A Pilgrim's Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To wish all American friends and colleagues a Happy Thanksgiving Day

 

A Pilgrim's Prayer

 
T hat hearth and home may
H int of heaven and
A utumn's consummation
N ourish the latent seed of Spring,
K indling a vision of that
S weeter country where
G ermination sinks deeper root and
I ndicates a perennial harvest our
V agrant span is blind to, dead to,
I mparting
N otions of perpetual
G rowth and God.
 
 
 
 
Happy_Thanksgiving_Plimoth_org.jpg - 238.57 kB           
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Twain, Poems of Earth and Ether   
Images courtesy of www.plimoth.org
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The Three Pietas

“All-changing time now darkens what was bright,
Now ushers out of darkness into light” 
                                                                Horace

For much of his life, my father managed an appliance store called General Electronics at 4513 Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest Washington DC, just up the street from American University. There's a Starbucks there now I think.

They sold primarily General Electric appliances for local residents. But a large part of their business was selling appliances for export.

In DC, this was a booming market. My father knew the procurement officers from embassies, consulates, and military posts all over the world, as well as many of the staffers from foreign embassies in DC. I remember one of the staffers from the Norwegian embassy would bring us lefse from the home country, a boyhood treat Dad craved.

I worked at the store most Saturday’s from age 12 or so, as did my three brothers. After a few years, I knew the electrical specs for pretty much every nation from Japan to Jordan. I wasn’t as introverted then and enjoyed being on the sales floor, meeting people from all over the world,  surprised to find how much they valued things I took for granted, like washing machines and refrigerators.

The General Electric company offered sales incentives, and Dad often brought home new televisions or appliances, including the microwave my mother wouldn’t use at first. But their favorite incentive was travel. GE would host trips for groups of top salesmen (I suspect back then they were all men). Often the same people would go on subsequent trips, and they made  some lasting friendships and stayed in touch long after my father retired.

So once every couple of years, my parents would fly off to Europe and other destinations that seemed so exotic to me. The world felt larger then, yet despite the nuclear threat of the cold war, somehow safer.

I don’t remember all the places they went. Paris for sure. Madrid. Mexico City (twice I think). Acapulco.  Italy. Probably others.

I could figure it out. They took hundreds of photos, now stored away in a box until I get around to digitizing. They also kept matchbooks from all their travels, and my mother bought dolls from many countries.

And they bought other souvenirs. A painting of the Madonna from Spain. A silver ring (two actually, on different trips) from a Mexican silversmith. A replica of Michelangelo’s David. And three miniature marble Pietas.

I’m guessing the Italy trip was my mother’s favorite. A devout Church-Every-Sunday-Sodality-On-Saturday-Make-Your-Children-Go-To-Sunday-School-Even-Though-Its-On-Monday Catholic, she must have been enthralled by Rome. She visited the Vatican, saw the Sistine Chapel, had an audience with the pope (John or Paul, I’m not sure which) (and I don’t mean Beatles). And bought three copies of the Pieta, Michaelangelo's statue depicting Mary holding the body of Jesus.

They are sitting side by side now in the china cabinet, with the other curios she assembled, like the girl and puppy porcelain statue I have written about elsewhere. The Pietas differ in size by maybe half an inch, and have slightly different shades of white, from snow to cream. Perhaps the color has aged, or the marble is just different.

I have often wondered why she bought three. I never thought to ask while she was alive. Did she intend them as gifts? Did she plan to give them to her four sons? (I got the David, so maybe the three Pietas were for the others, who obviously needed more spiritual help).Did she want to help the artists who carved them? Or was she just so overwhelmed by the spiritual experience?

I don’t know. I’ll never know I suppose. The three pietas will always be a mystery, unless she was right in her belief, and we will all be together someday, and I can ask her. It would be like her to think that far ahead. She was a great planner, with a wry sense of humor. I can see her smiling as she bought them, thinking of how puzzled I would be many years later.

If she was right, one day (or no day) I will know the answer. And be overwhelmed by the spiritual experience myself. 

Yet, in some sense, it is the wondering that I crave. Keats had a phrase, negative capability, the willingness to live (and create) in a state of irreducible not knowing. In a state of wonder.  

