Sigh...The lava lamp glows, picks up the goldish glitter of the volume's labels. From a certain angle the host of bookshelves look like Permanence itself, standing athwart time yelling “Stop!”. The rosewood hue, carefully applied by a younger self, takes on the garb of sophistication. Inside, the vintage 1940s encyclopedias hold themselves grandly and invariably remind me of my great aunt’s selfsame books, then behind the glass of a barrister’s case. Funny how in my own lifetime encyclopedias have become anachronistic. Video killed the radio star and Google killed the encyclopedia star. And yet they exude the preciousness and dignity that a past age always will. The acceleration of change (see Toffler’s “Future Shock”) means that we become nostalgic before our time.
Yet I'm nostalgic for nostalgia. I recall not too many years ago when an old John Denver song would send me into rhapsodic youthful ecstasies. Now? Well, is it too much to substitute the phrase "feelings and emotions" for war in Springsteen's cover of “War”? Play me an old George Strait song or Patti Loveless’s “Chains”. It’s been too long. Someone once said that art exists to recover sensations and so maybe I’m just shy of art. And sometimes just a stray note or phrase will remind me of the years spent on the plains of a campus where we were scarcely different from safari animals:
“Dry savannahs are the preferred habitat where grasses grow high and water is scarce. Under these conditions, prey animals gather at water holes — ideal hunting situations for cheetahs.”Indeed, we gathered at watering holes of a different sort and preferred habitat with the privacy of high grass. Even the school's epi-center, the famous study spot called "The Zebra Room", implied a sort of African wilderness. We inhaled tradition from the school's outgoing president Philip Shriver, who honored us lowly Freshman by the passing on of the secrets. Inspired, we repaired to individual carols where we studied like our forebears. On weekends all quad angles led to the open windows of Stanton from which early Beatles' tunes wafted: "She loves you and you know that can't be bad..." - a couple decades after the song first came out.
Sometimes I think my interest in genealogy is sort of socially acceptable nosiness. Certainly the characters draw me in. I want to know if that first kid came sans benefit of marriage. It feels wrong to be poking about the affairs of the long dead when I’m leaving something of a paper trail my own self. (The semi-incriminating stuff I haven’t been able to burn yet.) One person is lately of especially keen interest. There she is in the 1880 census, fresh as life, and doesn’t the very ring of 1880 sound ancient? 1880 sounds like the old West and tintypes, horse & buggies and Jesse James. She was walking around my hometown then, down some of the same streets. Just forty years old and a widow. Not two decades removed from Ireland having survived the famine while still in single digits. There are stories passed about her that are disturbing and which seem to disprove, at least in this instance, the sweet Ireland of saints and scholars. As Mom says, the more you learn the more you want to know. Reading history is the ultimate arm-chair travel but like most arm-chair travel it induces a thirst to visit. We might be disappointed if we could time-travel but its very inaccessibility assures its allure.
Still, I’d like to visit Hamilton of 1880. Is there any resonance of Clan na Gael? What is the state of the Faith there and then? Rousseau applied to religion seeks to go back…back…back to the sources. I'm guessing 1880 isn't back, back, back enough (say like Chris Berman). We're all seeking that pre-Fall purity.
I think the “new celebrities” are the suffering, because Christ is closest to them: Terry Schiavo last year, as well as Pope John Paul II. In our own radius there’s my wife’s aunt Linda who has had an up and down life and now suffers from surreally painful cancer. God must be so close to her. Those are the people I can pray for most passionately, perhaps because they are heroes. My sense is that the ability to pray passionately for someone is proportional to how little they had to do with getting themselves in the mess they are in. Which is disturbing since I get myself in self-inflicted fixes and then pray for extrication.
Read the most remarkable passage from the book of Wisdom. It was like a documentary of Christ’s passion on the cross, written long beforehand. One part was eerily reminiscent of “come down off that Cross if you’re the son of God”. The passage (Wisdom 2:12-24) also reminded me of Dennis Prager’s argument that the reason Jews were persecuted is that they tried to live up to a higher law. Their neighbors didn’t like anyone holier than themselves. And certainly wasn’t that why the prophets got killed? As well as Jesus himself? It seems to suggest a lack of neutrality. But that’s what it’s about: choice. “You are for me or against me”.