Posted by: Peadar Ban | August 28, 2019

I AM READING A BOOK

“The heart most open is the most alone.” The Hundredfold

“(W)hat is not generally recognized is that the launch of the self into the orbit of transcendence is necessarily attended by problems of reentry.” Lost In the Cosmos

As it says above, I am reading a book.  Well, I must clarify that.  Rarely do I read just one book nowadays. By that I mean one book that I start and finish without any other book interrupting my progress through the one I may be holding in my hands at any moment.  A long time ago that was the way I read a book, beginning at the beginning and going on until the end before I stopped.

Now, no matter how interested I may be in the adventure going on between myself, the book in my hands, before my eyes, the mind of whomever thought it up, and the characters and/or ideas within, I will put it aside; leave it alone for a little or longer while and find something else in the long line (more a jumble) of others waiting. For my eyes, mind, imagination and wonder, like little children, will no longer submit to the discipline of “Doing This”. (There is a story behind that phrase.)

Among the several I am wandering through these days are two which both please and puzzle me.  Perhaps wonder and astound may be a better way of putting the matter.  One of them is like a walk in a tangle of vines and busy buzzing things large and small, an entirely unexpected journey in an entirely different place I expected to visit when I opened the “cover’.  This book is on my Kindle, and really has no cover. (I both like and dislike my Kindle. The reasons for and against it/them should be obvious to anyone who likes to read.)

The other book, present in my hands as a real book in the classical sense is like any number of things at once and in a series.  It’s a kind of slow-moving kaleidoscope, filled with colors shapes, and oddly enough music, lessons and kind people (so far) talking to me.

I will talk about them in reverse order in this little essay written mostly for myself, an exercise I think necessary in order to understand, particularly and together, each book and its charm, beauty (as much of it as I can understand, or pick out), meaning, message and what else I might think was worth my buying it.  And, possibly worth your doing so, too.

I will begin with the latest of the two to become mine, “The Hundredfold”, written by Anthony Esolen.

It is honestly a strange book.  The “book” part is a long poem, something that might be called an epic though nowhere as long as some other epics the reader might be acquainted with; things like The Iliad, or the Aeneid.  I haven’t read enough of it to say that it’s anything like those two, but it is long, quite a bit longer than a Hallmark card, where much of what passes for poetry, and people’s exposure to it, finds it’s start and finish these days.

I am familiar with some others of the author’s books, and this one follows along.

For instance, I have a three-volume copy of his translation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, written a good while ago and brought “up to date” if allowances may be made for that, by the extensive notes after each Canto throughout the book.  I loved the poetry itself, and the imagination that went into the original work, and Dr. Esolen’s translation.  But most of that would have been wasted on someone like me without the “notes”, at least as valuable to such a stranger as I was, perhaps more so, who knew only that at some time hundreds of years ago “some people did something”.  Dr. Esolen’s notes put flesh on the poem, and seemed to this reader, as important and worthwhile as the work itself.  There is no shame in that, I think.  Think “Road Map”.  He tells the reader what is in the wood, and who.

While the notes to Divine Comedy come after every Canto, his latest book begins with the notes which are really two long essays; two little chapters amounting to 45 pages in the edition I have.  You will skip them at your hazard, your loss, if you insist on plunging straight ahead into the poem itself.  Because, I really think, that entered without the introduction, you may wander around for days, a stranger in a strange land with no map, no guide and considering the place you are in nice, but not at all worth the hype.  You miss, among other things, the reason, the purpose and the worth of it.  And all of these are great.

You may want to stop and think before you are ten pages into the introductory note, because, Dr. Esolen is going around re-arranging the furniture for you, in a place you may have thought you knew.  And, he is doing it in a way, you will come to understand, it has been meant to be for quite a long time.  The previous tenants had very bad ideas about a lot of things.  Believe me.

In the second part of the introduction, you will be educated about poetry, it’s forms and uses.  Honestly, I was so glad to read the author’s little introductory essay. I look at so many things from the outside and wonder.  Will I know where I am and why?  It’s a question I often ask.  And that, sometimes, in certain churches, truth be told.  If you have ever been inside MOMA, and don’t stay too long, you will understand what I mean.  Overstay your time and you may never be able to leave.

In no small way entering “The Hundredfold”, after I had carefully read the 45 pages, was like entering a church, a cathedral, The Sistine; something both useful and beautiful.  I don’t think I go too far saying it is on the way to heaven.  And I haven’t gotten nearly half of the way through the poem.

I have stopped, for a couple of reasons, and all because of that brief quote at the top. “The heart most open is the most alone.”  I have opened the book any number of times since I started reading the poem, reached that line, one line, and stopped.  I have a feeling that, for me at least, the line is very, very meaning full.  And, strangely enough, it seems to me to be tied up in a way I cannot yet understand with the Walker Percy book, Lost In the Cosmos.

One seems to me to be the key and the other is then the door…on alternating days.  Percy is dead, so I cannot ask him.  Dare I ask Esolen.

Anyway, in “Hundredfold” Mary, at this point, is telling the reader about her Son, noticing him among the other men in Nazareth, fellows we might have called “working stiffs”, tradesmen and handymen.  There were no 9 to 5 guys back then.  It is very interesting reading as she remarks on the effect her Son has on these rough and tumble men; how they change in His presence.

I have memories of fellows like that, guys who make you wonder, and whose presence you miss years later.  They’re the fellows who bring something along, the ones you want to ask questions of, but you never can figure out how to do it.  So you sit and listen.

When I finish this, I’ll go ahead and finish the book. Maybe my questions will be answered, and I can tell you how an open heart can ever be alone.

When I picked up my first Walker Percy book I knew I was in for a tough ride. He’s a Southern writer, and the only other book of his I have read was full of strange things and people, Southern things.  I sometimes think they write about another species, those southern writers.  But, then, I have lived in the South, and worked with them, and, well, you know.

It was “Love In The Ruins” that I read, a long time ago; by myself with no help from another soul.  My first wife, may she rest in peace, was dying of cancer and I needed a place to hide.  Well, I couldn’t hide there, and don’t think I ever finished it.  But, it was Southern, for sure.

Sometimes I feel guilty about these things, like someone owing a debt and avoiding the fellow for a long time, even though the thing must be paid.  So, at the beginning of the year I tried to give Percy another chance and ordered “Lost in The Cosmos”.

