"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Monday, February 29, 2016

Lines I Wished I’d Written: Atticus is Feeble from To Kill a Mockingbird

I’ve been reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  I’m about a third of the way through and I will post some analytical thoughts as soon as I finish Part 1, which is another fifteen pages or so.  I’ve come across a number of passages that are delightfully written, and I’ve been debating over which one I should highlight.  As soon as I read this at my lunchtime break today, I concluded this was the one.

This is a passage where Scout Finch, the central character of the novel, a young girl somewhere between six and nine years old, tells about her father, Atticus Finch, who seems rather ordinary, unexciting, and less accomplished than the fathers of the other children at school.

Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty.  When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he had got started late, which we felt reflected upon his abilities and manliness.  He was much older than the parents of our school contemporaries, and there was nothing Jem or I could say about him when our classmates said, “My father—“

Jem was football crazy.  Atticus was never too tired to play keep-away, but when Jem wanted to tackle him Atticus would say, “I’m too old for that, son.”

Our father didn’t do anything.  He worked in an office, not in a drugstore.  Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.

Besides that, he wore glasses.  He was nearly blind in the left eye, and said his eyes were the tribal curse of the Finches.  Whenever he wanted to see something well, he turned his head and looked from his right eye.

He did not do things our schoolmates’ fathers did: he never went hunting, he did play poker or fish or drink or smoke.  He sat in the livingroom and read.

With these attributes, however, he would not remain as inconspicuous as we wished him to: that year, the school buzzed with talk about him defending Tom Robinson, none of which was complimentary.  After my bout with Cecil Jacobs when I committed myself to a policy of cowardice, word got around that Scout Finch wouldn’t fight any more, her daddy wouldn’t let her.  This was not entirely correct: I wouldn’t fight publically for Atticus, but the family was private ground.  I would fight anyone from a third cousin upwards tooth and nail.  Francis Hancock, for example, knew that.

When he gave us our air-rifles Atticus wouldn’t teach us to shoot.  Uncle Jack instructed us in the rudiments thereof; he said Atticus wasn’t interested in guns.  Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds.  Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

“Your father’s right,” she said.  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.  That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

So, that’s where we get the title of the novel.  I was wondering about that, and obviously it’s loaded with symbolism.  I don’t know what it’s symbolic of yet, but I would say it’s rich with possibilities.  That the mockingbird’s singing is noted reminds me of some of the Romantic poet’s use of bird singing to symbolize ideal beauty.  I’m thinking of Percy Shelley’s “To a Skylark” or John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.”  Isn’t it interesting that the family’s last name is Finch, also a type of bird.  Is Finch a contrast to Mockingbird or are they analogous?  I’ll have to do a little ornithological research.  We shall see what develops from that. 

But I was struck with the delineation of Atticus Finch.  Let’s see, an older father than typical, wears glasses and loves to read, works in an office and is rather unexciting: who does that remind one of?  Me!  LOL.  I’m all those things except I’m an engineer instead of a lawyer, and I do drink alcoholic beverages every now and then.  I would like to think I’m as wise as Atticus Finch, but probably not. 

It was only a couple of weeks ago someone said on a comment to a post on a subject I forget that most women dream of marrying Atticus Finch but they wake up to find they are married to Homer Simpson.  LOL, well I hope I’m not that bad.  I would say I’m more like George Jetson.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Feline Catastrophes by Victor S E Moubarak

Mixed into my literary reading I try to strategically place something that is a little less weighty, something that unwinds the tension of cerebral knots.  Something to have fun with.  And yet it has to also must be of quality.  It can’t be junk.  Such are Victor Moubarak’s books.

You might recognize Victor as one of the people who frequently comment on my blog.  We’ve kind of built up an internet friendship.  I get a real kick out his blog, Time For Reflections.  

Two years ago such a relaxing book was Victor’s The Priest and the Prostitute, which I dedicated a post to hereLast year was his collection of short stories, Feline Catastrophes, which I now want to highlight.  While each short story stands alone as its own story, the collection is a themed set of short stories relating to a narrator, his family, and his pets, especially his cat.  The very first story, “Know Your Place,” presents the theme:

Let me tell you about our household. There’s the family and me, the dog and the cat. Ah … and the goldfish. Mustn’t forget the goldfish! There are two of them happily swimming in the tank in the living room. Normally they would come at the end of our list of priorities in the hierarchy that is our household. But not here … in our home the lowest position is reserved for me. And right there at the top is … our cat!

