Posted by: Peadar Ban | March 4, 2012

A Letter To A Friend

Here is a letter to a friend I just finished and will send off in Monday’s mail.  I thought you might be interested in reading it.  It isn’t very long.

My friend is a scholar whose field is the history of these Untied States, specifically their recent history.  It seems sometimes that everything going on interests him.  Quite often he shares some of his gleanings with me and a few others.  They arrive regularly in my mailbox, chosen with care, tailored for my own interests; often with a true scholar’s eye for the other point of view, the “rest of the picture”.  You can bet he is a very busy man these days.

I’ll probably add to my letter’s original text as I go along.  I’ll try to put those additions in italics:

Dear “N”,

Thank you for your latest package of ephemera, though I haven’t had the time to dig into it fully.  Dig is the image I wanted to convey, like an archaeologist digging in the ruins of a dead civilization, trying to understand what was the cause of death – or a pathologist at a post mortem, two detectives standing by waiting for the news and the clues.

What may we learn?  Who may we charge, indict, arrest, try and convict?  Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Kant, Smith, Keynes, Marx etc.?  Any, all – or is it us as Pogo might say?  I wish I knew.  I wish I had paid attention all of nearly 50 years ago as you did.  I think I know what I would have done.  I would have gone to the city walls and cried “Alarum!!”, or into the streets and fought with them.  Instead, I took the soup.

I told Mariellen yesterday morning that I am beginning to find this whole thing merely amusing, this rotting away, ever quickening, always spreading and, for the most part painless until the very end…or shortly thereafter.

Cancer is sometimes painless – cancer of the body human and the body politic.  It was like that with Sheila, my first wife-may she  rest in peace, for the most part until metastasis ate up her body, rotted her bones, until they grew thin and brittle as dried twigs … Europe today.

It was like that with my father-in-law, Mariellen’s father, whose cancer went altogether undetected until two weeks before he died.  Until then we thought he might be a victim of some kind of dementia because of his erratic behavior.  He would be perfectly fine, lucid and jolly and then –  he was gone somewhere, acting bizarrely, making no sense, uncommunicative.  He became a different person entirely, actually frightening and very worrying for anyone who knew him and loved him – The Untied States today.

Yes, I think we have cancer (stage 4 cancer of the culture) and I am afraid it is incurable. (Though I do not know how long we have to live, I do not think the end is far off.)

I said that I told Mariellen yesterday that I was beginning to find it all amusing, the symptoms popping up all over, death and rot and stink, craziness in Washingtomb, D.C., presidents and senators and congressmen who are hollow men and women, empty men and women, appeasers, apologizers, tolerizers (That’s a neologism of mine.  A tolerizer is not a compromiser, someone who makes concessions on an issue to acheive a good result.  A tolerizer is someone who urges acceptance of any issue since it’s “all” good.), multicultural (as long as it doesn’t include Western culture), programmed (for intolerance of anything traditionally thought virtuous) and putrid.  But, I’ve thought over what I said and know that I was wrong.  What I really am is sad, very sad and on the edge of grief and mourning.

(There is a hymn we sing during Lent called “Leave the past in ashes”.  I refer to this hymn in the next few sentences of the letter.)

On the other side of page one is the plan for the music in the little church where we serve, for the First Sunday of Lent.  You will see that one of the hymns is called “Leave the Past in Ashes”.  Well, this is pretty well what has happened, I think.  Very few are the people a generation or two behind me who even know that there is a past.  No one speaks of it, refers fondly to it or consults it, speaks to it and listens to it for the answers (the answers it may have to their problems).  No one asks it why or how.  It is less than a whisper, that shrunken old thing, that lump.

We have certainly heard the first part of the verse.  But, oh, the second.  Who listens?  Listen now: “and turn to God, turn to God, with tears and fasting,”  Will the people of Nineveh this time do so?

In the past year of her life Sheila spent more than 95% of her time on the couch in our living room where I sit now writing this.  For the last three months I spent all of that time with her, keeping vigil, on the edge of grief, beginning to mourn.  Until she could not be left alone for even the little bit of time it took for me to go each morning to Mass and return immediately to our cell — not a prison, no, not that at all.  We had a long good-bye until she — and the past — were ashes.  And the time of fasting was ended.

Now, in the quiet of the same room I keep the same vigil in a sense beside the dying form of my country wasting away with a cancer.  There is a cure of course, the medication for it contained in the other half of the verse.  It helped Nineveh.  It would help us.  I do not think, I fear, that the “king” will proclaim any fast, nor that the people would even listen if he does.

No, I am not laughing.


PS:  I liked the article you sent me from America magazine by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J.   I liked especially what he said towards the end about how we should appeal to “former’ Catholics to return to the Church: “Just as leaders of a nation must call its citizens to a common good beyond an particular vested interest, so also leaders of our church must call the disaffected not merely back to the church but to the One without whom the church has no legitimacy or mission.”  That will be hard to do though when many of them have decided that the One is themselves.


  1. Caro Pietro,

    I just finished reading your latest Epistle to the Romans and I am depressed. I don’t know if it is better to read them before bedtime and suffer restless tossing and turning, or even worse, disturbing dreams about the dystopia facing our grandchildren, or to read them in the morning and ruin the rest of the waking day and then have to drown them out with a bit of the gargle.

    I look forward to reading something uplifting, next.

    Ciao, Ricardo

    • A Chara Risteard,

      The sun is brightly shining outside right now, bouncing ff the snow in bright jeweled facets. A brisk west wind flows like a cold stream down from the hills a few miles away making the Rhododendron leaves dance to the deep melodies of the Corinthian bells hanging outside my windows downstairs. I hear them reverberating through the glass. It reminds me of a gamelan orchestra in Indonesia…though its quite a bit colder.

      I listened to them through the night as I woke from time to time, their constant melody a lullaby. Today they and the light, the bejeweled snow cheer me. May they do the same for you my heart. You are such a jolly man I would rather die than deflate your constant good cheer. Who is there for us to turn to now that Billy is not here?

      I promise to lift you up next time. Umm, your spirit, that is, of course.

      Mo sheacht mbheannacht leat,

  2. Pedar – I, too, am sad. But I realize, as perhaps you do (as I gather from your touching remembrance of Sheila’s passing) that death must first come that life may begin anew. Perhaps this is what our God understands about our nation – that collectively we must be “born again,” so to speak, in order to go on to the next step. I hope so, at least.
    All my best to you and yours – Love.


    • Thank you, Michael, cousin. Keep up your prayers. We need ’em.

  3. It is not the decay of our country which should worry us. What, after all, is our country? Is it not a dream that our country [read “ourselves”] are special as other countries are not? Is not “America the beautiful” really “Me the beautiful [and bounteous and virtuous]”? And when it becomes obvious that Me is not so beautiful nor bounteous nor virtuous, we are tempted by despair. In what way do the doings of our government and of our politicians and of we the citizens differ from the ancient and the modern empires?
    God for His inscrutable purposes picked the Israelites as His chosen people. Yet, for all His warnings, He had to rain down plagues and punishments, fire and brimstone, on them. Why should it be any different for us? We have the history from which we may learn; it is the Bible. Other history books we do not need, except they teach us of the misdeeds of our forebears from and for which we now suffer. There are complaints aplenty about the incursion of Muslims into our commonwealth. But do we not invite then with our killing of our progeny? They increase and multiply while we decrease and subtract.


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