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 is only a trace of Rivera’s Hispanic accent.

“No, sir.”

“Ever do this before?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Often?”

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

“Ever say where she was going?”

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

“Home,” he said.

The officer, 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

MODERN MISDIRECTION

On May 30, 1962, the writer Flannery O’Connor wrote the first of three long letters to a Georgia college freshman who had written and told her he was losing — or had lost –his Christian faith. He was looking for counsel. He was a budding writer (a poet) and obviously admired Flannery (if I may speak of her in such personal terms). He obviously knew that, in addition to being a fellow Georgian, she was, based on her essays and literary output, unapologetically Catholic, a fact which did not notably detract from the high esteem in which most critics held her, or her two novels and several short stories. She herself insisted she was a better artist by virtue of the unwavering Christian certitude that informed those works. She also knew that she’d be held to a higher standard as a Christian writer, since so much of contemporary Christian “literature” was mere treacle.

There was nothing didactic or pious about her — hardly. She wrote in ways that often shocked modern sensibilities. Her stories about simple rural Georgia folks were unsentimental, sometimes violent, often humorous and took a loving but unsparing view of human nature in the light of the eternal. She skillfully traced the hidden working of divine grace, as she perceived it. She was forever, in the words of Yeats, casting “a cold eye on life, on death” — and here she was writing only two years before her own death at the tender age of 39, as her health steadily declined from the disease of Lupus.

She also never, or rarely, had characters in her stories who were Catholic. They were products of the snake-handling, fundamentalist deep South. And she was, as a Catholic, an outsider, despite being born in Savannah and a long-time resident of Milledgeville, Georgia. She always maintained that the South, while Christ-haunted, was not Christ-centered. Her “haunted” characters wrestled like Jacob with the God of revelation, self-deluded, and afflicted almost invariably with the sin of pride, the deadliest sin of all.

The young college freshman and correspondent’s name was Alfred Corn. He was at Emory College in Atlanta, heard Flannery speak to his English class, “was much taken by what she had to say and by her presence,” according to the editor of her collected letters, but was too shy to approach her, so wrote her instead.

Flannery began her first letter to him, I think that this experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith; or at least it can belong to faith if faith is still valuable to you, and it must be or you would not have written me about this.

A few sentences later (all her letters are collected in a volume entitled, The Habit of Being), Flannery writes, Peter said, ‘Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

It is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith, she said.

There must have been a response from her young correspondent, because she wrote a second long letter on June 16, 1962 that offers an overtly religious diagnosis of the modern malaise and, again, to her mind, its tragic misdirection:

One of the effects of modern liberal Protestantism has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend on feeling instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention. This seems to be about where you find yourself now.

And where did Flannery’s correspondent ultimately “find” himself later in life? He became a famous poet — speaking of poetry — and, based on the evidence, never regained anything like an orthodox Christian faith but rather liberated himself to contemporary secular mores. Art, specifically poetry, seems to have become his “religion”.

More about the poet Alfred Corn later — because what did ultimately happen to him is significant in light of my thesis here that we are, as a culture, caught up in a faithless, agonizing acts of modern misdirection — and confusion — regarding matters of the spirit. Many of us, like Alfred Corn, seem to be living according to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s famous dictum in the Supreme Court’s Casey decision on abortion:  “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That essentially crystalizes the modern creed of radical human autonomy embraced by multitudes and, in Flannery’s diagnosis, “make truth vaguer and vaguer and more relative.” It’s also likely to make any religious creed we adopt “our own sweet invention.” Justice Kennedy made that pronouncement exactly three decades after Flannery wrote those words.

Meanwhile, Flannery’s heartfelt catechetical intervention on behalf of Alfred Corn would seem to have been a failure, though, in her short life, she likely remained unaware of that — unless Alfred Corn kept in touch (not likely, since there were no subsequent letters from him).

Flannery affirmed her unflinching Catholic orthodoxy to Corn in that letter in a way that might induce cringes among 21st Century moderns.

Of course, I am a Catholic, she wrote, which she acknowledged was always a counter-cultural, even back in 1962, when Catholic culture had enjoyed, at least superficially, a decade of comparative cultural affirmation, especially on the silver screen. I recall around1960 attending a technicolor Bing Crosby/Debbie Reynolds movie in which, Bing as a priest, approaches a beautiful, candle-lit marble alter to a swell of organ music. It was time for the movie to end, but instead of the traditional THE END, the words, THE BEGINNING was magisterially superimposed over the alter and tabernacle. Only then did the scene shift to a final shot of the New York cityscape along with the words, THE END.

Hollywood was affirming Christ — and the Church — as the alpha and omega. It’s what the moguls thought many audiences wanted to see. Those days would soon be gone and Catholics, especially Catholic politicians, would begin conforming themselves to an increasingly secular culture, contorting their former creed to fit their newly adopted lifestyles and political beliefs. The more honorable among us simply left the Church.