It was like going back to the gym after ten years of being a couch potato.  Honest.  But, I held out, and finally learned this was no novel.  It was a ramble inside the man’s head, the subject of which is something I didn’t really know how to spell…Semiotics…

I’ll not really try to define the word, the concept, the “discipline”.  I can only think of it, after reading several definitions, including the ones Percy mentions a few dozen pages into the book when I finally figure out this won’t be a dark southern thing full of Spanish moss and languid girls and beetle browed southerners.  No, this seems to be a kind of test, a take home exam with no real answers.

I have owned the book for a little more than twenty years now, and I really must finish it.  But, I hope that some day I will understand it.

That quote above: “(W)hat is not generally recognized is that the launch of the self into the orbit of transcendence is necessarily attended by problems of reentry.”  Is very puzzling.  I sat wondering just what does it mean?  As something that caught my eye not long after I read the line from The Hundredfold I quote at the beginning, I had that in my mind.  Here is Transcendence itself described as being “most alone”.  Or am I missing something.  I sat wondering who was right and who was wrong,  and put the book down.  Well, not the book, but the “device”; I put that down.

Read further, and Percy is writing about all sorts of folks who have gone off into the world of their mind, their imagination to do one thing or another: paint a picture, write a book, invent something that never was before.

And whether or not he’s just fooling around, he seems, to me at least, to be arguing that something strange happens in that process.  Most, many, or just a lot of the boys and girls who do that come back, or maybe never come back, with a kind of PTSD.  At least that’s the way I’m thinking of it now.

And, there’s my problem. How do I square the two quotes?

How would you?

I have a feeling about both of those sentences.  Some day I’ll turn the feeling into another looong piece of writing.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 29, 2019

Just Another Day: Sunday, July 28, 2019

I had slept well Saturday night knowing that we would be rising at the crack of dawn to go to Mass across the river at St, John’s where Mariellen and I do our best to bring the light of music to the rest of the light at Mass. The day was bright, the morning blissfully cool.  Even the old church was cool inside as we entered.  It would not last long.  But, hope, as I have long said, is a Christian virtue.  We weren’t disappointed.  But the short trip home was another  thing entirely.

We live in a condominium development down on the shores of the Merrimack River in Nashua, NH.  We moved about four years ago from the house I moved into back in 1977.  St. Patrick’s Day.  Hip deep snow in the ground, and us landing from Houston where snow is a word only spoken, or sprayed on Christmas Trees, once a year, bizarre things many of them, in all sorts of colors, including pink.

It was getting too much to take care of.  But it was lovely even so.  It was covered outside with gardens, meandering walks and birds by the billion all year long.  Within three months, the new owners had torn up everything but the fringes of grass.  We haven’t been on the street since the day we drove by and saw it.

Now, this is home, and my wife and I are content, sometimes deliriously so.

Mass was over, and we were back home. The sun had not climbed over the trees that rose up like a huge green fence behind us so we took our tea outside on the deck; and moved onto the lawn between us and the small hill leading down to the river when the sun insisted on continuing its journey west.  There we sat and talked about those things which fill the time on days like this; which is to say nothing very much and all of it pleasant.

At one point two neighbors came by with their quiet dog, no more curious than a sleeping child, the dog that is, and wet from its recent romp in the river.  They chatted a while with us: about the weather, about their own flowers and ours, about the condominium and its bothersome board, and the weather once more, before walking down the green way towards home.

We watched them go.  And, then, the tea needed replenishment.  I went in and put the fire on under the water, and began to put last night’s dishes away.  The phone rang, and I picked it up recognizing the number was Margie’s, a delightful friend, now very old, about whom I had been thinking for some days.

Assuming it was her I simply began telling her what was on my mind, my compunction about not visiting in so long a time, and delight she had called; then I heard her daughter’s musical laughter.  She had called to tell me her mother hadn’t been able to get to Mass that morning, and wondered if I would bring her communion.  We quickly made arrangements for that to happen in a half hour or so. I went outside and told Mariellen, then found my Pix, the little gold cup to carry the host to Margie, and drove over to St. Christopher’s.

Mass was just ending as I walked through the little door which would lead me where I wanted to go.  I encountered a young boy being eased to the floor just inside the door and his worried parents looking for some water for him.  It was hot inside this old church, too.  I gave what help I could to the folks who needed it, and payed attention to trying to be as quiet as possible while Father continued.

Soon it was over and as the church emptied I looked for someone to help me get what I needed, finding Jane, a friend who had been assisting at Mass.  She went outside where Father was talking to some parishioners, and got his permission to help me, came back and gave me a host.  While I was waiting for her to return, I greeted a few parishioners I knew and “exchanged pleasantries” as an old friend puts it.  Among them was a fellow I have known for years standing in the aisle watching me, and I walked over to him.

Oddly enough he took a step away from me as I approached.  No welcoming look, no smile opened before me.  So, I stepped closer, said hello and offered my hand.  A second or two passed, and he took my hand.  Then, after hellos, he said that I would never guess where he had been.  I asked where HAD he been.  “I have been with Elizabeth Warren.  And I am going to vote for her,” he replied, now smiling.  There was an almost daring smile on his face, a triumphant look.  “Oh,” I answered, smiling back at him, “that’s good.  “I am not going to vote for her,” I continued, “I am going to vote for the other guy, the racist.”  “He is,” he answered, a kind of grim look coming over him.  “And,” I continued, smiling more broadly now, “that’s because I am a racist, too. ”

I thought that would bring about a subject change, and the whole thing would become a joke.  I was surprised.

“You are,” he replied, grimly, “I know it.  You are a racist.”  He ended by saying, even more grimly, “I mean it.”  I reached out and took his hand in mine, my racist hand, and shook it, and said,”Well, goodbye.” with a racist smile on my face.  He walked away.  After saying hello to one or two more parishioners, I left and continued on my way to Margie’s house.

There I spent a delightful hour on her porch after giving her Jesus for company.  She had no idea I was a racist when I told her, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.  I wondered if she might be a racist too.   You see, during that time, I told her about my being, is the term “outed”?, at church just a while ago.  Both she and her daughter did not seem to think the fellow was right, either in what he said, the venue where he chose to say it, or his mind.