Those who reduce belief to a kind of knowing may be missing this point: the gift of wonder is the essential condition of religion, of art, maybe of sentient life, essential because it impels us forward, closer to that now unreachable truth.

So I wonder about those three pietas. I really do wonder.

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Brickwork

Laying bricks is honest work. Hard, straight forward work.
It is repetitive. You do one thing and then the next and so on.
It can almost rely on muscle memory. Almost like a rosary
or working prayer beads. That’s honest work too.
Thoughtful work. Your mind can be exploring other things.

Brick, mortar, brick, mortar, brick, mortar, repeat…
Or – mortar, mortar, mortar, brick, brick, brick…
Thoughts and ideas come and go. Worries, too.
Some are considered and rejected like misbegotten bricks
too broken or misshaped to fit the allotted place.

II

I once lived in an old brick house in an old brick city.
Almost everything was laid brick as far as you could see.
Think of all the thoughts and worries sealed up in the mortar
and the brickwork. Plans made or discarded. Acres, no, miles
of bricks and thoughts and worries all laid out in rows.

My brick house was over 100 years old. It was an honest
house built to last. A lot of thought went into that house.
It could easily stand for 100 years more on Main Street.
Built for a German family in 1904. It was solid, no frills.
Modern for its day with a cistern, wood stoves. No fireplace.

III

This was the trolley man’s family. He drove the trolley
up Main Street, many times a day. First horse drawn and
later motorized (Wonder of wonders!) He probably glanced
at his house at each passing – thinking, in German, no doubt,
of the future and the past. His wife. His kids His good fortune.

The family spoke German much of the time at home. On Sunday
they went to the German Evangelical Church and worshipped,
also, in German. The school was four doors down the street
where the kids spoke English. They were a bit rambunctious.
Their initials are still carved on the cellar joists. Ah, immortality!

The old man stayed with the trolley company. He liked doing
some mechanic work when needed. He bought an automobile,
a "machine", and built a sturdy garage for it off the back alley.
His wife made room for it among the sweet peas and the grapes.
It was a good life. He smoked his cigars, had some wine, read books.

IV

My tenure in the house came much later. Even those kids had likely
turned to dust. In all those years there were only three owners.
I moved on so now another young family lives there, with a baby.
Living alone, I can remember on quiet nights, reading in the old parlor,
I would sometimes be aware of a faint hint of the trolley man’s cigar.

The trolley man might still be there - bound up somehow in the
old bricks and mortar. If he's a happy spirit I would not be surprised.
He has a new family. Somethings change but somethings never do.
Some months before I moved away, a city crew was digging in the
street by the house and found relics of the old trolley line.

JC Trolley

 

 

 

 

     *     *     *

 

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Queuing Outside la Comédie Française

Night is slowly permeating the evening sky in Place André Malraux.  The rain has eased into a steady drizzle and the yellow street lamps have come on.  The air is imbued with car exhaust fumes and roast chestnuts.  A smell of autumn in Paris.  The sound of traffic plays against the background of a gurgling fountain in the middle of the square and the wind rustling the brown leaves on the trees.  

Comédie FrançaiseThe queue under the colonnade of the Comédie Française is stretching all to the theatre shop.  We are all waiting for the box office on the side of the building to open and release the €5 tickets for the restricted view seats an hour before the show.   Molière's Les Fourberies de Scapin.  €5 for a performance by one of the top theatre companies in the country.  Like hell would you get this in London, no matter what the view or the altitude.

In front of us, stand two children.  The boy must be about ten, his sister a couple of years younger.  Their mother is standing a few feet away, leaning against a pillar, smoking a cigarette.  She expels the smoke into the square, and darts regular, vigilant glances at her offspring.  The boy is reading aloud from a dog-eared, folded back copy of Les Fourberies de Scapin while his little sister listens intently.  He tells her the names of the characters before reading their lines, and occasionally pushes his blue-frames glasses back on his nose.  Occasionally, he trips over a word and goes back to it, re-reading it until he gets it right.  Every so often, his sister asks for an explanation.  Why does he say that? What does it mean? Her blue eyes are filled with admiration but her tone is that of a challenge.  Her brother explains.  A mixture of patience and irritation.  

