against gay marriage? And one what grounds, other than a glance at the polls, justified his shift on such a profound, paradigm-adjusting issue?

It seems to me he ruled by executive order. This has become popular in the time of Congressional gridlock. But Congress is often gridlocked because we are in the middle of a shatteringly important social-cultural shift that threatens to pull us apart. There are days I think the modern American Presidency, not unlike the modern Papacy, has become too complex for one person.

As Kevin D. Williamson put it back in December of 2016, Obama ruled with a pen and a phone. He was great, as Clinton was great, to those who measure greatness by the force of your speech. In substance, in all kindness, I don’t think we’ve seen greatness for a while.

A DANE FOR OUR TIME

One day in high school, I was wandering through the book section of a downtown Boston Department store. I think it was the late-lamented Jordan Marsh. Or maybe it was Filene’s ( are they also in the “late” category? I’m not even sure. Alas, I’m out of touch with what is memory or what is present reality in that particular hub of the Hub that goes by the name, in Boston, of Downtown Crossing. )

The high schooler then shopping for, maybe, neckties or maybe just enjoying exploring the retail heart of the city, was just beginning to acquire an interest in reading books and, thereafter, keeping the books, read or unread, forever. Such a book was The Journals of Kierkegaard.  I stood there, age 17 or maybe 18 ( Oh Lost Years!!) and recalled that this Soren Kierkegaard had provided the epigraph for a novel I’d just felt grown up enough to read by the (late) Walker Percy. So — I bought this book of 19th Century journal entries and commenced to leaf through it and extract digestible, comprehensible bits of daily life ruminations by this fascinating, brilliant, rebellious and restless, melancholy, uncompromising  Dane who did not live a long life — he was only 42 at his passing, possibly from a form of tuberculosis, after collapsing in the street.

The department store, the book section (those were the days before Barnes & Noble, etc.) are gone. But — I still have my battered, yellowing copy of Kierkegaard’s journals. Not sure if I ever read it cover to cover. But from the underlinings and highlightings it’s clear that I got acqainted with it. In subsequent years I bought a combined volume of Fear and Trembing and  A Sickness Unto Death by Kierkegaard. I gave both an extensive, repeated thumbing through, and, regrettably, gave that two-punch away before moving to Florida. Yes, I do regret that.

At any rate, here is Kierkegaard writing on August 16, 1847: “I now feel the need of approaching nearer to myself in a deeper sense, by approaching nearer to God in the understanding of myself.”  I doubt that my 17 or 18-year-old self saw that particular quote that day in the downtown department store, but I was probably beginning to feel that need Kierkegaard was feeling.

All these years later, I’m still feeling it — and still liking the idea of getting to know Mr. Keirkegaard better. The isolation of a pandemic would be a good time for that. I’ve not known another soul called Soren — and am drawn to a philosopher who also identifies as Christian but who dives deeply inward often to explore that faith. In an undated entry in 1843,  the good Soren wrote, Nulum existit magnum ingenium sina aliqua dementia is the worldly  expression of the religous proposition: whom God blesses in a religious sense he eo ipso curses in a worldy sense. It has to be so, the reason being firstly, the limitation of existence, and secondly the duplicity of existence.”

Wow! (Got to bone up on my Latin, too.)

REMEMBERING THE ROYAL EXCHANGE

In the early days of the Eighteenth Century, after many a universal cataclysm, the British essayist Joseph Addison, writing in the May 19, 1711 issue of The Spectator, offered a bit of a paean to his fellow mortals engaged in commerce. “I am wonderfully delighted to see such a body of men thriving in their own private fortunes and at the same time promoting the public stock; or in other words, raising estates for their own families by bringing into their country whatever is wanting, and carrying out of it whatever is superfluous.”  Similar sentiments run through my mind when I see 21st Century businesses “stepping up”, as we are fond of saying, to help alleviate deprivations brought on by Covid 19 as it beleaguers The Family of Man. Sounds like capitalism at its best and most generous.

