Tracey Channels Barbara Walters…almost

I don’t know how I get myself into these things.

Several days ago, John and Weets at Lucid Moments suggested this sort of “round robin” interview thingie, where one blogger would answer questions and then agree to interview a few other bloggers.

Because I am dense, I didn’t quite “get it” for a while.

Then I read Tracey Allen answering Amber Lynn’s questions and said, ok – fine – that doesn’t look too bad…I’ll be interviewed.

But I thought they would be simple questions like: What are you drinking RIGHT NOW? (Diet Pepsi) What is in your refrigerator RIGHT NOW? (Diet Pepsi) What are you listening to RIGHT NOW? (The fizz of a Diet Pepsi)

I was all ready to answer what sort of TREE I would be!

(For the record, a Chestnut Tree, because it gives food, it spreads far to provide a lot of shade for rest, and it’s PRETTY.)

I’m pretty sure those are the sorts of interview questions we were supposed to be asked, right? I mean, hell, they made Barbara Walters rich!!

But, as John Belushi would say, “noooooo!” Instead, Tracey goes and gets all THOUGHTFUL on me, and I’m honor-bound to answer.

Although, because she is nice, she DID leave off any math questions. (I’m just playing with you, kid; your questions were good.)

All right, dear Tracey. Here, egad, are my answers.

1) I know you’re a reader. So, you are given the chance to “live” the life of your favorite character in your favorite book. Which book, which character, and why?

Well, my immediate response is to say “Scout” in To Kill a Mockingbird, because it is a perfect story, and Scout has lives a richly secure childhood even though she is poor. And the traumas of her life teach her enormously valuable lessons. You know me – I’m all about finding the good part of suffering! :-)

Or, I could say I would like to be Dame Philippa in In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden, because although she works with sincerity to learn humility (and despite all of her mental agility and gifts) she keeps mixing up what real humility is – that it is not the suppression of her gifts, but her giving of them, freely, to her monastic community and thus to God, that brings her true humility. After all, being what you are born to be – and called to be – means living in Truth, and Humility is Truth. And I’d love to hang out in a pre-Vatican II Benedictine monestary for a while, chanting psalms 6 hours a day, just to see what that would be like.

But even still, that answer would be only half true, because if we’re talking about what character I would REALLY want to be, in the circs of my favorite book…I can’t help myself, I must scandalize all who think well of me and answer with complete honesty, confessing that I would do anything to be Bertie Wooster in The Code of the Woosters, by P.G.Wodehouse.

Why Bertie? Why that book? To Kill a Mockingbird might be a perfect story and a perfect novel, and In This House of Brede might offer attractive wisdom, but The Code of the Woosters is perfect farce, wherein Bertie’s sufferings are never salutary, they teach him nothing and if he didn’t have Jeeves in his life, he’d never be able to successfully navigate himself from his bed.

One needs to be very rich to be that helpless and while I’ve never wanted to be rich, I wouldn’t mind imagining it, if I could be Bertie. To be wakened each morning with the strengthening cup of tea or – if I’ve been out “on the tiles” the night before, pinching policeman’s helmets – one of Jeeve’s patented bracers which, upon swallowing, cause the top of ones head to blow to the ceiling and ones eyes to leave one’s sockets and bounce off the walls before refixing themselves and helping one regain one’s momentum.

I’d like to drive about in a jolly two-seater, in 1932, singing songs without a thought in my head until my Aunt Dahlia beetles into my life and asks me to steal a lurid silver cow-creamer, and then to stay in a well-appointed country house for a few days, trying to steal same or to keep a curate from stealing same, all while trying desperately not to be beaten to a jelly – a jelly, I say – by an up-and-coming dictator named Roderick Spode, and also trying not to become engaged to a ghastly, gawd-help-us of an oompsy daisy like Madeline Basset, who thinks the stars are God’s Daisy Chain and who once mentioned that bunny rabbits are gnomes in service to the fairy queen. All right for some men, but she’s ants-in-the-pants for Bertram.

I’d like to live through such a farce and find that, when it’s over, my only indebtedness is to Jeeves, who will find recompense by making me take a First Class Cruise around the world.

I’m ashamed, but there it is. Let me be a slightly befuddled, somewhat drink-addled rich Englishman who lives for a good meal and a night of bread throwing among his slightly befuddled, somewhat drink-addled, eccentric friends, and I would like it. I’m pathetic.

2) It’s late one afternoon when you hear a knock at your front door. Upon opening, you find Jesus, hungry, tired, standing on your porch. Breathlessly, you invite Him in for dinner. Describe what happens next.