But not Flannery.

I believe what the Church teaches, she wrote Alfred Corn. – that God has given us reason to use and that it can lead us toward a knowledge of him through analogy; that he has revealed himself in history and continues to do so through the Church and that he is present (not just symbolically) in the Eucharist on our alters. To believe all this I don’t take any leap into the absurd. I find it reasonable to believe, even though these beliefs are beyond reason.

Beyond reason, not unreasonable — a distinction pointedly rejected by the unreligious.

But then the letter takes a helpful, but slightly dubious ( at least to my mind) turn — which is also helpful to those of us who have suspected that Flannery the artist, along with the young freshman and future poet, were being buffeted by the winds of the wild contemporary marketplace of modern ideas. Flannery made an odd choice.

Sensing her correspondent’s spiritual and intellectual hunger but perhaps also his desire to cast off what he thought of as dusty old religious notions, she recommend a book that, all these decades later, might betray the undercooked nature of some of the late 20th Century Catholic theological and scientific dabblings among nonetheless devout, sophisticated contemporary souls eager to bring the Church “up to date.”

The recommended book was from among the many volumes of renowned (and controversial) Jesuit French scholar Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard still has his Catholic intellectual defenders. But in most orthodox circles, his theological and scientific capital has been devalued, if not entirely ruled null and void.

Flannery’s religious reading tastes, in addition to the Scriptures and Thomas Aquinas, often ran to the metaphysical and abstruse and the challenging but orthodox. She was intrigued by Teilhard’s curious and novel theological “take” on old questions. She was open to those who found Teilhard problematic. She was an intellectual wayfarer but nonetheless saw the justification for the Church’s long-ago-abandoned Index of (forbidden) Books.

Teilhard notions of a universe in evolution towards spirit and that spirit being realized in the form of personality, and the supremely personal being the Universal Christ all sounds fairly harmless to me. But other Catholic scholars began to cast Yeat’s “cold eye” on Teilhard’s speculations and conclusions.

Among the greatest of 20th Century Catholic philosophers was the Gereman Dietrich von Hildebrand, a vigorous anti-Nazi who barely escaped to America with his wife as the Reich swept over Europe. In 1949, he was introduced to Teilhard and attended one of his lectures. His reaction was highly negative.

He wrote:

Teilhard’s lecture was a great disappointment, for it mani­fested utter philosophical confusion, especially in his conception of the human person. I was even more upset by his theological primitiveness. He ignored completely the decisive difference between nature and supernature. After a lively discussion in which I ventured a criticism of his ideas, I had an opportunity to speak to Teilhard privately. When our talk touched on St. Augustine, he exclaimed violently: “Don’t mention that unfortunate man; he spoiled everything by introducing the supernatural.” This remark confirmed the impression I had gained of the crass naturalism of his views, but it also struck me in another way. The criticism of St. Augustine, the greatest of the Fathers of the Church, betrayed Teilhard’s lack of a genuine sense of intellectual and spiritual grandeur.

I’d call that a slam. What very little I’ve read of this charming, long-departed French cleric struck me as inoffensively and sweetly — poetic. Maybe, in retrospect, I was reading entertainingly poetic theology. I don’t know and am not qualified to say. And I suspect Flannery didn’t know, either, and though she was made of sharper cerebral and discerning stuff than most, was quick to admit her intellectual limitations.

She plainly had an pedagogical motive for recommending something like this to an eagerly searching mind and soul. But she simultaneouslky offered the pastoral equivalent of the universal counsel, “keep it simple.”

One result of the stimulation of your intellectual life that takes place in college, Flannery wrote Corn, is usually the shrinking of the imaginative life….Students get so bound up with difficulties such as reconciling the clashing of so many different faiths such as Buddhism, Mohammedanism, etc., that they cease to look for God in other ways. (Robert) Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe., he must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, “Give alms.” He was trying to say to Bridges that God is to be experienced in Charity (in the sense of love for the divine image in human beings). Don’t get so entangled with intellectual difficulties that you fail to look for God in this way.

Simple advice, just as things were getting complicated.

The year 1962 was the threshold of all the mid-to-late-20th Century turbulence and confusion in the world and in the Church. The Second Vatican Council was about to convene in Rome and bishops were poised to make many pastoral adjustments to the Church’s outreach to the modern world. That was the stated purpose of the Counsel, in a nutshell. But in opening itself to the modern world, the Church was also about to open itself to all the moral and spiritual pathologies and intellectual novelties that were then regnant in the 1960s cultural revolution, including voices far more disorienting than that of poor Teilhard de Chardin who died an earnest son of the Church. There was a degree of theological chaos at the Council

In fact, there seemed a kind of subterranean clerical cabal intent on making dogmatic as well as pastoral adjustments to ancient Church beliefs and practices once that epical Council was underway. The result has been lingering decades of theological turmoil and conflict.