Later that day, I visited a friend at his home for a while. His wife and another friend where there, too.  I confessed my racism before them, whose reaction was the same.  They were quite amazed to learn I had been “outed” as a racist, and where it had taken place.  Nevertheless, I had a lovely time, but needed to go home.  And took my leave, walking to the car in the bright afternoon, wondering.  Why were there no supporting opinions for the fellow in church about my status as a racist?  Is it a serious thing, or isn’t it?

Later that evening, I mentioned the day to my wife and the thing I learned about myself.  While not exactly agreeing with the fellow, she did say that my remarks and comments in person and on such outlets as Facebook might lead someone to conclude that I was that thing, a racist.

It’s all so bloody complicated.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | June 7, 2019

The One I Couldn’t Land, The Bloom Unfolded

I often think about the past, and these days I have more time to do so, and more past to think about, too. But that isn’t the case with the little bit of thinking I did yesterday evening as the sun was packing up to leave. Or was it. You be the judge.

There are a number of very nice places to think in, and think about almost everything. It was quiet there, in the back of the house away from the muted racket from the highway a mile or so, a hill or so away, going home makes.

And, that always makes time for thinking. Years ago, thinking was mostly about the future and hope; what it would be like, and how I might help in making it so. Now, it is different; kind of like pulling the albums down and thumbing through the pages pausing every so often. And so I did.

Along the way my reverie was interrupted by the comings and goings of a young couple in the trees, and their dealing with their own present, and future. My wife, Mariellen and I were pleased and puzzled by what they were doing. Was it courting, or something else; and just who they were. They were new to the neighborhood, not like the folks we had grown used to. and watching and wondering about new neighbors, and who they are, and what will come is only natural. It is also very entertaining.

Don’t you think so?

But, they went away into the tangle, and were quiet. We preferred to leave them to themselves and hope.

This morning, after I made the bed I opened the windows in the bedroom. all the world seemed very quiet outside, and still. The clock on the wall has just told me it is eight o’clock in the morning. Around me quiet is the order of the day. The river, about a hundred feet away, and down a small hill is mirror flat and still as it was yesterday. I know fish live beneath in the water, small mouth bass and carp, and others I have never caught when I caught fish long, long ago. Caught them with my friend Christopher before he died. I caught them with my son, Andrew, too, before he left me. And, I caught them with my wife, Sheila, before she died.

Mariellen, to whom I am married now, with Sheila’s blessing, does not fish. She gardens, and I help, though I can garden, too; and have. But Mariellen and I have different styles. She almost paints with flowers, impressionist landscapes of color and form, that bring their light and beauty into shape from one place to another through the season; like Christmas lights in the window, in the park, turning on and off in windows, around doors, up and down the avenues in some kind of “light music”.

I got fascinated with rocks long ago; rocks to climb on, or imagine being climbed on; fairy tale and fiction places to contemplate other worlds among. My contribution to the garden then is in that form; big rocks and small ones among the color Mariellen splashes across our miniature landscape. Oh, I also dig holes and fill them in. Strong foundations, you know. And, room for roots to spread

Garden making is a lot like fishing, I think. After the work is done, the earth prepared, turned and enriched, the planning done, or tried and re-done; the seeds and young plants from the nursery planted and watered, the waiting begins. So with fishing don’t you know. There is the laying out of gear, the pole and line, the hooks and bait. And where to go and when. As much gardening begins in the winter, during the cold months when the ground is hard and snow covered, so fishing begins the night before…or, perhaps, weeks or months before in a kind of longing, yearning, fishers feel that they “must down” to the water again; the flowing water, the waves and tide. And, the plunging stream over the shining rocks.

These thoughts hurried through my head from one room of memory, down a corridor of recollection, to another as I stood with a pillow in my hand looking out on the quiet river below. I tried listening for the birds.

It was breakfast time for them, and just a few minutes before we had both been about feeding the little creatures. Now that was done and I expected the usual frenzy of wings and bad manners. No, everything was still, beautiful and still. Dew, dropped from the leaves, and the little shudder such dropping leaves behind, was about the only movement; except, at their very tops the tall trees lining the river, the dancing trees I call them, swayed ever so slightly; inches, really, back and forth just like a sigh.

I turned to go back to finishing the bed, taking my eyes from the quiet scene in front of me. As I turned a slight breeze stirred through the window bringing a sweet gift, the scent of lilacs from my neighbor’s tree about a dozen yards upstream of me. We have seen no bees so far this year, and beautiful as the flowers look, beautiful as the river in its stillness seems, beautiful as lilacs on a slight breeze smell…

This room is perfectly still, and silent, except for the ticking clock.

Not too long ago I began vising a young fellow, a boy really, who lives not far away. His parents are friends of my wife and I. The boy is a friend too. Can a man in his late seventies find a friend who is more than 6 decades younger? I really don’t know why he cannot. That may be odd to some, but, I can tell you things much more odd.

Yesterday I had an errand to run when I showed up at his home. I needed to stop at the office of the home town team. And so I thought we might have, what I used to call my walks with my children and grand children, An Adventure. I told his mother about my plan to begin our day together with a trip, first, to the nearby stadium, to pick up our season tickets and one or two other things. After Momma was properly informed of our destination we left to begin our latest adventure. My friend, was just fine with that. He told me that he needed two bats from them. The bats we had gotten there just a few weeks ago were beginning to show signs of wear; the kind that comes from being in close contact with a 5 year old young and very active boy.

On the way, we were careful to give wide berth to houses with large dogs inside, cautiously avoiding even stopping to look at the cars in the drive to see if any of them were Police Cars. My friend is going to be a Police Man when he grows up.

As a matter of fact, when he is not a “Baseball Teamer” (his term which I have been informed is the correct one) he is also a “Police” and has often made me a “Police” too. We did find no little number of police cars on the way; the cars being identified by their red lights fore and aft, and large wheels. In a few minutes we came to the turn in the road which led down to the fields that surround the Stadium, pausing to consider if we could fall into the large sewer through it’s iron grate, and wondering just how long it might be before being rescued. I considered suggesting we might try crawling through the sewers until we reached on leading to the river, and then escape. And he thought it would be more fun if I went home and told Momma he had fallen in, and bring her back so he could surprise her.

I did not think, I said. Maybe when he was older.

