Monday, April 16, 2012

A Way from Here to There

I had made it. And I wanted to prove it. I wanted evidence, alone though I was that quiet morning, that I had found the way there.

There are fences around this lighthouse, and the former lightkeeper's house is a private residence. Signs urging me to respect private property turned me back on my tracks a number of times.

I had made it there, though, and I intended to try my best to get the kind of photograph I had seen again and again. The images of the lighthouse with which I am most familiar include part of the massive breakwater leading to it. How to get there? Was there a way from the various here's where I found myself to that one particular there?

That one particular there was worth recording. I wanted to take a photograph of it that did not raise the question: how did he get there? Examining the picture, I might be able to make out for myself the rough, pebbled path not far from the water's edge. I might recall the way I had to lift myself up onto the breakwater. I will forget in time the sound of the waves, maybe even the force of the wind that repeatedly threatened to take my cap and send it off over the water.

No photograph I could have taken would suggest the key question: How did I get there?

I will find my own ways to tell that story. This is one of the ways -- showing the watercolor by Gloucester artist Judyth Evans Meagher that hangs over my fireplace. It is something that has been part of each place I have lived over the past seven years.

Yes, I had made it. And I wanted to prove it. I wanted to prove to myself that I had found a way there.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hats She Wore

They are on their way to the costume room of a nearby theatre. Most of the actresses who will wear them are high-school age, young women who will never have seen their own mothers or even grandmothers wear a dress hat. If the costumer for the productions knows his or her stuff, there will be pairs of gloves to complete the look for each actress.

Long after my mother had stopped wearing hats for church or weddings and funerals, she kept her favorites on a high shelf in her bedroom closet. The hat boxes were all clearly labeled: "(Old) Black Felt Hat," "Straw Pill Box Hat," "Summer Navy Hat." From New Orleans department stores like D.H. Holmes, Maison Blanche, and Godchaux's, the boxes each carry the original sales slip glued in place with my mother's home address. She would have taken the bus to the stores on Canal Street in the morning and arranged to have her purchases delivered to our house later. The date of sale on each label remains legible: these were the styles of the Sixties.

Easter Sunday afternoon I accompanied one of my nieces down into the basement of her house. She and I brought four hat boxes up from where they had been stored since my parents' house was sold. When I opened the boxes later on the back seat of my car, I found each of the hats still stuffed with the paper my mother had used so her hats would keep their shape. It felt important today to take a picture of each hat before I forget -- again -- what that part of home life used to look like.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I don’t pop anymore.

That is the impression I have of myself. I know what I will look like most work days. I know what I will look like at family celebrations, such as the one we had this Easter Sunday. And I do not pop.

Sixty years down the line, I am wary of suggesting to anyone that I might want to pop. On the other hand, I envy women the satisfaction of adding accessories – something orange or pink or gold, an African scarf or a lacquer bracelet – as they imagine someone else thinking, “Oh, that’s nice.”

At Easter dinner I sat next to a man in his early forties, a member of our family for five years now. He was describing a photo shoot at work for which he had needed to buy a sport coat. When he spoke of the black t-shirt he had worn with it, someone at table asked him to repeat what he had just said.

I got that he would have popped with the black t-shirt. His instincts had been right, I thought. Besides, a photographer would never have allowed the wrong look in images destined for a work publication.

“Only old men wear ties everyday for work,” someone near me said – immediately adding an apology in my direction.

I did not mind. I do indeed wear a tie most days at work – as my father did before me. The shirts I wear are not expensive ones but with a suitable tie, they produce a look to which people nod, sometimes in a way they barely notice.

I nod to the look as well.

At seven o’clock each weekday morning, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I push the knot of a tie up to my collar. Briefly and privately, I pop. I think.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


With the arrival of Holy Week, German seems to make an entrance into even the humblest Christian parishes. The melody of the traditional "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" is identified in hymnbooks as "Herzlich tut mich verlangen." Sitting through the Buxtehude adaptation for the postlude today at Palm Sunday services in my parish, I resolved to find time later this week to listen to the Bach St. Matthew Passion.

There was a lot of listening I was doing today in church. Meanwhile, the reading of the long Passion narrative started a slide show going in my head. From the hands of great artists and some not so great, I have images to match each of the Gospel stories telling how Jesus is arrested, tried and executed. The fourteen Stations of the Cross hanging on the walls of the church are still one more set of artists' renditions of the final twenty-four hours of the life of Jesus.

How many other ways could there be to see those scenes? How many other ways could there be to tell that story?

I realized today that there will be artists still at work for decades and centuries to come -- some very talented artists and many less so -- all with the aim of helping people picture what happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

Why picture it, though? What purpose did it serve today to rehearse in my mind's eye what exactly may have happened to Jesus? Why attempt to stay in imagination with the dying of one man when the dying of countless others happens day in and day out without my least notice?

I say "attempt to stay in imagination" because today I did not succeed. I did not stay in imagination with Jesus. Questions from my own life arose again and again, and I failed to reflect on the questions that may have occurred to Jesus carrying a cross to Calvary. I failed to imagine the questions that occurred to bystanders witnessing those Jerusalem events first hand.

Who has time for this?

Or who has the heart for it?

For that matter, who has time for his own life sometimes? Who has the heart for it?

And that is the question, is it not?

If music, however, can trick us into it, if stories can trick us into it, if artists' imaginings can trick us into it, who would not consider himself lucky? Who would not consider himself lucky to have the questions of his own life there before him on a Sunday morning?