What we get is man’s relationship to cat: cat on top, man on the bottom with the dog thrown in for good measure as a contrast.

A guard dog he definitely is not. I reckon if we were unfortunate enough to have burglars he’d quickly show them where I hide my stash of chocolates. And if they came by night, he’d hold the flashlight for them and lead the way.

The cat on the other hand is totally different. He is mischievous, devious, scheming and conniving. And cunning too!

So we have the dumb dog, the crafty cat, and the unfortunate man.  It makes for good and humorous story.

For instance, the narrator—I picture Victor himself as I read since all the stories are told in first person from the man’s perspective—decides to put in a cat flap to the door since he’s tired of having to open the door at the cat’s behest.

That’s when I decided to fit a cat flap to the back door. You know the kind of thing I mean … It’s a small aperture the size of a cat with a swinging little door hinged from the top which opens and shuts both ways depending on whether his Majesty is entering or leaving his palace.

But fitting a cat flap is one thing. Teaching a stupid cat to use it is another. He continued his old habit of jumping at the door expecting us to open it for him. So I had to teach him how to use the new contraption fitted especially for his convenience and our peace of mind.

And then the narrator tried to physically teach the cat by pushing him through the flap.

Eventually the cat wanted out again. So I picked him up and stood him by the cat flap and slowly pushed him forward towards it. He stiffened his legs gripping into the carpeted floor as if his life depended on it. The more I pushed, gently of course, the more he fought back eventually turning on his back like an acrobat and scratching my arms.

Finally I managed to get him through the cat flap and out in the garden. But minutes later he wanted in again. He started jumping at the door. I went down on my hands and knees inside the kitchen and called him in. No response. He was still there jumping forwards and backwards towards the door thinking it was a new game to play. I put my hand through the cat flap to encourage him to come towards me. No use.

I put my head through the cat flap to show him it was me calling him … and that’s when matters got worse. My head got stuck in the cat flap. I could not move it forwards or backwards as I lay there flat on the kitchen floor seeing from the corner of my eye the cat walk away in disdain whilst the dog could be heard snoring in front of the TV. No point in shouting for help … there was no one at home at the time.

And the story goes on.  Another good story is “Mrs. Felix,” the name of the narrator’s next door neighbor.  She is an elderly woman whose budgie (a Britishism for a parakeet—Victor is British and lives somewhere in the north of England) has died and has asked the narrator to help dig a burial place in the back yard.

I entered the house and she showed me a little cardboard box which once contained biscuits. There, lying peacefully on its side on a bed of soft cotton wool was Churchill. All three inches of him.

I took the box from her hands and its cover and followed her in the back garden. She chose a nice shady place by a tree and decided to bury him there. I put the box and its lid on the garden table and followed her to the shed to get a spade.

And just then it happened … catastrophe of all catastrophes.

Out of the bushes came my own stupid cat from next door. He pounced on the table, grabbed Churchill in its mouth and ran away. It all happened so quickly in slow motion … like it often does in the movies.

You’ll have to read the rest.  All I will say is that the cat is seen at the end licking his lips.

I think my favorite of the stories is titled “The Armchair.”  The narrator’s rich uncle decided to give the family a gift, an armchair.

Not a normal type of armchair mind you … no, this was an inflatable armchair. And not the kind you inflate with air … it would take ages and strong lungs to inflate something this size. No, this armchair had to be filled with water. It’s like a water bed but armchair shaped. And it’s in the most hideous blue plastic colour.

With the gift was a short note from Uncle Herbert saying “I saw this in the shop and thought of you.”

WHY? Why would an oversized fluorescent blue inflatable armchair lead a kind, albeit somewhat demented old man, think of me? Do I look fat and wobbly maybe? I never even wear blue, so what led him to buy it for us?