On that part of our trip, we also came to a small landscaping/construction company which had a number of construction vehicles. With the assurance of someone who knows what he sees, my friend, telling me that this was a “Police Place”, studied the various vehicles there for the sure signs of their status as Police Cars. Sure enough, they were, though we did wonder, at least I did, about the “Mini Digger” parked just in front of us at the Police Place.

I asked him about the use of such a vehicle by the police while he was investigating it from stem to stern for the tell-tale red lights that all Police cars have. Mini-Diggers are used by Police was all I learned. And, remarkably, it was all I needed to know. The way to the Stadium was now all that was left as down the road we walked, crossing the street to the city fields that surround this part of the stadium.

It isn’t as easy as one would think to cross what to older eyes seems like an empty field; to cross such a thing with a five year old boy who is a “Police” and a “Teamer”, and a five year old boy in the bargain. No, it isn’t.

We stopped three times along the way. First to look at a small building and wonder what it was. We dropped to our knees to examine the sewer in the field and entertain theories about where it came from and where it went to, and how much water it held or needed to hold for someone to drown in it. We also listened for an echo when we yelled down into it, me, too, because my voice was bigger. We concluded that it wasn’t good for echo making. I wondered, to myself, if this was in any way a kind of lesson in how science got its start a few dozen thousands of years ago.

But when I was about to ask my friend, I discovered that he was at least a hundred yards away. I called out to him asking him to wait for me. He was before the entrance to the back of the stadium; where all of the landscaping material and supplies are kept. Here was “Something New!”. It was quite the biggest digger he had ever seen I will guess. I should mention that “Digger” is, I believe, a generic term for all construction vehicles. This one was something to be used to raise workers a loong way to something very high. You tell me what it is.

I could find no place on the bulk of the machine itself, but in the “bucket” for an operator. Anyway, my friend was enraptured by it, and full of a thousand questions, all having to do with words beginning in “W”. And the big ones too, the “H” words: “How does it work” and “How fast does it go.” It was green, too, and that was a question needing to be answered. “Why?”

Doing my best, I finally convinced him I knew only so much, and the unanswered questions must remain that way; hoping I had not diminished in his eyes as a worthwhile companion. We left the Digosaurus where it rested in the shade and walked a few dozen yards to the team offices. I pleasant young lady named Katy welcomed us, and introductions accomplished…with a suddenly shy young boy…I concluded my business. Now. it was my friend’s turn. Overcoming shyness, he pleaded his case for a new supply of bats, really miniature souvenirs. Katy showed him to the supply and aked him how many he might need, and of what color. As an afterthought, he asked for a third for his young brother back home…and got it. The he whispered to me if I thought it was a good time now to ask for a batting helmet. I told him we might want to postpone that, wondering where we might put the growing pile of loot.

On the way out, we met one of the staff, a young fellow who had really been a member of the team several years ago. He and my friend spoke about baseball for about five minutes, during which I learned something I hadn’t yet known. My friend was a good pitcher. And, this earned him an invitation to throw out the first pitch. On Opening Day, yet! Here, her offered a demurer. He wanted to consult with Momma. And, of course, in a business where the concept of an agent is well established, this was understood and accepted.

We took our leave and walked up the hill, around to the front of the stadium, across the large parking lot towards a stand of exercise machines near a small tennis court. Lingering at the exercise machines next to the tennis courts we played on several of them for about ten minutes before continuing on our way. We stopped to try to understand why and how the seats outside the courts, a small stand of metal seats, were damaged. I suggested some people may have done it. This occasioned a number of “How” questions,and “Why” questions, ultimately concluding in it being something for the Police to be involved with. And,this satisfied bothof us, so that we could continue. On the way, though, we paused to wonder why on a day like this no one is playing tennis, and then, thirsty, made our way to the store for some water.

We had to pass the swimming pool to get to the store. A fellow was inside cleaning the pool. So, we stopped and watched; allowing time for a couple of dozen questions about the pool, and when it would open and the people who use it, and why the man was there, and what he was doing, and why he was doing it, and could we go inside to watch. Only the last question could I answer; and that with another question about thirsty boys. This returned us to our original quest, but not before after no more than ten paces were taken we found a three wheeled motorcycle, candy cane red, parked outside the pool; and obviously, to me at least, the property of the man inside.

It proved to be, after an inspection by my young friend, a Police Car. It was even more so a Police Car after I told him the speedometer topped out at 200mph. We closely inspected the vehicle, and where still doing so when the fellow inside the gate came out and joined us. Of course it was his car and almost the first thing the nice fellow did was ask if the young lad would like to sit in the driver’s seat. He looked at me with a question in his eyes. He seemed just a little nervous, a little skittish. I told him it would be all right to sit in the car, and he did. The fellow told him he could sit in it any time. We thanked him and walked on.

We hadn’t gone more than a few feet when, with the eyes of a young eagle, far across the field he saw his best friend, and his best friend’s grandmother and younger brother making their way across a school ball field toward the “kid’s” playground. All thought of a drink at the store we forgot and I was left in the dust as he took off to play baseball with his new bats, his best friend and the younger brother. Why not? They had among them three bats, two shovels an old man, a grandmother, one baseball hat and a brand new tennis ball. It was more than enough for a game.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that we had found the tennis ball while walking away from the tennis court toward the swimming pool. Thinking about that I am reminded about a three cushion pool shot, and wonder why. It must be because “things happen”, they just happen, when one is a certain age.. I also forgot to tell you that the pool worker promised to give the little guy a bunch of baseballs since during the season he works at the stadium nearby, and has several buckets full of brand new balls waiting for new owners. It was growing into a treasure filled day, one that I would have envied was I decades younger.

Anyway, the Big Game among the three youngsters did not last long. So many things draw away the attention. Finally my young friend was the only one left playing ball, and after three home runs we left. He rally did circuit the field, a standard one, stopping to stamp on each base with authority, as he did. Of course, his “homers” were in every instance tiny shots in random directions. But he connected, and once connected ….

The game ended after the third homer. The other two fellows one four and the other two were focusing on something out by second base, and we were thirsty again. So we walked to a nearby store for a bottle of water. On the way her got tired and asked me to carry him. So, I did for about two dozen yards. I learned rather quickly that children have grown quite a bit more heavy than they were when mine were his age and I was a half century younger. Putting him down, I answered several question about why and was tempted to tell him that police did not get carried by their partners, but thought snark wasn’t the way to deal with it. I told him the truth. It worked.

