Friday, June 19, 2009

Sacre Coeur

On Friday we celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart. It is a beautiful feast, celebrating as it does the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The affinity between the heart of God and the heart of the human is one that is known all over the world in many cultures and religious traditions. The heart has a language everyone knows. Variations in age, culture, or intelligence do not impede the directness of the heart’s meaning and what it holds for each of us. It is kind of like God’s Valentine. Everyone can open it.
Many years ago I went on a trip with Bill, friend of mine. We first went to Paris and spent a few days and then flew on to London. It was my first trip to Europe and I took a lot of photographs that I still have and occasionally linger over.
Paris was and is beautiful. We did the customary tours of the great sights. One tour was to a large church called Sacre Coeur. It is high above the city and there are a lot of steps leading from a lower area up to the church itself. I remember looking out over Paris at the many buildings, the Eiffel Tower, the thousands of rooftops. Sacre Coeur is a
“must see” place for tourists and I was glad I went. Yet I was thinking earlier this morning that I cannot remember in detail any conversations or people related things that took place while I was in Paris. Perhaps the reason was that it was a whirlwind stay and we were anxious to see the sights. There was not much time to get into the lives of other people.
London would prove to be quite different. We stayed with a family in the Muswell Hill area of London. Later I was to find out that Muswell Hill is where the Kinks grew up. Little bit if trivia there. Anyway, we stayed with a couple and their three teenage children. Mick and Susan Swift were a delightful couple. Their children – Heather, Michael and Martin, took off from their normal routines and showed us around London. We usually spent the evenings at their home, sitting and chatting about many things over a drink or two and countless cups of tea. I took photographs those evenings, using black and white high speed film and available light. I look at the pictures now and there is Heather pouring a cup of tea, smiling as she looked at me. Mick and Susan are sitting comfortably on a couch, listening intently to someone who must have been speaking. There is photo of Mick which I like a lot – sitting in a chair with such a beautiful, pensive look. And Michael and Martin I photographed as we rode horses one morning at a stable not far from where they lived.
It was many years later that my friend Bill, my traveling companion, told me that it must not have been easy for Mick and Susan to host us. They did not have much money and so the goodness they showed us was not easily affordable to them. Food was expensive and so was “petrol” or gasoline.
I remember going to bed one night and from my window I could see a lot of the rooftops of the nearby row houses. I was more at peace staying with a family and, looking back, cannot help but think about the places we saw and what I remember most of all while in London. I remember the voices of the Swift family and can even recall snatches of conversations. I suppose the photographs that I have help my memory but I tend to think that the evenings, when there was nowhere to go but into the lives of each other made some kind of lasting impression. I know for sure that we did not speak of the Sacred Heart, though we may have said a few things about the great shrine in Paris. But chances are the conversation would have moved on to other things, to family and human interests, to warm sincere hopes for goodness and life and, at the end of our stay, words of a safe trip home.
We all see many places in life and some are near. Some are far, and we need save for such trips. But no matter where we go, what will last from our journeys are those with whom we stayed and who shared their hearts with us. Andre Dubus has a delightful title of one of his short story collections and it is “Voices from the Moon.” Is it about love that seems far away? I cannot remember. What I remember this morning are the voices over drinks and tea in Muswell Hill, voices that are clear as if they were spoken yesterday. And I like to think that in God’s heart, maybe that is really true. The language of love is always clear, always near, no matter how long ago words of love were spoken.
I took pictures to make something last.
Mick and Susan gave much from the little they had, and that has lasted longer.

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