Continue reading “REMEMBERING THE ROYAL EXCHANGE”

THE SACRED, PRESENT MOMENT

In the summer of 2007 — time flies — Edwin Faust, a writer, married father of three, New Jersey resident and news editor for a daily metropolitan newspaper (don’t know which one), reflected on his faith. His was and presumably remains a very traditional brand of Catholicism. I don’t know him. I know that people like him — and me — who prefer a more traditional liturgy, even in the traditional Latin, are often viewed as rigid, reactionary and spiritually hidebound. Not the case.  We simply prefer the reverent sense of sacred mystery and quiet solemnity to be found in the ages-old practice of the immemorial liturgy. Many people far younger than me feel the same way. The “new order” Mass — new since about 1968 or so — is, in most instances,  perfectly fine and valid and in recent years priests have taken pains to restore a serious sense of reverence to it.

I don’t feel any particular competence to be judging such things. It’s widely acknowledged that there have been periods of improvisation and silliness in liturgical practice and that the jejune, often trite and banal influences of pop culture have invaded the sanctuaries. This is especially true of the music. The happy-clappy, toe-tapping affective or emotional melodies and tonalities continue in many instances to win out over the spiritual and devotional in parishes still under the superficial influence of modern culture. I suspect a lot of people who don’t go to church stay away because they feel they can get more enrichment from a good Sunday morning walk in the woods. I confess I often feel the same way. A considerable degree of spiritual gravitas, not to mention a sense of divine obligation, has been lost. Some modern services can move one to tears, sort of like a Hallmark movie. But I prefer to have my soul, not my tear ducts, moved. So much for that. Just my opinion.

Anyway, Mr. Faust counseled, “we should proclaim our faith when opportunity allows and prudence counsels it, but we should not do so angrily,  nor should we become preoccupied with politics. So much time is wasted in fruitless agitation….A man generally has his hands full earning a living, raising a family, managing a household and saving his own soul. I think he might justly exempt himself from having to formulate domestic and foreign policy for the United States of America according to Catholic principles…. I sometimes reflect on the irony that Vatican II , an avowedly pastoral counsel (i.e., not meant to alter doctrine, just improve spiritual outreach to the world) triggered a doctrinal crisis, while Traditional Catholicism, in defending doctrine, brought about a pastoral crisis.

(Note: Vatican II was the major church conference between 1962 and 65 — encompassing, as it happened, all my high school year — which inadvertently unleashed enormous confusion, squabbling, division and loss of vocations in the church, partly because if fell right into the middle of a worldwide secular cultural and sexual revolution.)

Faust continues:

And when our churchmen want to make their peace with this world of depravity, rather than oppose it, this leaves us….temporarily orphaned, but it doesn’t leave us without recourse….Every day we have an opportunity to remove from our lives all that keeps us from God, so I can say as Saint Paul said, “I live, but not I,Christ lives in me.”

Wonderful spiritual advice, chanced upon in my pile of mental and material junk this Saturday morning.

I know — but have not seen in years — a once-very devout Catholic guy who formerly manifested a good deal of evangelical fervor. He drove St. Paul’s point home to me one evening over coffee at a Dunkin Donuts. Sometime afterward I learned that he had pretty much abandoned the practice of the faith and spent his Sunday mornings flying model airplanes. That’s good clean fun but not a great substitute for religion. Our faith can be a fragile, precious possession too easily lost.  I sat listening on that Dunkin Donuts evening, myself  a person of struggling faithfulness,  suspecting that this somewhat younger companion of mine had not yet been entirely subjected to the sharp teeth of life’s buzz saw — or fully matured emotionally. St. Paul would have told him he needed to “finish the race” — and advance from a childhood faith, then adolescent faith to an adult faith. (I think we encounter that exhortation in Corinthians I.)

