Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Memories: Upon a Midnight

(Although I'm posting this later, I wrote it in the wee hours of Christmas morning.)

It's past midnight here, and I'd call it partly cloudy.

I went to midnight Mass, though. Always a good thing to do, especially when y0u are feeling somewhat ... uncertain ... about Christmas.

It is strange the odd assortment of Christmas memories I have. I remember the magic of seeing a bunch of packages and some new bikes piled around the tree. I remember most fondly that special wonder of seeing that in the middle of the night, when the world was dark except for the lights on the tree. I remember, later, when I was too old to believe in Santa but my little brothers were starting to question the whole thing, my mom started a tradition of all of us kids sleeping together, and it was the job of us older ones to get the little ones to go to sleep without trying to catch Santa in the act. I remember listening to the radio those nights. We would always find some station that was tracking Santa's progress and playing Christmas carols, and we'd listen until we fell asleep.

Later on, there was all the joy of being home from college at Christmas, and the crazy year that I spent the two weeks before Christmas on a trip to Israel, which was wonderful. But I spent half of Christmas Eve on an airplane from Israel, half in O'Hare airport trying to get a flight to Texas, and my bonus 6 hours on a bus to South Bend, where I was living at the time. Somehow, they had an easier time getting me out of South Bend than O'Hare. I remember the eerie silence of the Notre Dame campus, devoid of all signs of life that still, silent night. I remember how much I appreciated the Christmas humor of the pilot the next morning. I also remember it as one of the strangest Christmases ever, not simply because of my travel, but because my mom had been sick. Between that and not being quite sure when I would get there, they decided we would go out to eat, but it turned out nothing was open. We finally found a Denny's that was open, but it turned out that they were out of food. We eventually found an IHOP that had about half of their menu available. Strange Christmas.

This year is my eighth without my mom and my fifth without my dad. Usually, since my mom died, I spend Christmas with my brother Joey and his wife and daughters. Christmas Eve is the big-deal part, at my sister-in-law's parents' house, with all of her cousins and folks, and they always make me feel included.

I generally sneak out early, for midnight Mass, which the parish there oddly schedules for 9pm. My dad and I used to go together. I decided this morning that I was going to midnight Mass. And I did. And in the quiet, just before it started, I suddenly remembered something very strange. I remember sitting with my dad at that early midnight Mass the year before he died. We had to get there early to get a seat, and as we sat there, he started to nod off. And he just looked so old to me, and I wondered how many Christmases we had left. Strange that I wondered that on what turned out to be his last Christmas. Strange that I remembered it tonight.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Living "alone"

So, I live alone, now ... theoretically. Paul has, of course, moved on and moved out. Theoretically.

So, this afternoon, my doorbell rang. And, as you have certainly guessed by now, it was Paul.

Me: "What's up?"
Him: "I need to take a shower."
Me: "I thought you didn't live here anymore. Shouldn't you shower where you live?"
Him: "Danedy, please. I had an accident."

Well, you probably don't need the rest of the details of that conversation. But I let him take a shower. And make himself a sandwich. And have tomorrow's cigarettes early.

But I don't really feel like I have the house to myself yet.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cereal and cigarettes

So, Paul is settling in to life in the homeless shelter. Actually, he corrected me this morning, it's called a rescue mission.

The new routine for me and Paul, as far as I can tell, is this. Every other day, I give him a pack of cigarettes. Since the rescue mission kicks him out at 6am, he wakes up, gets his act together, gets on the bus and comes over here. My doorbell rings about 6:45, maybe 7 if I'm lucky.

I try to make him talk to me a little before he goes away again. I worry about him. So, when I asked him today what is going on with him, I got three interesting answers.

First, he told me that he's trying to line up some day-labor working construction or something. So he went to a place and applied. Me: "That sounds promising." Him: "Not really. I failed the psychological exam." He looked at me with a sort of sad smile and said "I always fail psychological exams." And then he sort of laughed. It was the sort of thing that, if you didn't know better, you would almost think he was throwing the exam, trying to fail. Strange.

Then he says: "But Jesus is really looking out for me now." I asked him how and/or why he believed that to be the case. He reminded me that he has to listen to an hour long sermon about Jesus everyday. He didn't really have much sense of what they are saying about Jesus, but Paul knows that Jesus cares about him.

And, finally, almost randomly, I asked him if they served him a hot breakfast in the morning. No breakfast. I guess maybe they think that you'll look harder for work if you take on the day hungry. Maybe they never heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I find it somewhat strange that they don't feed these guys.

So, I suspect that this is my new life for a while. Every other morning, Paul is going to stop by for cereal and cigarettes.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Brother Update

I know some of my readers like to follow this storyline. So, by popular demand, the Paul update.

I went out of town for 4 days just before Thanksgiving. When I came back, Paul had a regularly-scheduled check-up with his psychiatrist, who decided that he wasn't doing that well and that she wanted to switch his meds. She decided to hospitalize him for what turned out to be about two weeks, so that she could make the adjustment in a stable environment. After that, he was back at the house and everything was as it always has been.