Anyway … one has to be kind I suppose, and as Uncle Herbert is visiting again next week we decided to inflate the armchair with gallons and gallons of water. It must have emptied three local lakes to fill it.

I have to say Victor’s imagination is just rich.  Now what kind of trouble can one get into with a devious and malicious cat and a water armchair? 

So there was I yesterday sitting uncomfortably in this huge blue lagoon moving from side to side when I eventually fell asleep. There was nothing good on TV except the dust accumulated by the static. As I lay there sleeping, dreaming of being on a Pirate’s Ship with Captain Blue Beard no doubt, when suddenly my dream turned into Titanic.

LOL, they are all extremely funny.  And what’s great is that Victor’s books are very inexpensive and some even free.  Feline Catastrophes is a free download, and you get it here.  Just scroll down to the book.    

Finally I’ll provide some pictures of my cat.  If you’re a reader of my blog you might remember we found a kitten by the side of our house last May ad took him in.  Well he’s nearly eleven months old now and are some pictures of our cunning cat.

Here he is resting on our bed as if he were king.

Here he is lurking and playful.

And here resting on his perch, no doubt scheming.

Actually he's been a joy.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Literature in the News: Harper Lee Dies and Her Reputation

The author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, died yesterday.  From Associated Press through Yahoo News: 

Harper Lee, the elusive novelist whose child's-eye view of racial injustice in a small Southern town, "To Kill a Mockingbird," became standard reading for millions of young people and an Oscar-winning film, has died. She was 89.

Lee died peacefully Friday, publisher HarperCollins said in a statement. It did not give any other details about how she died.

"The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don't know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to — in private — surrounded by books and the people who loved her," Michael Morrison, head of HarperCollins U.S. general books group, said in the statement.

As I’ve mentioned in the past I had never read To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most notable works of American fiction in the second half of the 20th century.  It was the first book planned to be read in 2016, and I did start it.  I had to stop it to start my Lenten read, St. Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, which I just finished a few days ago.  I’m about a quarter of the way through To Kill a Mockingbird and I was about to pick it up when I saw the news of Lee’s passing.  From the Associated Press article:

"To Kill a Mockingbird," published in 1960, is the story of a girl nicknamed Scout growing up in a Depression-era Southern town. A black man has been wrongly accused of raping a white woman, and Scout's father, the resolute lawyer Atticus Finch, defends him despite threats and the scorn of many.

The book quickly became a best-seller, won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a memorable movie in 1962, with Gregory Peck winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus. As the civil rights movement grew, the novel inspired a generation of young lawyers, was assigned in high schools all over the country and was a popular choice for citywide, or nationwide, reading programs.

By 2015, its sales were reported by HarperCollins to be more than 40 million worldwide, making it one of the most widely read American novels of the 20th century. When the Library of Congress did a survey in 1991 on books that have affected people's lives, "To Kill a Mockingbird" was second only to the Bible.

It was just last year, almost to the day, I posted that after 54 years Harper Lee published a second novel after To Kill a Mockingbird.   The novel, Go Set a Watchman, was actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird, and contained the same characters only set 20 years later.  So the To Kill a Mockingbird is actually a prequel to Go Set a Watchman

But the prequel was a learning experience for Lee, and apparently is not of the same caliber. I won’t go into that since I haven’t read either.  I do feel the need to comment, however, on all the criticism out there for the people who pushed Lee to publish what critics claim is an unworthy effort.  They do absolve Lee of the critique since she was in her late eighties.  Here’s such criticism from Ron Charles, the fiction editor at the Washington Post:

The sadness of Harper Lee’s death on Friday in Monroeville, Ala., is deepened by the painful controversies that attended the last few years of her life. Long adored as the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Lee found herself caught in a morass of claims and counterclaims about her competency to manage her own literary legacy.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is still devoured by countless new and repeat readers around the world. Teenagers study the Depression-era story of Scout and Jem every year. Lawyers routinely say that Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, inspired them to study law. But ironically, lawyers and legal ambiguities eventually threatened to overshadow Lee’s life and work.

What a shame.

