Sitting out on the porch of my Doubletree hotel room. Drinking a Sam Adams cream stout. Nice view of the river and I pretty much hit the lotto with respect to the temps. This still feels like "the accidental vacation", coming too quickly on the heels of the last one but... my parents gave me an excuse since they were staying at Sanibel.
It feels unnatural given my age and the warm weather, to be in this seemingly semi-plastic state where most are transients and snow birds, many here only for the expediency of warm weather. But then weather is important too. A friend who moved from Ohio said he couldn't survive our cold, cloudy winters anymore.
Meanwhile, it seems I try to embarrass myself at least once a day, purely for humility’s sake. At the kiosk at the car rental shop the worker mentioned that we shared a birthday and I said, “same year too?” reflexively to the younger man. I didn't mention that it never fails to amaze me how long it takes to rent a car, even in this day of modern technology and pre-registering.
I visit the hotel pool. Every pool needs the seductress and this was no exception. She wore what looked to be a cross between a bikini bottom and a thong. Call it a bikong. I realized belatedly that it wasn't really my job to describe her as if I were a reporter covering the six o'clock news so I dipped into Michael Dubruiel's meditations on St. Benedict's rule, the equivalent of a cold shower. Engaging as always, I bookmarked so many pages that it would've been easier to book mark those pages I don't want to go back to.
a clean well-lighted place
The day dawned, as it usually does, and I thanked God for it. Then I headed to the little ma & pop grill, where the food was pretty good, especially the toast. The coffee was a welcome aperitif (I just wanted to say aperitif, apropos of nothing). Coffee is to mornings what beer is to evenings. Coffee is to mornings what dew is to grass. Coffee... I digress.
Longer drive than expected to Ave Maria so I have time to contemplate important issues like how Rush and Beck manage to bathe in so much negativity on a daily basis and yet have senses of humor and wide smiles. I also hear a sports radio host mention how different in attitude the coasts are. New York is such a "grind-mill" while L.A. is laid-back and the livin' easy. The influence of sun? Or simply by whom they were settled centuries ago?
While I mused on these issues, I notice up ahead a very slow-moving truck. About 20 miles under the speed limit. The three cars in front of me pass him, and so I 'tag along' as the 4th. I figured if the third car could make it, I could too, since what's a car length anyway? But suddenly I find myself in a game of chicken with an on-coming car and I make a mental note not to play the tag-along game again.
I arrived on the campus of AMU and wait for my assigned student ambassador, which sounds like I'm a head of state or something. While my original intention was merely to try to sit in on a Joseph Pearce class, Ave Maria was good enough to offer three classes to audit along with a free meal coupon. But for the cost of the flight and hotel it was *free*, which is like saying except for the stimulus package and bailouts Obama hasn't spent much.
She drives up in a golf cart and takes me to my first class, Christ and His Church. The professor is dressed immaculately in a buttoned suit and white shirt and tie. The class text is Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity, fitting for such a Catholic institution. What would it be like to go to such a self-consciously Catholic college, I wonder.
The class is comprised of fifteen females and three males. In front of me a girl wears a shirt with an unfamiliar name on back: "The Boondock Saints". I assume it to be the name of a band but later googling reveals it to be a "1999 crime thriller film starring Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus as Catholic Irish American fraternal twins, Conner and Murphy MacManus, who become vigilantes after killing two members of the Russian Mafia in self-defense. After a "message from God", the brothers, together with their friend David Della Rocco, set out to rid their home city of Boston, Massachusetts of crime and evil; all the while being pursued by Special Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe)."
Our professor was also his own confessor - perhaps the most memorable moment came when in illustrating a truth Ratzinger makes in how we must serve through the particular, which is the point God makes in coming to earth in a particular body at a particular place and time - he (the prof) said it's easier to be willing to help people in general than personally, saying how he always offers to help students one-on-one. He pointed to a particular a girl in the back row and said how when she came to see his face fell. Despite his offer to help, when it came to the particular it was hard. "I could never play poker," he said, "because I can't hide the way I'm feeling." I felt bad for the girl although it may be that they just felt comfortable enough to admit these things. I couldn't help but think how this exactly mirrors my own situation, how I can't help but cringe when someone known to be a pain comes to my desk.
NOTES from course "Christ and His Church":
Man always learns about the universal from the particular. What is common to all men, we learn by meeting two or three or more particular people and then examining what is common to all.
The problem with that strategy when it comes to learning about God is that He is singular. There's only one of Him. That's why Homer's god was not universal, not even a Greek god - each city had its own deities. The classical world knew only particular gods - understandable.