The barque of Peter seems to have slowly righted itself. Or, has it? After three very orthodox papacies, we have the seemingly deliberate, historically unprecedented ambiguities growing out of the pastoral style of Pope Francis I. God has sent His children a challenge in the form of a very personable pope — a Jesuit — who himself or his mischievous minions are always suggesting that 2 + 2 can equal 5 when it comes to religion. Flannery would ultimately be dismayed, I fear. She valued clarity.

This is all important stuff. Why? Reject the premise if you wish, but I submit that the condition of Catholicism and of the Church in the modern world has implications for all of civilization. It remains the ancient, unyielding ” wall” against which the culture bangs its head. It is the ‘institution” whose status millions in and out of the Church regard as an indices of spiritual ,civilizational progress or decline. It is forever countercultural. Its enemies are mounting.

“Modernity’s heart is, when finally exposedl skeptical and nihilistic,” wrote the late Jesuit theologian and educator James V. Schall in the June, 2007 issue of Homiletics & Pastoral Review. He went on to suggest that, the intellectual position of Catholicism in the modern world has never been stronger, but is cultural position has never been weaker….

Strong new and young theological voices are easy to find. But those who identify as Catholic or claim any religion are dwindling alarmingly.

Nietzsche ( and nihilism)provided the basis of a new or “post-modern” world, Father Schall wrote. He continues to function as the real and most logical alternative to a failed liberalism that refused to return to metaphysics and revelations for foundations in the real. He is also the alternative to Christianity in the culture, though outside it, there is Islam.

No alternate and consistent grounding on which to organize one’s life and society, Nietzsche thought, could be found in any system, particularly not in liberalism in its various and changing forms. Nor could it be found in Christianity, which latter he rejected not so much because he did not think it true, but because he did not think Christians, in practice, thought it was true — hence “the last Christian died on the Cross.”

Whatever might be said of Vatican II’s effort to bring Catholicism “up to date,” the fact is that it did not understand clearly what it was that was in fact motivating the culture.. It was not merely a question of debate and ideas, but of habits, institutions, laws, and philosophies that implicitly guides people in explaining how they lived according to modernity.

In an August 12, 1962 letter to Alfred Corn, Flannery, indicating she was aware of the coming Vatican Council, and professed her faith in the Church’s reasonableness and future survival. I don’t believe Christ left us to chaos, she wrote.

So what path did Alfred Corn eventually follow in the wake of his encounter with Flannery’s orthodoxy?

Well, according to what biographical material I’ve been able to obtain, he would go on to considerable academic and literary achievement, write many books of poetry, marry a classmate, then divorce, then come out gay and be regarded as a “gay” poet. He would edit a book I once owned (don’t know what happened to it) entitled, Incarnation, in which a number of prominent writers interpret books of the Bible in decidedly heterodox ways. The fact that he edited such a volume suggests that he remains — he is now 77 — absorbed with religious questions but, by Flannery O’Connor’s Catholic standards, has gone into a dark, confused place morally and artistically. (Flannery’s longest, most voluminous and lively correspondence with a woman named Elizabeth Hester whom Flannery, to her delight, brought into the Church. But the conversion did not stick — to Flannery’s dismay. She had already seen her friend Robert Lowell quickly abandon the faith following his conversion. She was evangelizing in Gomorrah, a disheartening business. Elizabeth Hester was an especially tragic figure — very bright, very private, a wonderful writer who rarely published and worked all her life as a water department clerk — a lesbian who’d been flushed out of the military on moral grounds ( a painful revelation she made to Flannery who did her best to reassure her of her dignity and worth as a human being.) She was apparently bipolar, suffered from depression and, decades after Flannery’s death, committed suicide by blowing her brains out. She ended life mocking the Church, as did Lowell.

But Flannery’s faith in the Church, her embrace of all it taught — about homosexuality, the natural law, abortion, birth control, love, death, resurrection — never wavered. She endured her illness serenely and heroically and went on writing.

Flannery’s prayer journals were published in 2013. She never intended that it see the light of day, being, basically, pages of soul-searching, devout jottings in a speckled black 5&10 notebook. It dates to the late 1940s, when she was just starting out as a writer.

In a May 4th entry — year unknown — she wrote:

Freud, Proust, Lawrence have located love inside the human & there is no need to question their locations; however, there is no need either to define love as they do — only as desire, since this precludes Divine Love, which, while it too may be desire, is a different kind of desire –Divine desire — and is outside of man and capable of lifting him up to itself….

