Thursday, April 29, 2021

Certainty and Doubt

Search in and out and roundabout

And you'll discover never

a tale so free of every doubt.

No probable, possible shadow of doubt,

No possible doubt whatever.  

        Gilbert & Sullivan, The Gondoliers

We live in uncertain times. I’m sure of it. Those two poles have always yanked me back and forth.

John Keats famously described an artist’s consciousness as one being able to live with uncertainties without reaching for resolution. Easy for him to say; he was all of twenty-two. When he was my age he’d have been dead for sixty-three years. But he was wise beyond his years. The poet, the artist of any form of expression, knows some resonant chord may have been struck when the inexplicable has been attained. Not an absolute but a nascent emergence from chaos. Truth has a ring to it and it is beautiful. It may also be fleeting.

Dying begins when doubt is forbidden. One of my best lines. I wrote this in a poem trying to understand why my dear friends joined the Jim Jones cult almost fifty years ago. The same question could be put to those in the Donald Trump cult. There seems to be something in the human unconscious which so desperately seeks an authority figure that autonomy is happily ceded. They squirm living with doubt.

When I hear Dr. Fauci change his mind regarding masks or the safety of the J&J vaccine, it is the sound of Science, always a work in progress. Let Fox News mock him as they pander to the vexed but un-vaxed Repugnants. I count them among those looking for Daddy to set in stone some unassailable commandment.

I know the feeling. When I was young, centuries ago, I too sought out a kind of doctrinaire philosophy in Marxism. No matter the question, I had the answer. I couldn’t, for a minute, be wrong. If I was wrong about who was the best shortstop I could be wrong about everything. It took me a long while to live comfortably in the muddle of conflicting ideas. It seems to me that is the source of imagination.   

Absolutism could be seen as a failure of the imagination. I don’t mean the certitude of who won or lost the election. That is quantifiable. The imagination is not the delusion of self-serving deceit as practiced by Donald but the vision of what this country could be and how this planet could yet thrive.

Thursday, April 15, 2021


In his superb memoir, Barack Obama tells of a meeting with Mitch McConnell in the White House in which Obama’s team tried to explain why a particular piece of legislation would benefit the entire country. McConnell interrupted their presentation saying, You seem to be under the mistaken belief that I care.

This statement from the Kentucky Senator was startling in its candor and revealed the essence of the man. He simply doesn’t care. Of course, he does care, selectively. He cares about his corporate sponsors, the NRA, the Koch Bros. et al.

That word, Care, keeps popping up in my head. Caregiver, Caretaker, Medicare, Eldercare, Urgentcare, Childcare and Careless which was, I imagine what Mitch may have felt when a few words of truth slipped his mouth.

The Greek word, Caritas, appears in the Bible (God is love) as a form of love or charity. I like to think of it as cherishing. Care-giving is an extension of love. It adds a new dimension to the loving relationship. To care is to be present, to extend oneself and anticipate what may be needed a minute from now.  It’s a matter of being resonant. There is an element of transcendence even in grunt work as the giver receives from what is given.

Aging together is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’s no rehearsal and we only get to it once. We are likely to be at our neediest and most attuned. When word came that Peggy was to be released from the hospital I Windexed the glass which she spends much time in front of. She is now back observing that piece of world through the window. Her poetry shows that all the universe is contained in any part of it.

Our apartment house is gift-wrapped on three sides with hundreds of daisy-like fuchsia flowers. With the calligraphy of our bare-branched coral tree now bursting with red lanterns and yellow berries answering them it is like a symphony of colors which Peggy orchestrates. Somebody cared in the planting.

Our salad days may be gone, replaced by these tranquil halcyon days. Just another phase in the journey when the limitations and bodily insults can be shared. Those shouts of joy become moments of enduring in unison, a new dimension in intimacy.

I wonder if Mitch will learn to care when it’s his turn. If it will ever dawn on him that he’s a mere foot soldier for obstruction, suppression and greed, easily replaced by other lackeys. Maybe then he will find his heart and write a memoir telling all. But who really cares?




Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A Priest and An Atheist Walk into a Bar

 No, that’s not what happened.

A priest and an atheist walk into a Bar Mitzvah.  No, No. Let’s get serious.

A priest and an atheist walk into Peggy’s bedside. The man of the cloth is Father Patrick Comerford. Whatever gold dust he carries is exactly what Peggy has reception for. Her own resources are sparked. His simple presence mends bones, quiets a clamorous heart and recharges her cells.

We talk about pubs in Dublin, the poet / priest Gerard Manley Hopkins and his sister, Irish writers, the history of Trinity College, his days as a tennis champ, his brother the taxi driver, Vin Scully…….everything, thank God, but religion.

Father Paddy could have come out of central casting with his ruddy face, shock of white hair and County Cork brogue. In my early days I remember Hollywood’s Pat O’Brien playing the priest as he walked that last crooked mile with Cagney on the way to the electric chair. Later, came Barry Fitzgerald, with the black gown and the amiable voice bending his elbow with a wee bit of the drink and a well-delivered bit of blarney. Father Patty has them all beat.

Miraculously it was Easter Sunday when he popped in to resurrect Peggy’s spirits. T’was a secular Mass; No wine nor wafer. Yet she was lifted. Maybe it was the synergy between Father Patty, Peggy and me. Atheists (I prefer the word Humanists) too, work in mysterious ways. I would argue that there is a spiritual dimension in the mundane, the quotidian, the secular. The sublime hides in the ordinary.

If the pagan spring festival got folded into the Christian myth let seasonal transformation be horizontal as well as vertical. Let my people go. And while April blooms let Peggy have her exodus out of St. John’s Hospital.