Why would God of all call himself God of Abraham, Issac & Jacob? Genesis alerts us to the tension that God can be both. See what else Abraham was promised besides land and descendents. The covenant with Abraham reflects what sort of God this is, NOT vice-versa.
Plato and Aristotle were bent on demythologizing God, just as Christianity did too. The philosophers believed in a God who was impersonal and who did not act, did not create the world (they thought the universe was eternal) and that for God to act was "unfitting".
To consider a God who redeems and sanctifies would only make them laugh and turn away, as they did with Paul. (Did they turn away because of the Cross (i.e. pain) or because God acts and loves? Sounds like the latter, and it sounds like Christ sounded too much like the myths they were trying to discredit.)
Plato treated a dumb guy by patting him on his head, twice, an act of patronization. Christ treated a dumb guy (Nicodemus, saying 'how can I go back in the womb?') by explaining and teaching him.
After class, I took advantage of the free lunch visitor's coupon and when to the student union for a club sandwich, a concession to recent weight gain. I'd have preferred a loaded-up cheeseburger. Then it was on to the small Ave Maria bookstore where I bought a t-shirt. Walked through the library and saw many fine oil paintings of scenes of the life of Christ. Very, very Catholic this university. It's odd to be walking down a hall with an art gallery on the wall, complete with prices. ($11,000 for a Madonna & child...). Or walking through the student union and seeing signs quoting the Blessed Mother at Fatima asking us to pray and offer our sufferings for the souls who would otherwise be damned. Things you would not see at the University of Dayton, unless transported back in time to 1950.
Then, a quick trip to the controversial main chapel, controversial for it's reputation as not a very pretty church, a glorified airplane hangar. But pictures don't do it justice, it's actually quite lovely on the outside, especially looking at it from the front. (From the back it looks like a giant squid.) The interior was spacious and had an interesting effect in how dominatingly large the crucifix high above the altar was. There's a scale there that religious conservatives should appreciate, of God's transcendence and largeness, which wouldn't necessarily come across in pictures. The figures at the altar are dwarfed by the backdrop and huge crucifix, which threw a shadow so lifelike that you could swear you could really see the painful work Christ went through to accomplish our salvation.
Class Notes from "Literary Tradition":
Why was Dante so emotional in Canto 19? There is much anger towards the church in large part due to the abuse in that time (simony, the selling of indulgences). He anticipated the Reformation in a way.
Dante might be a movie producer today. His poem is so visual. And they teach you in film school that long shots are for comedy, close-ups tragedy.
Why does Virgil carry Dannte? Symbolizes reason carrying you on a journey. Virgil feels tenderly towards him because he is making progress, by not feeling pity towards the sinners in Hell. Anger is preferred to pity.
For Dante, you just can't feel pity for sinners, for those who caused great misery. Virgil acs shepherd-like, much like those simonists should've been.
The contra-passio = baptism. Feet wrong direction from Baptism. Reversed image.
Dante is a co-conspirator in the sins - attempts to bring sympathy to those in Hell which is why Virgil spends a lot of time correcting him. Canto 8: "I'm the one who is sinned aginst." Dante felt his pity was good. Virgil happy when Dante "doesn't fall for pity party".
This is why so many people find Dante's work distasteful. We are told to hate the sin and love the sinner, which is not biblical, while in Dante the sin and sinner are hated. Let's be honest. So how do we deal with this?
Dante wants you to think about sin *now*. To change. To see through sin, not to be seduced by it, and to see how eventually one becomes the very sin one is enslaved to.
And so the professor touched on my problem with Dante, that it seems like one long torture porn in which we are supposed to "enjoy" the punishment of sinners. It was refreshing to hear the professor mention this as being a problem. To admit it up front. The class discussion got cut off due to time requirements, wish I could've gotten to hear more of the professor's thoughts on that particular subject.
Then it was onto 5pm Mass which, surprisingly, was a guitar Mass featuring the praise and worship songs familiar to me through my wife's evangelical church. The is great diversity in Masses because they also have a Latin mass offered a few times a week. And the decently crowded weekday 5pm Mass - when they have three masses per weekday - shows the level of dedication to the Eucharist this college has. The Catholic equivalent of Liberty Baptist College? Or is that Stuebenville?
Immediately after pulling into the condo yesterday we all went on a bike ride, going for three hours interrupted by some geo-caching and lunch at Jerry’s. The warmth was real, not pseudo-heat, the sort of warmth you can’t expect in January even in southwest Florida.