As we drew near the crossing, he took my hand, and like good friends we crossed the street got our water and walked home. I was pretty tired too.

But, we played one last game of baseball. I pitched the tennis ball and he was any number of batters, walking to the “dugout” and returning to the plate each time a new batter was needed. After I had struck him out three times…in a row…I told him I was up And, the funniest time of the afternoon took place then and there. He told me that each of the players on his team were allowed 963 strikes.

It was getting late, and I answered that I had to go home. We would have to postpone the game until next time. Anyway,I told him he had won. That satisfied my friend. Satisfied friends are the best. Don’t you think?

Posted by: Peadar Ban | April 25, 2019

Our Lady

How long ago, and how old must I have been when I first heard about Our Lady. But it must have been when I was very young. This is a memory, one among the first: both my Grandmothers with their rosary in hand every day, and their lips moving ever so slightly as they prayed. Why do I love her more and more?

There isn’t much more to say other than, “Because!” It’s a kid’s answer to a lot of big questions, “Because!” But, it has long seemed to me the best one there is. You can weave a story later that comes after your “Because!” Often when I asked the typical kid’s question, “Why?”, the only answer I got was, “Because!” Again and again. And then, sometimes years went by, before the rest, the information contained in “because” like it was some kind of DNA, became very clear.

In school one of the first prayers we learned was the Hail Mary, the nuns telling us that she was our mother, too; the Mother of the Whole World, and the Queen of Heaven and Earth. But, still, she was, somehow, my own mother in heaven. These were the things we “believed”; knowledge on a higher level, of a different kind, than everyday facts and figures. And, we did believe it; still do.

Everywhere we went, when I was a little one, there was some reminder of Mary; in homes, in conversations, and around the necks of boys and girls, men and women, and most assuredly in Churches, at Mass, in her many songs of joy always tinged with sadness, in the statues, the paintings the beautiful windows.

We would not go swimming in the very polluted waters of the Harlem River in New York City near home, even my few non-Catholic friends, without something of Mary’s protection around our waste or neck, a rosary or medal of some kind. We had no doubt she would protect us. That I am writing this now, more than a half-century after those hazardous days it seems to me is proof enough that she was interested in her “spiritual” children’s physical health and well being as well as their spiritual health and liveliness.

Things changed as I grew older, and Mother Mary became less a part of my life. I have no doubt now, though, that she had not forgotten me, though I may have wandered far from her. Too many subtle indications of her care and concern, and of her ready ear for pleas to help in one thing or another make me ever more aware of her loving interest.

This is, perhaps, a description of a long journey back to her warm lap, to her company and care; certainly after its first beginnings some years before. Long ago, visiting relatives with Sheila, mother of my children may she rest in peace, we were at Mass in a church in another town. It was a Marian Feast Day, and a Holy Day of Obligation, one of those days when Catholics go to Mass that isn’t the Sabbath. Such a bother one might think. The celebrant and pastor addressed us in a sermon that must have begun, not in his brain, nor in his soul, but in a very upset and angry stomach. I thought it, really, not in good taste. The good man complained that the present day was yet another one on the Catholic calendar devoted to Mary. His complaint was, I remember, that she had more feasts, a simple woman, and mother, during the year’s turn than her Son, the Redeemer of the world. I wanted to defend her, but then thought of my own neglect down the years.

The thought came then, and lives now that without that young woman’s simple yes… Well…

Calm returned after being told the pastor was a convert, allowances are called for, and one must never punch a priest in the nose. Poor guy, I have since thought with a smile, he probably went swimming in some ghastly place with no special protection when he was a kid.

Let me back up. The long curve round to Mary began earlier than that and continued into and through college. A Freshman course opened my eyes to the wide world of Catholic culture, often referred to as Western Culture. But, really, we know just whose culture it is. Well, one of the first things this course brought to eyes and mind was beauty in places I hadn’t ever thought about, and hadn’t ever dreamed could be as rich and, well, beautiful; music and art. You see, it was the 1960’s and art was, well, you know for a street urchin, a term my mother used from time to time. We avoided, more or less, art and left it to be where it should be, in museums and stuff which were filled with strange things and stranger people guys like me would rather stay away from. You might catch something there.

Nevertheless, we were required to go into such places and expose ourselves to “Art”, and to take what may happen like the men we already thought we were. Surprise was the first thing.

Who knew?

After my first trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a few lectures back in the classroom about what I had been asked to pay attention to I found myself one day in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, home base so to speak for Catholicism in my home town. Having been there several times as a young child with my parents, the church building was familiar. Now, it was different. Then I had no “big” ideas about culture and art, or what they meant, or why they were. Things were just there and were what they were. I might stand in the middle or before the altar and look up, or all around at the place, and even like it. But, understanding was beyond me, or better not even thought of by me. Can a small child tell itself or anyone else it’s meaning, purpose or usefulness. Christ, of course, and He did over three days once. I probably cannot do that even now; but I have my own ideas.

So, on that day, St. Patrick’s “told” me something about itself, about me and about the rest of the world. I was surprised again, and enchanted, overwhelmed and, strange thing, thankful. It was a little embarrassing.

Back to Sheila, now, the woman who chose me. We were wed in St. Patrick’s. She was a student of the Cathedral High School which gave all graduates the privilege of being married there. Ours was a small wedding, in the Lady Chapel behind the main altar, in front of a beautiful rendering of Our Lady (Notre Dame). Being married there was something Sheila had dreamed of since, well, perhaps forever.

That memory of mine joined the others of St. Patrick’s in my heart and mind, and, as memories often do, befriended the knowledge I had gained of those things from school, the ones about art, and reverence, beauty and that strange word, Dulia, in my mind and heart.

We have a tradition in Catholicism, a tradition we call “making a visit”. It may be a dead one these days. But, when the doors of Catholic churches were kept open always not so long ago, they were never empty. We regularly visited to talk to God, and to His saints, especially His Holy Mother. Visiting praying to, and paying one’s respect to the saints even had it’s own word, Dulia; an old Latin thing, perhaps. There’s a special Latin word reserved for such a thing done to God, Latria. You can look it up.

