We Who Are Left Behind

thumbnail“Why’d you let go?” Conrad Jarrett shouts at the ceiling, in a climactic scene in Ordinary People. Conrad’s family has unraveled after a boating accident took his older brother, and after his own attempted suicide. In flashbacks we see the Jarrett boys gripping a rope slung across their storm-tossed, capsized sailboat. Conrad’s brother loses hold, is swallowed by the water.

Conrad’s psychiatrist elicits from him the truth beneath his survivor’s guilt, which is that he is angry. Angry his brother didn’t head for shelter sooner. Angry he couldn’t hang on. “Did it ever occur to you,” asks his psychiatrist, “that you might have been stronger?”

Seventeen years after Ordinary People garnered four Oscars, Robin Williams received an Oscar for his role in Good Will Hunting, as a psychiatrist much like the one played by Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People. In a similarly dramatic counseling scene, Williams helps the film’s protagonist find the beginning of peace.

[Read more...]

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...]

Escape from the Holy Land, Part 2

300px-Jerusalem_Old_City_By Bradford Winters

Continued from yesterday.

Soon after landing at JFK from Tel Aviv Friday afternoon, I’m greeted by my tearful mother who can take her first deep breath in nearly two weeks. I’m relieved to learn that my family is en route from Tel Aviv, an hour into their flight as scheduled. But when we reach the parking garage, a call from my father-in-law informs us that the flight has been turned back due to electrical problems.

What! Back to Tel Aviv? Back to the airport targeted by Hamas earlier that day? If there’s any consolation, I guess it’s that we’ll only have to wait an hour and a half before the flight takes off again.

My instincts as a screenwriter, so engaged during my five-week work stint on Dig in Israel, must be on hiatus for me not to know that this will probably get worse before it gets better. [Read more...]

Escape from the Holy Land, Part 1

Israel Bomb Shelter 300By Bradford Winters

On a Friday morning in mid July, I entered Ben Gurion Airport in quite a different manner than when I exited it upon my arrival six weeks previously: by running for a bomb shelter.

Back in early June I stepped outside the glass doors and into Israel for the first time, my first photo a snapshot of the airport control tower ablaze against the rising sun because…well…I don’t know—there was nothing else to shoot and I had to mark the epic moment!

Six weeks later outside those same doors, I didn’t understand at first why others were allowed to run for the entrance after I had been stopped for a random security check—until I understood that all the chaotic Hebrew amounted to the equivalent of an air siren. So in I ran and took shelter in a stairwell among other passengers, ticket agents, and janitors, this being my last act in Israel. [Read more...]


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