Perversion is the end result of denying or revolting against supernatural love….The sex act is a religious act & when it occurs without God it is a mock act or at best an empty act. Proust is right that only a love which does not satisfy can continue.

And thus in her brief life did tough-minded Flannery O’Connor — novelist, unmarried, Catholic, American, Southerner — buck, chastise, love, support and attempt to correct in here small way the modern world on its wobbly course – and those souls she encountered along the way who seemed open to what she and her Church had to offer the troubled times.

Is anybody lisening?

I half want to write Alfred Corn to ask him why he ultimately found Flannery’s case for religion — not to mention the natural law — so unpersuasive. Why did he revolt, if I can use that word, against what she called “supernatural love” –and, for that matter, “natural” love? What do he and the world make of love these days? I’m afraid I know. I’m afraid the evidence is everywhere. Where is it taking us?

At the end of her second and last novel, Flannery’s character Tarwater, having accidentally drowned an impaired child in the process of baptizing him, wandering in the wake of a homosexual rape by a truckdriver, emerging from a line of burning woods ( I told you her stuff was harsh), suddenly ceases to resist the promptings of grace and is determined to spread the word of God’s mercy available even to the likes of him.

He may be ignored, jailed — or killed.

His singed eyes dark in their deep sockets, seemed already to envison the fate that awaited him but he moved steadily on, his face set towards the dark city, where the children of God lay sleeping.

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….

ELEGY IN JULY

July 1st.

It is raining, a tropical-seeming rain in a dank and sprawling latitude — subtropical, actually, and often sunny but not now– where clouds are heaped up high against the blue to the west. The sun is getting through over there.

Actually, the sun is very far away. But it will get through, then go away. Or, to be precise, WE will go away from IT. It happens every night.

Clouds full of water. Big white and gray clouds. They are drifting about, and that’s fine. You can love rain. I love rain right now. You can love clouds. But I’m anxious from the emptiness all around. I will go for a walk if the rain stops, or even if it doesn’t. Or will I? Well, I’ll be anxious if I don’t. Or even if I do.

That’s my problem.

Right now there is a cloud or two overhead. It will drift off, sadly, go where clouds go.

Rain is in this one little place. That’s what I’ve got right now. A little place in a little rain.

In fact, I think it has stopped. I miss it already. There is only a little sun. Like soft gray paint.

It is stiflingly sultry and gray. That’s okay. That’s life. This is a small universe where, nearby me, souls are together, uneasily. Two, to be exact — the two that I see through my window. I see everything, hear everything. No glass, no walls. Is it a dream?

For them, there is nothing to look forward to, or so it seems from here. So they dream a future. Of course, that’s foolish. A foolish way to deal with the damp and gray.

Rain is okay. It cleans things. It has been rainy a great deal in this little place. Fiercely rainy. There is a large puddle outback, slowly draining. The air is soaked. The grass is soaked, bog-like. That’s okay. That’s life.

Sometimes you think you’re dreaming. Like the man I see next door. Leaning against his inner wall, and dreaming.

It is now what is known as The Month of July, hours into it. A summer month. Mid-summer; almost already there. Mid-summer, that is. It will be hot, like all Julys.

Thursday. 2:21 p.m.. July 1st. The man out my window whom we’ll call “A” feels everything slipping away just as the month of June slipped away. I can tell that from here as I look at him. Well, he’d better wake up, grab something. Not just lean and dream.

Now he’s outside, in the gray, warm open air. From the patch of coarse grass that is his particular backyard, he searches for dog feces to clean up. He glimpses the postman pulling up in his truck out front. I see him glance that way, poor solitary soul. He will check that mailbox. It will be empty. That’s alright. Mailboxes are always empty these day, except for bills. Emptiness can be good. Or not. Make of emptiness what you will. I, for one, am having trouble with the emptiness.

Was not June just yesterday? Shouldn’t it still be June?That’s how it feels for “A”. So he must be remembering July 1st last year, which seems like just yesterday. Which was June 30. June has become July which will become August. Then September. Maybe fear, almost a kind of paralysis, has taken control of “A”‘s life. I know how he feels.

What does he feel? He feels everything slipping away, into the warm, wet gray, just the way June slipped away.

Stop time, please. That’s what he must be saying in the sanctuary of his little house and the open retreat of his back yard. Can you do that? Stop time? Of course not. Who’d want to. He really doesn’t want to, I’ll bet. But someone once wrote that time past and time present are both present in time future. Stretching before and after, they wrote. They wrote: in my beginning is my end. They wrote of “the soundless wailing.” They wrote of “the intersection of the timeless moment….’