There has long been a desire within me to drop in, sort of on Mary in those other places one may go to “make a visit”. I recall one in Poland years ago, in Częstochowa the great center in that country of her devotion. It was there that I encountered her during a pilgrimage and among thousands of others on her Feast Day, the Black Virgin painted so it goes by St. Luke almost the same as the other Polish one, at Montserrat, each time, becoming more connected with the “person” behind the image. Same person. Different place.

There was nothing more than a desire to fulfill a decades old wish that led me to Notre Dame when I finally went to Paris about two years ago, and to walk inside the place which had occupied my passing thoughts for years. So, the day came. But, I had already been there in my imagination so frequently that upon entering the church there was a moment of “let down” rather than a thrill of “finally”.

It did not last long, certainly not as long as the wait outside to get inside. But, I was, nevertheless, there. And, I waited, I suppose, to hear a voice calling my name, or see someone approaching me; my Mother. That soon left me as Mariellen and I wandered around inside an ancient beauty.

In the subdued quiet of the place I felt very much at home. I have always had a sense of welcome and peace in every Catholic Church I have ever entered, small or large, around the world. But, here, was something different for me. After a few minutes, I felt at home. Really at home! Maybe it is the name.

Now, it is gone. I actually wept when I learned of the fire, Wept and prayed, prayed and wept.

Oh, I am happy that so much has been saved. And, I pray that it will sometime be restored to the way it was in every respect. But, though I can remember almost every step in the all too short time we were there, and that is a consolation. I do not think I will every see it again..

That is what makes that morning so annoyingly poignant for me. You see, I had been thinking about the visit to Our Lady, going over it almost step by step, and taking pleasure in thinking, too, about the next one….

Now…?

Posted by: Peadar Ban | February 19, 2019

A Cara

A Cara

When I was much, much younger than I am, I read all of the Tarzan books, and John Carter on Mars.  As a matter of fact, the memory of those novels, John Carter and his adventures in far away places with strange sounding names (still a favorite song of mine), were what piqued my interest much later when my current wife wanted me to read the C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy with her.  Memories of the doings on Barsoom,like photos on the wall while planning a trip, or expecting a guest, kept flashing as we read, adding it’s flavor to the dish then in front of me.

It’s amazing the way one thing leads to another after this long.

I was prompted to write this to you after reading a little piece in the current issue of First Things, a journal of much more than whatever its subtitle might be.  The “little piece”, only about three pages and a line or two, is a memory by some fellow of a trip to a bookstore in Blighty, and what he found there…inside the books he was “forced” to buy; a number of volumes of the notebooks of Julien Green, who lived, not long ago, in France.  The article is an interesting story about who must have been an interesting man living a quiet but interesting life; not quite a hermit, not quite a recluse, perhaps a saint, certainly a good listener and maybe attractive enough to gather up a bunch of interesting companions along his quiet way.

But, that’s not what attracted me so much in this short story about a devout and gentle fellow.  No, I was drawn to the few introductory sentences about the visit itself to the bookstore, and the tale, a short one, about the “Adventure of the Green Notebooks”, very nearly a tragedy.

The writer was delighted to find them, the green notebooks, and disappointed there were so many that he could not afford to give them all a ride home with him.  I won’t say my heart ached, but I can say I know the feeling.

I own a Kindle; two in fact, and have put myself in possession of about 200 novels and of all sorts of books, old and relatively new.  The bits and bites they comprise float around “somewhere over my head”, but not on shelves lining the walls, or climbing the stairs where I would have them if I was allowed.  They, the kindles, are nice, and I am writing this on one of them.  But, it replaces one that died all of a sudden just before Christmas, and would look like merde on a shelf or on the wall.  Is true mor!

For my latest birthday a couple of weeks ago my darling wife “surprised” me, sometime in mid-January, with a weekend trip to York, Me., at something I think was called the York Harbor Hotel.  It was so nice of her.  She loves planning surprises like that for both of us.  Anyway, one of the first things I thought of doing .. after NOT going into the ocean .. was to find one, two or a dozen used book stores to wander about in.  We found one, about twenty minutes up Rt. One in Wells, Me. and drove up there on Saturday.

It was almost as cold inside as it was in the parking lot.  And we were the only people inside the place.  But, the books!  I know a person whose book collection is somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 volumes.  If I live to be a hundred (another line from a favorite song of mine) I can never hope to compare my latest few volumes scattered here and there in our tiny place with his.  But, I can admire it.  Solomon’s riches were nothing compared… as far as I am concerned.  And, I wonder about Alexandria…

Not too long ago we were lucky enough to spend a tiny amount of time in Florence, and to visit, however briefly, the digs of Lorenzo Medici there.  He was, in addition to everything else, a bookish fellow, and boasted a 20,000 volume library I learned.  It seems a number worth shooting for.  I saw the reading room in his place.  The original, and beautiful, Penn Station, which was modeled I have been told on Caracalla’s baths, was about the same size.  I exaggerate, but at my first glance of Larry’s big room, it reminded me of Penn Station.  The only problem was that it had no soft and cozy chairs, and the reading tables were more like banquet tables.  Well, neither did Penn Station.

Anyway, back to used books.  Mariellen and I wandered around inside for about an hour.  It even had Tarzan, in all of his appearances in print.  I had collected five novels in my wandering, and was going for one of two more when I was reminded ever so gently about where we lived.  I finally put all but one back, a good as new copy of a book I had started about a half century ago but never finished: “The White Lotus”, by John Hersey, a different kind of story “The Man in The High Castle”, but the same theme, both of which have me thinking about Ireland and England..to hell with King Billy and God bless the Pope…

Someday, I will go back there, and just for the fun of it pick up “Tarzan of The Apes“.  I may just sit and hold it for a while.  In any event, it must take its place in line, behind so many others including “The City of God” neglected oh, so long ago in favor of Cliff Notes and The Pinewood Inn.  I wouldn’t have understood then, anyway.

I must not waste too much time, though, there was a “For Sale” sign outside.

PS:  One of the books I almost tearfully had to put back was “Twenty Years A-Growing”, by Maurice O’Sullivan, one of the sweetest books I have ever read.  It alone is worth the trip.