5-year old Aaron rings his bell repeatedly, taking great pride in his work as God does even with our meager efforts. His fastidious attention to detail was impressive in signaling to drivers our intention of using the crosswalk. He was not daunted by the barrier of automobile's closed windows. Success is not what God asks of us, merely the effort. Reminded me of the punctilious work ethic of the birds. With stick legs they navigate the shoreline with agility, while the water bends towards the beach, rising and bowing like Obama on a foreign trip.
Castles of sand...like our economy
Nephew on beach
After the bike ride we played tennis, Jean and I taking on Doug and beating him 4-2 in games before fatigue beat us all.
Next we went picture-swimming, which is where you end up taking more pictures than actually swimming. Each pose required at least four shots because there were two cameras involved and we always took at least two shots with each camera to guarantee success. (Having a digital camera means never having to say "but I'm running out of film!".) But it was fun and great to have all of us together, the first time since 1973, pending our investigation of Thanksgiving 1993. Mom's reputation as a great rememberer hangs in the balance. Doug said he didn't come up to Columbus in '93, but then started to melt under relentless cross-examination from Mom.
Doug showed impressive lung capacity by swimming the length of the pool and back without taking a breath. Later he extended that even a bit. Jean and I couldn’t match it and I joked that we were becoming like the Kennedy’s, what with all this competitiveness.
Dinner was at Mazaluna’s, which proved not to be too crowded and which Doug and I tried a very oddly named Italian beer called La Rossa Moretti dark. Doug loved it, I thought it was okay. I'd earlier tried a Michelob Dunkelweissen, which although was a wheat beer I really didn’t mind. In fact I was pleasantly surprised.
My disorganization skills were at their height at this point - I'd lost my car keys so driving two cars wasn't an option. Still worried about the lost keys, I checked my wallet pocked, a place I NEVER (never say 'never') put keys but there they were. Go figure. I blame it on all the exercise.
Matzaluna's provides crayons for would-be artists, and so jejunely we had a contest drawing things and Mom won by waitress acclamation. Doug chastised Mom & Jean for being so off-put by dark beer, saying it was childish to judge a food by its color.
Early morning wake-up call for church at 8:30. Despite arriving a full ten minutes early (which is thirty minutes early in Protestant time), we had a limited selection of seats. The hymns were unfamiliar except for "Lord of the Dance" (?), and they lacked a missal, which surprised me.
Afterwards a day of sitting on a sun deck in Sanibel, Florida, the sun a brilliant concoction for late January, and in the qui-distance I see the ocean, sparkling like the sea as well it should! In the near distance tall palms hearld the ocean’s approach. Allusions pop up like morning glories.
It's become something a family legend: the time my sister and I spent more time trying to decide on which movie to see than the actual length of the movie we saw. It eventually became almost funny. And our restaurant decision on Sunday night looked like a replay since Jeannie had neither the location nor the name of the place she "remembered" from her bike ride. "JT's" or "TJ's" was what she said, but when "McT's" came by it looked like a reasonable suspect. Hungry and suffering from ALBS ('advanced low blood sugar') it looked sort of Ponderosa-y, which I didn't consider a slur, just a guess measurement of the price and modest quality. But Jean did take it as a slur, and so it was on to the next inviting target: "Traders".
I ordered a pint of Guinness and it was the best Guinness I'd had in ages, reminding me that Guinness on tap is a completely different animal than Guinness out of a can or bottle. Every time I took a sip it surprised me.
Jean and I debated the Church situation, she saying that the Church has to change and the Pope is basically an old fogey. I do love those sorts of controversial issues, they get my blood flowing. I was probably unfair or out of line at least twice but I do feel the Pope, in the end, has a hard job. The Holy Father is certainly not going to please all the people all the time, just as no parent will be able to please all his children, all the time.
Afterwards there was the fine entertainment of the Vikings-Saints NFC championship game, won in overtime by the ‘Aints, although now they ain't the 'Aints.
Sitting on the morning patio watching the sun attempt to rise. The weather is changeable down here, so much so that when I asked the cashier at a liquor store whether it was supposed to rain all day he said, “I never say ‘all day’ in Florida.”
The condo buildings are two-story affairs which allows for a good deal of sky-gazing. The roofs are aqua-marine, the color of swimming pool bottoms. Three-foot shrubs and slightly taller varieties of palm encircle the patio pleasingly, pleasingly in their diversity and in how they don’t obscure the view. Though I can’t see the ocean, instinctively I set my chair in that direction.