The woman, “A”‘s companion, named “B”, has gone to buy frozen dinners. She wanted “A” to go with her. I know this, not because I am spying, though I have been watching (the emptiness drew me there), but because he has come to the backyard fence to tell me this. I tell him, confess, actually, that I’ve been seeing him through his window. He says he doesn’t mind. I only now notice that windows, walls, fences have vanished. We are on a darkling plain. I’m kind of company for him in this dark place, and he for me, even if I’m just watching. We must watch for one another, we humans.

But I read today, in this summer when so many have gone beneath the waves, that we must never enter the water to rescue a drowning man. They will pull you under. “A” warns me: “I might pull you under.”

“A” hates driving around this part of the world where he and “B” find themselves– unless the trip is absolutely necessary. Sun-blanched roads full of steel auto bodies, engineered beasts, speeding. Deadly, potentially.

It is raining again. “A” is feeling far away someplace, but he still wants to live. He has hope.

So “B” has gone alone for those frozen dinners. “A” is guilty for not going with her. Perhaps she just wanted company. Perhaps she would have felt safer around all those speeding steel bodies. Why don’t these two separate, or why don’t they get married, or why don’t they dream up some way to be “together” — connected and out of the rain — that does not cause such pain. That does not have them clinging and therefore drowning together.

A frozen meal, bedtime. They will awake again on July 2nd — and drown again.

There are money issues, “A” tells me. He brought up those issues to “B”. (It is increasingly clear that there is no formal bond between them. Is there a need for formal, legal bonds anymore? Have we not all just fallen together in the same deep shell hole? Did not something crash into this earth and leave a very big hole?

“A” wants to be bonded at any cost, even the cost of drowning, and everything that comes with bonds, meaning joined-ness.

It dawns on”A”. His Aunt “C” died on this day. A peaceful death on a July 1st. Is he right? Did he not suspect that “C” actually died before midnight that July 1st and therefore it was still a June day in a far-off land after he and “B” visited her? They were taking a trip together, trying to get out of the hole.

Days like that, away from the rainy gray details of one’s personal geography, can revive the soul, if there is a soul.

“A” has been anxious in a world in which he is not what he seems. So he tell me. He says “A” and “B” are both not what they seem. Time rushes. And they, always and forever, are not who or what they appear. It will be the same tomorrow.

They have dogs. The dogs make “A” sad. But they are bonded to the dogs. “A” and”B”. Bonds =joinedness. Responsibility. The dogs use the back yard and, happy for them, have no responsibility. But “A” has the responsibility of cleaning up after them. You do that for things you love.

Aunt “C” was what she seemed, love, home, the familiar, gone now in this land of unlikeness. It’s good that “A” thought of her. He sees her, in a dream. It is a good dream.

It’s something, a memory, to build on….at the beginning of another July for “A” and “B”.

Again:

Memories can be good or bad. But it’s good to have them.

“B” tells “A” after she arrives back to their little place and after she has put the frozen dinners in the freezer, that she has stowed the teabags in a round tin in the cabinet.

Maybe, “A” thinks, he’ll have a nice cup of tea someday. Ward off this emptiness.

I go back inside my place. It has stopped raining. I wish it would rain. Now, it is just another July 1st. Dry, dank and hot.

I, too, think I’ll have a cup of tea.

Perhaps “A” And “B” will join me.

Away from the emptiness.

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.

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, the movie, at least, a Sixties culture 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. 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 at Thanksgiving time. The song/movie is, more than anything, about, post-dinner illegally-dumped 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 draf.

All in all, it is a so-so counter-culture, anti-Vietnam, anti-regimentation, anti-military celebration of communal hedonism, in my distant sober adult estimate. I did go see it, 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 theater advertising, in huge letters, the feature film, Alice’s Restaurant. Bet a lot of trainees found some deliverance in the dark at that showing before moping back to their barracks for the resumption of their basic training nightmare. 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 by non-A-list actors Patricia Quinn and James Broderick.

So — that day in Stockbridge, all of a sudden, as Bill and I were on our second beers, we’re sitting in the presence of the real Ray Brock. I recall he had an earring and short hair. I recall he was a friendly sort of guy, 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 it gave his ordinary life a soupcon of respectability and fame — although it was not an entirely positive portrayal — that a soul such as this otherwise anonymous and ordinary denizen of Stockbridge might have found irresistible — 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, saying, “if anybody’s going to make a fool of me, in might as well be me.”

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

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.

Rest in Peace, Ray. I think Bill and I up-and-went on our way at some point and left Ray with the anonymous friendly bartender for whom he was apparently something of a regular. If I recall, we were bound for Lenox and Tanglewood for some high culture.

So — that was a “moment.”

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. In retrospect, I think there was something tragic about Ray. What was he doing for a living in those last years?

I ought to look and see if Alice Brock is still alive (I think she and Ray were divorced.)

File this under one man’s life’s trivia. Though, for purposes of this blog, I’ll file it under “memories”.

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 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.