By the way, about two miles south of the bookstore, still on Rte. 1, there is a shopping plaza.  And in that place, on the side a small hill on the right as you enter…away from the mass of stores and supermarkets… is a small red building, a house once upon a time.  It is now the location of a charming little place to stop and enjoy what I thought was a delightful time.  Can’t remember the name, but that shouldn’t surprise you.  I can’t remember yours…or my own.

Peace

Posted by: Peadar Ban | February 3, 2019

Somewhere Along The Way

We took a short trip along the coast into Maine over the weekend. It was to celebrate my arrival here 77 years ago yesterday. I sat and read something or other, an article in a magazine, while Mariellen, my wife, made sure everything was safe for us to leave; the plants were watered, the faucets all closed…things like that. And, of course, reading, and the approach of en event like becoming rather old, got me thinking. One of the things I read was an article about Hemingway, and what moved him along while he was writing. Pilgrimage. After reading, I watched the ice on the river outside. And, I doodled. What follows are my silly doodles:

I walk along counting my fingers, another Santiago, another Compostela.

Others count, too, whatever will do, railroad ties, traffic lights

Old barns in broken fields,, children underfoot, lost chances,

Real dreams and old romances.

All I have left are fingers and memories over and over, Amen, amen!

While roadside flowers lift and fall into the weeds and pretty little angel eyes wink at me in the moon bright sky. Always under them I pass by.

Who leaves, who comes, who goes, I don’t but some One knows, who clears

And builds the road ahead which will be finished, finished and done, done when all are not dead.

The fish in the river down the hill beneath the running ice will tell me when they know and when it is at last done,

When hill and me and stars are done, when all at last are one.

The little wild boy on the shore of the sea, the wild sea,

The same one later on the ice kissed bank who calls to me

The ice no thicker than a finger where I would walk, walk

To the other side. But I never tried for father took and held my hand.

But I would have, yes! I would have gone, left the shore’s safe land

And walked across the river, to the river’s other side.

Not a thing will stay as it was, but will become as it was.

I like to watch the little, quicker, ice run down the river just outside to catch the slowing to a stop edge of the larger plodding floe. Joined, they go to the waiting sea below. One thing now when just two before. Not so long to stay for sure. But now, now they are! The “marriage” of ice is no such thing as that but it is a joining sure. For some, a while, a day, unless in what we might call a “frozen waste”..no such thing..they stay. Like a white duck on the edge looking for its original self in black water, Just there, doin’ what it oughter.


Posted by: Peadar Ban | January 18, 2019

No Swimming Today!

The lifeguards are on strike.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | January 10, 2019

Brave the New World

In Chapter 6 of the book, 1984, there is a little bit of cultural orientation, I call it, going on. We ought to know what that world is like, and so we get, sort of, a tour in the form of sitting in on two fellows have lunch at work. Orwell is painting the the society that his “hero” lives in. And at the point I want to mention, he is using again the only two colors that appear..to me..in the book; gray and black


He has been talking about the social life, and gotten around to relations between men and women; to sex. He’d spent a good bit of time on what passes for friendship, for want of a better word, in the place. This little bit, after a longer discussion about the sexes and society is kind of gut wrenching.


Winston and his wife are separated, because The Party “did not permit divorce”, and he can’t seem to remember much at all about her. It suffices us to know what little her remembers; that she was tall and very straight with splendid movements. She also had an aquiline nose. The rest..


We learn that early in the marriage he discovered she was more of a cut-out than a person: “(S)he had without exception the most stupid, empty vulgar mind that he had ever encountered. She had not a thought in her head that was not a slogan, and there was no imbecility, absolutely none, that was not capable of swallowing if the party handed it out to her. “The human sound track” he nicknamed her in his own mind. Yet he could have endured living with her if it had not been for just one thing – sex.”


Katherine had been taken over by the party, I figure. I have been sitting thinking about that and the next few pages in the book where Orwell describes Winston’s further thoughts about the man and woman thing.
To be honest, the whole thing frightens me. In a book I recently finished, Europe Central, by William Vollman, there is a lot of talk about that old dance, “Changing Partners”, especially in Soviet Russia, where the Party preferred its women and men to be liberated, and the state, as in Nazi Germany, to bring up the children as good little Bundists.

Frankly, it scares me. There are too many frightening parallels between Orwell’s and Vollman’s writing with what fills the papers and the broadcast news, and have been filling it almost to the exclusion of anything else. I become more and more convinced of two things, we are at war, and we are losing.

I went off to bed last night with these words from 1984, the last ones I read before closing the book:

“He saw himself standing there in the dim lamplight, with the smell of bugs and cheap scent in his nostrils, and in his heart a feeling of deep resentment which even at that moment was mixed up with the thought of Katherine’s white body, frozen forever by the hypnotic power of the Party. Why did it always have to be like this?”

I went with these words and the thoughts of those words carried forward to today; Pussy Hats, billboards shouting out slogans about death; riots and burnings, mean and ugly people demanding more death; rich, corrupt, foolish and empty hearted and headed men and women in positions of authority and influence supporting the surgical mutilation of young children and adults, the perversions and diseases of mind and body, and soul, things once thought deep sins and deadly madness, now celebrated as wonderful advances; and being proud of their deformities of character, mind and soul; all day and everyday shouting out in our own “Newspeak” the glory of this brave new world covered in dust.

And, I thought, not for the first time, that I am lucky to be the age I am, and near what we used to call the “Dirt Nap”. There is no gray. All is black.

Must it always be like this?

Posted by: Peadar Ban | December 3, 2018

STONE

A year or so would pass not so long ago before either of us would have to go to the doctor’s office for a “checkup”.  Now we uncover aches, pains, spots and bumps, symptoms of all kinds that merit the pursed lips and worried looks of professionals at least once a month.  We have a new car which already knows the way much more than any horse and sleigh might have as it takes Grandma and Grandpa to clinic, hospital, office and or pharmacy.

It is nearly 7:00am.  Beyond the wall of trees, a few dozen yards away down the river the sun, at least a mile from where it rose at Summer’s height, shines its first pale light, begins to creep up the sky and reveal the pale blue, the cold blue of a winter sky. Too early!  Too darn early.  There’ll be no angry red swelling of clouds today, and spits of cold rain throughout as yesterday’s sullen weather provided.