And Charles goes on to utter his disappointment with the recently published work:

When “Go Set a Watchman” finally appeared in print last summer, it quickly shattered sales records. But it also shattered something more precious: our admiration for Atticus Finch. In this old/new story, set two decades after the trial of Tom Robinson, Atticus has devolved into a racist. Jean Louise (“Scout”) is shocked and disillusioned. And so are we.

Maybe we should just grow up; after all, as close readers noticed, Atticus was never really as noble and uncomplicated as we imagined. But that’s not the point. It wasn’t Atticus’s reputation that was sullied by this second book, it was Lee’s.

“Go, set a watchman,” the prophet Isaiah writes. “Let him declare what he seeth.” And what we saw — the millions of us who bought this new book — was an inferior piece of work, an early draft of something we love, fascinating perhaps for its embryonic detail, but not a finished novel to place alongside “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The tragic story of Harper Lee — and it is a tragedy — raises the question of who owns our literary heritage. Not in a legal sense, perhaps, but in a larger, cultural sense. Are there works of literature so beloved, so foundational to who we are, that they deserve to be classified as National Historic Landmarks, forever protected from garish rehab or wholesale demolition?

So Charles seems to bring up at least four issues there: (1) Should a work that contradicted the vision of the more renown work have been published? (2) Who should be responsible for an author’s personal papers and writings?  (3) Should a landmark work be protected from garish rehab? (4) Is an author’s reputation sullied by the publication of mediocre, if not poor, quality works?

Let’s take the easiest one to answer first, number 2.  Who should be responsible?  The person the author assigns to be responsible or if no one is assigned, the natural sequence of heirship.  It’s a legal matter.  If the author assigns poorly or it falls to an unscrupulous person, well, that’s life. 

Next, number 3, protection from rehab.  First, there are copyright laws which apply, and for the most part make sense.  Once the time has passed, then if people want to read some crazy prefabrications of a classic work, I don’t see the harm.  There are all sorts of crazy rewrites of Jane Austen novels with vampires or zombies complicating the action.  See here if you want to laughBut this charge itself against Go Tell a Watchman doesn’t make sense.  It was Lee herself who wrote the work.  It’s not a rehab but a prequel. 

As to number 1, Ron Charles answers it himself when he says above that “we should grow up.”  Yes, complaining that a character in one work contradicts the nature of that same character in a different work is is childish, even if both works are by the same author, perhaps especially so.  The works are separate and distinct.  If the author wants to hold to the same vision in both, then she has the prerogative; if she wants to have a different vision, then it’s still her prerogative.  Take the Renaissance painter Raphael for example.  He painted many versions of the Madonna, each with a different personality.  The character is the same, but the vision is different.

As to the harm the people who were responsible for her papers did by publishing Go Set a Watchman, I think it’s a complete non-issue.    I don’t see her reputation sullied.  Even if Watchman turns out to be a disaster – and a lot of people say it’s a disappointment – it will not hurt her reputation in the long run. Over the course of history, only a writer’s best work is part of their historical critical evaluation. No one remembers the few lousy Shakespeare plays. They just don’t count in the long run. If Harper Lee made some money with Watchman and handed it over to her heirs, so be it. It’s only a transient thing.

This is a nice TV news summary of her passing and the issue with the new novel.

By all accounts she was a sweet and good soul.  May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Short Story Analysis: “A Cup of Cold Water” by Edith Wharton

“A Cup of Cold Water” is a lovely short story by Edith Wharton centered on a man named Woburn.  The story divides into two halves, which frankly I’m not convinced is aesthetically whole.  By that I mean that there is a first half which is a story in itself and a second half that seems like a separate story, though the central character of Woburn is in both halves.  You can read the entire story at the Literature Network, here, from which I will use as a source for the quotes.    

The story is set in New York City in the late 19th century.  Woburn is a poor young man who has this infatuation with a rich young lady, Miss Talcott.  Here is a one sentence paragraph of why Woburn is charmed with Miss Talcott.

Her supreme charm was the simplicity that comes of taking it for granted that people are born with carriages and country-places: it never occurred to her that such congenital attributes could be matter for self-consciousness, and she had none of the nouveau riche prudery which classes poverty with the nude in art and is not sure how to behave in the presence of either.

