Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On a walk.  It’s 8:15 in the morning.  On a corner lot is a duplex.  Two men are out on the porches.  One sits on a step and smokes a cigarette.  He waves as I pass on the side street.  On the other porch, a man stands and twists from side to side and stretches his arms while he smokes a cigarette.  He does not catch my eye.  They do not speak to one another.  They book look tired, not well.  Not a good way to start the day.

At Mass.  The woman substituting for our organist was conservatively dressed and pleasant.  Sometime during Mass I noticed that she was playing the organ barefoot.  When she moved to play the piano, she was barefoot.  During the homily, she sat nearby in a pew and rested her bare feet on the kneeling bench in front of her.  I don’t know if she received Eucharist or not, or if she did so barefoot.

At the bank.  The little boy is as wide as he is tall.  He runs around the lobby as his father waits in line.  He goes to a sofa and stands on it. He jumps on it a couple of times before he jumps off.  He runs around and takes brochures from racks and leaves them on tables.  Nobody corrects him, though bank officials are watching him.  He goes out of the lobby to where the gum machine is.  He moves the lever back and forth and looks at his father. who motions for him to come.  “How much for the gum?” he asks.  “Ten cents,” says the boy.  His father gives him a dime and he returns to the machine, buys the gum, and crams all of the pieces into his mouth.  When his father goes to the counter to transact his business, the boy runs up beside him, chewing his gum mightily.  The teller asks what color lolly pop he would like.  “Blue” he said.  As she leaves to get the treat, he shouts, “Two of them.  I want two blue.”  He does not say thank you when she hands over the treats.  His father does and then hastens to follow the boy into the parking lot.

Learning Latin.  At a dinner party, three of us who studied Latin in high school recalled our teachers.  One of them was dull and grumpy and demanding.  One was full of energy and did wonderful cultural things with her students.  Mine was friendly, likeable, and thorough.  All brought human touches to the subject.  The couple’s son took two years of Latin on-line, and found it totally boring.  We talked about what he missed for not having a teacher.

In the prayer book.  The morning prayer for Monday, August 4, has this intercession:  “Help us to take time for one another, face-to-face.”  Yes, the soul wants personal contact, not letters, emails, phone calls, Facebook postings, and use of other social media.  Often face-to-face interactions have to be scheduled weeks in advance because we are all too busy to have time for one another.  Our lack of face-to-face contact has become a prayer need.  Lord, hear our prayer.  “Help us to take time for one another, face-to-face.”  (Give Us This Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic, Liturgical Press)

Reading  Nonfiction  David Downie, Paris, Paris.  Broadway Books, First revised edition, 2011.  The book is a collection of thirty-one essays, divided into three sections:  Places, People, and Phenomena.  In her enthusiastic introduction, Diane Johnson urges us to visit the places in exploring Paris.  If I were there for a couple of weeks, I’d do just that.  Downie writes with the scope of a historian and the enthusiasm of a visitor as he describes visits to such places as a walk on the Seine, visits to the Luxembourg Gardens, Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Isle Saint-Louis, Place des Vosges.  I most enjoyed the section on people, in which Downie gives us portraits of famous people such as Coco Chanel, Modigliani, van Gogh, and Madame X, who runs a “seduction school,” as well as ordinary people like the boat people of the Seine and the book sellers by the Seine.  In the section on Phenomena, he gives us a lyrical description of Paris in the spring, a look at the lighting of monuments, the attention given to dogs, the pleasures of night walking, the joys of the café, and the decoration of graves.  It’s a book I’ll read again to plan for another visit to Paris.

Reading.  Nonfiction.  Richard Rodriguez, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography.  Viking, 2013.  Rodriguez is a devout Catholic.  He dedicates the book:  “For the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas” and later describes them: “The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas–the women I revere–are fewer and older.  The great years of the order seem to have passed, but the Sisters continue their ministry to the elderly, to immigrants, to the poor.  The Sisters are preparing for a future the rest of us have not yet fully comprehended–a world of increasing poverty and misery–even as they prepare for their absence from the close of the twenty-first century. ”

The future that Rodriguez has us face is marked by the events of 9/11, which he sees as the beginning of a “worldwide religious war that Americans prefer to name a war against terror.”  After 9/11 he visited the Holy Land “because the God of the Jews, the God of the Christians, the God of the Muslims–a common God–revealed himself in the desert.”

