On a summer evening in our town, Carnival came to Main Street. Biker convoys parked their gleaming Harleys outside the Internet café and flocks of teens from the suburbs rivaled the Harleys with their personal adornments of metal trimmings, tattooed limbs and orange and purple–streaked hair. To us locals all this hubbub was normal; we see it every year at Carnival time.
Toward the end of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a powerful novel about slavery and its aftermath, one of the characters reflects on the impact one woman had on his life: “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”
We often engage in disputes about how events from the past should be remembered. Whether we’ve had an argument with a child, a quarrel with a spouse or a debate about national history, the truth about the past seems to matter a great deal. And yet there are powerful voices in our culture that tell us that we should let go of this interest.
Every year around this time, the fescue pastures surrounding my home become suddenly colorful, as the purple heads of nodding thistles (Carduus nutans) break through the waves of green. As lovely as they are—and as much as the goldfinches love them—this is not good news, since it means that next fall’s hay will be full of thorns.
In these days of extraordinary terror and ordinary routine, the future seems at once darker and more open than we had expected. It may be that in the face of war or want, future generations will answer the call to Christian heroism with renewed vigor, and take refuge in Christian hope from failed utopias. It may be that such a change has already begun, though few observers mark it.
Fighting for the poor and disadvantaged isn’t an aberration for the nuns on the Nuns on the Bus tour, led by Sister Simone Campbell. Their order, the Sisters of Social Service, was founded in Hungary in 1923 with a commitment to social justice. Their founder was the first woman elected to the Hungarian parliament. Another member was executed by the Nazis for hiding Jews in her hostel and was beatified by Pope Benedict in 2006. The order is credited with having spared the lives of at least 1,000 Jews during the Hitler era. From their beginning they’ve worn a simple gray suit that ordinary women might wear, not a habit (Harper’s, August).