In other words, she didn’t realize other people weren’t born with her financial advantages, which meant she did not look down on the lower classes, or it didn’t dawn on her to look down on them.  She’s natural and not snobby.

So Woburn—which I think is so named because it nearly sounds like “woe born”—realizes he has to be rich to marry Miss Talcott, and so starts investing in stocks with borrowed money, and then starts using money from the bank at which he worked.  Here are two wonderful paragraphs on his subsequent crash.

He had invested the few thousand dollars which had been his portion of his father's shrunken estate: when his debts began to pile up, he took a flyer in stocks and after a few months of varying luck his little patrimony disappeared. Meanwhile his courtship was proceeding at an inverse ratio to his financial ventures. Miss Talcott was growing tender and he began to feel that the game was in his hands. The nearness of the goal exasperated him. She was not the girl to wait and he knew that it must be now or never. A friend lent him five thousand dollars on his personal note and he bought railway stocks on margin.  They went up and he held them for a higher rise: they fluctuated, dragged, dropped below the level at which he had bought, and slowly continued their uninterrupted descent. His broker called for more margin; he could not respond and was sold out.

What followed came about quite naturally. For several years he had been cashier in a well-known banking-house. When the note he had given his friend became due it was obviously necessary to pay it and he used the firm's money for the purpose. To repay the money thus taken, he increased his debt to his employers and bought more stocks; and on these operations he made a profit of ten thousand dollars. Miss Talcott rode in the Park, and he bought a smart hack for seven hundred, paid off his tradesmen, and went on speculating with the remainder of his profits. He made a little more, but failed to take advantage of the market and lost all that he had staked, including the amount taken from the firm. He increased his over-draft by another ten thousand and lost that; he over-drew a farther sum and lost again. Suddenly he woke to the fact that he owed his employers fifty thousand dollars and that the partners were to make their semi-annual inspection in two days. He realized then that within forty-eight hours what he had called borrowing would become theft.

And so he realizes he has lost everything including Miss Talcott and needs to leave town before he will be arrested.  On the night before he will skip town there is a ball where Miss Talcott was to attend and had invited him.  He decides to go and have one last moment with her before he will never see her again.  Here is that last moment.

Presently Woburn was aware that she had forgotten young Boylston and was glancing absently about the room.  She was looking for someone, and meant the someone to know it: he knew that Lost-Chord look in her eyes.

A new figure was being formed. The partners circled about the room and Miss Talcott's flying tulle drifted close to him as she passed. Then the favors were distributed; white skirts wavered across the floor like thistle-down on summer air; men rose from their seats and fresh couples filled the shining parquet.

Miss Talcott, after taking from the basket a Legion of Honor in red enamel, surveyed the room for a moment; then she made her way through the dancers and held out the favor to Woburn. He fastened it in his coat, and emerging from the crowd of men about the doorway, slipped his arm about her. Their eyes met; hers were serious and a little sad. How fine and slender she was! He noticed the little tendrils of hair about the pink convolution of her ear. Her waist was firm and yet elastic; she breathed calmly and regularly, as though dancing were her natural motion. She did not look at him again and neither of them spoke.

When the music ceased they paused near her chair. Her partner was waiting for her and Woburn left her with a bow.  He made his way down-stairs and out of the house. He was glad that he had not spoken to Miss Talcott. There had been a healing power in their silence. All bitterness had gone from him and he thought of her now quite simply, as the girl he loved.

What a lovely but melancholy moment.  And that was the ending of the first half of the story.  The second half begins with Woburn spending the night at a hotel since he still had a number of hours before the steamer on which he will escape the city departs.  In the adjoining room he hears a woman crying.

There was no mistaking the nature of the noise; it was that of a woman's sobs. The sobs were not loud, but the sound reached him distinctly through the frail door between the two rooms; it expressed an utter abandonment to grief; not the cloud-burst of some passing emotion, but the slow down-pour of a whole heaven of sorrow.

Woburn sat listening. There was nothing else to be done; and at least his listening was a mute tribute to the trouble he was powerless to relieve.  It roused, too, the drugged pulses of his own grief: he was touched by the chance propinquity of two alien sorrows in a great city throbbing with multifarious passions. It would have been more in keeping with the irony of life had he found himself next to a mother singing her child to sleep: there seemed a mute commiseration in the hand that had led him to such neighborhood.

