Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Thoughts on the Past Months

It finally happened.  The cold, as in the upper respiratory kind, hit on Thursday night and persists.  Fortunately, this past weekend was the only one that I more or less had time for a cold.  I got through giving a day of recollection and Mass to a group from St. Julia’s on Friday, but by the end of two talks and Mass my throat felt as if I’d slid into second on it.  After running one necessary errand on Saturday morning the rest of the weekend was spent mostly in bed.  Things are lightening up now.  Should be fine by the coming weekend.

Ignatius’ time here on sabbatical was a great blessing but it is coming to an end in a few days.  He helped with some of the physical work that required the kind of heavy lifting I can no longer do easily.  We spent a lot of time talking about our vocations, pastoral care, and everything else that friends of long duration discuss.  We fit my favorite definitions of friendship:  A friend is someone with whom you can sit in silence for four hours and no one feels the need to speak.  And we laughed a lot, sometimes at extremely juvenile humor that is best left shared between us.  He leaves on Sunday to amble back toward Taipei.  We will go out to dinner on Thursday evening (the cold must be gone by then). I will miss him very much.  But, am very grateful for the time we were able to spend here.  I’m tempted to ask his provincial to assign him back here.  There is enough to do.  And the Chinese Catholic Community would be thrilled beyond description.  He is a role model for being pastoral with others. 

The bombing
Can’t ignore it.  It was a bizarre experience.  Ignatius and I were in the Art Institute of Chicago when it happened.  I was giving a talk the following day at the University of Illinois at Chicago and, to save money and have some fun, we flew out on Friday and drove to Marquette in Milwaukee to visit a Chinese SJ who is completing a degree there, and then went to Chicago on Sunday.  Shortly after the bombing my cell phone began going nuts with texts and e-mails asking if we were OK.  I sent a sarcastic text to my sister (sorry) who then asked if we heard about Boston.  Wow.  We got back Wednesday afternoon. 

Friday morning my cell beeped the text message signal at 6:30 AM.  BC was on lockdown and all classes were cancelled.  Weston borders Waltham, one of the towns that was locked down (Waltham borders Watertown where the boat was).  The surviving bomber was in a boat about a mile from our Provincial offices.  Obviously everyone worked from home that day.  It was surreal in that there was no traffic, none, on Concord Road, a two-lane country road in front of the house that resembles Le Mans in the morning rush hour.  It isn’t even that quiet on Sundays because of the bicyclers.  Very eerie.

The reactions to the post-bombing are ranging from occasionally maudlin to manifestations of the kind of grief characteristic of a national tragedy to frightening.  I’m perplexed by the burial stuff.  My respect for the woman who arranged the burial would have been greater if she remained anonymous rather than using it as a way of trumpeting her Christianity.  There is something more Pharisee than Publican in it.  Several times over the years I’ve quoted St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when absolutely necessary.” 

Lost Friends and the Internet
I was an exchange student in Belo Horizonte, Brasil from July 1967 to July 1968.  It was the most life-changing and path-determining experience of my life.  I made a number of friends shortly after arriving.  One in particular, Aldo Fernandes, Jr., was very helpful in learning Portuguese, learning to give serenades AND he introduced me to the caipirinha andBrahma Chopp (I was 18, the legal age in Brasil).  I taught him and some of the other guys “There’s Kind of Hush” by Herman’s Hermits and “Yesterday” by no-need-to-name-‘em in English and they taught me many songs in Portuguese, particularly those of Chico Buarque de Holanda.  A few years after I went to Penn State we lost touch.  I’d tried some internet searches over the past few years but didn’t get anywhere, in part because I was having trouble with the last name that I'd conflated with another friend's.

The day we returned from the wedding in D.C. the administrative assistant in the retreat center asked me three times in about two hours if I’d checked my e-mail.  No I hadn’t.  Finally in frustration she ordered me into her office (one does not say not to Ann) and opened the e-mail she had forwarded.  How it landed in her e-mail mystifies me.  But, it was from Aldo, now a journalist living in far western MG, who is never without a guitar (he was a terrific musician then and I’m delighted he hasn’t stopped).  He had found my pic on the internet and I guess an idea of where I was.  He noted he would have recognized me easily except for the white hair and the beard.  To prove the e-mail wasn’t a scam he enclosed a scan of the dollar bill I’d autographed for him in 1968!  I recognized my 18 year-old penmanship immediately.  It has changed.  Drastically.  But, it was mine to be sure.

Once my breathing returned to normal and the grin subsided I wrote a long e-mail back in English.  Later in the day he responded in Portuguese, which I can still read and speak but would not try writing.  We are going to set up a Skype call soon. 

I’ve told one particular story about Aldo many times over the years.  It illustrates the hazards of international living.  About ten days after I arrived the family was sitting at Saturday night supper (jantar) when he came over and asked, in tortured English, if I wanted to go to a movie.  I said OK and made the “three ring sign” (thumb and index circled with the other three fingers splayed out).  He tore out of the apartment.  I could hear his strangled laughter.  Silence descended on the table.  The kind of silence that says, “uh oh.”  But I didn’t speak enough Portuguese—I spoke almost none at that point—for anyone to explain.  When I went to the hall outside the apartment to go to the movies he explained in English and graphically.  “Joao, in Brasil thees—he made the three ring sign—is thees—he either flipped the bird, gave me the finger, or . . . you all KNOW what I mean.  At that point he lost it again.  I had just flipped off the entire family. I don’t think I made the three-ring sign again for about seven years.  He really worked hard with me on my accent and grammar.  Though I’ve lost some vocabulary my accent is still dead on.  It is great that we can now reconnect. 

I’ve never been back to Brasil, in part because the memories of a perfect year would be jolted, and in part because of time.  There may be a reason to return now. 

Probably enough rambling for now.
The trip to D.C. was a goldmine of photos.  A friend opined how some of the pix of the National Shrine would look as black and white conversions.  I've been doing a bit of that.  If all the stars line up properly over the Memorial Day weekend I will spend much of it playing with pix.

The two secular photos first.
Reflections are a tremendous source of interesting angels on a photo.  The one below shows the U.S. Capitol reflected in a window in the Library of Congress.  The blue sky was critical in making this come out so well.  This should not be converted to b&w.
The Library of Congress is an interesting building.  It is very ornate.  Some of the rooms are a bit too busy with color.  I prefer this in b&w.  It allows focus on the shapes.
The altar railing at the National Shrine fascinates.  The words, "Introibo ad altare Dei" were the first ones that demanded a response from the altar boy prior to Vatican II.  No man who was a pre-Vatican II altar boy can forget the response,
Ad Dei qui laetificat juventutam meum."
The chapel in which confessions are heard is behind a large stained glass wall.  The first time I went in there I couldn't find the door.  It is not obvious.
One of the aisles to the left of the main altar. This is difficult to photograph because of the light which shows up weirdly warm on my camera.  Much better in b&w.
There are thousands of candles aflame there.  The first is the reflection of candles near one of the columns on the lower level outside the crypt church.  The walls down there are covered with the names of individuals and groups who donated to the construction of the Shrine.

The second is a bank of candles at one of the chapels on the lower level.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

1 comment:

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