So….I planned to devote “a few words” to this meaningless incident, this “moment.” I count a dozen or so paragraphs, excluding this very final, sadly overdue, coda, and goodnight.

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 barque? Or might I see you out on the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico where it approaches land near where I am writing now?

“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?

PRE-SOLSTICE DREAM OF A SUMMER YET TO BE….

I always feel like I’m missing summer. It’s my own fault. I want to catch it, like a wave.

I write this as a thunder storm is sweeping over Tampa Bay, my home at the moment. I welcome those storms — as a dramatic sign of a Florida summer. But I miss the seasons, ultimately. Or, at least, spring and summer.

I see that a female former colleague — a joie de vivre kind of soul, cancer survivor, attractive, single, still working in television at 61, free spirit, frequent Facebook flyer — has posted a picture of herself out in a bight, rocky, open patch of nature, arms flung up in the air, wearing a light pastel shift, tanned, blond head flung back as in some bacchanalian sun worshiping ritual. And her caption says something like, “I’m welcoming summer!!!” …

…as are many up north, especially after the draconian pandemic lockdown that has gently been eased. And it will fly, summer. All time is flying. Or, perhaps, it is, like the distant mountains, never really moving. Never really “past.”

But anyway…

I think of how I’ve abstained, or been too lazy to undertake, summer after summer, the outdoors stuff — the good solitary, watery seasonal things. I’ve already posted things on this blog over recent weeks about summer in the Sierra, etc.. Life lived in the rear-view mirror. But even then never did I fully, boldly partake of any canoe trips, mountain hikes, sailing, golfing. Not in a steady, summer-submersed manner or spirit. Now and then, yes, And never alone. I enjoy being alone.,

Life is short. I hike, sail and golf — that you really shouldn’t do alone — only in my imagination. Timorous and lazy soul that I am — and far from youth — I’ve gone on squandering the hours. Seize the day! Seize the seasons! Seize summer!

Let me be alone for these occasions when you can sink into life. Note that my former colleague was doing her sun-basking ritual — alone. (I suspect she set a camera up to catch it, no photographer necessary. She is, by trade, a photographer. But, it should be noted, she shared herself with the Facebook world. I’d be alone without cameras, out of sight of Facebook. Only in sight of God’s face. In God’s holy season.)

By the way, I’ve NEVER golfed. So expensive! I’ve never skied either, not really. Not past the bunny slope.

Skating ( if I might speak for a moment of that other season, winter) was part of my life in the late fifties. Then the folks sold the camp on the lake and the skates came off – and stayed off. And skis and skates are not to be taken up after a certain age. I think I’m at that age. So it goes.

If I can make it to heaven, who knows what sports are available in that hoped-for destination? (Odd and weird and yet consoling to think in such trusting, child-like terms of what comes after this life. Oh, well. We mortals take our consolation wherever we can find it. At least this mortal does.)

The summer solstice, the astronomical start of the season that for the rest of us started on Memorial Day, is soon to be upon us. It’s summer with an exclamation point. The longest day. I think I’ll plan a summer trip for myself. Maybe I’ll finally take up golf, hang the expense….

My father died on Memorial Day, 1964 at 54 years old. Dead at the brink of only the fifty-fifth summer of his life. I see him putting on skates at the Foxborough camp and, in car coat and work-a-day hat, stepping out on the ice and, after a brief, unsteady lurch, confidently resuming the skill he’d acquired during the Dorchester boyhood on lakes and ponds and flooded playgrounds, skating smoothly up and down. I see him at the beach in summer, sailor cap inverted into a cone to crown his balding head. I see him seated by a small outboard motor steering the small boat that came with the Foxborough camp on Neponset Lake. These were the summers of ’57 and ’58. There were droughts and downpours and sultry or scalding hot July and August days. There was sorrow that always seemed just around the bend. Dad rarely seemed totally happy. Neither, especially, did mom. Can’t or don’t want to get more specific than that. Those nameless sorrows, that darkness, that anxiety.

But I want to welcome and experience and live a bright summer of the kind envisioned in the color pictures of all those home and garden and travel magazines.

If I don’t — well, it’s my own damn fault. I’ll just have to look at the pictures.

Joie de vivre!! Summer’s here! May it linger!

Or, maybe we’ve never truly known summer, not any of us. Maybe only in magazines.

Maybe we just dream of summer….just as we dream in winter of a White Christmas “where treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow…”

So we beat on, with Gatsby, boats against the current

Dreaming of summer. Oh, God, bring me summer!

A LOST ISLAND FRIENDSHIP

I have only his Christmas cards now, the message on each beginning, “Dear Wayland!”

He was Chung. I was Wayland.