Egad! Don’t you want to know what’s in my refrigerator RIGHT NOW? Diet Pepsi!

Wait, let me bang my head against the desk for a moment!

Okay, there. Now, do I KNOW it’s Jesus when I open the door, or am I finding Jesus coming to my door looking like a homeless guy and stinking really bad? That’s a legitimate question because as a Benedictine, I am bound to receive each guest as I would Christ, to “see” Christ in each guest, and believe me, that’s hard enough to do, sometimes! And if he DOES look like some homeless guy, I’d be torn between turning a hose on him and then slipping him a peanut butter sandwhich, or inviting him in. The only thing I KNOW is that I would probably recognise him in the Breaking of the Bread.

Okay, let’s forget all the complicatio
ns of not recognising Him immediately. From your question, I’m going to assume that this Jesus looks like the commonly understood representation of Jesus. He looks like Jim Caviezel as Christ when he’s teasing his Mary before dinner, in The Passion of the Christ, but he’s dirtier and hungrier and tired.

That’s easy. I fall to my knees and kiss his feet and refuse to look up at him because I know my sins. And I say, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” Then, because he is tired and dirty, I bring him water to wash his feet and hands, but I do not dry them with my hair because I have really crummy, baby-fine hair, and I bring him food and drink and still never raise my eyes because, this is JESUS and I am in no sort of shape spiritually to just slap him on the back and say, “hey, how you doin!’”

But I know that Jesus, having appreciated my ministrations would ask me why I’m doing the crouched-servant-with-lowered-eyes thing, and I would say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.”

And then Jesus would tell me my sins were healed and invite me to sup with him, and in my gratitude I’d get all weepy again, and probably cry on his feet (until he raised me up, because Christ raises us up).

In other words…it would be Holy Mass.

3) I’ve heard you say that you’re a Benedictine. Because I’m admittedly rather ignorant on this point, would you please enlighten me (and other evangelicals like me) on what it means to be a Benedictine?

Can I switch the order of these questions? I’m all of a doodah (as Bertie would say) with that last one, and not ready to answer another church-y question just yet, so I’m going to swap them and answer number 4 first. Okay?

4) So, baseball fan — your favorite baseball moment of all time and why?

Oh gosh, there are so many!!!

Can I just say, I wish I had lived in the 1930′s (as evidenced by my first answer) for many reasons…the clothes, the manners, the customs…but also because the freaking BASEBALL was sooooo good, back then, and I’d like to wear a polka-dotted summer dress and a little hat and little white gloves to Yankee Stadium and eat a hot dog and keep the box-scores with a pencil, and hear someone whistle at me and say, “Oh, you kid!”

Sigh. Since I can’t do that, and since being a Yankees fan, I wouldn’t be at Ebbets Field watching Babe Herman double into a double play (now there was a moment in baseball…) I would have to say…my favorite moments – not singular – all came in the same series. Yankee Stadium, 2001, the World Championship games between the NY Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Just weeks earlier, New York had lost 3,000 of her citizens, police and firefighters in a deadly attack and the rubble was still smouldering and the nation was still on its knees – uncertain, unsure and afraid. People went to Yankee Stadium wondering…”will we be attacked at this game?” Being New Yorkers, they said, “screw it, I’m going, no terrorist bastard is going to stop me from living life!” Security is tight. The president is going to throw out the first pitch. Everyone wonders about that. What if there is a bad guy in the stands? The president might wear a bullet proof vest, but that doesn’t help his head! What if??? What if???

As the president is heading to the pitcher’s mound, Yankee Shortstop Derek Jeter stops him, “Mr. President, are you going to throw from the mound or from in front of it?” The president says, “I hadn’t thought of it.” Jeter says, “Mr. President, this is New York; In New York, you have to throw from the mound!”

The American President walks out onto the field. Yankee Stadium is rocking and trembling with the emotional release of 55,000 people screaming in hope and in pain and in worry and excitement. They’ve just started to like this president. They liked what he said when he stood upon a pile of rubble and spoke through a bullhorn. They liked when he addressed the joint houses of congress and spoke eloquently, “I will not forget this wound to our nation…”

They want him to succeed. Now, improbably, New York is rooting for George W. Bush, because there is so much riding on this, so much symbolism. We want him to succeed, because it means that New York will succeed; America will succeed. Bush gains the mound and gives the crowd a thumbs up. They roar. It is a magnificent moment, because everyone knows just how afraid everyone else is, in that moment, and yet Bush betrays no fear. He stands there, almost daring fate to take its best shot, and then he looks at Jorge Posada (because in this most American of games, the players have all manner of names) and he throws. A perfect strike! Yankee Stadium erupts again! People are jumping and screaming. Rudy Giuliani is jumping and screaming. Rosie O’ Donnell is jumping and screaming. A perfect strike! The people in the stands are weeping. At home my best friend and I are weeping with hope and with joy and with fear. It was only a strike. But a perfect strike. And at that moment, it means everything. It means America will be alright.