In that second paragraph is the theme of the story: “the drugged pulses” of grief and “alien sorrows in a great city throbbing with multifarious passions.”  What a great sentence.  This is a story of a big city, of people saddened by unrequited passions.  Through the keyhole Woburn spies that the woman has a gun and intends to kill herself.  He breaks through the door and comforts the woman, who feels she has no other recourse but suicide.  Woburn tells her he will figure out a solution to whatever problem she has that has brought her to this point.

Ruby Glenn, the sobbing woman, tells him the story of how she was bored living in a small town named Hinksville, “a poky little place,” which sounds a lot like Hicksville, an emblematic name of a town in the middle of nowhere.  There she lived a mundane life with an unexciting husband, Joe, who is away a lot for his work and his mother, an austere woman whose only guest was a Baptist minister.  When her husband was away for an extended time, a colorful journalist “bewitches” her and they run off together.  After five months traveling about he abandons her, and wants to get back to her husband but has no money.  She’s confident he will take her back but believes his mother has stymied her letters.  Ruby, in contrast to Miss Talcott, is quite class conscious, and understands the limitations of want, and, through her bad decision to run off, desired to live a fantasy life outside of her means.

What we have is a story within a story where Woburn resolves Ruby’s problems by using his remaining pocket money to pay for her back bills and her train fare back to Hinksville.  You can now see how aesthetically the overall story is bifurcated.  By this point the reader has lost sight of Miss Talcott and the events that led him to the hotel.

So what holds the story together?  Certainly the sorrows of those in a big city throbbing with passions.  What I think holds the story together is the suffering that Woburn experiences in the first half leads him to help the poor woman out in the second half.  In paying the woman’s bills, Woburn has sacrificed his means of escaping debtors.  At the end of the story he has to go back to the bank where he worked to face his misconduct.

But before he puts the Ruby on the train, there is a final scene where Ruby thanks him.

Ruby Glenn had obediently prepared herself for departure and was standing before the mirror, patting her curls into place. Her eyes were still red, but she had the happy look of a child that has outslept its grief. On the floor he noticed the tattered fragments of the letter which, a few hours earlier, he had seen her place before the mirror.

"Shall we go down now?" he asked.

"Very well," she assented; then, with a quick movement, she stepped close to him, and putting her hands on his shoulders lifted her face to his.

"I believe you're the best man I ever knew," she said, "the very best-- except Joe."

She drew back blushing deeply, and unlocked the door which led into the passage-way. Woburn picked up her bag, which she had forgotten, and followed her out of the room. They passed a frowzy chambermaid, who stared at them with a yawn. Before the doors the row of boots still waited; there was a faint new aroma of coffee mingling with the smell of vanished dinners, and a fresh blast of heat had begun to tingle through the radiators.

“I believe you’re the best man I ever knew.”  This was Woburn’s heroic moment.  Her sincere statement of his character is his reward.  He may never have Miss Talcott as a wife, he may be poor for the rest of his life, he may even face prosecution and jail for embezzlement, but he saved a poor woman from killing herself and got her back to her husband to save her marriage.

Finally there is the odd title of the story.  There is no cup of water in the entire story.  As it turns out, the title comes from Matthew 10:42.  It’s one of those sayings of Jesus: “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”  His sacrifice has been his reward, which has made him a hero.  Though awkwardly structured, it is a wonderful story.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Notable Quote: Have the Courage to Suffer by Antonin Scalia

I guess by now most of the American readers of my blog have heard that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away Saturday.  

I have to say I am a bit heartbroken over it.  Antonin Scalia was a personal hero of mine.  As an Italian-American and a conservative and a Catholic I was so proud of him.  It is my perception that until Scalia hit the national scene, Italian-Americans and Catholics were predominantly center-left on the political scale, which is to say moderate Democrats as far as political party affiliation goes.  And I would assess that over 90% of my family would consider themselves Democrats, even today. 

