Rules for Celebrating: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 2

altarContinued from last week.

The Way of Saint James—El Camino de Santiago—is a pilgrimage across Spain that began in the Middle Ages and remains popular today. Each year 200,000 pilgrims walk a route to Santiago de Compostela, a city where, according to tradition, the apostle James the Greater is interred.

Last September my husband and I were among the pilgrims. We hiked 200 miles from Léon in stages, many with Fr. Lukasz, a sprightly, thirty-something priest, and a group of young adults from the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Washington.

Fr. Lukasz set pattern of our days right at the outset of the journey. We rose before dawn and departed Rabanal del Camino, a stone village with a tiny central square. As we walked beneath the moon and stars, guided by a few pilgrim headlamps, I could feel the grade increasing, straining the backs of my legs. We were ascending the pass of Irago. Soon the sun rose lemon-yellow, revealing iridescent mountains, releasing the scents of heather and gorse.

By midmorning we reached the Cruz de Ferro, a simple iron cross atop a weathered pole that marks the Camino’s highest point. There we stopped for morning prayers before descending the pass through several villages: Manjarín, Acebo, and Riego de Ambros, where we walked through a grove of giant chestnuts and a green, wild-flowered vale. After crossing a Roman stone bridge over the Río Meruelo, we stopped at Molinaseca, a medieval town where we would spend the night. [Read more...]

Rules for Celebrating: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 1

cornMy son graduated from college this past June. It took him seven years, due to a hiatus, a transfer, and several changes of major, and there were times I thought I’d never see the day. So when the moment finally arrived, it was time to celebrate.

Now, I grew up in the sixties in New York in an Italian American family, and for us celebrating always meant one thing: inviting family and friends and cooking a meal for them. These meals invariably came in two varieties—formal dinner or cookout—and the circumstances dictated the choice.

The following obliged a formal dinner: all religious holidays; birthdays and other events that took place after Labor Day and before Memorial Day; functions to which clergy, wealthy people, politicians, lawyers, doctors, dentists, business associates, current clients, potential clients, current Anglo in-laws, or any future in-laws were to be invited.

Cookouts were never required but were permissible for celebrations that did not demand a formal dinner and took place from Memorial through Labor Day.

Whether the verdict was formal dinner or cookout, there were rules and procedures to follow, and the women in my family taught me them when I was young. These rules and procedures were immutable. They could not be broken or bent. Never. Not once. [Read more...]

Can’t a Dad Hug His Boy?

When I sat down to work at my computer yesterday morning, I checked my email and saw the stories on the news feed: another madman shoots random people; global warming disaster almost certain; radical politicians calling for rebellion, secession; the rich hoarding everything, the poor getting more desperate. I got off the Internet and clicked open the piece I am working on, and I stared at four pictures pinned to the cabinets in front of my writing desk.

One picture is a charcoal drawing of a human skull, my memento mori every morning as I sit down to work. The other three are curling snapshots from years ago hanging by a single thumb tack each.

The bottom one is of my boys at a cookout when Evan was not yet three and Asher was so young he could still delight himself to laughter just by running, happily unconcerned about his diaper-full of poop. The boys are in front of a picnic shelter in Kanawha Forest, and they are smudged and smeared face to bare feet with the grime of hard outdoor play. They are both squatting at a dog’s metal water bowl, splashing in it with sticks.

The middle photo is of Evan on my sister Alma’s lap. They both face the camera, her arms are wrapped around his chest and their faces are side by side—that they are related is clear by their sharp Sizemore chins.

[Read more...]

Avoiding the Mirror

Guest post by Cathy Warner

I have circled around this story several times, trying to write my way into it.

I begin with an inciting event:

An eighty-nine year-old man lies unconscious, unresponsive in intensive care in a California hospital. His name is Vince and he was hit by a car in the town he’s lived in near forty years, the same town that was my home for twenty-five.

I am now nine hundred miles north, but in my mind I see the pharmacy he left, the crosswalk, his wife waiting in their minivan parked outside the beauty parlor. I picture her stumbling from the car with her uneven gait, pedestrians rushing to her side, to his aide, sprinting to the fire department down the block for help.

I read the news on Facebook first, that “an elderly gentleman” had been hit, and stopped at this description of him. Though he’d been retired from his work as missionary to Pakistan the twenty-five years I’d known him, he was far from gentle.

From there my words add up to a litany of how hard this man—who died days later from his injuries—was to love, a long complaint about our relationship.

It doesn’t work. My editor tells me: “Basically you still believe he was deeply misguided about most everything and that you have the correct ideas, so the piece just becomes a ‘He was wrong and overbearing and fearful but we’re still all one in Christ.’”

[Read more...]

Ruin and Possibility in David Gordon Green’s Joe

How many of our triumphs in a long and confusing life are accountable not to the things that we do, but to the things that we ultimately cannot do? How much larger is a soul for the many unmarked feats, the unnoticed evidence of furious battles fought against the self, just to hold back, to tamp down, to remain and endure when all would warrant otherwise?

Medals, trophies are given for action, not inaction. But it seems a terrible injustice to call the agonies suffered in attempts to retain basic decency “inaction.” The malgre lui who ultimately cannot do what everything inside him says that he should is a quiet, but nonetheless valiant, warrior. They also serve who only withstand and remain.

Such inner turmoil is at the center of David Gordon Green’s latest film, Joe. Among the many fine directors today, Green has consistently impressed with his signature vision, featuring intense sojourners in fraught landscapes. His premiere effort, George Washington—about the burdened lives of children who cover up a crime—was widely appreciated, as were his subsequent movies, All the Real Girls, a love story set in a small Southern town, and Undertow, about a young boy chased by a murderous uncle. Green wrote all of these efforts, but his current offering is based on a novel by the late Mississippi writer, Larry Brown.

In the film, Nicholas Cage has one of his best outings as a man with a past suggested to have been so violent that he’s always one burnt cigarette away from exploding into a rampage. He has to manage himself carefully, isolate himself thoughtfully, from interacting too deeply with others.

[Read more...]


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