Friday, October 07, 2011

Goodness as Revelatory

I have known Donnie all my life.  We were friends through school and then I moved away from town and did not see him as frequently.  I did see him recently.  I went back home and made it a point to get in touch with him.  He is a retired fireman.  I did not spend much time with Donnie during his working years.  We were both absorbed by our life callings.  I was a priest in the same town where Donnie was a fireman.
When I saw him this last trip, we covered a lot of ground in our conversations.  One night, we sat beneath an awning in a church parking lot.  It was raining, but we did not mind.  We drank red wine until the wee hours of the morning, and talked and talked.  He loves many of the same things I do – black and white photography, street scenes, the works of Diane Arbus, Vivien Meier, Cartier-Bresson.  I told him about other photographers I thought he might enjoy, like Milton Rogovin, Helen Stummer and Helen Leavitt.  Donnie absorbed everything I said.  He goes to Manhattan a lot.  From what I gathered, he heads into the city on a weekly basis, taking in all kinds of scenes – music, museums, book stores, art galleries, photo exhibitions.  He is a walking encyclopedia of Manhattan culture – high, low, and in between.  He loves Italy and has gone back many times over the last twelve or so years, making contacts with relatives and friends over there.  He hosts parties for his family and friends that number in the hundreds – just from the immediate area of our home town.   He cooks – I see his delicacies on Facebook.  He never married – he lives in a big house that sounded like an open house to me.  Friends come and go and stay if need be.  Donnie has offered his home, his meals, his warmth to many a man or woman in need.
I remember Donnie as a gifted athlete and outstanding student.  He was an only child and I remember, too, how proud his parents were of him, and rightfully so.  He was always eager to do good and be good, and to share whatever he could with others.  I do not know it all came easily to him.  All I know is that he made it look effortless.
At one point in our conversations, he must have felt he made a lapse in something that he said.  He looked at me and said, “I have never been religious…I do not go to church.  When I was a kid, it all seemed so narrow to me, I needed some space, some way out of that l box.”  I said I understood and refrained from trying to encourage him to see himself in a different light – the light with which I saw and see him.
But now I can take a stab at it.
Donnie told me that he likes my writing.  It comes naturally to me.  I do not make a big deal out of it.
I like what he does not make a big deal of.  I like his naturalness, his goodness, his willingness to go out of his way to help others.  And think nothing of it.
One day while I was in Manhattan, it poured rain.  It really came down.  I was soaked.  And on top of that, the trains to New Jersey were cancelled.  Something about a derailment on the Jersey side.  I finally made it home by bus.  My cell phone rang the next day and it was Donnie.  He said he had tried to call me to see if I needed a ride from Manhattan – he had heard about the derailments and wanted to come in and get me.  I got the message but did not play it back until he told me that.
I am in my monastery now, a place where we ponder spirituality and the place of God in this life.  I suppose that a church secures for some a sense of God.  But for me, a phone call like Donnie’s assures me that I am in the right place.  And I am glad that Donnie moved along in life along the lines he loved – I sense he finds God there, too.  And gives him away, through a call, through his love of beauty, through his open house and great food.  It all somehow fits, even though we cannot always see it.  A bit of rain helps, along with a good friend and some red wine.

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