And all is quiet.  The river, like a silken sheet beneath the morning’s stillness, is slipping by at a height born from weeks of rain, it seems, which brought on us a fullness usually formed by winter’s snow melt from the mountains.  It will be cold today; cold and still.  And, I have a doctor’s appointment at 3:00pm.   

https://photos.app.goo.gl/JdxSAWSpAXpVcuYa8

The neighbor’s dog barks at the day; one, two and then a volley of three before it has satisfied itself that the world has been arranged as it would have it so.  Birds?  They are somewhere in a tree nearby stoking the fire.

My coffee grows cold on the desk, and I have been here less than ten minutes.

Did I mention I had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon at three?  His office is a busy place.  Everyone there seems my age, and limps awfully as they struggle from check in to a chair and begin waiting to be called, then disappear behind a door.  The television screens don’t mind.  They flash pictures and blab words uninterrupted by anything that happens below them, chronicling nonsense and news from morning until evening; scores and temperatures, disasters and death across the world, and very well dressed young men and women to explain it all to the the room not listening.  Well, the weather does get the odd glance.

Yesterday, or the day before, I can’t remember, I began to read a new book by Anthony Esolen.  His newest is titled “Nostalgia”.  Here is a paragraph about the word from something called The Online Etymology Dictionary:

nostalgia (n.)

1770, “severe homesickness considered as a disease,” Modern Latin, coined 1688 in a dissertation on the topic at the University of Basel by scholar Johannes Hofer (1669-1752) as a rendering of German heimweh “homesickness” (for which see home + woe). From Greek algos “pain, grief, distress” (see -algia) + nostos “homecoming,” from neomai “to reach some place, escape, return, get home,” from PIE *nes- “to return safely home” (cognate with Old Norse nest “food for a journey,” Sanskrit nasate “approaches, joins,” German genesen “to recover,” Gothic ganisan “to heal,” Old English genesen “to recover”). French nostalgie is in French army medical manuals by 1754.

The author’s treatment of the word in his first chapter is both wider and deeper, and a bit more charitable to the thing, I think; but, I happen to think nothing here, if he ever reads this (which is not very likely unless I put it in his hands) would be strange.  He would recognize and understand every bit of the thing.

It’s not a sickness, nostalgia, I think.  If you ask me, and you needn’t, nostalgia’s more like an ache.  My first wife, Sheila, may she rest in peace, had a lot of bone breaks as a child.  She was a delicate person, but in body only.  In spirit she was the toughest, truest person I met until I met the woman she picked for me, lady who now sleeps quietly downstairs.  Anyway, back to Sheila and her broken bones.

She described the “knowledge”, the deep feeling within when a bone was broken, that something was out of place, something important and necessary.  It was almost a kind of mourning for what had once been good, whole and the way it was meant to be.  The feeling was always the same she said.  Something which had been whole and good, no longer was that way.  The pain itself told her, of course, that there was a very bad thing which had occurred on a physical level.  But, this was the “feeling” of change, and as she described it I could only think of loss.  It was something deeper  almost spiritual; and it was no different when she broke her back than when she broke her collar bone, or an arm or, even a finger.  She was not whole, she was broken.  And, unless something solid and white was sticking out of her skin no one else would know; and until she told me, she hadn’t ever mentioned this deeper, existential hurt to anyone. 

Perhaps she was experiencing “Nostalgia” for what had been whole and was now broken.  I can tell you that my latest trip to the doctor’s office this afternoon involves an experience like that nostalgia.  I have had rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder, which was never broken, just worn out after the abuse I’ve given it,  I am nostalgic for the life I was able to lead when it wasn’t a torn thing.  But that’s a surface reaction.

Sheila described something like a change in the soul, a change form what had made her who she was, and now was not.

Toward the end of his long introduction, Dr. Esolen writes about a French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, who is talking about loss; in this instance a loss of culture, a neglect of the past and the tremendous sensation, that, it seems, almost no one feels, because, well to borrow from Sheila, the bones, the connections, have been broken; and they can’t go on without either the path, or the tools to negotiate it.  The book he refers to is something called “Homo Viator”.  I suppose one could render the title as  “Man the Traveler”.  We have a place to go, every one of us, and we have been shown the way by the ones gone before.  Or had been, until recently.

Dr. Esolen concludes his mention of Marcel with a short quote from the book: “Perhaps a stable order can only be established on earth if man always remains acutely conscious that his condition is that of a traveler.”  In other words, we were started on a journey and we have a destination.  We are, more or less, all going home. 

How do we get there?

That was the question that gave me pause, the question that the last sentence of the introduction to the book seemed to be prompting me to ask.  The answer I thought, had to have something to do with whatever “equipment” I had to make the journey. I sat looking out of the window at what little of the world I could see around me and thought for a while about the journey so far, and how much time I might have before it is finished…at home or short of the mark by a foot or a mile.

It was Samuel Johnson who said: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

I began to realize that I have had help all along the way, and companions, too, but, sometimes like Ado Annie, a guy just can’t say no. You know?  No matter what he believes is down the road waiting for him.  I began to think, like that old song, that I had a heart made of stone: https://youtu.be/4x_Dem0JbWM

I never finished the book, “Heaven’s My Destination”, by Thornton Wilder but maybe I should have all those years ago.  My dim memory of it is that he nearly ran out the string, and was sort of put back on his feet by an encounter with a priest.  He’d been on fire for the Lord and a real pain for most of the people he came in contact with.  I’ve met them, like two fellows I shared a cab with in Dallas one morning Long ago, one of whom asked me if I have been saved.  “From what?” I asked back.  They ignored me for the rest of the ride and talked among themselves about hoe the Good Lord had showered them with blessings…in the form of new cars, big houses and stuff.

It’s one of my most vivid memories of three years in Texas.  And, I often wondered whose heart was made of stone.  Because, I could see, clear as the sun coming up it the morning, saving wasn’t about a big house on the prairie, and a son who was the star quarterback on Friday Night.

Figuring there’s about fifteen years left, I have made up my mind to accept the help offered, and follow the only road that leads me home.  There’s a couple of hills to walk over, or around.

______________________________________________________________________________

This was started a week or so ago. We just got back from another trip to the hospital about an hour ago.  My hands are shaking, and I don’t know whether it’s from too much caffeine or just being there for, what is it between us, the fifth or sixth time in three months.  It’s getting closer.




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