I remember well the night his pocket was picked by a “slickie boy” pretending to peddle cigarettes in the dark, noisy Seoul night club called OB Cabins. (OB stood for Oriental Breweries, which was a Korean beer.) I’d been to that venuye during previous forays into Seoul and heard a Korean band do a creditable cover of Iron Butterfly’s signature song, “In A Gadda Da Vida, ” drum solo and all.

In lifting his wallet that night, the thief also robbed Chung of his intention to re-pay me for my companionship.

Our friendship began one leisurely summer Sunday on Kanghwa Island, Korea in 1970. I was a Military Policeman assigned to the Army Security Agency (ASA) and further assigned to the ASA operations company on Kanghwa, which sits on Korea’s west coast, carved off from the Republic’s mainland by a narrow channel – a river estuary– and from Communist North Korea by the Han River on its final approach to the Yellow Sea. I and two other G.I.s – fellow M.P.s Jim Barnes from California and Larry Donahue from Boston, if memory serves me – set out to explore the island by jeep. Our duties usually kept us on our small compound and divorced from the real world of our host country. We knew the 116 square mile island was worth exploring, with its temples and farmland.

We stumbled upon the tiny seaside village of We Po-ri at the far northwestern edge of the island. A Republic of Korea (ROK) naval ensign moved us from a restricted area, then chatted us up congenially. We’d stumbled upon a small ROK naval detachment. (The island, being so close to the hostile north was protected on its waterfront by Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines. This Naval detachment patrolled near the smalleer, surrounding islands, always on guard against infiltrators.

The young ensign was the commanding officer. His name – Jin Myung Chung.

I felt the need to know Chung better. Somehow, we hit it off. I’d made no Korean friends to that point in my tour.

Chung was single, well-educated, about two years my senior. I made many overnight trips to his home in Seoul, met his parents and brother, helped them with their English grammar and pronunciation, shared dinner, slept in a spare room. Chung guided me around Seoul, visiting tea rooms, having long talks about life, family, politics, my native Boston, Korea’s future prospects. He planned to marry and have children.

It seemed his best intentions for me were always being thwarted. He invited me to a soccer match. We missed our rendezvous. He planned to motor me up Inchon River aboard a ROK Navy vessel. The boat was out of commission.

Finally, though I knew he had little money and no taste for Seoul nightlife, he insisted on treating me to that outing to OB Cabins, hearing Korean bands cover the Beatles and Iron Butterfly. Then his pocket got picked. He sat patting his pockets frantically.

“Tonight, I am very unlucky,” he said, distressed and humiliated, as I picked up the tab.

I don’t recall our goodbyes. I wrote him after Army discharge. He apparentkly didn’t trust his English for a letter but his Christmas cards contained long notes: “How is your life recently? …Much regret not to write you, wondering if this card will reach you as you may change address since then.” I was, in fact, moving around, state to state. But the cards always found me.

He’d become general manager of maintenance and repair for Honam Tanker Company, a subsidiary of Texaco. He’d married, had a family. He once asked: “Do you have any schedule to visit Korea?” I didn’t.

The Christmas cards stopped. Then, around 2012 came the surprise – an early morning phone call to my Clinton, Mass home. It was Chung. Stunned, delighted to hear his voice, but in the middle of breakfast, facing a long commute to my television reporter job, we chatted barely a minute

Why didn’t I call him back? It was a busy time. But, why?

Now I have a bunch of old home and business addresses. I wrote some. No reply. I want to find him. Is he still alive?

“I can’t think of my military service time without thinking of you,” he wrote in an undated Christmas card.

Same here, Chung. I pray I find you again. I’ll even let you pick up the tab.

SUMMER’S ADVENT

I can hear those voices again, distant, at the YMCA camp across the lake. It is Lake Sequoia in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Home of the Giants, i.e., the giant Sequoia Redwoods. I was working as night janitor at the Visitor’s Center at Grant Grove in King’s Canyon National Park. It was summer, 1967. To the west ,on the coast, in San Francisco, they were calling it “The Summer of Love.”

Wear a flower in your hair…

My brother Doug, aide to a California congressman, had gotten me this wonderful job. Thank you, Doug.

Now and then, in my Sears Roebuck boots bought expressly for that summer in the mountains, I would, in a leisure moment, follow a winding, descending trail from the Grove area — consisting of gift shop, campground and Visitor Center at the edge of a huge stands of Sequoias– down to the lake, probably only three-quarters of a mile away, through thick pine forest and past small, shaded running streams and waterfalls. It was a very nice walk.

Then I would arrive at a border of trees at the edge of the lake. The camp was on the far side opposite.

It has been fifty-four years, and yet I still hear those young voices of people perhaps just a little younger than I, who was twenty-years-old that summer. And, perhaps, if I’m not imaging it or mingling it unconsciously with lake memories of a lifetime, I also hear oarlocks rattling in row boats being pushed off from the camp pier out into the cold blue waters.