Rodriguez often writes like Emerson.  The structure of thought is often a movement between ideas by association, and he often presents only the situation and not a conclusion.

There are provocative and interesting ideas.  He discusses language and its meanings in relationships of people.  He gives a beautiful explication of the Lord’s Prayer and its significance.  He praises Cesar Chavez’s public prayer on the idea of suffering for others.  He gives an eloquent contrast of the transience of life of people and the enduring life of the Church.  He offers a concise statement of why he, a gay man, stays in the Church.

He asks compelling questions relevant to contemporary life.  Is it important to be a believer in God today?  What does it mean to lose a sense of place?  Does life matter?  How?  Will the Church change in the acknowledgement of “authority” for women?  If so, how?  Where are our deserts, and how does God reveal Himself in them.

My favorite part of the book is his contrast of the views of the atheist Christopher Hitchens as he criticizes Mother Teresa and the reality and significance of her work:  “Hitchens criticized Mother Teresa for accepting donations from persons whose fortunes were ill gotten; he criticized her for campaigning against abortion and birth control; he criticized her for gathering the poor to her death house, but not curing them; he mocked her for being an ugly woman.”  Then Rodriguez presents the inspired work of Teresa:  “Until the end of her long life, Mother Teresa fed the poor; she gathered the sick and dying; she cleaned and blessed the bodies of those whose deaths would not be mourned otherwise by anyone in the world.”

Mrs. Lucille Sawyer Harris.  I received a telephone call Saturday afternoon to let me know that my friend Lucille died peacefully about two o’clock that afternoon.  She had been a friend since 1966, when I was a freshman at Wake Forest.  She taught piano there, and although she was not my teacher, she took an interest in all music students and was quick to compliment and encourage, not only on progress in piano but in all aspects of life  It was a pleasure to encounter her and her husband Carl, a Greek professor, on campus, for they stopped for a brief and friendly chat.

My senior year in college my friend Mike was killed in a tragic accident.  I was scheduled to play in a student recital.  I called my teacher and told him that I would not play and asked him to find a substitute for my work in the music departments for two nights.  I worked at night, letting students into practice rooms.  When I returned after a couple of day’s absence, Lucille entered into the room where I was stationed and we had a good visit.  She expressed her concern about the loss of my friend.  We talked about Mike and what his memory would mean in the future.  I knew then that I loved her.

We kept in touch for decades, through Christmas cards, greeting cards, and letters, and I often visited her and Carl and later just her when I visited from the state of Colorado.  I have been closely in touch with her since he has lived in the health care unit of her retirement community  I visited her last on the Saturday two weeks before her death.  She invited me to join her for dinner there and to go with her down to a lake, and afterward to talk about my novel, which she had read.  Like other visits, it was a blessing for me.

I will attend her memorial service this coming Saturday, and I look forward to testimonies about her generosity, kindness, and love.

I will miss Lucille, as I have missed many of those who have been a positive influence in my life.  Lucille’s influence was among the brightest.  I have been blessed to know her.

I hope things are going well for you and yours in this third quarter of the summer season



About billwednesdayblog

Retired high school English and French teacher.
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2 Responses to Wednesday, August 6, 2014

  1. Dave A says:

    I shall look for the Richard Rodriguez book. I enjoy the pieces he does now and then on PBS. I distinctly remember and admired his “coming out” piece on PBS. Rodriguez’s religiosity is ever apparent.

  2. Margaret McNeely says:

    Lucille was a lovely person; I am so glad she got to read your book before she died. I enjoyed meeting her. I am missing that generation as they slowly leave us.

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