A few weeks ago, oppressed by some worrying news, I stopped into our college art museum. On the floor devoted to American and modern European paintings, I paused to admire Charles Sheeler’s Rolling Power, a close-up of train wheels, pistons and steam commissioned by Fortune magazine to honor the dynamism of the industrial age.
She died on Sunday, after a month of dateless days that began on Halloween and ended just short of Thanksgiving. We went from the hospice admitting office to a Halloween party in the family room, where volunteers offered us fruit punch, orange cupcakes and orange and black balloons. Three toddlers in identical ladybug suits were dancing on the faux-parquet ballroom floor to the electrically amplified folk songs of a long-haired balladeer.
Now that the dust has settled from l’affaire Regensburg, it’s a good time to think about what makes for genuine interfaith dialogue. One thing is clear: the reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s address, as reported by the media, allowed little scope for dialogue. People took sides with tedious predictability.
Our children expect peculiar vacations. While their friends go to Disney World or the beach, we go to monasteries and rare book libraries, making a holiday out of castles and forests along the way and returning with odd bits of nature or history for our display case.
On an ordinary day some ten years ago, when I was in the midst of a long-forgotten project, a call came from preschool: “You need to pick up Andy. The nurse found head lice.” So began my first encounter with the horror, the shame, the benightedness—I had no idea then how common and manageable it could be—of this medieval infestation.
Humility's job is not to crown the virtues but to serve them and infuse them with the spirit of the beatitudes ("Blessed are the meek.") Genuine humility orders the soul, bestowing clarity, calmness and competence.
My class on the Inklings (C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their circle) met on Tuesdays and Thursdays last semester, just in time for elevenses. A master baker in the class provided Lembas, which we found remarkably sustaining. Turkish delight was selling out all over the country, but we managed to locate a supply and discovered we were immune to its sticky spell.
Andy, our ten-year-old, loves to hear stories about his baby years. He has a stock of secondhand memories that have become his own through frequent retelling, and his favorite one is about Christmas presents. “Remember what I used to do with my Christmas presents?” he asks. “Yes, we remember.
It’s Dad’s birthday next week, I tell the boys. What shall we get him? Without hesitation, they chime in: the Phacops rana at A2Z. A2Z is a science and nature store in town, where our youngest is taking weekly yo-yo lessons. His father has been admiring this particular trilobite for months. And why not?
Mage Knights, those miniature warriors with names like Gibbering Ghoul, Bone Grinder, Soul Stealer and Weresabertooth, were all the rage last year in elementary school. Though designed primarily for the adolescent male world of gaming enthusiasts, Mage Knights also cast their spell on the younger set.
Where were you on the day John Paul II died? I won’t soon forget, for I was caught in a looking-glass world of improbable encounters and reactions. A friendly neighbor dropped by to deliver his boy for a play date with our son Andy. “Did you hear the pope is dying?” (Yes, I did.) “Can’t see why such a fuss is being made about him.” (I can.
One of my desk drawers is filled with old calendars, which I’ve been saving as a prop for a faulty memory. I suspect it’s a fruitless exercise. Appointments and to-do lists, however necessary, don’t add up to a life, and the dates that really do matter return like faithful comets.
Andy, age nine, is jumping rope without a rope. “Is that your invisible jump rope?” his brother John asks him. “No,” says Andy, “it’s my happy rope!” Anticipating a promised hayride, Andy jumps his happy rope clear across the apple orchard we are visiting, the very picture of energy and exuberance in all its four-foot, 50-pound, never-take-a-nap glory.
Here is a lesson in monastic stability, transposed to a domestic key: I am invited to give a talk to a general chapter of Benedictine monastic communities, meeting at a historic abbey in Italy. Such occasions, which take place only once every eight years, normally are private affairs involving intramural matters like the election of an abbot president and revision of monastic statutes.
Summer is sailing past and we are trying to catch up to it in our 1988 Volvo with its worn upholstery, carpet of crushed Ritz crackers and Freon-guzzling air conditioner. We are on the road, not as carefree summer bohemians, but as the sober, hopeful parents of a high school senior searching for a good liberal arts college.