Yes, I hear those voices this half century later. Just sounds, not words, echoing as voices do on a lake. I’m sure, scattered about the San Josquin Valley far below that lake, or in towns in every direction around California or, in our mobile times, around the whole nation, there are aging adults, many of them probably grandparents by now, who recall that summer of ’67 on Lake Sequoia. I hope it was memorable and magical for them.

I must say that I mostly only heard the voices, and barely recall, at the distance of perhaps a quarter mile, seeing a soul or the rustic camp buildings over there. However visible, however distance, I know I’d seen movement. I would listen and watch for a spell while also looking down at the clear lake waters lapping against the bank where I stood. I’d spend a peaceful interval before heading back up the trail for my night shift job – certainly one of the best, if not THE best job, I ever had. I never, ever met another person during those walks, which was fine by me. I was seeking solitude and always found it.

Sitting here in Florida on May 23, 2021, I see the weather maps, hear the national forecasts, learn of the sudden heat in New England, perceive the advent of summer as we slowly, steadily, hopefully emerge from the astringency of the historic national pandemic lockdowns and the severely compounded isolation of the brooding winters of northern climes, and pass beyond the welcomed but too-short springtime with its flowers in bloom.

I feel this love for summer, even if, for now, I am living where it always seems to be summer; where it simply deepens by gradations from spring into the almost unbearably dank, feverish prolonged subtropical stasis of Florida’s “hot months” that so often linger well into the fall months in which nothing much really “falls.”

That mountain summer was dry and temperate, occasionally hot, never, in my memory, humid. There was always the scent of pine or, sometimes, that coffee bean-like odor of the manzanita undergrowth.

In Florida summers, late nights and early mornings — the dark hours — are the dankest. That is among my memories of this state, about to be repeated. Bugs and humidity in darkness.

But there is also consistency and drama in the Florida summers, as the beautiful afternoon clouds build up into mountains and the thunder rolls and the showers come (reminding me, actually, of Sierra Nevada thunderstorms so severe that, in the summer of ’67, a torrent of lightening ignited smoldering fires among the Sequoias and I, technically a member of the grounds crew, was dispatched with hoe and rake to “babysit” overnight a smoldering cedar, making certain the sparks from scorched, falling branches didn’t ignite the thick blanket of pine needles on the forest floor. Such memorable duty! So wonderful! And, yes, I and others wound up battling flames from one undetected fallen ember that suddenly, to our surprise, flared up.)

In this here-and-now, somewhere, I’m sure, Florida children and teenagers are at camp, making memories, hopefully, free of pandemic masks. But that, too, can become a cherished memory of childhood or teenage strictures during the brighter days we hope lie ahead for them and for all of us.

But for now, on this sunny May day, I hear those long-ago voices across Lake Sequoia, laughing and faint. I hear them, as Yeats might say, “in the deep heart’s core.” And they were, on the few occasions I heard them, female voices. Perhaps on those days of my observance, it was the girls’ turn at camp. I loved those female voices. I wanted to meet those girls. I imagined all California girls to be beautiful. Many were. I imagined them over there; wished they could see me. They are gone now — the voices, the girls — dispersed, passed, hopefully happily, into marriage, motherhood or wherever they wanted to go. Or perhaps into some rebellious, feminist state of animadversion if that’s what they wished coming out of those turbulent times known as The Sixties. Some doubtless have passed away altogether….It was a long time ago. Summer of Love in San Francisco. Summer of War in Vietnam. Some of those girls might have become lifelong friends. For them, then, it WAS — the Summer of Love.

Boy! I can go on when I get to remembering. Nostalgia has a way of painting everything a soft, sentimental patina.

Then, sure as hell, I lapse into damn poetry, perhaps foolishly inapt. Like this:

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

Listen to me! Spouting words — mine and the poet’s — while insistently restless, anxious and dissatisfied and, as such, ungrateful, for I am a blessed soul who, yes, can’t do anything about the squandered time since those lakeside moments but must remember that I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful between-the-semesters college summer job — far, far from all that was overly familiar back in Boston.

Somehow, didn’t I know I’d squander some of the time ahead? Don’t we all know there will be “chronicles of wasted time” in our lives?

But hope is present, and, as it happens, both past and present — if we’re wise, courageous, prayerful and attentive to the right voices — will direct us all, those of us of a certain age, during the days of our diminishing future. If we can stay healthy in mind and body….stave off anxiety and despair, etc..

But back to those simple moments: hearing lake voices by a mountain lake; hearing my contemporaries, those young women on the distant lake shore.

I’ll be there are new voices to be heard along that shore now….

Summer will arrive at the solstice, less than a month off….

This, then, is summer’s advent for young and old.

Let’s enjoy it.