20190701_133512

He comes across a series of difficult words. Too many in a row.  He tries to tackle them but it's hard work.  He knows he's done very well up to now and there's no shame to walk to the pillar and ask his mother.  She throws down her cigarette butt, blows out the last of the smoke and takes the book from his hand.  She reads the sentence and explains it.  She comes back to stand in the queue and takes over the reading shift.  All three sit on the pavement by the wall and she slowly reads aloud.  Her son listens but his attention occasionally wanders as his eyes follow cars and passers-by.  His sister has huddled against their mother, head on her shoulder, staring at the printed page.  Every so often she smooths her pony tail.  Three ash-blonde heads close together, reading and listening to Molière.

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When restlessness disrupts the reading, and the siblings clearly need some physical exercise after the mental culture, horseplay starts.  There is some kicking and shouting.  Stop that now.  You're disturbing everybody.  The mother hands them paper and pen and sends them on a mission: to write down the names of all the playwrights whose profiles are displayed in medallions on the walls of the Comédie Française building.  They are excited by this new venture and set off immediately, arguing about who is going to write the names down.  

A few minutes later, they're back with a list.  Their mother asks them to read it out.  Jean Racine.  Pierre Corneille.  JBP – Molière.

So what does JBP stand for?

Jean? 

Yes. Jean and what else?

Jean-Baptiste!

And the P?

Pierre.

Patrick!

Paul.

No, no, it's Patrick!

Poquelin.  Molière's real name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.

20190701_133434

There is not much appetite for running around anymore, and the box office is about to open.  The mother opens the dog-eared book again.

Scribe Doll

 

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Mending

Kintsugi (金継ぎ) is the Japanese art of repairing broken items with gold. The gold highlights the area of the breakage, with the idea that the history of the object is part of its beauty. My father practiced his own version of Kintsugi, though not with gold. Exactly.

My mother owned a small porcelain statue of a girl and a puppy, a Hummel or something like. It is an endearing image, or it was originally. With four boys and a continuing series of dogs in the house, that poor little girl endured many accidents during the fifty or so years she has graced our presence. The puppy somehow escaped mostly unscathed.

My mother loved the statue. So every time it was broken, my father brought out the Elmer’s glue and painstakingly tried to put her back together. I can’t begin to count the number of times, or ever forget the image of my 6’ 4’’ (and a half he would insist, just like John Wayne) father hunched over the table with his calloused hands tracing the delicate porcelain pieces with a toothpick, painstakingly applying the white adhesive.

The result was never perfect, or even close. Seams are visible everywhere. Some parts never fit back together right. Some are gone completely. But it is still Kintsugi to me–the mending preserves their history together. The gold is in the memory.

The statue now sits on the top shelf of my china cabinet, safely keeping company with other vestiges of that era. I think sometimes of giving her away. But I haven’t. I can’t. Who but me will see the decades of love melded in the mending? Who but me?

Yet now, we.

And that is mending too.

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Latest Blogs

                                    To wish all American friends and colleagues a Happy Thanksgiving Day   A Pilgrim's Prayer ...
“All-changing time now darkens what was bright, Now ushers out of darkness into light”                                                                ...
Laying bricks is honest work. Hard, straight forward work. It is repetitive. You do one thing and then the next and so on. It can almost rely on muscl...
Night is slowly permeating the evening sky in Place André Malraux.  The rain has eased into a steady drizzle and the yellow street lamps have come on....
Kintsugi (金継ぎ) is the Japanese art of repairing broken items with gold. The gold highlights the area of the breakage, with the idea that the history ...

Latest Comments

Rosy Cole A Pilgrim's Prayer
01 December 2019
When working with children years ago, I created many acrostics. Most had the keyword somewhere down ...
Rosy Cole The Three Pietas
01 December 2019
Your penultimate paragraph sums it up well, that Life consists in faith, belief, in sheer creative i...
Stephen Evans A Pilgrim's Prayer
30 November 2019
I learned a new work today - acrostic - this is a good one!https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrostic
Ken Hartke Brickwork
05 November 2019
It caught me by surprise the first time I noticed it. After the trolley man, the house was owned by...
Katherine Gregor Queuing Outside la Comédie Française
03 November 2019
I wish British mothers did, too. Although I suspect that in Paris, too, this is a relatively rare o...