Yes, we must keep the faith — as busy, sin-prone, tempted adults. And I must go to any Mass I know to be valid, even if the liturgy or especially the “pretty” music, annoys me a trifle. The supernatural graces are the same. And I’m aware that I’m given sometimes to overstating the problem (though, forgive my pride, not by much.)

Mr Edwin Faust continued — actually concludes — It is only by erasing that little ‘I’, that hard nut of egotism that can taint even our noblest aspirations, that Christ will live in us and in those we want to share in the life we have found. Or, I would add, in the life for which I am still searching as I join others in the search, trying — often failing — to lead by example.

Mr. Faust’s article, by the way, from which I’ve culled these excerpts, is called: “Finding Our Place in Salvation History or How to be Happy in the Present Moment.” 

It appeared in the Summer, 2007 issue of The Latin Mass magazine.

 

 

THE PURPLE PENGUIN

Pandemic idleness can lead one into previously overlooked nooks and crannies of “the stacks,” meaning, in this case, my personal, neglected library of things published or posted, on paper and in cyberspace.

So it is that I learned, sitting here this afternoon, that late last year, the staff of a London aquarium — I don’t know which one — somehow deduced that two female penguins in their charge had come together as a couple. So they gave the pair an egg to hatch and decided that when the baby penguin was born, it would not be assigned a gender.  Instead of the  red or blue tag customarily used to indicated it as male or female, it would wear a neutral purple one.

However, according to “reports” ( one in The Washington Examiner among them) the aquarium staff admitted that future breeding of the baby penguin will be determined based on “the gender its biology determines.”

Biology determining gender? What a concept!

A TOKYO MEMORY

Last day of March, 2020. Middle of a pandemic. Trying to comprehend such an enormous thing — and such an enormity — as watching the only planet we know, and all of us who inhabit it, be menaced, from West Bengal to Time Square and everywhere in between, by a potentially deadly pathogen, something bascially as UNhuman as a coiling, twisting vine multiplying and creeping up a wall.

It is giving us all time to think, and remember — especially if you’ve been on this planet for nearly three quarters of a century, like me.

And what do I do? I stay confined — though tending to a sick companion; sick not with the dreaded virus but with an inexplicably  debilitating leg pain that has put her on a borrowed set of crutches following a painful trip to a clinic for an ultrasound and MRI.

And, with no “hook” to make it relevant, I suddenly scour the archives of my memory during this enforced leisure — and my letter file — and discover that I wrote a very accomplished composer some months back after chancing to see his credit at the end of the television series Biography. He wrote the music for that and, apparently, much, much more — and is a well-known composer of experimental and symphonic music as well. Continue reading “A TOKYO MEMORY”

AS THE CROWS FLY…

It was a Florida warm day in which, in the mid-afternoon, I sat by a friend’s pool in the city of Palm Harbor. The sky was blue and cloudless, probably in deep contrast to the threatening storms of the north.

Suddenly, overhead, there were crows, a wide trail of them straggling, probably, over a mile or more, for just when I thought I might have seen the crow that was bringing up the rear there came another disordered fleet of them, now and then a few circling away from the main body for some reason known only to God, nature and the birds involved. But ultimately, they, too, joined the movement left to right, high, so very high overhead. Continue reading “AS THE CROWS FLY…”

THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR…

…and it is raining where I am. But the Winter Solstice has always inspired in me a warm, cossetting sense that we have learned to value and comprehend the light only because we have, through life, come to know darkness, in every sense. Robert Frost comes to mind — his poem “Stopping by Woods” in which his narrator has stopped by woods to watch them fill with snow “on the darkest evening of the year…”  That wold be December 21st. We are farthest from the sun, but nonetheless, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep…

Then there is Frost’s poem, “Aquainted with the Night.”

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right
I have been one acquainted with the night.

I, too have walked out in rain and back in rain. I shall look for that watchman. There must, somewhere, be a  watchman. But I, too, will be unwilling to explain.