The Benevolent Season

thanksgiving“Good Letters” is pleased today to welcome D.L. Mayfield to our team of bloggers.

“That day we cook the big chicken” is what one of our neighbors called Thanksgiving, which seemed entirely appropriate to me. That year my husband and I invited all of our neighbors—refugees mostly from Bhutan and Somalia—to the community center of our low-income apartment complex to experience a traditional American holiday meal.

It was not going well.

People had filed into the community room, sitting at folding tables. We’d asked a few friends and family members to help us cook, and striving to be culturally appropriate, my husband and I dished up the plates and served them to the guests starting with the most distinguished (older, male) and ending with the children.

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The Subtle Traitor

Back-stabbingI’m about to describe a character. He doesn’t exist everywhere, nor is he a threat to everyone. But it’s important to sketch out his profile, because he’s hardly ever seen for what he is, and because his brotherly embraces can end with a knife between your ribs.

To be even halfway familiar with him, you have to be from a place, or of a group, that has a “checkered past”—a group whose forebears transgressed against the modern orthodoxies in a big time way. I’m talking “Mark of Cain” stuff that gets you centuries of bad PR. These forebears are often losers in the wars, both military and cultural, so their sins get chiseled into marble.

Being a white (rumor of a Choctaw somewhere won’t cut it), Christian, Southern, heterosexual male, in good health and with no certifiable mental deficits (damn it), I’m in pretty bad standing. My immediate family didn’t even have the decency to be poor. So I’m everybody’s worst nightmare—on the wrong side of all government quotas. Worse, if you dig around in my family magnolia tree, you’ll find the reason those quotas got instituted in the first place.

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Trouble Called Again Last Night

Carphone useTrouble called again last Thursday night. The number illuminated in the landline phone’s small window. Mother. She’s eighty-four now. Father’s eighty-seven. They sold their house—where we lived when I was in in high school—about twenty-five years ago. Moved into a condo. They’re still living in the condo, independently.

A few nights earlier, during one of my routine every-other-day-or-so phone calls with her, Mom told me that Dad had a cold. He’d spent most of the day sleeping.

Dad’s a big guy, height and girth, though his impressive belly has deflated considerably over the last few years: a few hospitalizations, a diminished appetite. Though he doesn’t complain about it, he suffers from painful arthritis. With a cane, which he uses reluctantly, he shuffles around the condo, and inches his way from condo to car to restaurant to cardiologist to condo to couch for TV. He hardly has the strength to push himself up from the sofa. Gravity is calling him home.

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Lorenzo the Magnificent

LorenzoHe liked to be called El Santo (Spanish for “the Saint”). In almost anyone else on the planet it would be considered a sort of spiritual vanity or pretension. But in the case of Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete it was both a joke and a piece of deep theological wisdom.

Come to think of it, just about everything Lorenzo said or did was both a joke and a theological truth.

I think he liked being called El Santo because he was making fun of his own status as a beloved priest and leader in North America of the international lay Catholic movement known as Communion and Liberation. He knew that faces lit up when he entered the room.

But it probably didn’t hurt that another “El Santo” was a wrestler who, in the words of Wikipedia, was “one of the most famous and iconic of all Mexican luchadores.”

Like a luchador, Lorenzo wrestled fiercely—in his case, with life’s deepest questions, including the nature of the human heart, the relationship between reason and emotion, the meaning of suffering, and how to become a free person—the latter being the destiny of every saint.

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Riding the Waves

Woodlief photoMy sons argue over Avengers characters. The littlest insists he’s Captain America. Another claims Hawkeye. There’s an argument over Ironman. They resolve it by awarding that honor to me, given that I’m a smartass and look a little like Robert Downey, Jr.

I argue that I’m the Hulk. I flex my muscles. They roll their eyes, but their mother would understand. She told me once, not long before our divorce, that I am the angriest man she’s ever known. A therapist once told me I’ve been angry since childhood. Another said I’ve been depressed my entire life, like my mother before me. I told him about the first diagnosis. He shrugged his shoulders. Flight or fight, does it really matter when your enemy is yourself? That’ll be 100 dollars.

I don’t remember if October was when the weight always came closest to leveling me, or if that cycle commenced after my daughter died. I suppose no matter which therapist was correct: I’ll always have something to blame my mother for, because she died in October as well.

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