There’s a gangly palm across the way, its fronds subject to the wind and its long thin trunk reminding me of a giraffe’s neck. Near the top there‘s a sudden thickness like an Adam’s apple or the lighted ball at Time Square at 11:30 on New Year’s. The tree is set at an angle, leaning into the wind and towards the sea, and its tube is constricted half way up as if a tourniquet was applied too tightly at one time in the past.
Small decorative dolphins hang from the pull-strings of the ceiling fan and a big mauve-striped fish graces the entrance way.
I have a hankering to walk down to the beach even in this wind & chill & rain, just to take advantage of the outdoors to the maximum, given the imminent return to the much colder climes ahead. The smell is that familiar salty tang, as regnant as the familiar Borders Books scent that crosses our continent (and perhaps continents).
Yesterday the sun deck lived up to its name. There the wind was minimal and shade caused only by short interludes of harmless clouds. I listened to a tape from a priest with a healing ministry and see where he is coming from: ‘Thou shalt not kill,” goes the commandment, and it follows from that that we are to take care of our bodies. Proper nutrition and exercise being done not in order to live forever as if this is all there is, but simply an extension of our being given a gift and treating it as such.
I also found it interesting how crucial those early hours are attending our birth. The first 72 hours are far more critical than I ever suspected, when imprinting and other various things occur over which we have no control. He said research confirms that even in the womb the babies know if they are wanted.
I’d be hard-pressed if I had to give an “excellence in birding” award to one of the great variety of shore denizens. They all look so damn competent, so contrary to the 80/20 rule in human workshops where it is said that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the workers. Watching nature ply its trade is like watching professional sports or the ballet or a symphony - all three are types of excellence “on loan from God,“ to borrow a phrase. Watching a great accountant find an IRS loophole is somewhat less stimulating, perhaps, but...
Ate breakfast today at Jerry’s the sun came out and hope was restored and Matthew and I fed the seagulls who, despite the profusion of meals in the form of a fishkill due to record lows, were eager to snap the food up. I feared only errant poop. Then Matthew went looking for starfish and I wondered: "How do you tell a dead starfish?". “Do they need water?” my Mom asked. Matthew wanted to take one home so these seemed appropriate questions.
Afterwards: a bit of fiction. Felt like a Randy Wayne White novel or something by Dickens since the birds in their variety and eccentricity looked like characters in “Bleak House".
Hope springs in the unlikeliest of places, such as in children themselves. Matthew had been praying for his family and seems okay now with his father's looming work disjointment by saying that it must be God's will because he'd prayed. Amen.
Tis 12:30pm and I can see the maid is attending our condo like an undertaker working on a dead body. Makes me feel sad, to see the dry husk of our once little home, now fractured by family leavings two-by-two.
I find internet connectivity a problem, even on the front steps of the walk just outside the room. I’m hungry anyway and so head to Jerry’s for lunch - a crunchy cod meal that wasn’t too healthy but did the job. I’d have rather had the rotisserie chicken but they didn’t have it on the menu. If I hadn’t already ordered my drink I’d have just got the chicken to go.
Afterwards I hit the little nearby Sanibel bookshop and it betrayed that aging hip (oxymoron alert!) new ageism feel. It was mostly underwhelming although “The Bible in English,” a history of the Bible translations, looked interesting if liberal.
Soon it was back to the 'port. Maybe I'm becoming more like the George Clooney character in "Up in the Air" - I'm starting to appreciate airports more. Not as destinations in themselves, of course, and not for the pain in the ass "security theater" we go through. But there is the anticipation of the destination when outward bound and a different, but no less appealing anticipation in returning home. Either way, the airport delivers, literally. And it helps when not checking bags.
Driving to Fort Myers airport today, there was the anticipation of a simple bold cup of coffee and a notebook to write in, all overlooking a pretty bookstore (pardon the redundancy). The coffee is oddly calming, which is not the effect it's supposed to have, I suppose. Maybe it's simply the hot-water bottle feel in my hands. Or that magical potent smell of beans.
Strolling around inside the bookshop I discover a new Ann Tyler novel and a collection of short stories from TC Boyle. But I made no purchases, for which I'm proud. I figure I have enough books. But it does inspire one to read what you already have, just walking through there and seeing them all dressed in the fine dust jackets and full of new book smell. Bookshops, coffee. Yes, airports are okay sometimes.
Walking ahead me on the flight was a guy about my age wearing a shirt that caught even my attention: