It was barely midday, and I was already exhausted. We had set up this makeshift feeding center in Ethiopia for victims of a devastating famine, and they now blanketed the room. Women cradling emaciated children pressed against one another, as each claimed a coveted piece of that hard mud floor.
On my last trip up north, I rode the New York subways a lot. My aunt was in a Brooklyn hospital and the easiest way to get there was by taking the train from New Jersey and then walking a few blocks from Penn Station to catch the R subway to Brooklyn. All in all, it took about an hour and a half to get from New Jersey to Brooklyn.
When I was in the seminary, an elderly priest told us, “Life is a series of Good Fridays with an occasional Easter thrown in just to keep us going.”
We were young. “No!” we objected. “Life is an endless Easter with some Good Fridays thrown in to keep us on our toes!”
It wasn’t until I was his age that I realized both sides are true.
“Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice -- it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. ...
On Christmas Eve, I attended with Maria, my wife, the American Ballet Theatre’s presentation of “The Nutcracker” in New York. Ballet is not high on my list of entertainments, but on this occasion I was profoundly moved. What inspired me was not just the work of art, but the way I found myself present to it, taking it in, living in it. I wondered at whatever is at work in the universe, hurtling atoms billions of years ago into the life and death of countless stars, through transformation after transformation into Tchaikovsky, such astonishing music, into the beauty and grace of the dancers, and in me reflecting on how this all happens.
Vickie Leach is a serial hugger. When a party is over it takes us an hour to say goodbye. Don’t even mention weddings.
Ponie Sheehan, our friend, is the Wonder Woman of huggers. When she and Vickie get together they disappear into each other. Don’t sit in the same pew as Ponie if you panic at the kiss of peace.
Soul seeing reminds me of a visit to the eye doctor. She tries various lenses with different degrees of fuzziness until one finally reaches clarity. “That’s it!” we say in delight. Suddenly, we can see. If we look through the right spiritual lens, we may also recognize times of prayer where we hadn’t noticed them before. Some prayerful moments are as dramatic as bounding across a stage, others as humble as laundry. The common denominator is the spirit of the Creator stirring within us and our response to that voice.
“Even though you get the words right doesn’t mean you get your life right.” That’s Leach’s Law No. 27 of Religious Book Publishing. I mentioned it to my friend and author Jack Shea once and he said, “Especially if you get the words right!”
We read books by Catholic authors that inspire us and think, “If only we could call them up on the phone like Holden Caulfield and be their friends and maybe even hang out with them, how happy we would be!” Maybe so. But we would be in for a surprise. They can be as melancholy as the rest of us.
I saw him from a block away. He perched precariously in a motorized chair, his body slight like a child’s, hardly weighing 50 pounds in his maturity. I counted three serpentine bends in the arm that reached out to guide his odyssey, and my heart sank at the writhing distress that was this man’s whole existence. His limbs twisted like a contortionist’s. Even his face was beyond his control, gripped by grimaces many times a minute.
When I was in my 20s I glimpsed the truth that we all wear the face of Christ in a unique way and that what we do unto anyone else we literally do unto ourselves. I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to remember that. Here are some things that help make it a habit.