Until two days ago.

When I came home from the office on Monday, having finished all of my end-of-semester grading responsibilities (yea!), there was a note from Paul saying that he had been drinking and decided to stay at the Rescue Mission (i.e. the homeless shelter that he stayed at before).

That was the last I heard until this morning, when my doorbell rang about 7am. It was Paul and he wanted cigarettes. (Right now, he gets a pack every two days, and he was due.) Well, we chatted a little and I gave him the cigarettes, but apparently he wants (yet again) to live at the homeless shelter.

I don't really know what to do about that, so I decided to blog it, and then forget about it and get back to work. I don't think it's what's best for him, but I don't think I can really stop him.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Letting Christ Play

One of my most faithful readers sent me his Christmas letter. It was inspired by this blog, and does much better than I usually do at naming some of the places that Christ is playing in this world. And one of Jim's great gifts is in sticking with the hard things long enough to see the grace breaking through. And I'm humbled by and grateful for the way he sees Christ playing in my life. Here's his letter:

Christ plays in 10,000 places
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Dear Friends all,

This Christmas letter is a record of places I went and people I met in the hope of seeing for myself Christ "playing" in our midst.

First, there was the pretty fourteen-year-old who was raped. She held her own against her parents, grandparents, a $400 abortion doctor and just about everybody she knew. She told me she knew the baby inside her was a gift from God. I argued with her father. I never prayed so hard in my life. I got to be there when the little girl was born and I was the first to hold her. I was there when she confronted the rapist in court to ask him what she had ever done to him that he would take her virginity away from her. And I get to see her go back with the baby to day care at the school she attends. Christ plays in that place.

Then I tagged along to Jeanne's Peace Corps reunion. 40 years ago, Americans; Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mormons - tossed everything aside, careers, family, money, to go to Malawi to help some beautiful African people. These Americans taught, nursed, sang and played with the friends they made. They came back to America but were never the same. Now they were even more generous, more fun. I got to see them being Christ to the Malawians - and to each other.

And then I met some Jesuit Volunteers who went to work at an AIDS hospice after graduating from a Jesuit University. They could have made big bucks. Instead they saw the face of Christ playing in another place. The motto of the Jesuit Volunteers is "It will ruin your life." And it did. No longer can they go back to making money. "No longer at ease here, in the old dispensations."

I have a friend who teaches Theology. She got her Ph.D. the hard way, after helping both her parents through their final illnesses. After her father died, she took charge of her schizophrenic brother. She lets him live with her. Have you ever lived with a schizophrenic? Christ plays there.

A friend from 50 years ago asked me what heaven would be like. I told her I hadn't a clue but I didn't want to go there if she wasn't there. Her 6 children and 10 grandchildren are going to miss her. They stopped her chemotherapy months ago. Now she lives on morphine and is all swollen and ugly. But it is in her face and in her life that her children and grandchildren, and I, have seen the face of God.

After another friend wrote to me that he had Alzheimer's, I went to see him. When he answered the door, he apologized for not recognizing me. He said that the Alzheimer's is really hard. He can't drive any more because he gets lost. I will take him to lunch this week. He was always Christlike in his dealings with others. He is my ideal of what a social worker should be. It's not hard to see Christ gently taking over the life of this once brilliant man.

At an intersection on my way home, a car was stalled. The old lady behind the wheel looked terrified as cars honked and the traffic piled up behind her and passed her. From out of nowhere and from four different directions, came burly young men, some tattooed and ear-ringed. They pushed her car to safety and saw that she was okay. They made her smile. Another place Christ played.

There were actually 10,000 such places. I just didn't notice them all.

Merry Christmas.
Thanks, Jim, for the reminder to keep looking, and to keep letting Christ play in our eyes, in our limbs, in our lives.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Currently Reading

I was reading Catholic Peace Fellowship's most recent newsletter and I followed up on a couple things and found my way to a great book that I've read half of today. (Yes, I know I should be reading papers and writing a dissertation.)

If you like thoughtful cultural criticism, if you want a glimpse into art (especially film) and violence, and especially if you're a fan of Flannery O'Connor, order this book and read it. It's called A Good War is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America. It's by an ND grad named David Griffith. It is inspired by the question of what made the photos and abuses of Abu Ghraib possible. I'm thinking about adding it to a syllabus or two next semester.

Trying to blog again

OK, I admit that it's shameful how little I've been blogging in the past couple of months. What have I been doing instead? Well, mostly grading papers, but also dealing with some stuff with my brother who was hospitalized for a couple of weeks, going to DC to give a paper at a conference, struggling to stay a page ahead of my students. Gosh, it doesn't even sound like that much, but it has seemed pretty hard!

Classes are over. I still have about 40 papers to grade and then I'll have 50 finals to deal with, then I'll finally be able to focus on my dissertation.

No rest for the wicked. Or the weary, either.