Same series, the last game of the 2001 season to be played in Yankee Stadium. It’s the last inning, and we’re losing, and there is a feeling of sad acceptance in the stands. After this season, this particular championship team will be broken up, many will leave. It has been an astonishing few years with the team of Jeter, Knoblauch, Williams, Martinez, Brosius and O’Neill. We’re going to lose this game, and we can feel it. O’ Neill – our warrior – has announced this is his last season, and suddenly, as he stands in right field, a murmer begins in the stands near him…”Paul! Paul O’ Neill! Paul O’ NEI-ll! And the murmur moves beyond right field – it’s picked up and careens through the stands until the entire crowd, even the Diamondback fans, are calling out to the warrior, in tribute and thanks, “Paul O’ NEI-ll! Paul O’ NEI-ll” They clap rythmically and chant his name again and again.”Paul O’ NEI-ll! Paul O’ NEI-ll” And O’ Neill, never one to put himself above his team, must finally acknowledge the crowd, even now, in the middle of the inning. He doffs his hat briefly, and then hangs his head to hide a faceful of tears. The crowd roars its appreciation and finally quiets down. The game continues…

Only baseball can do this. Only baseball repeatedly puts one man out into the field, against a whole team, or a whole stadium, or a whole world. Perhaps that’s why President Bush so loves the game, he identifies with being alone against a mass.

I sometimes wonder how it will be, for those two men, when they are old, and fading, and their lives begin to echo back in their heads. In their last hours, will those teeming, vivacious crowds be the last things they hear? The roar that followed the perfectly thrown strike in time of uncertainty and fear. The sad goodbye of an appreciative crowd. “This is New York, Mr. President, better throw from the mound…” “Paul O’ NEI-ll! Paul O’ NEI-ll” “Paul O’ NEI-ll! Paul O’ NEI-ll”

Baseball is so much more than a game.

3) I’ve heard you say that you’re a Benedictine. Because I’m admittedly rather ignorant on this point, would you please enlighten me (and other evangelicals like me) on what it means to be a Benedictine?

I actually did recently write about this, but I think it was in a comments section, and I have no idea whic
h post it was part of. I think it was last month, when I was writing about my greed. First, let me recommend two good books that will tell a lot about it, Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk and St. Benedict’s Rule. Norris is a Presbyterian who is a Benedictine Oblate, and she brings a good, ecumenical sort of feel to it all.

Basically, an Oblate is a lay man or woman, married or un, who is attracted to the practices of monasticism – structuring the hours of prayer, work, rest and study – in such a way that the entire day is made “sacred.” A commitment to “lectio” which is holy, prayerful reading. And also a commitment to do for others, to look beyond the interior life. I used to make weekly pastoral visits to folks recovering from brain-trauma as a part of my commitment. Now, I look for other ways to serve.

An oblate contacts a monastery which helps him or her to learn about these practices and how to bring them into a hurried, secular sort of life, and the oblate eventually makes promises, “oblations” (offerings) of himself or herself – they are formal promises which are renewed yearly. I remember when I made my final oblation, it was a very serious thing to stand at the altar and promise, formally, to follow Christ as I was best able, as a Benedictine, attached to St. ______ Monastery, and to sign that vow, leaving it upon the altar – my “oblation.”

As an oblate, I keep in touch with my monastery – mostly via email as it’s not close by – and when I die, I can be buried in monastic robes, which will be helpful to my family because my wardrobe is pathetic. :-)

5) Knowing that in heaven all our gifts will find perfect fulfillment, how would you imagine your immeasurable writing talents would be used there?

I hope that somehow on earth, my imperfectly used skills will help people to grow in faith and love of the Lord, and to understand that graces don’t always come tied up in pretty packages…that mostly, they come in unexpected ways that can hide the glory…unless you make the effort to find it. In heaven, I imagine all of my talents will be wrapped up in the proclaiming, over and over of the great Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Holy, Holy Holy Lord, God of Power and Might, Heaven and Earth are full of your Glory! Hosanna in the hightest! You know…Holy Mass. Again! :-)

Good questions, Tracey. I hope none of this has scared anyone off, because I now need three volunteers to offer to let me ask THEM questions. Joe Marshall, you there? Greg Wallace??? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? Beuller? Beuller?

About Elizabeth Scalia