Now it is without question that it was the Democratic Party which left traditional values behind, which made a new generation look toward the political right for a fit.  As I matured and found my philosophic match, there was no question that I was a conservative.  I think it’s in my genetic makeup.  Antonin Scalia, with his pugnacious personality, his wit and charm, his intellectual brilliance, his devout Catholicism, his loud and larger than life energy—the very essence of Italian male extroversion—his dedication to family and tradition made him an icon for many, but specifically for those of us of Italian ethnicity.  Some of us have crazy uncles and some of us have brilliant uncles: Antonin Scalia was our brilliant uncle, and we could point to him to justify our political leanings.

There are many great Scalia quotes.  I love the one where he’s being interviewed by a writer for New York magazine, which is a publication somewhere left of Pravda, where the interviewer is shocked that Scalia actually believes in heaven and hell.  Scalia leans in to him and adds, “I even believe in the Devil.”  

But the quote of his I most embrace is this one on the courage to be a Christian:

“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools ... and he has not been disappointed…If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity…Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”
            - Speech at Living the Catholic Faith conference, 2012

Antonin Scalia was an intellectual giant compared these petty, conventional “sophisticates.”  There are only a handful of people that I would love to hang out with in heaven, if I should be graced with getting there.  Antonin Scalia is one of them.  May eternal light shine upon him as he rests in peace.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Faith Filled Friday: Papal Mass Rosary

Back when I posted on the Papal Mass I was blessed to be able to attend at Madison Square Garden when Pope Francis came to New York last September, I mentioned I had bought as a memento the official rosary to go with the visit and I had promised to post pictures.  I think the pictures make for a good Lenten Faith Filled Friday post.

Here they are inside the little box they come in.

If you look carefully on the box you can see it says “Limited Edition Commemorative Rosary” and in the back of the box it says they were “Handmade in Italy.”  Here’s the entire rosary.

They are black beads which I assume are glass, but what I really like is that the connectors are really strong.  Here’s a close up of the crucifix and centerpiece.

Both the crucifix and the Blessed Mother in the centerpiece have a simplicity that reflects the Holy Father’s personality.  Here are the backsides.

The centerpiece has a dove with a sort of heart and cross above it, which was the logo for the visit.  The back of the crucifix is inscribed:


A very nice memento indeed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Poetry: Ash Wednesday by Anya Krugovoy Silver

I’ve never heard of Anya Silver, but I did come across this poem in Sarah Arthur’s Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide, which is a  Lenten collection of literature.  

As I searched around for information on Ms. Silver, I found she’s a professor of English at Mercer University in Georgia, a published poet of two anthologies, and she won Georgia’s author of the year award for the poetry category in 2015. She’s apparently a rising contemporary poet, and I hope she doesn't mind me posting her poem.

The poem is to commemorate today’s initiation of Lent, Ash Wednesday.  

Ash Wednesday
By Anya Krugovoy Silver

How comforting, the smudge on each forehead:
I’m not to be singled out after all.
From dust you came. To dust you will return.
My mastectomy, a memento mori,
prosthesis smooth as a polished skull.
I like the solidity of this prayer,
the ointment thumbed into my forehead,
my knees pressing hard on the velvet rail.
If God won’t give me His body to clutch,
I’ll grind this soot in my skin instead.
If it can’t hold the flame that burned by breast,
I’ll char my brow; I’ll blacken my pores; I’ll flaunt
with ash this flaw in His creation.

From that little bio on her article, we do learn she is a cancer survivor.  The poem has a ring of personal experience.  A momento mori is a symbol of one’s mortality, such as a skull, which Silver nicely sneaks into the fifth line.  A momento mori is also a reflection on one’s mortality, such as the famous “Alas poor Yorick!” passage in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  And so this whole poem is a momento mori, as is the ash cross that is placed on one’s forehead today. 

I really love the last five lines of the poem with those conditional “if” statements:

If God won’t give me His body to clutch,
I’ll grind this soot in my skin instead.
If it can’t hold the flame that burned by breast,
I’ll char my brow; I’ll blacken my pores; I’ll flaunt

with ash this flaw in His creation. 

How wonderful.  I hope you do get your ashes today.