Monday, July 18, 2016

Forty-five Years Ago

My father and my mother were in their late fifties when I left home.

Entering the seminary forty-five years ago this summer, I had definite ideas at the time about what I would be doing. I had notions about how I would be spending my days those first two years of novitiate. I had done my reading of vocation materials, pored over drawings and photographs in brochures and books, talked to some of my high school teachers who had taken the same step ten and twenty years earlier.

I knew I would be sitting in classrooms during part of the time. I knew I would be kneeling in lots of chapels. I knew I would be taking meals in a refectory with thirty, sometimes forty, sometimes even more residents and visitors to the house. I knew I would work alongside other young men from around the country, hearing their stories of growing up and of leaving home in just the way I had.

What I did not know was what the experience would be like living alongside men in their late fifties who were not my father and mother. Of course I knew these men had not married or raised children. I just had not known first-hand how routines uninformed by my parents’ values and histories might end up looking and feeling. What did these men do when they got the flu? What did these men do when they missed something they had really been looking forward to? I knew what my parents would do. What did these men do?

What I did not know entering the seminary at age nineteen was that I was going to have the experience of living alongside men in their sixties and seventies as well. It would be their day-to-day living – their walking down a hallway to breakfast, their carrying their laundry downstairs to the washing machines, their taking a walk to reflect on something important, their putting postage stamps on envelopes for the letters they had written, their using a bookmark to keep their place in volumes borrowed from the community library – that day-to-day living would prove the ready-to-hand model for some of my own living as a single man in my sixties.

That had been not simply information I was gaining during those years of novitiate forty-five years ago. It had been formation I was undergoing.

And not exclusively apostolic formation, either – it was as much personal formation. Formation of ways of proceeding. Formation of ways of setting expectations.

Whether or not I would continue on to priestly ordination – and I actually did not – I had eventually gotten the look down, the feel down, of what it might be like not to be a family man.

Or is the reality, I ask myself, not as simple as that? Are there lots of ways to be family, lots of ways to be a family man? The summer is a good time to ponder.

Friday, July 15, 2016

In a Summer Garden

It is a warm Friday evening.

It is the midpoint of the month of July, and I sit in an open white shirt, half-linen half-cotton. A floor fan moves the air. Ice cubes jostle slices of lime in a glass on the end table beside me.

For the third time I have picked up the arm of a phonograph and placed the needle back at the first band on the long-playing record. Until a month ago the 1969 recording of In a Summer Garden was in a box six miles away on the floor of a small shop stocking vintage vinyl.

The original owners had taken care to keep the atmospheric music of Frederick Delius relatively free of scratches. The open windows of my second-floor apartment are not going to occasion a disturbance to neighbors if I keep the volume in the middle range.

What Delius wanted to suggest about his 1909 garden in a small town in France soothes this summer evening in New England over a century later.

Meanwhile across town a friend has been working on a garden all day. The garden gives a colorful symmetry to part of the lawn of an historic home. A Loyalist family walked that lawn mornings and evenings in the years leading to the American War of Independence.

An event a month ago brought a group of historical reenactors to the same lawn. They walked up and down the beds of the garden, mulling the issues of a family over two centuries gone from the property. Political turmoil would send them away from a home they had worked to maintain in order and loveliness.

There is no Delius playing for the friend at his volunteer work in that garden tonight. Nothing will soothe his summer evening until he makes his way on a bus to his basement apartment. There a shower will help him get clean enough to fix a meal and go to bed.

If these words suggest a summer evening in 2016 New England, they might create the kind of atmosphere that sometimes arises from music. They might also give the flavor of soil being worked and roots being watered and beds being readied for a night's rest and the morning's freshness.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Seasons with Edwin Way Teale

Will it ever happen?
Will I ever get there?
Will I ever see it? Will I ever stand in front of it?
Will I ever reach that point?
Will I ever know what it sounds like and feels like?
Will I ever…

Will it ever happen again?
Will I ever get there again?
Will I ever see it again? Will I ever stand in front of it again?
Will I ever reach that point again?
Will I ever again know how it sounds and how it feels?
Will I ever again…

If it happens again, will it be at all the same?
If I get there again, how might it be different?
If I see it again, can it ever be the same?
If I stand in front of it again, how different will it be?
If I reach that point again, will I be different?
As long as I experience again how it sounds and how it feels,
does it really have to be the same?

Isn’t it the nature of things regularly to look different and sound different?

Isn’t it the nature of things to want to be there again?